Below is a sermon from a few years ago on our lesson for this week, Mark 1:9-15.
1st Sunday in Lent 2006
Today, on the first Sunday of Lent, our travels take us with Jesus as he is cast out into the wilderness by the Spirit and tempted for 40 Days. I always thought how interesting it was that this time of temptation occurs directly after his baptism. For right after he comes out of the water, and the Spirit descends on him like a dove, then God speaks, saying those beautiful words – You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. And then the Spirit, that innocent looking little dove, grabs Jesus and tosses him out into the wilderness of life. There is no potluck celebration, no gift-giving, he is just thrown out to be with Satan and the wild beasts, to be tempted with all that life has to offer.
This started me thinking about what our lives are like after we are baptized. Do we expect that once we are claimed by God that life will be a bed of roses? Do expect that once we are washed in the water and the Word that we will have an easy ride? Okay, God claimed me, now I can just sit back and everything will be fine? Or do we expect that once we were brought out of those waters, now the temptations will come, and they will come fast and furious.
One of the struggles in being human is that no matter what, we will be tempted. Some of our temptations will no doubt come from Satan, but I think more of the temptations we face in our lives come from other humans, the wild beasts of creation as they may be. These temptations may be harder for us to face, for they are temptations with flesh on them.
Back in my first parish I had a dear member who was a major thorn in my side. Bill was an ornery old coot, and from day one he wanted to make my life as difficult as possible. You see, Bill never wanted the previous pastor to leave – and it was my fault that the previous pastor left, because I was the one who followed him, even though it had been nearly a year since his departure
So from the very beginning I had an uphill battle with Bill. After worship he would stand out in the parking lot and publicly critique my sermons in comparison with my predecessor. He would drive by the parsonage on a daily basis, and then go to the coffee shop and talk about what an awful job I was doing on the lawn. To say dealing with Bill was a struggle is putting it mildly, and he quickly became one of the wild beasts in the congregation.
One day one of the parishioners in the church called me up and told me that Bill’s brother had died. The parishioner then asked if I could go over and spend some time with Bill as he grieved. My first thought, as I hung up that phone, was no way. This man had made my life awful, and I had no desire whatsoever to spend any time with him. This was my temptation, to abandon a member of the flock in a time of need.
And it as a major temptation no doubt. I thought of many excuses I could use to not go over there, so valid, yet so very made up. But in the end, I knew that I was called to minister in this situation, even if I really did not want to. So after a very strong cup of coffee, I girded myself up, and drove out to Bill’s house. He welcomed me in, and I spent time with Bill as he wept over the loss of a loved one.
I shared with him those great promises that Christ had made, that neither life nor death could separate us from the love of God. I reminded him that Christ had promised that in the end all the tombs would be emptied and we would joyfully celebrate the gift of eternal life with all God’s children, and I sat and listened to the many stories that Bill told of the life he shared with his brother.
I still remember sitting there in my kitchen, and the fight I went through to battle this temptation to abandon this wild beast, and how God gave me the strength and the words to share, words of hope, forgiveness, and life.
Now I won’t lie, life with Bill after that encounter was not all rosy. He still held his critique sessions in the parking lot. He still drove by the house and inspected the lawn. But through that time in the wilderness with Bill, I was changed. Through this time of temptation, the Spirit led me into a struggle that I did not want to face, and in the process, the Sprit strengthened my faith in my calling as well as in God’s desire to love all of creation, even the wild beasts.
God strengthened my in the call that Jesus gives to each and every one of us – the call to be about mission. The call to love the unlovable, the call to journey with the outcasts, the call to go into the wilderness, and face the temptations that come our way.
And so we continue on this journey. We continue to hear God telling us that many times in our lives we will feel like we are being thrown out into the wilderness and the wild beasts will be tempting us at every turn. But we also know that we do not enter this wilderness, or face these temptations, alone. For Christ faced temptations in his life as well, and he is the one who journeys with us into the dark areas of life. He is the one who will face the wild beasts with us. And in the end, he is the one who will strengthen us through these temptations: Strengthen us in our love of God; Strengthen us in love for our neighbors; Even strengthen us in our love for the wild beasts of creation
For through Christ, all things will be made new. That means that through Christ, and even through the temptations we face with him, we will be made new again.