- "The Wilderness" A Sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Matt. 4:1-11. ______________________________________________________________________
We are now in the season of Lent. The season of focussing on Christ's suffering and death on the cross. A time when we discover what Christ's suffering and death have accomplished for us; how this has an impact on our lives today. A time for us to consider the deep riches and mystery of our salvation.
As we begin our Lenten journey this year, Matthew sets the stage for us by taking us out into the wilderness; out to the Jordan, where John has just baptized Jesus. Then, says Matthew: "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." The wilderness is an important place for God's people. It is, at once, life threatening and life giving. God visited a number of the prophets in the wilderness, where they were not only tested, but also equipped and prepared to serve God and God's people. The Apostle Paul spent fourteen years in the wilderness after Christ encountered him on his way to Damascus. Moses spent many years of his life in the wilderness--as did the people of Israel. Much of John the baptizer's ministry was in the wilderness. For all of these servants of God, the wilderness was not only a time of testing, it was also one of growth and maturity, of waiting on and listening to the Lord.
The wilderness can be a rather desolate, foreboding scary place--especially if you've never been there before and don't know much about it or how to survive in it. It's a testing place--no doubt about it. The wilderness is able to make us better, wiser, mature and more understanding people. It has the capacity to bring out the best in us by testing our endurance, tolerance, courage, judgement, and so on. It can also make us more humble, loving, caring people because we learn to depend more on our God for providing us with what we need in life.
On the other hand, the wilderness has the capacity to bring out the worst in us too. We might feel so despairing and hopeless that we give up on learning how to live in the wilderness. We might become selfish or hard-hearted, thinking that the only way we can survive in the wilderness is by looking after ourselves and giving up on everyone else. We may turn away from God instead of toward God--blaming God for not looking after us the way we think or feel is best for us. This attitude towards the wilderness may lead to our ultimate defeat and death.
In our lives, we face many wilderness experiences. They are times of temptation or testing for us. We, like Jesus, are tempted to believe that we are invulnerable; that we can defy the laws of nature without consequences; that we have no limits or boundaries; that we can do almost anything and nothing will happen to us. Another sort of physical wilderness that could come to us at any age is that of illness, disease, or handicap of some kind. We might feel tempted to give up on everyone and everything because no one seems to care or understand what we're going through.
Yet another physical wilderness is growing older, slowing down, and becoming less capable of doing what we used to do. We may be tempted to deny rather than accept this aging process working in our lives. On the other hand, each of these physical wildernesses in each of the different stages of life may also teach us many things that we'd never learn otherwise. Indeed, they may make us better, more loving, kind and caring people.
There is, too, the mental and emotional wilderness. In today's world, we are bombarded with all kinds of things by the mass-media. The advertising industry has a tremendous influence on people's minds and emotions. Most advertising is an insult to our intelligence and emotions. It appeals to our selfish, sinful instincts. It makes greed and immediate gratification into cardinal virtues. Also, many of the television programs and movies these days glamorize and glorify violence. This communicates the message that violence is acceptable. It often fails to look at the tragic consequences of violence.
Unfortunately, a considerable amount of mass-media productions attempt to dehumanize people by telling them not to think or feel. Another form of mental wilderness today is the information age explosion, or the information highway as it is now called. The amount of knowledge in almost every area of life today is increasing so fast that most people cannot keep up with it--let alone absorb or integrate it all into our daily living. This creates tremendous of stress for teachers and students especially, but also for the average person.
Yet another mental and emotional wilderness today is depression and grief. A lot of people become depressed about their own situation or the state of the world in general. They forget that God loves them and the world; that God is with them and calls them to work in the world and spread the Good News of God's love. Or they may be grieving over the loss of: a family member, a friend, a job, their health, and so on. This grief may not be dealt with for several years because people would rather deny it, hoping it will go away rather than confront it and try to work it out.
We as Christians can deal with these mental and emotional wildernesses. We can be selective in our choosing of television programs and movies. We can phone, write, fax or e-mail the networks, the companies, the producers and directors of the mass-media; expressing our concerns to them. We can also be discerning about the information-age explosion; asking the Holy Spirit to help us and guide us in our learning; as we sort through what knowledge is good or helpful for us. If we know someone is depressed or grieving; or if we are depressed or grieving; we can be a caring brother or sister to that person; or we can seek out help from others--especially our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
There is yet another kind of wilderness that we journey through: namely, the spiritual wilderness. This is a big one today. As several scholars have observed, we are now living in a post-Christian era. By post-Christian, they mean--among other things--that the Christian Church is no longer the dominating influence in society. Christians in society today are fast becoming a minority group. This puts the Church at a crossroads: are we as Christians going to adopt the non-Christian values of this world around us completely, or, are we going to be true to Jesus Christ and his Gospel by following the way of the cross? That is one of the essential questions we Christians are facing today.
The post-Christian world no longer lives by the basic Judeo-Christian Commandments of: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and, love your neighbour as yourself. The post-Christian world either says there is no God, thus anything is permitted--or, it makes other gods like: greed and materialism, individualism, immediate gratification-seeking, and so on. The post-Christian world wants nothing to do with Jesus Christ as the suffering Saviour who, out of sheer love for all the sinners of the world, made the necessary sacrifice of dying on the cross. This post-Christian world would have us believe that we are not sinners; that there is no such thing as sin; thus, there is no need of a suffering Saviour to die a sacrificial death on the cross.
The spiritual wilderness today is tempting and testing us to abandon Jesus Christ and his way of the cross. As Christians, we shall have to learn how to survive and live in this spiritual wilderness. We shall need to bring with us the necessary survival equipment for our journey, namely: the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit; the whole armour of God; mostly, our faith, hope and love. With Christ dwelling among us, we shall be able to face any and all of this world's wilderness experiences. In this post-Christian era, we are called to remain faithful; called to endure hardships and yes, even persecution; in short, called to follow Jesus by bearing our crosses--whatever form those crosses may be for us.
During this Lenten season, we are given the reassurance that, Jesus is with us in our various forms of wilderness journeys. He too had his wilderness journey. The wilderness tempted and tested him. He endured those temptations and tests. In fact, they strengthened him and prepared him for his ministry. They also prepared him for his ultimate wilderness; his sacrificial suffering and death on the cross for all of us. So, too, our wilderness journeys tempt and test us; strengthen and prepare us for serving Christ and others; make it possible for us to accept and endure our sufferings and crosses. In all of this, God is able to work through us and reach sometimes even the most hostile members of this post-Christian world.
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
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