Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

The wilderness is a pretty daunting place to be I would imagine.
Whether that wilderness be a desert; the sea; a jungle; the mountains;
the arctic regions or outer space – it is a place you do not want to be lost in.
Many novels and films have been inspired by the wilderness theme;
and once the writers imagination has been fired
they have come up with many chilling scenarios that play on all of our inner fears.

The wilderness conjures up images of isolation; danger and deprivation;
and there are those who thrive on the challenge and voluntarily put themselves in these situations
just to test their endurance. Most of us do not.
Now, I love out of the way places;
I like the feeling of being cut off from the ordinary everyday activity of the world.
But personally, I also like the idea of their being a pub within an hour’s walk.
Not really what you would call a wilderness then!

Certainly not the kind of wilderness that Jesus found himself in for 40 days,
deprived of food, company, and the reassuring comforts of home.
I imagine it is not a situation that many of would enter voluntarily.
Nevertheless, like Jesus, we do at times in our lives find ourselves in the wilderness.
You see the wilderness is not just a place out there that we choose to visit or avoid;
the wilderness is also an inner realm; a place within ourselves;
and we often find ourselves there without having any choice in the matter.

In fact, according to Marks Gospel, Jesus wasn’t given much choice in the matter.
he tells us that Jesus was driven by the spirit into the wilderness.
Jesus was not in the wilderness as an excited explorer,
he was driven there by inner questions, doubts and issues that needed to be worked through.

Jesus’ life was changing fast.
It was beginning to dawn on him, as he hit the age of around 30,
that he was not always going to have the quiet life of a carpenter.
I believe that it was beginning to hit home just who was, and what he had to do;
and, when he contemplated the significance of that,
he was filled with self-doubt and dread.

He was driven not only into the wilderness of Palestine,
but more significantly into the wilderness of his own mind, and heart.
There he faced his inner demons of doubt and uncertainty.
“If you are the Son of God show us what you can do; how you can make a difference?
how you can reach people with your message?
Some saviour you are who doesn’t even trust your own powers.”

And, like Jesus, we find ourselves at times driven into our own inner wilderness.
We feel isolated and alone; we too are filled with doubts and uncertainties;
We begin to feel sorry for ourselves and feel that life is conspiring against us.
And, as the devil taunted Jesus: “Call yourself the Son of God? – then prove it to yourself”
Our inner demons also taunt us: “Call yourself a Christian! Where’s your God now!
If you really had faith you’d be able to deal with this. You might as well give up.”

Yes, the wilderness is a tough place to be.
It is an easy place to be driven in to, but it is a darn sight harder finding our way out.
All we can do is what Jesus did: hold on firmly to what has sustained us so far;
and place our trust in God’s strength and not in our own strength alone.

And if we think that was easy for Jesus we should think again.
When we hear that story read to us
it is easy to think of Jesus sitting there very piously batting back all the devils taunts.
But in reality his inner demons had got to him.
This was not just a pious exercise – it was a real spiritual battle.
At that point he was truly tempted to attempt something dramatic to prove his calling;
like turning stones into bread.
He needed to know if what he was beginning to believe about himself was true;
he was that close to pulling off some cheap magic stunt to make himself feel in control.
It took all his spiritual grounding to ignore the urges and wait on God.

When we find ourselves in the wilderness, as we are all wont to do in life at times,
we need to remember this incident in Jesus’ life, and remind ourselves
not to make any rash choices or decisions, or reach any ill thought out conclusions.
May we have the grace and strength to wait on God and trust in our spiritual grounding.

The passage in Mark ends with Jesus being ministered to by angels.
We will find in our wilderness the ministering angels of God are always there with us,
and we are never left alone, no matter how much it may feel it at the time.
The inner wilderness can be a daunting and painful place to be at times,
but it can also be the very place that we discover God and ourselves in a whole new way.