Sunday’s Sermon: Finding Faith in Footprints

  • Story of Jessi trying to follow Peter through the backyard as he was measuring for the fence
    • Peter: slogging through drifts up to his thighs
    • Jessi: leaping from footprint to footprint in an attempt to make headway → drift was taller than she was!
    • But it’s not just all this snow that encourages us to follow in other people’s footprints.
      • Dancing
        • Heartwarming image of little girl/boy dancing with daddy/mommy → hand-in-hand, child’s feet on the parent’s feet following along
        • More technical side = dance step diagrams → have to follow or you’ll get lost
      • Adventurous – scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
    • There are lots of different reasons that we end up trying to move in other people’s footprints. And the footprints that we encounter in Scripture this morning are simultaneously some of the most important and some of the most difficult footprints we will ever follow: the footprints of Jesus in the wilderness.
  • Context of Scripture – follows on heels of Jesus’ baptism, directly follows God’s declaration “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1] → And yet instead of getting a moment to take pleasure in this revelation, Jesus is immediately led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit not for a renewing retreat or some nice, contemplative time of communing with God … but to be tempted.
    • And isn’t that always the way it goes? Things are going well – really well – and then all of a sudden, BAM, we find ourselves struggling. We find ourselves in the wilderness.    
      • Not the pretty, calming, BWCA kind of wilderness → harsh, empty, dangerous desert wilderness
      • In our lives …
        • Wilderness of illness (ourselves/loved ones)
        • Wilderness of economic instability (job loss, insufficient wages, debt)
        • Wilderness of conflict (home, work, friends)
        • Wilderness of personal struggle (addiction, depression, mental illness)
  • And as if wandering around in the desert hungry for more than a month wasn’t enough, Jesus is suddenly accosted by the devil and all those temptations.
    • Important to note that temptation doesn’t come minute Jesus enters wilderness – text: He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished.[2] → It is only when Jesus is in this weakened state that the tempter comes.
      • How much more vulnerable to temptation are we when we are weakened? When all our energy has been spent battling, striving, persisting …
        • Weakened physically by illness/pain
        • Weakened emotionally by fear
        • Weakened spiritually by weariness
        • As we struggle through our own wild, desert places, we see Jesus’ footprints. We know that God has fought just as we fight. God has labored just as we labor. God has been there, too.
  • Devil presents Jesus with opportunities
    • Bread for his empty stomach
    • Proof of his identity/God’s protection for him
    • Worldly power
    • Core of these temptations = making life easier for Jesus
      • Ease of a full belly
      • Ease of security
      • Ease of being in control
      • And we could all use a little bit more easy in our lives, right? A shortcut here. A little bit of a break there. And it’s not the easiness itself that’s the problem. But we have to ask ourselves what that easiness is going to cost.
        • Strength of others
        • Dignity of others
        • Peace of others
  • Despite weakened state, Jesus resists each opportunity → lays out pattern for resisting that we can follow: turning to God’s Word
    • All quotes in Gospel text from Deuteronomy, all part of Moses’ sermon/exhortation/instruction for the Israelites (again … wilderness!) after receiving the 10 commandments
      • “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”[3]
      • “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”[4]
      • “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”[5]
      • Instead of falling into the trap of the devil’s goading, instead of feeling this need to build himself up and prove himself at any expense, Jesus leans on the Word of God.
    • Doesn’t mean it’s easy to resist – I don’t know about you, but I don’t picture a calm, collected, appeasing Jesus here. [imitate] I picture an exasperated Jesus. I picture a tense Jesus. I picture a man with sweat on his brow and pain in his eyes.
      • Wilderness has taken its toll
      • 40 days and nights of fasting has taken its toll
      • And then in comes the devil with all these temptations, and Jesus has had enough! I picture him speaking these words of Scripture through gritted teeth or shouting them from the pinnacle of the temple at the top of his voice.
      • If it was a struggle for Jesus (Son of God, Prince of Peace, Suffering Servant, Savior of the World) – sometimes more than we can take
        • Our missteps → Sometimes, we’re not able to withstand the temptation. Sometimes we give in. Sometimes we take the bait. Sometimes we just don’t have any fight left in us.
  • The good news is that even when we have faltered, we find footsteps to follow that will lead us back to God. Psalm 32 lays out that path today: confession
    • Acknowledges that we will have missteps – speaks of sin not as an “if” but as a “when”
      • Heb. reveals variety of ways[6]
        • “sin” = most general term, means “to miss the mark”
        • “transgression” = willful rebellion
        • “iniquity”/ “guilt” = enduring, destructive effects of disobedience
    • Makes it clear that confession must be active
      • Heb. in Ps “acknowledge” (sins) = experience, realize, declare → implies a dynamic, active, eye-opening interaction with our own sin – not something we can do halfway, not something we can be detached from
    • Ps also alludes to how difficult confession is – text: While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.[7]
      • Wasting away = unpleasant experience à want to avoid unpleasant experiences → still opted for wasting away over confession for a time → confession must be even more unpleasant experience than wasting away
        • Quote from Christian writer Anne Lamott: Though theologians insist that grace is freely given, the truth is that sometimes you pay for it through the nose.[8]
  • Today is the first Sunday of Lent.
    • Lenten journey = wilderness journey in and of itself
      • Journeying with Jesus through the wilderness
      • Journeying in/through our own spiritual wilderness to find Christ
      • Throughout this journey and certainly throughout the rest of our lives, we will wrestle with our own temptations just as Jesus did. But as we walk this road together, it’s also important that we remember that there is light, there is hope, there is joy on the other side. We have the privilege of knowing the ending of the story – the joy of knowing that Jesus’ life won’t really end up there on that cross.
        • Ps hints at joy at the end of the journey – text (very first phrase): Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.[9]
        • See this in Heb., too – “confess” = also “praise”!
        • Scholar gets at essence: Psalm 32 emphasizes the power of sin, but also the promise of joy. It lays out the journey of the forty days that are ahead. We are called to acknowledge our sins, to confess them to God, to receive God’s forgiveness, and finally to experience the joy and relief that comes from that new life.[10]
    • Jesus’ steps in the face of temptation = bigger → swallow up temptation itself
    • God’s forgiveness = greater than even our biggest missteps → swallows up our sin
      • Just like the way Jessi disappeared into Peter’s footprints in the snow because she’s smaller than they are → how it is with God
        • You see, in Jesus Christ, God took on the fullness of humanity, living and working and loving as we do. Feeling as we do. Struggling as we do. But because Jesus was also God, the imperfections of humanity were made perfect.
        • Our footprints – our missteps – are still there (and always will be) but they’re totally encompassed by God’s own footprints in our lives and hearts: compassion, forgiveness, grace.
  • YouTube video – janitor shoveling crazy path across courtyard
    • Thankfully, we know that the path we follow is not a futile path. It’s not an aimless path. It’s not a hopeless or ineffective path. The path we follow was laid out for us by the footprints of the One who came to save us.
      • May seem wandering sometimes
      • Temptations threaten to pull us out of these footprints – temptations that threaten to turn us away from God and the path that God has laid out for us. And while we may not always choose correctly, we can always return to the Word of God for guidance, reassurance, and strength. Amen.
Link to Janitor’s Revenge video:

[1] Mt 3:17.

[2] Mt 4:2.

[3] Mt 4:4; Deut 8:3.

[4] Mt 4:7; Deut 6:16.

[5] Mt 4:10; Deut 6:13.

[6] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 805.

[7] Ps 32:3.

[8] In Andrea Wigodsky. “First Sunday in Lent – Psalm 32: Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 34.

[9] Ps 32:1.

[10] Wigodsky, 34.

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