The Wilderness

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, March 10, 2019

The First Sunday in Lent
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Second Lesson: Romans 10:8b-13
Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

judean-desert_dsc04153lmauldin-copy-1-760x428I have a confession to make. I have a love/hate relationship with the season of Lent. I love it because I know it’s good for me. Lent is a special time in the life of the Church, a period of forty days and forty nights (not including Sundays) set apart for the sole purpose of working on our relationship with God. It’s a period of time that we’re given each year to be intentional about falling back in love with God, to reconnect with the one who formed us from the dust of the earth. This leads me to the reason why I also don’t really care that much for Lent. In order to reconnect with God, I know that I have to be willing to make some changes in my life. I know that I have to be willing to let go of my selfish need for control and my belief that I can do everything on my own.

In the days and weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, we’re encouraged to think about what our Lenten disciplines are going to be. We ask ourselves, “What am I going to give up during Lent this year? Will it be chocolate? Will it be coffee? Will it be some other indulgence that I normally enjoy?” Or, we might ask ourselves, “What new spiritual practice will I take on during Lent? Will it be spending more time each day in private prayer? Will it be volunteering more of my time at church? Will it be reading a book of daily devotions each day during Lent or some other practice that goes beyond my normal routine?”

Every year, I ask myself those same questions, and every year I wait until the very last minute to decide. I put it off as long as I can because it’s something I really don’t want to do even though I know it’s something I need to do. More often than not, I try to convince myself that life is already hard enough without having to give something else up or take something else on. Life is already stressful and complicated enough without having to worry about adding something else to my ever-growing list of things to do.

Perhaps you feel the same way as I do about Lent. We know deep down that it’s good for us, but we really don’t want to put in the extra time and effort required to do it right. We would much rather go about the days and weeks of Lent as if nothing has changed. We would much rather skip over our time in the wilderness with Jesus and go straight to Easter morning.

The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that it can cause us to miss the point of Lent altogether. It’s not really about what we choose to give up or what we choose to take on. It’s not about adding something extra to our daily list of things to do. It’s about taking stock of our lives and paying special attention to those material things that have control over us, the things we often use to make ourselves feel better apart from God.

Barbara Brown Taylor preached about this in a sermon she once wrote, referring to those material things in our lives as “pacifiers,” things that we use to help fill the empty spaces in our hearts. She wrote, “I am convinced that ninety-nine percent of us are addicted to something, whether it is eating, shopping, blaming, or taking care of other people. The simplest definition of an addiction is anything we use to fill the empty place inside of us that belongs to God alone. That hollowness we sometimes feel is not a sign of something gone wrong. It is the holy of holies inside of us, the uncluttered throne room of the Lord our God. Nothing on earth can fill it, but that does not stop us from trying.”

Lent is a time for us to be reminded of the fact that nothing on earth, no material thing or possession, can fill the space in our hearts reserved only for God. It’s not just about what we choose to give up or take on. The purpose of Lent is for us to spend some time in the wilderness, to be mindful of those “pacifiers” that tempt us to put our trust in things other than God, and to recommit ourselves to the work that God has called us to do in our lives.

Jesus’s forty-day journey through the wilderness provides us with an example to live by as we make our way through the season of Lent. In the Gospel story, shortly after his baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, where he’s tempted by the devil three times. Each temptation is particular because the devil knows that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God. In his first temptation, Jesus is hungry, and the devil says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Knowing that the devil is trying to tempt him to use his power, Jesus responds with a quote from the book of Deuteronomy. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says 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.” Knowing that the devil is trying to get him to turn from God, Jesus once again responds with a quote from Deuteronomy. “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and says 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.’” Knowing that the devil is trying to turn the tables and use scripture against him, Jesus responds with yet another quote from Deuteronomy. “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Three temptations. Three failed attempts.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be tempted by the most tempting things imaginable. And yet, despite the best efforts of the devil to deceive him, Jesus refuses to let his temptations control him. Jesus refuses to put his trust in things other than God.

Dear friends, during this holy season of Lent, may we follow the example of Jesus and do likewise. May we, in our own journeys through the wilderness, draw close to God and refuse to allow our temptations to control us. May we put our whole trust in God, always mindful of the fact that there’s nothing on this earth that can fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts where God so longs to dwell. Amen.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.

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