Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
When Jeff and I were first married, we enjoyed taking drives and exploring in our little pickup truck. I never even thought twice about getting into the passenger seat of the car and going somewhere on an adventure. But, after our first child was born, something strange happened when we buckled him into his car seat to take the drive home from the hospital. I climbed into the backseat of our practical, four-door car, buckled myself into the backseat next to him, and shut the car door. I felt a wave of nervousness wash over me.
Suddenly, I noticed every bump in the road between the hospital and our house. Driving over 15 miles per hour felt reckless and dangerous. I could see Jeff white-knuckling the steering wheel as he navigated the familiar terrain on the way back to our house. Even though the hospital was only a few minutes from our house, it felt like an eternity, and every other car on the road was a hazard to avoid as we tried to protect our little baby. The ordinary, the everyday stuff around us, suddenly looked strange and powerful, even dangerous.
The truth about ordinary things is that they aren’t any less important than extraordinary things. We’ve just become desensitized to the ordinary things because we encounter them on a regular basis. Famous writer Hans Christian Andersen once said, “The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we call them ordinary things.” It’s true. Think about the ordinary things in your life. Really think about them. Aren’t so many of the ordinary things around us utterly miraculous when you think about it? Every morning, the sun comes up no matter what good, bad, or ugly things have happened in our lives or in the world. Every single day, chickens know when it is time to go back to the roost, birds sing their praises in the wee hours of the morning, I turn on the tap and water comes out. What are some other ordinary things that are miracles? Feel free to comment them on this post, or in the comments wherever you discovered this post.
Having more than one shirt to choose from in the closet.
The way the leaves make a rustling sound when the wind blows.
The way a tall glass of lemonade refreshes your senses on a hot day, or the way a mug of coffee or tea warms your whole body on a wintery day like today.
The only reason the everyday stuff around us seems ordinary is because we’ve grown used to it. It’s the water we’re swimming in.
Our two scripture lessons for today – from Deuteronomy and Luke – are all about ordinary things made extraordinary by the grace of God. The challenge before us as we listen to these stories from Scripture is to recognize the holiness of the ordinary things around us, and to ask God how we might use our ordinary lives for God’s extraordinary glory. Let’s begin with the story from Deuteronomy.
The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. They wandered for 40 difficult years in the wilderness, where God provided for them, but they struggled to see God’s mercies in the manna, the quail, and the water from a rock. God walked with the people, and Moses urged them onward as they journeyed toward the land promised by God. In the book of Deuteronomy, we find Moses’ farewell address to the people before they enter the land God has promised them. In this final teaching, Moses reminds them of the laws they need to abide by, and he encourages them to remain faithful to the Lord once they have finally reached the land. Here in Deuteronomy 26, Moses describes how the people should offer the first fruits of their harvest to God.
Moses tells the people that once they have been in the land long enough to settle it and have a harvest, they are to bring the first of their harvest to the priest and offer the first fruits to the Lord. He tells the people to say this when they make their offering: “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” Isn’t that interesting? I would have thought that the day the people came into the promised land was the day when they first set foot on it. Or, maybe the day when they first built places to live. But here, the moment to declare that they have come into the land is the moment they have a harvest to offer to God. The promised land wasn’t truly their land until they had lived on it long enough to grow enough food for themselves and to offer to God.
I love that God pays attention to ordinary things. God cared enough about the people that God didn’t just pick them up and drop them in the promised land and leave them to fend for themselves. God was committed to seeing this through, to ensuring the people had enough to live on and that they could establish homes and have a harvest where they lived. Esther Menn, professor of Old Testament at Lutheran School of Theology gives us more detail about the offering of the first fruits to God. She writes, “According to Jewish tradition, first fruit offerings were made of seven species native to the land: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Mishna Bikkurim 1.3). This specificity may encourage us to locate ourselves within our own particular contexts today, giving thanks and offering what we have been uniquely given by God for the prospering of our neighbors and the larger community.” 
What ordinary things in your life has God given you so that you can be a blessing? How might the place where you live, the place where you work, or the places you go throughout the week be ordinary opportunities for sharing the extraordinary grace and love of God with others?
