Sermon: On Their Hands They Will Bear You Up

March 6, 2022

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Luke 4:1-13

by Eric Anderson

She was so eager to fly. She watched her parents flick open their black wings with the white bars beneath and in a moment they would be out of sight as they flew among the ohi’a tops. She and her ‘apapane brothers watched eagerly for their return with food – but more than anything, she wanted to study their flying technique, the angle of the wings, the set of the neck, the push of the legs, everything that would carry her into the air.

They were growing fast, the ‘apapane chicks, but their parents hadn’t quite brought them to flight training stage yet when she just couldn’t wait any longer. Her mother was fussing with one of her brothers when she hopped to the edge of the nest, hopped from there to one of its supporting branches, and announced, “Here I go! First flight!” and leaped into the air.

I have to say that her form was amazing. The feet were in just the right place, the push-off was beautiful, the head and beak lined up just so, the wings extended and the first wingbeats strong and true.

The beauty didn’t last more than a second, though, because her feathers weren’t fully developed and her wing muscles hadn’t been built up. In a moment she went from fine form to feathery fall. Her shout of triumph rapidly became a shriek of panic.

She didn’t fall terribly far. Their ohi’a tree had lots of branches and leaves and she was able to grab onto something pretty quickly. She clung to it with every muscle and heaved in every breath.

When her eyes opened, there was her mother perching on the same branch. Her mother didn’t say anything – actually, her mother couldn’t say anything. You know how mothers sometimes get when you do something they’ve told you not to do, and it’s put you in danger, and you managed to get through without being seriously hurt, and then they’re so filled with being angry at you for doing this thing you weren’t supposed to do because it could get you hurt, and they’re so filled with relief that you did this thing that could have hurt you but it didn’t, and so neither feeling can actually get out?

Which was fine with our not-ready-for-flying-time ‘apapane. She could cope with her mother being silent for a while.

Finally mother said, “Come along. We’ll hop our way back up to the nest.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I won’t do it again.”

“Flying,” said mother, “will have to wait for another day.”

“When the evil one quotes Psalm 91:11, 12 to Jesus in the wilderness,” writes Amanda Benckhuysen at Working Preacher, “goading him to throw himself off the temple, Jesus rejects any notion that God is at his beck and call. Responding with Deuteronomy 6:16, ‘do not put the Lord your God to the test,’ Jesus spurns the suggestion that one can presume upon God’s saving power for one’s own gain. The testimony of Psalm 91, then, is not that God’s people are immune to suffering, especially when that suffering comes as a result of folly or sin. Instead, it is that God will not ultimately let suffering or even death separate us from his love and care.”

Psalm 91 is a text of comfort in hard times. There’s some speculation among scholars that parts of it may have been read to patients seeking a priest’s blessing during severe illness. It declares the foundational and the ultimate grace and mercy of God – but it is not an invitation to folly.

If Jesus had leapt from the Temple at the invitation of the Diabolic One – Luke’s original Greek word was “diabolos” – gravity would have worked just the way it usually does. Of course, the tempter didn’t say it would do anything differently than that. The question is, would angels have caught Jesus before his fall turned into his crash landing? Would a miracle at Jerusalem’s holiest site have suddenly inspired the city, the nation, the world?

Probably not.

I’m not saying that because I’m sure that the angels would have, or wouldn’t have, caught Jesus. I’m saying it because miracles don’t have the power we assume they do. The books of the Old Testament describe many more, attributed to people like Elisha, Isaiah, Elijah, and Moses. The great example of miracles failing to make distinct and lasting change would be the plagues of Egypt. The pattern was never broken: plague, Pharaoh promised to release the Israelites, the plague ended, Pharaoh “hardened his heart.” The Israelites’ escape was sudden and rushed to get as much ground covered before Pharaoh set out after them – which he did.

For that matter, the Gospels describe a large number of miracles performed by Jesus. They did not stop people from questioning his methods and motives. They did not stop people from arresting and crucifying him.

Predictably, the Diabolical One’s analysis of Scripture is… bad. Really bad. It still appeals, however. As Debie Thomas writes at, “We want so much to believe that we can leverage our belovedness into an impenetrable shield.  That we can get God to guarantee us swift and perfect rescues if we just believe hard enough.  But no. If the cross teaches us anything, it teaches us that God’s precious ones still bleed, still ache, still die. We are loved in our vulnerability.  Not out of it.”

Many times over these last two years I have wanted to read Psalm 91 with the devil’s eyes. More to the point, I wanted it to be a true reading. I wanted God to swoop in and carry away this pandemic, to restore all the things that have made me comfortable, and maybe to have made things a little better along the way. As you’ve probably noticed, that did not happen.

It has not happened in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Tigray, or Yemen, the four places in the world that have claimed over 10,000 lives a year. It has not happened in Ukraine, which will soon join that fraternity of grief.

Yet… the angels are there, waiting.

Jesus’ successful resistance to temptation set him on the road to the cross. He had demonstrated that, as Jeremy L. Williams writes at Working Preacher, “the Scriptures should not be used to cast doubt on God’s presence with God’s people. They should not be used for a game of ‘gotcha’ nor should they be recited to serve selfish interests. Instead, the Scriptures are reminders of God’s powerful presence with God’s people even in the wilderness. There the Spirit leads them to resist the allures of the Diabolic One and empire.”

Jesus went to the cross. He died. It was then that angels caught him, then that they comforted him. He rose, showing that the promises of God are faithful – faithful because life is broader and richer than we know, faithful because God’s imagination is more fertile than we believe.

You and I most likely face a few more stumbles and falls in this life – no need to add to them with colossal flying leaps of folly. Those will hurt. They may hurt us a lot. God has promised and shown in Jesus that there we will not be alone in any of those falls. God has promised and shown in Jesus that there is no fall from which we will not rise.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire service of March 6, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Pastor Eric does love to improvise. Or go off script.

The image is Jesus Carried up to a Pinnacle of the Temple (ca. 1886-1894) by James Tissot (1836-1902), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 6, 2022]. Original source: Public Domain.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on March 6, 2022

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283