Sunday’s sermon: Running on Empty


Text used – Luke 4:1-13

  • Lent. It began just a few days ago with the observance of Ash Wednesday and stretches for 40 days plus Holy Week beginning on Palm Sunday – 47 days total. It is a season of repentance. A season of fasting and sacrifice. A season of prayer and reflection. It is a season born out of our Scripture reading this morning, modeled on the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness.
    • Always found this to be one of those really interesting stories in the Bible → prior to today’s reading: Jesus has just experienced the “up” of God declaring “This is my Son, whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him”[1] – time of …
      • Public identification
      • Acceptance
      • Glory
      • And then, with the baptismal waters of the Jordan River still dripping from his hair and God’s words of love still ringing in his ears, Jesus followed the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness. → abrupt journey of stark contrasts
        • Moved from being thronged by crowds to being completely alone
        • Moved from refreshing waters to arid desert
        • Moved from rush of validation to 40 days and 40 nights of depravation and temptation – text: There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving.[2]
          • Important to note: not charicature we’ve come to associate with “devil” today (fire-loving guy the color of a fire engine with horns and a pitchfork who’s in charge of the underworld) → 2 words often used for idea The Opposition in Scripture, both have similar meanings
            • Accuser
            • Slanderer
            • Adversary
            • More about what the devil does than what the devil looks like → image from boys’ story Bible – cloaked and hooded figure (face isn’t visible)
  • Now, one of the things that I find most interesting about this passage is the fluidity of time. Yes, we are told that overall, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, but beyond that, time takes on this nebulous quality. Whenever you see this passage portrayed in movies or other visual representations, it feels like Jesus and the devil move from one temptation to the next in quick succession, but our text says nothing about how much time elapsed with each temptation.
    • Can imagine the devil drawing out those descriptions, making the food … the power … the security look and feel as desirable as possible
    • On the other hand: Can imagine Jesus wrestling long and hard with the answers that he knew were right in his heart and his mind (those answers that he ultimately gave) vs. answers of self-preservation that came from human gut-instinct → Food! Power! Security!
      • Jesus had been wandering around out in the desert for weeks. He was probably tired. He was probably lonely. He was probably sore. He was certainly hungry. Even though he was the Son of God – God indeed in human form – Jesus was still human. While he was out there in the wilderness dealing with everything that he was facing – the fasting, the weather, the terrain, the devil, the temptations – we can only assume that there were times when even Jesus was running on empty.
        • Imagine the more human side of Jesus
        • Supported by all those times in Scripture when Jesus loses control
          • Passage referred to as “cleansing the Temple” → Jesus throwing out merchants and money changers[3]
          • Jesus weeping over death of his friend Lazarus[4]
          • Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest[5]
          • All times when pull of Jesus humanity overcame the calm teacher, the composed leader, the peaceful Savior → indicators of running on empty
  • A few months ago, I heard a song, and when I heard it, I immediately thought, “This is a song for Lent.” It’s a song about struggle. It’s a song about regret. It’s a song about being lost … and a little bit about being found.
    • Words are in your bulletin
    • Listen to song – “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles[6]
    • Now, we’re going to be talking about some of the messages and themes running through this song throughout Lent because there’s a lot in it. But in the beginning, this song speaks of running on empty. You can hear the ache. You can hear the weariness. You can hear the desire – desire for what used to be, desire to be better, desire for everything to be okay.
      • Can imagine those desires being something Jesus identified with during his time in the desert, especially since he went straight from glory of baptism to harshness of time in the desert
  • Ya’ll, God knows there are times that we find ourselves running on empty – times when we feel life carving things out (carving bits of ourselves away) despite our best efforts … times when we feel like all we’ve done is pour out and pour out and pour out without being refilled … times when we feel like our flaws and our mistakes and our missed opportunities are all that are visible – like those parts of us are the only ones that matter.
    • Can feel like this in …
      • Church life
      • Work life
      • Home life
      • Life inside of ourselves – that story we tell ourselves before we go to sleep at night
    • And yes, Lent is a time when we reflect on ourselves and our lives, a time when we deliberately turn back to God and seek forgiveness … seek clarity … seek wholeness. Part of that reflection and that seeking is laying our whole lives and our whole spirit’s bare before God and saying, “This is me with all my screw-ups and all my successes, all my weaknesses and all my wonderfulness, all my problems and all my potential.” And that, my friends, is hard. It is a hard thing to do, especially if you’re in a place where you’re more empty than full. But if that’s where you are today, I want you to know it’s okay. God knows what it’s like to be running on empty – to need, to want, to be weary and hungry and depleted. God has been there, too.
      • Beauty of this strange story of Jesus’ wilderness encounters = Jesus was never alone
        • Remember, Jesus followed Holy Spirit out into the desert → And I don’t believe the Holy Spirit ever left him … just as God’s Spirit never leaves us.
          • Wandered with him
          • Struggled alongside him
          • Sustained him when he needed it
          • Wanders with us
          • Struggles alongside us
          • Sustains us when we need it
        • Also, in the face of strongest, most appealing temptations, Jesus clung to Word of God
          • Tempted by food[7] → quoted Deuteronomy[8]
          • Tempted by prestige[9] → quoted Deuteronomy[10]
          • Tempted by security[11] → quoted Deuteronomy[12]
          • The Word of God was with Jesus for support and for strength, to give him the boost that he needed and to begin to fill him up when he was at his emptiest. [hold up Bible] Friends, that Word is still here. It still supports. It still strengthens. It can still fill our hearts and minds and souls when we feel like we’re running on empty.
  • So as we journey through Lent together, whether our spiritual tanks are full or empty or somewhere in between, let us remember the advice from our Ash Wednesday reading: “With Lent, we are granted 40 days to honestly search our hearts. We are granted time to ponder where our souls reside. We don’t need to be pressured to arrive too quickly at conclusions. … We are granted time to be still and just know what God already knows about us.”[13] Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Mt 3:17.

[2] Lk 4:2

[3] Mt 21:12-17; Jn 2:13-17.

[4] Jn 11:33-35.

[5] Mt 26:36-46.

[6] “She Used to Be Mine,” written and performed by Sara Bareilles. From What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, Epic Records, released Sept. 25, 2015.

[7] Lk 4:3.

[8] Deut 8:3.

[9] Lk 4:6-7.

[10] Deut 6:13.

[11] Lk 4:9-11.

[12] Deut 6:16.

[13] Mark Fredericksen. “Day One – Ash Wednesday” in Lenten Meditations: A Forty-Seven Day Devotional Journey, 2012 Edition. (Arlington, TX: KLG Press), 5-7.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Running on Empty

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Where We’re At | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Preciousness in Brokenness | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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