In pm's words
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February 15, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about the wilderness...


Sermon from February 14, 2015

Text: Luke 4: 1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

In the years that I have been lifted up into a pastoral leadership role (which is just a bit longer than my time of actually being an ordained pastor) I have always been intrigued by the notion of what the ‘wilderness’ means within our faith. There are some different interpretations of ‘wilderness’ or ‘desert’ that many faithful Christians have used throughout the years. Most of those interpretations revolve around the fact that the wilderness in our lives is that place where we either A) don’t want to be, B) a place we get lost in as we seek to find God in our life, or C) that place where we will be tested – and that usually isn’t very fun.

The more I thought about that, the more I wondered if that was really what the wilderness was to God for us. Now of course, there is truth to those interpretations. The wilderness of our lives are places that we find uncomfortable. Those places that stretch us, pinch us, and potentially unnerve us in so many ways. So, I can understand how there are times (well probably a lot of the time) that the wilderness is a place that we don’t necessarily want to ‘hang out’ in. There is also truth to the interpretation that when we feel lost, alone, and scared that we are in the midst of the wilderness as we seek to find God in our life. And because the wilderness thrusts into a place in our lives that challenges us, we naturally will experience some sort of test through it.

Those interpretations are not wrong, but I do know that they aren’t the only ways to interpret the wilderness.

For you see, the wilderness is also the place where we do meet God and are led by God. The nation of Israel was led in the wilderness by God in a pillar of cloud and fire. Jesus was guided by the Holy Spirit throughout his 40 days in the wilderness.

There is the temptation to think that the wilderness of our lives is the place where God is absent from us. That my friends – my sisters and brothers – couldn’t be further from the truth.

God is present in the wilderness – guiding us in ways that we both can see (when we look) and in ways that are sometimes so subtle that we don’t even notice. Nevertheless – God is there.

We of course have entered in the season of the ‘wilderness’ in our Christian faith as we join in worship this first Sunday in Lent and through the rest of this 40-day journey to the cross. In many ways journeying through Lent is a wilderness for each of us. That time when we seek to bring ourselves closer to God within our lives.

Many have ‘given’ and will ‘give something’ up during this Lenten season. We deprive ourselves of things in our lives so that we can focus more on where God is present in our life. It isn’t so much that some might give up sweets for Lent, but we remove the sweets from our diet during this season so that we can remember more fully that the goodness of God is what sustains and provides for us fully. We remove from our lives those things and activities that we know are not the best for us that we may ‘over-indulge’ in so that we can more completely place God in the epicenter of our lives. So that God might continue to be the center – the core – of who we are. Where we seek to remind ourselves that God is the one who defines us.

There are of course those who add in devotion and God-centered practices into their lives too. Making note to be in active prayer for those in their life and in deeper conversation with God. Seeking to give of themselves and their possessions in more substantial ways knowing that we have been blessed with an abundance of what we truly need from God which overflows more and more.

And yet, throughout the season of Lent the pull and lure to fall back into our old routines is great. It is difficult to be in active prayer for others when we are upset with others in our lives. It is hard to be fully giving of ourselves and our possessions because of a mantra of scarcity that is proposed by so many in our world and media. It is sometimes difficult to maintain those devotional practices because we feel so stretched thin between all the people, places, and activities that seem immediately more urgent. That doesn’t even touch on the enticing draw of that piece of chocolate, that cigarette, that scotch, that thought, that action, and more that we have vowed to relinquish from our lives during this season of Lent.

Then, during this first Sunday of Lent we hear this story of Jesus’ temptations by the devil within the wilderness. And even we are tempted to say, “if Jesus could do it – so could I!”

Of course, when we fall into that temptation – especially during this wilderness season – we can become even more disillusioned because we know that we are not Jesus. I don’t know about y’all, but I probably would’ve succumbed to the temptations the devil proposed. It doesn’t take me very long to be ‘so hungry’ that the mere idea of snapping my fingers and turning something into food would be incredibly enticing. In fact, I don’t even have to be all that hungry to want to do that! The temptation to be the ‘ruler’ over a vast area can be tantalizing as well. We’ll finally get to do the things that I think would be just and right. Even if I did have to lay allegiance to the evil one – I wouldn’t rule this land in that way. I promise!

And, then we get to that final temptation and test that Jesus is thrust with and I can honestly say that all of us have done this. We’ve all been the devil tempting Jesus in this regard. Lord – if you allow me to do this – win the lottery – win the big game – win my crush’s heart – pass this test – get this promotion – achieve this small goal – make it to church – then I’ll promise to live for you to the fullest. I’ll promise to live the life that you’ve wanted for me. I’ll promise to clean up my act and be the servant of Christ that you’ve called me to be. We’ve all put Jesus to that test.

So, we walk in the wilderness of Lent and we think to ourselves – how in the world are we going to do this – how are we going to learn from this season so that these temptations aren’t so alluring the rest of the year. How can I do this?!

Well, there is good news and bad news folks. The bad news is – that alone – we can’t. For us, sin in our life is so great and appealing that we are going to succumb to it. The little pulls of what looks like innocent sins build up and before we know it, we haven’t thought about God in a long time. We continually speak bad about our neighbors. We close ourselves off from others because we can’t ‘trust’ those people.

That’s the bad news.

The good news – the glorious news – the gospel – is that we don’t do this alone. We have been filled by the Spirit. The Spirit was poured into us in our baptism – the spirit is/was poured into Allyssa Claire Bruce this morning. The Spirit is present in and around us. The Spirit helps guide us and leads us to the way of Christ. Calling us to say in the still quiet voice of God – that there is another way – a better way – a just way – a way of love. A way where we all are honored, cared for, grace-filled, forgiven and sent.

The season of Lent is at one a time where we seek to be closer to God through the discipline of Lent—self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love—strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament. But, the season and journey of Lent is also that time where we are reminded that God is ever close to us in the wilderness of our lives.

That the Holy Spirit is present in this wilderness. That the Holy Spirit is guiding us to see God in the center of our lives. The Holy Spirit is there, it is here. We are not alone as we struggle with the sin that separates us from God. The Holy Spirit is here to assure us that we are loved, forgiven, and sent to proclaim. That in the Spirit – the spirit that was poured into us – we are able to follow Christ. For it is Christ who sent us that Spirit to be with us.

We do this together. Not only this journey of Lent, but this life of faith. As we wander through the wildernesses of our lives – when it seems that God is so distant from us – we have the Spirit who guides us into the lives of one another to see God at work in us and in them. Where others come into our lives and where we come into the lives of others to help us all better see, know, and experience God’s presence.

In our baptisms we are joined together in this great community – this wonderfully diverse body of Christ.

We begin this season of Lent with a story of test and temptation. A story that at its center and core is the Holy Spirit – the spirit that fills Jesus and leads him is the same one that fills and leads us. Leads us to see where God is at work, and how God is the true center and being of who we are. Amen.

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