Each week Pastor Keith’s Sunday sermon is posted on this site. Several other recent sermons are also available here. You can go back over it to review what he said — or if you cannot come to church, you can still enjoy his sermons.
Feb. 14, 2016
Today begins “Lent in a Bag.” You may have already rummaged through the sack to see what’s there. There is a sheet that gives directions for each week with the scripture, some guiding questions. There are a couple of sandwich bags with stuff in them. One has a fig Newton. There’s also a bag of sand. That’s our devotional focus this week.
The sand reminds us of wilderness. Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Any place away from hustle and bustle can be wilderness. He spends 40 days there. Have you ever wondered what Jesus did for those 40 days?
Often the biblical references to wilderness are negative: It’s a place of thirst, hunger, deprivation of all sorts, windswept, an abode of evil spirits. Often, in reality, it was where bandits hid out. Episcopal priest and teacher, Barbara Brown Taylor insists, “It’s only the wilderness if there’s something out there that can eat you.”
In the wilderness we can be devoured or we can encounter God. The Church has always been conscious that the wilderness is a place where temptation is experienced, sin is judged and God’s provision is received.
Lent is an intentional practice of wilderness living. It is six weeks set aside for an intentional wilderness journey. Through the Holy Spirit it can be a time of coming to terms with ourselves and God. If you are to be any good to God in this world, you will have to spend your own time with the wild beasts. You cannot follow Jesus in safety. (Tim Suttle)
Jesus’ time in the wilderness guides us in our own wilderness journeys. First, he is filled up with the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the comforter, the guide. Jesus is just off his spiritual encounter in the waters of the Jordan River, with the Spirit hovering over him as a dove and a voice coming from heaven, when that same Spirit propels him into the wilderness. Even Jesus requires the help of the Spirit to survive the wilderness.
Second, Jesus relies on his knowledge of the Scriptures. Jesus knows his Bible, and as such, he knows God’s will for him and for all creation. Even when the deceiver tries to use the Bible against, him, Jesus is able to discern good interpretation from false.
Finally, Jesus prays. Jesus is in the habit of prayer. As a devout Jew, he would pray at least three times daily. Jesus is in tune with the will of God not only because he knows the Bible, but because they are in regular conversation with one another.
Now, the reality is that most of us cannot withdraw from life for 40 days of Lent or even a few days. But we know, we feel, the need for that. Whenever you think, “I need some alone time. I need some down time. I need to get away.” “Don’t get around me; I can’t take it anymore.” “Life’s pressing in on me; I don’t know what to do or if I can take it any longer.” Any of those may well be the Holy Spirit calling you into the wilderness. In fact, you may already be in the wilderness.
I calendar one day every month as wilderness day. It’s my spa day or my fishing day. Except I don’t do either. It’s a day to confront beasts before they get too consuming. For God to address my life and failures. But also to be affirmed in forgiveness and in my gifts. To listen to God’s direction for me as husband and pastor. I don’t get that done every month but I calendar it in. When I “need” that day, I make sure to take it.
Perhaps a day away is possible for you. Skip the spa. Or maybe a spa day where you focus on God, avail yourself to God, during a massage or while the Asian woman is giving you a pedicure. Maybe it’s a quiet day on the river. Not focused on fishing but on God. Maybe it’s at home after school and before parents get home. Know the presence of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the comforter, the guide; focus on a specific scripture you’ve thought about in advance. Spend time in prayer. Listen to the voice of God that spoke to millions of wilderness wanderers before you. Allow the pain of silence, of being devoured by your wilderness beast but knowing that God nurtures you in this time. You know, often our fear of being eaten alive prevents us from receiving God’s provisions.
Some beasts are too big to fight off in a single day. A couple of times a year I go away to the wilderness — it might be a cabin in the woods or a condo at the beach during off season. No internet. No TV. But my Bible, spiritual books, notebook, prayer and light meals. Some days it’s hard to have nothing to do. Pace the floor, look at flora and fauna, take a walk. Eventually, God and I get down to the nitty-gritty.
We are forced to shut down the surrounding noise wrestle with the temptations of life — the lure of power or self-centeredness or possessions. The beasts of alcohol and/or prescription drug abuse. The beast of sexual temptation. The beast of peer pressure to be and do something you’re not. You know what your temptations are.
Be in the wilderness with the devouring beasts but also with the nurturing God. In the desolate place of just you, your life’s struggles and God. You might say, “Well, preacher, that’s fine and good but I don’t have that kind of time. I only get so much vacation. To which I respond, is it better to give your life to the beast or to God?
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