By The Rev. Sherry Deets
1 Lent – February 26, 2012
This morning I’d like to talk about the wilderness experience. We heard that Jesus was driven out into the wilderness for 40 days and tempted by Satan. Sooner or later, almost everyone experiences that uncomfortable feeling that, no matter how confident we were at the start of a journey, we are now lost.
The feeling may come on gradually. Something doesn’t seem quite right. There’s this odd feeling we’re traveling the wrong way. The landmarks don’t look right. The signs are all wrong.
Or it may come as a jarring shock: We are way out of our reckoning. Translation? We are good, old-fashioned lost, lost, lost!
When that happens, we have to get back on the right track. That may be easy, as easy as making a couple of quick turns, or it may mean having to backtrack for however long we have been going the wrong direction. Either way, there’s no use waiting. We’ve got to start getting “unlost.” Or, as those little GPS units are fond of saying, “Recalculating, recalculating,….”
C.S. Lewis tells a story in his book, Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is an older, wiser demon who is teaching his young nephew, Wormwood, how to tempt people. He warns Wormwood not to tempt anyone to commit a really horrible sin. A demon can win all kinds of laurels by getting someone to commit a horrible sin–but committing a horrible sin might cause the person to wake up and say, “Never again!” It could even cause the person to turn to God.
No, there’s a better way to tempt people–start small. Screwtape advises Wormwood, “Murder is no better than cards if cards will do the trick.” He goes on to say:
“The safest road to Hell is the gradual one–
the gentle slope, soft underfoot,
without sudden turnings,
When you are dealing with someone so clever as that, you have to be careful–very careful. But God has equipped us to stand up to the devil, just as Jesus did in the wilderness. God has given us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us–to guide us–to strengthen us–to steel us against the devil’s wiles.
There is a true story told by Stephen Covey about a man who experiences a time in his life when everything seemed flat, boring, dull.
He went to this physician who found nothing wrong with him
physically. The doctor then suggested that he take a day for some spiritual renewal. He was to go to a place that had been special to him as a child. He could take food, but nothing else.
The doctor then handed him four prescriptions – one to be read at 9 AM, one to be read at noon, one at 3 PM, and the final one at 6 PM. The patient agreed and the next day, drove himself to the beach.
At nine AM he opened the first prescription, which read. “Listen carefully.” For three hours do nothing but listen??? Our friend was annoyed, but decided to obey. At first he heard the wind, the birds, the surf–predictable beach sounds. But then he found himself listening to his inner voice, reminding him of some of the lessons the beach had taught him as a child–patience, respect, the interdependence of the different parts of nature.
Soon, our friend was feeling more peaceful than he had in a long time. At noon he opened the second prescription, and it said, “Try reaching back.” His mind began to wander, and he discovered himself being overwhelmed by all the moments of joy and blessing and giftedness he had been given in the past.
At three he opened the third prescription. This one was harder. It read, “Examine your motives.” Defensively, this man listed all the motivating factors of his life – success, recognition, security – and found satisfactory explanations for them all. But finally it occurred to him, in a shattering moment, that those motives were not enough, that the lack of a deeper motive probably accounted for the staleness and boredom of his life.
“In a flash of certainty,” he wrote, “I saw that if one’s motives are wrong, nothing can be right. It makes no difference if you are a scientist, a housewife, a mail carrier, or an attorney. It is only when you are serving others, that you do the job well and feel good. This is a law as irrefutable as gravity.”
At six PM he read the final prescription. It said, “Write your worries on the sand.” He took a shell, scratched a few words, and then walked away, never turning back. He knew, with a great sense of relief, that the tide would come in, and his anxieties would be washed away.”
My friends, the wilderness – the aloneness – the solitude that the
wilderness affords – the hardship – is an opportunity – a blessing – from
the Spirit of God. It is a place where we can be tested – a place where we
can grow into the maturity that we require so that we can indeed face the
world, in both good times and in bad, and do there those things there that
God would have us do.
In the loneliness of the wilderness Jesus discovers in his own experience that he is not really alone – that God goes with him – that the angels care for him – and that with the aid of God’s prescriptions, with the aid of God’s word, he can survive – and in fact prosper – no matter what the situation.
Imagine God saying something like this: “I walked with Moses and the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years. I brought them to the land of promise. I walked with Elijah for forty days and nights in the wilderness on the way to Mount Horeb. I called him to new purposes in life. I walked with my beloved Son as he encountered Satan in the wilderness. I raised him up from even the darkest hour. I will walk with you through the wilderness as well. I have a land of promise for you. I have a mission for you to accomplish. I will raise you from every darkness.”
I’d like to end with something that will be familiar to some of you. It is “The Testimony of a Confederate Soldier” from the period of the Great Civil War. It seems appropriate as a closing because of how it describes what God can accomplish in us through our wilderness experiences, through our times of testing. It goes like this:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men, most richly blessed.
Know that Jesus goes with us into the wilderness of our lives. He has met the enemy and won. He will not let us down. Believe in the good news. Amen.
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