Summary: A sermon for the first Sunday of Lent
I’m told that it’s impossible to be hungry in the desert because of the sand which is everywhere.
Today our readings take us into the desert, or the wilderness if you prefer (the words are the same in the Greek and Hebrew). Why is this relevant for us? Few of us regularly travel to the Kalahari or the Sahara, the Great Sandy or the Mojave. The nearest most of us get to wilderness is the Bourne woods.
Yet, the desert - the wilderness - is a powerful image for our spiritual journey.
Perhaps you’ve been to a desert? I haven't, but for me it speaks of an inhospitable and unwelcoming place, of a loss of bearings, a loss of direction, and of uncertainty and fear: a hard place, a place of struggle.
I suggest tom you that it’s not only an external place or reality - it’s also an inner experience. Where are you at the beginning of this Lent? What weighs upon your mind? What are you struggling with?
The desert isn’t an experience most of us seek, but one that we find ourselves in, taken to, or dropped into. It might be a desert of suffering, ours or someone close to us, or the world's suffering. It might be a longing to know more of God, and not finding that anything is happening, that our prayer seems to have dried up, that God doesn't seem to be there. It might be a reaction to an event, causing stress. It might be a feeling, something that touches every relationship, something that is experienced as emptiness, futility, depression. It might be a post-modern loss of meaning, of purpose, of direction, that comes upon us because that’s the sort of environment we live in, where darkness and loss of God are the experience of so many. It may be our experience - that it is difficult to believe, to trust God
The desert is certainly something very real in the Bible. After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, the desert, for a long time, before they reached the so-called Promised Land, and we heard a small part of that story in our reading from Deuteronomy. Jesus was in the desert, where he encountered the devil, as we heard in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel.
We can’t really know exactly how it happened, but I wonder if the temptation was something like this? Jesus is sitting on a rock, his head in his hands, saying, “if only I knew what God wanted me to do, I’ve got so many conflicting thoughts in my head, what does he want me to do with my life? I know God has given me powers and gifts, but how does he want me to use them? Should I wow the people with miracles of might, so that they have to listen,
or should I just speak the truth and love people and take it from there?”
We all know, thank God, what choices Jesus did make in the end, but make no mistake - Jesus really had to struggle to figure it out. It’s a struggle that starts here in the wilderness, a struggle which stays with him right up to Gethsemane three years later.