Wilderness Moments and Desert Times

Wilderness Moments and Desert Times

Watch Pastor Kelly deliver this sermon or read the text below

The Temptation of Jesus
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 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.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

   ‘Worship the Lord your God,
      and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)

Have you ever gone out into the wilderness, perhaps climbing a mountain or hiking out into uncharted territory? Today in the world that we live in, it’s not as easy to get out into the wilderness as it used to be, away from civilization, crowds, and cell phone reception. Sure we can head up to Maine, or to a National Park somewhere, but it takes a little effort and planning, doesn’t it?

Though we may not be able to head out into the physical wilderness, we all face wilderness moments in our lives sometimes, don’t we? Times when we are hesitant and unsure? Times when everything seemed turned upside down and we don’t know which direction to go in? Times when we worry about what lies ahead and around the next corner? It is human nature to worry in the wilderness because we lose control of what is going on around us. We feel uncomfortable, we feel vulnerable, and we are uncertain about even the smallest details.

Well, in the Bible, when Jesus began his public ministry, he was immediately sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. What a way to begin, huh? Now some translations, rather than saying that Jesus was sent out into the wilderness, say that he was sent out into the desert, which is a wilderness in itself.

Can you imagine what it would be like in the desert for forty days and forty nights, surrounded by sand, and wind, and barren space? Where even the landscape that you think you know can change overnight? Deserts carry with them scorching sun by day and bone-chilling cold at night. There is no shade or comfort; just emptiness as far as the eye can see.

It is many times said that people experience “desert times” or “desert seasons” in their lives. Just like wilderness moments, desert times or seasons make us feel spiritually dry, exhausted or burned out. And to be honest, that is why the season of Lent is celebrated in the church. It is a time to acknowledge those human thoughts and feelings and to take some time to process them and to do what you need to do to make yourself whole again.

Friends, experiencing desert times in your lives is not something to feel guilty or bad about. It can actually be a sign of mature growth in your faith because, during a desert time, you tend to look more deeply at yourself and what you believe in. You ask the tough questions. And in so doing, you give yourself the opportunity to grow.

I have had many discussions with people over the years about how Jesus survived during his time in the wilderness, and how he was able to stay so honest and true to his faith when tempted. People often think that it must have been his divinity that brought him through, but I think I would disagree. Because, if this Biblical story is going to mean anything to us as human beings, there has to have been something in Jesus’ humanness that gave him the strength and the courage to do what he did. But what strength could he find in the wilderness when everything was turned upside down? What gave him the courage to stand firm in the face of temptation?

Well, during this season of Lent in Oldtown, we are going to do our best to look at scripture and the world around us through the lens of love. So the answer somehow has to be, love. But where does Jesus find this love in the midst of the wilderness when he is alone and frustrated and facing temptation at every turn?

Well, my friends, in order to truly understand, we need to look back to the beginning of the story. Because when the story of Jesus’ temptation begins, we are told that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

It was actually what happened just before Jesus went off into the desert that made all the difference in the world. It was what happened at the Jordan that filled him with love and strengthened him for his journey. Now you may know what happened at the Jordan River. Yes, it was Jesus’ baptism, But I think the part that brought him through his time in the wilderness were the words that came from heaven that day, “You are my beloved, in you, I am well pleased.”

Friends, when we know that we are loved and that people are pleased with us, we are given strength and we begin to believe in ourselves. So during this season of Lent, remember that your words can be weapons, or they can be a wealth of love and strength and encouragement for yourself and for others. Remember that we all go through wilderness times, but rather than giving in to the uncertainty and the struggle, remember to look through the eyes of love, knowing that you are worthy and you are loved, just the way you are!

Amen!

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