Pastor's Sermons

Sermon for Lent 1 ~ Feb 22, 2015

Mark 1:9-15

Last week I saw the movie Wild that tells the story of a woman’s search for herself after the death of her mother and descent into drugs and promiscuity and the loss of her marriage.  She is driven to sort things out and spends 100 days in the wilderness walking the Pacific Crest Trail.  At one point she accidentally knocks her hiking boot down a mountainside.  She swears and screams and throws the other one away.  She pulls the sandals out of her pack and wraps them to her foot with duct tape and walks on.  She encounters threatening strangers and friendly hikers.  She struggles.  She feeds her fire with the pages of the hiking guide that cover the distance she has walked.  She completes the journey and writes the book and the movie is made.  Somehow she sorted out the past, faced the present and was ready for the future in a whole new way.


And Jesus had his own wilderness experience.




Wilderness is a good metaphor for life without luxury, without padding, without makeup.  What does life look like when it is not sanitized and dressed up?


As we approach the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, the Lutheran World Federation has announced an Anniversary theme: Liberated by God’s grace.  The sub-themes tell us some of what we are trying to sort out in the wilderness of our life today:

  • Salvation is not for sale
  • Human beings are not for sale
  • Creation is not for sale

Competing religions and radicalized leaders of terror use genocide and threat to coerce people to believe a certain way.  But salvation is not bartered in such a way. God’s mercy is free in Christ – not for sale. 

Human trafficking, prostitution, hostages, child labor, child soldiers, neglect of the mentally ill.  We are made in God’s image – human beings are not for sale.

Denuded wilderness, disappearing species, carbon footprints, poisoned earth, air and water, vanishing habitat.  Creation is our home – not for sale. Liberated by God’s grace we move through the wilderness 


If the world is a wild place governed by survival of the fittest – does that mean only the violent and controlling win?  Or is there hope for the strength of compassion?  I think Jesus had to sort that out in the wilderness.  He was appointed at his baptism to step forward with God’s values compassion.  Could he do it?  Would he do it?  Easier said than done.


The bad and the scary


Lent gives us 40 days to sort things out in the shadows of faith.  Like 40 days in the wilderness.  We have the symbol of lessening light.  The wilderness of our lives carries both the bad and scary things.  Satan represents everything we think of as bad: lies that cater to our fears and selfishness; and wild beasts are whatever is scary. Jesus would have been alarmed out there.  Snakes and serpents gave him cause for caution and taking precautions.  Jackals, leopards and wolves are present there today.  Was he bitten or stung?  Did he hurl stones or burning sticks at laughing hyenas?  Did the howl of wolves awaken him? 


There were threats and threats remain for us.  We are flippant at our peril.  We have locks on our doors, alarm systems in our homes, police on our streets and a department of national defense.  Prisons house those who have sold out to lies and selfishness.  We buy insurance because of the unexpected and we long for trusting community and real friendship.


Because when all the façade is stripped away – we live in a wilderness.


What scares you?...

What scares me?  ISIS, disease, failures, fear without relief, love-less life.


Jesus was driven to sort things out.  His role was to bring compassion.  Compassion to stand against lies and selfishness.  Compassion in the face of the scary things all around.  Could he do it?  Would he do it?  He had to walk.  He had inner debates.  Sleepless nights.  What was really important?




On a 42 km marathon, there are water tables about every 5 km.  The first few are easy to run past, but in the last half, nobody runs past anymore.  Volunteers are like angels.  As an exhausted runner their water, smiles and encouragement keep me going. 


The Gospel of Mark doesn’t talk much of angels. There are no Christmas angel stories, there is no angel at Gethsemane, and the angel at the empty tomb was a young man dressed in white.  No wings, no golden faces.


Angels… messengers of God… are the ones who keep us going when it’s tough.  Like the people at water tables.  Like the advice of your grandmother, the reassurance of your friend, the person who dropped everything to be with you, the one who helped you on the road with a flat tire, with a ride, or a phone call. Who has kept you going in the wilderness of your life?  God sent them.


Angels waited on Jesus.  Who did he meet on the trail?  Who gave him a drink?  Whose eye twinkled as they walked together for a time?  Who shared a campfire and listened?  Who was God using to bring encouragement?  Angels.  Messengers without feathers.


At the end of the story, the angels win the day. Jesus comes out of his 40 days strengthened by the angels.  In other words, God’s support is there even when things are bad and scary.  God is present when we face all our fears.  God assists us when the wilderness of life in the world seems out of control. A cross of forgiveness and empty tomb of new hope are markers.


Jesus discovered that he had something to offer.  He knew that even if there was only him, or only him and a few others with compassion… something could still be done. 


And so with compassion, with the help of angels, with each other – we sort things out.  We stand for God’s values in a wilderness world and know we are valued.  We hold up the sign: Salvation is not for sale.  People are not for sale.  Creation is not for sale.  Or, as Jesus said as he came out of the woods:  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.


God is present in your wilderness.  You are not alone.



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