Deuteronomy 26 shows us the way God cares for us in the most ordinary and essential parts of our life. Luke 4 gives us another angle to consider: the way God is with us in the ordinary temptations in our lives. In this passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and in that wilderness place Jesus is tempted by the devil. He fasted for 40 days, and the first temptation of the devil appeals to Jesus’ hunger. Verses 3-4 say it this way: “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
In the beautiful little book In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen writes about the three temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. Nouwen says that these are the three temptations every church leader also faces, but I believe these three temptations are things that every one of us will face at some point in our lives. If you haven’t read this book before, I highly recommend it. It’s not very long, but it is a powerful book. Henri Nouwen says Jesus faced the temptations to be relevant, to be popular, and to lead rather than being led. Instead of giving into these temptations, Jesus turned instead to prayer, to ministry, and to being led. Just like the ordinary stuff of our lives can be extraordinary and set apart by God to be holy–like the first fruits of the harvest, the ordinary temptations we face have the potential to instead become extraordinary opportunities for connecting with God and loving our neighbors.
First, the devil approached a hungry Jesus and told him to turn stones into bread. And we know Jesus could have done it. At the wedding at Cana, Jesus turned so much water into wine for the wedding guests. When a crowd of 5,000 hungry people was around Jesus, Jesus managed to feed them all with just a few loaves and fishes. It wasn’t that Jesus was incapable of doing what the devil asked, it was that Jesus recognized the temptation behind it–the temptation to be relevant.
Can you imagine how useful it would be to be able to turn stones into bread and feed all the hungry people around you? Surely, if we could do that, we could take care of so many needs, and we could become a one-stop shop of relevance. Our skills would never go out of style. Jesus realized that relevance wasn’t the answer. It’s not about human approval, but about doing what God calls us to do. This is why Jesus responds to the first temptation with the Scripture, “One does not live by bread alone.” Jesus’ response comes from Deuteronomy 8. The whole verse he references says this, “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The solution to our need is not relevance, but prayer and dependence upon God.
The second temptation was different. Instead of tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread, the devil offers Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world. The devil tempted Jesus with power. The catch? Jesus would need to bow down and worship the devil instead of God. Jesus quotes Scripture in response a second time, and the verse he references again comes from Deuteronomy. The full verse says this: “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear” (Deuteronomy 6:13). The second temptation was about power, about being in control, about leading. Henri Nouwen writes, “Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go… Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly.” Jesus turned away from relevance and toward prayer. He rejected leading and instead chose to be led.
The third temptation was the temptation of approval. The devil said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’’ Deep down, I think most of us–if not all of us–want to be liked by others. We want to be accepted and praised. We want people to look up to us. Jesus faced the temptation to do something spectacular in order to gain the approval of others, but instead of approval, Jesus chose ministry. Instead of wowing people with feats of strength or marvelous things that drew attention to himself, he served. He healed. He reached out to the outcasts. Nouwen says it this way: “From this it is clear that a whole new type of leadership is asked for in the church of tomorrow, a leadership that is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant-leader Jesus, who came to give his life for the salvation of many.”
This week, may we be surprised and amazed by the extraordinariness of ordinary things. May we be delighted by the simple things, and encouraged by the small glimpses of the kingdom we see on this earth. And, as we take this penitent journey through Lent, may we find the courage to turn from the desire for relevance to a life devoted to prayer; may we exchange our desire for control with a willingness to follow the leading of God and obey; and may we give up our quest for approval and popularity and instead serve others wherever God places us.
Let’s allow this prayer from Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie’s book Good Enough to stir in our hearts: Dance with me, God. Show me the pleasures of the everyday loveliness of the world You created. Reveal what delights I can share, and the sadness I can ease. Do it again, Lord. Fill my heart with love for life and for others. That’s where it starts, right where joy and sorrow meet. Amen.
 https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-in-lent-3/commentary-on-deuteronomy-261-11-3  All quotes from Henri Nouwen are from his book In the Name of Jesus