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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sermon: The Wilderness

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
First Sunday in Lent
Luke 4:1-13

Let us pray, “All-powerful God, do not let us be tempted to believe you have forsaken us. Remind us even in our greatest distress that no evil can withstand the power of your love. ” Amen.

A sign of the modern day Olympics is not so much the types of events as opposed to the ancient Olympics but the presence of the media and how the games are covered. If you catch any of the coverage of the current 2010 Olympic Games going on in Vancouver the amount of time actually spent watching the events is not as much as the time spent on commentaries, interviews, and human interest stories. Just try to watch the curling event, you might see a snippet but you never see a whole match, but you will definitely see commentaries, interviews, and human interest stories. I enjoy watching the Olympics, however usually after the first few days I begin to tune out the human interest stories. I will watch the events and walk away when the human interest stories start. However Friday night I saw a story which caught my attention. It was a story about the short track speed skater Apolo Ohno and his father. Here’s the part that was fascinating to me:

“After failing to make the 1998 Olympic team, Ohno, 15, had to decide whether to continue skating. Ohno's father feared he would make a rash decision after the disappointment at Olympic Trials and brought his son to a secluded cottage three hours northwest of Seattle [and left him there alone]. With no distractions from TV or telephone, Ohno passed the time by taking long runs. It was during one of his runs [on the eighth or ninth day], when he stopped and sat on a rock in the pouring rain, that he realized he wanted to continue skating.”

Apolo Ohno’s was left alone to figure out what to do with his life. It was a wilderness time in his life. We do not know if he experienced temptations or if he had a spiritual experience, but he credits that time of solitude as providing focus for his life.

In our gospel Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness is solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited. The wilderness is a place of trial and temptation. Jesus had just been baptized and received this word from God, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22) and now he has been in the desert forty days, he is tired and hungry. That is precisely when the devil strikes. The Greek word for devil is diabolos, meaning false accuser or slanderer.

The devil, the accuser, comes when Jesus is weak and tempts him to seize power and take control. The devil employs lies and distorts the Word of God toward his own ends. Jesus' response to the first temptation of the devil shows us that knowing and doing God's will is more important than fulfilling one’s own desires. During the second temptation, when the devil offered to give him all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus refuses to seek power and glory. In the third temptation, the devil urges Jesus to test God's power by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus responds by refusing to put God to the test. Jesus had real strength that came from the knowledge that he was God's beloved Son. He would use his strength for a greater purpose than self-affirmation.

The wilderness is solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited. The wilderness is a place of trial and temptation. It is a place where all our securities, comforts, and resources are gone. We are at the mercy of elements we cannot control. It is a place where we are alone. Temptation comes when we are worn down and our defenses are lowered. God puts us under testing, that we might learn to find our strength under his control.

We all experience wilderness times in our lives. It is a place where all our securities, comforts and resources are gone. It is a place in which we are deeply challenged. We as a congregation have experienced many wilderness opportunities in this past year; the celebration of 100 years of ministry and entering the wilderness of beginning the next 100 years, the leaving of a beloved pastor and entering the interim wilderness, the waiting for a building project to begin with paperwork stuck in the wilderness of bureaucracy for weeks on end, the beginning of the building project and the wilderness of physical disruption of noise and mess, the early departure of a vicar and the wilderness of the unknown and uncertainty, the beginning work of the call committee and the wilderness of the call process and the uncertainties inherit therein.

Now add to this whatever personal wilderness experience in which you find yourself, life transitions, elderly parents, addiction, employment difficulties, family struggles, medical issues, or meaninglessness. Now add to this the wilderness of the society and the world right now and we all have more uncertainty in our lives than we may ever want to deal with. We may find ourselves worn down and our defenses lowered. We may find ourselves tempted to lash out as those closest to us as we seek a way out of the wilderness.

But thanks be to God that we can call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to Jesus Christ that he did not give into the temptation of self-preservation, power, and prestige, otherwise there would be no hope for us to get free from our wilderness. Because Jesus did not give into the devil we have hope that we will be rescued from our sin. Since Jesus died giving himself completely for us we know that he will forgive our sins and forgive us for giving into temptation.

These forty days of lent we are walking to the cross through the wilderness. We are walking to the cross of Good Friday and the empty cross of Easter. The cross is not just a symbol for us, it is a reality, because on the cross Jesus died, on purpose. Jesus gave up his life so that we might have life.

Dear Friends in Christ, just as Jesus did not give into temptation, Jesus does not give up on you. For when temptation over takes you, Jesus has not forsaken you. You will be tempted as you walk through this wilderness of life. You will be tempted, but that temptation will not have the final word. Jesus Christ will have the final word at the resurrection. And that word will be, “Welcome home my beloved child.

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