Church of Scotland

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Sunday Sermon

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Church Sermon Sunday

 

Dreghorn and Springside Church, Sunday 28th February 2021. 

Bible reading Luke 4:1-13 “The Temptation of Jesus”

4 Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over.  The Devil said to him, “If you are God's Son, order this stone to turn into bread.”  But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone.’”  Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world. “I will give you all this power and all this wealth,” the Devil told him. “It has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose. All this will be yours, then, if you worship me.”  Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’”  Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here. 10 For the scripture says, ‘God will order his angels to take good care of you.’ 11 It also says, ‘They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’”  12 But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  13 When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.

 

Sermon “Worship in the Wilderness”

In the Bible, wilderness does not have one simple meaning.  Instead, it is a rich picture that holds various tensions together.  On one level the desert was a dry, lifeless and lawless place.  After the Israelites escaped the cruelty of Pharaoh, in Egypt they had their Exodus into the wilderness for forty years.  The wilderness was a place where they had to confront their fears, their frailty and their mortality.

In the face of these “negative” experiences, the Israelites also recognised the desert as a place of provision, there was manna from heaven, transformation, the likes of Jacob’s time in Haran, and encounter with God, Elijah hiding in the caves and hearing God’s still small voice on Mount Horeb. 

Writer Jenny Phillips says this “The wilderness of the Bible is a liminal space—an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended, identity shifts, and new possibilities emerge.  Through the experiences of the Israelites in exile, we learn that while the biblical wilderness is a place of danger, temptation, and chaos, it is also a place for solitude, nourishment, and revelation from God.”  In our Bible reading today we meet with Jesus just after his baptism.  Which was a time of revelation from God, when his heavenly Father has just confirmed him with the words, “you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased”.  And then he goes from that high, to crashing into a wilderness experience of hunger, danger, and temptation. 

I think we all have our mountaintop moments, our places where abundance flows.  And we have our wildernesses, those desert places?  Times when you feel on top of the world, and others when it feels like you’re just stumbling through the dust.  There are times when you feel well fed, comfortable and surrounded by loved ones, and others where you’re hungry, thirsty, lonely, and tired.

In our relationship with God, we have moments when we feel very close to him - perhaps during worship or a nature walk. And then we have times when God seems far away, when we doubt him or struggle with temptation.  If you feel like that, well you are not alone. 

Every one of us has these ups and downs, these mountaintop moments and desert days.  Not just us today - but also the great names of the Bible, and even Jesus, he experienced both.   Today I want to highlight three things that the Bible can teach us about our wilderness experiences. 

The first of these is solitude and the first thing we notice about Jesus is that following his baptism, he didn’t do a lap of honour for adulation among the crowds, rather he walked away from the crowds and spent forty days and forty nights in this lonely place.  Luke also tells of another time when, “… the news about Jesus spread all the more widely, and crowds of people came to hear him and be healed from their diseases.  But he would go away to lonely places, where he prayed.”  (Luke 5:15-16). 

We might have different responses to the idea of solitude, of being alone and COVID certainly has put us through a time of testing.  Some of dislike spending time alone - we know that we are extroverts, we enjoy people’s company, we feed off the affirmation of our friends, our family and our co-workers. Others of us are introverts, we have secretly enjoyed lockdown, a bit of peace, a chance to be restored, be yourself. 

Coming out of the solitude of lockdown, whenever this happens, is not simply that we have been on prolonged charge, ready to burst into the same all over again, but rather we should learn from our time in solitude, the writer Henri Nouwen says, “solitude is not a private therapeutic place.  Rather, it is the place of conversion, a place where the old self dies, and the new self is born.” Henri Nouwen, The Way of The Heart, p. 27, 30. 

The main reason Jesus sought solitude was to be with his heavenly Father.  How can we then, today, choose to use this time wisely?  Is it possible to spend some moments each week with no agenda but simply to be with God?  How can we see time alone as a place of transformation, where we are changed and can then relate to the world in a new and more godly way? 

The second thing we notice about Jesus is how he rejects unnecessary baggage.  It says, “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.’” (Luke 4:5-6). 

Jesus knows it is so easy to “gain the world” yet “lose your soul” (Luke 9:25), so he rebukes the devil.  How many of the adverts surround us every day are about “gaining the world”, or achieving more “authority and splendour”?  How often are we tempted to upgrade the phone, your TV subscription, a new gadget for the house, a hot tub for the garden, whatever?

Jesus, who we follow was a homeless man (Luke 9:58).  His only possessions seem to have been the clothes on his back (John 19:23).  When he sends out the 72 in Luke 10, he tells them: “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals” (10:4).  Now, it is not wrong for us to have homes, clothes, shoes and other possessions, but Jesus’ example should cause us to question whether we need quite as many things as the ads tell us we do. 

This time of worship in the wilderness might ask us to consider whether we rely too much on things - even good things - instead of trusting in God.  Maybe walking away from our warm homes and taking a prayer walk through our villages or down the many paths that intersect our parish, might help you see God afresh.  Perhaps putting your smartphone away for a day might give you a new perspective on life and faith.  Maybe turning off the TV and the radio, sitting silently in God’s presence, might be a form of simple, wilderness worship that restores your soul more than you realise. 

This leads us on to one of the most obvious things that we notice about Jesus’ time in the wilderness - the fact that he fasted from food, and the first temptation attacks this directly: “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’” (Luke 5:3) 

Notice that the devil doesn’t say, “You must be hungry”, even though we know Jesus is feeling the effects of his forty day fast.  The devil goes to the real heart of the matter - “if you are the Son of God…”  

The devil attacks Jesus identity, and does that to us too when we are vulnerable.  He attacks who are we, or perhaps more importantly whose are we?  This encounter between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness reminds us that, more than food, our lives are sustained by the word of God - by Jesus the Word spoken to create us, and as we reflected on in the first Sunday of February in our reading from Colossians 1:17 and 18, “Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place.  He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body's life…” 

So, when it comes from reflecting on your own identity, where does this come from?  Are you in danger of getting your identity from other places, instead of from God?  Is it your identity formed by your social media account?  The labels on the clothes you wear?  The club or organisation that you are part of? 

Maybe a fast from some of these things for a while might help us re-orientate our identity back to being first and foremost - that you are a beloved child of God. 

So, what do we do with this prolonged enforced time in the wilderness, do we twiddle our thumbs and count the days ‘til we are back out and live just as we were before, or is this a time to reflect, to contemplate, to prepare?  

Can you use this moment wisely as a time of transformation, coming out the other side better able to relate to the world in a new and more godly way? 

Can you use this time of worship in the wilderness to identify and lay aside our over attachment to things – and instead trust first and foremost in our loving God? 

And can you re-orientate your identity in God, who loves you and gives his all for you – his dearly beloved child. 

 

Jamie Milliken

28th February 2021