Sunday’s sermon: God Moves … Into the Desert

jesus feet

Texts used – Genesis 21:9-20; Luke 4:1-13

  • We are a society constantly on the move, are we not?
    • Everything is about moving faster, more efficiently
      • Technology
      • Vehicles
      • Even shopping experiences have been streamlined for speed and efficiency with the ability to order online and pick up your order at the store. No need to even get out of your car … they’ll bring it right out and load it in your trunk!
    • Many of the milestones of our lives have to do with moving
      • Learning to move (crawl → walk → ride a bike → drive)
      • Celebrate moving from one grade level or one phase of school to another (elementary school to middle school, high school to college, etc.)
      • Moving away from home for the first time
      • Moving in with someone for the first time – sharing space with someone that’s not a family member (platonic roommate or romantic partner)
      • Moving from one place to another for family or career
    • We also recognize that the world around us is constantly moving, and that movement affects our lives.
      • Movement of the earth
        • Day to night to day again
        • One season to the next
      • Movement of nature
        • Wind/weather patterns
        • Water → millennia of simply moving water created the Grand Canyon
      • Movement of species → signal of geese flying south for the winter
    • So as we acknowledge the key role that movement plays in every part of our lives, it also shouldn’t surprise us that our God is a God of movement, too. The overarching story of our faith – the one that starts with that burst of light in the beginning and arcs all the way even to today – is the story of a constantly-moving God.
      • Moving in the world (creation, Noah’s flood, etc.)
      • Moving through the world (covenants, prophets, etc.)
      • Moving for the world (Christ, continued movement of the Holy Spirit)
      • Story and season of Lent is in and of itself a time of movement
        • Moving closer and closer to Jerusalem and the cross with Christ
        • Moving closer to God through spiritual practice and intentionality
  • And so, as we journey through Lent together this year, we’re going to be doing so by talking and thinking and meditating about … movement.
    • Movement of God in our lives
    • Movement of Christ throughout his ministry
    • Movement of the Holy Spirit in and through us
  • Today = begin at the beginning
    • Beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    • Beginning of season of Lent
    • BOTH = Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness
      • Text: Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil.[1] → those 40 days in the wilderness are the reason Lent is 40 days long (40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday not counting Sundays)
    • Gospel context: 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”[2] – 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.[3]
          • 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)
    • Critical element of this movement of Jesus into the desert = that it was voluntary movement → Jesus wasn’t coerced into the desert. Jesus wasn’t dragged into the desert kicking and screaming. Jesus wasn’t magically and abruptly teleported into the desert like a Star Trek scene gone awry. Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit, yes, but not unwillingly. Far from it, in fact.
      • Fellow clergywoman Jessica LaGrone (architect of this particular sermon series): When God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, God moved into a whole new neighborhood and set of experiences. … This move, into some of the most physically and spiritually demanding experiences humans can go through, showed that God in Jesus wasn’t here for the tourist’s view of earth, one where he would casually drive by our struggles and gaze out the tinted windows of his air-conditioned limo. No! Jess actually talked through the toughest struggles you and I face.[4] → This desert move on Jesus’ part shows just how dedicated, just how compassionate, and just how devoted God truly is to us. God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, taking on human flesh and human experience and all that that entailed. Through Jesus, God experienced the many facets of humanity, the good and joyful as well as the difficult and painful. We’ve all had our desert moments … our wilderness wandering moments – those times in our lives when the bad outweighs the good, when we are desperate and desolate, when it seems like all we see is more emptiness and more isolation (which are the last things we need at that point). But we can be comforted and reassured by the knowledge that God has been there, too. God knows what it’s like to be running on empty – to need, to want, to be weary and hungry and depleted.
  • Certainly times when, like Jesus, we’ve wandered our way into our own desert moments – times we know how we’ve gotten where we are even if we don’t understand when or why → But there are also times when we end up in those painful, demanding experiences because of someone else.
    • Not someone leading us willingly like the Holy Spirit led Jesus, but someone pressing and driving us into experiences and situations we don’t want to be in
    • OT Scripture reading = one of those times
      • Story of Hagar and Ishmael’s expulsion into the wilderness = hard story to read
      • None of what happens in this story is under Hagar’s control
        • Sarah’s jealousy over Hagar’s happiness = Sarah’s problem
        • Fact that Hagar even has a son by Abraham = also Sarah’s problem → backstory: when Sarah was still unable to have children, in desperation, she “gives” her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham so he will at least be able to continue his family line through that child (hence Ishmael)
          • Wasn’t Hagar’s choice
          • Hagar didn’t really have a say in the matter
        • And when Sarah does actually get pregnant and give birth to Isaac, she grows fiercely jealous because this precious, beloved baby boy of hers isn’t Abraham’s first-born son … which was a matter of great importance when it came to inheritance and family honor and blessing. So Sarah starts scheming to get rid of Hagar and her own precious, beloved child, Ishmael. – text: Sarah saw Hagar’s son laughing, the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham. So she said to Abraham, “Send this servant away with her son! This servant’s son won’t share the inheritance with my son Isaac.”[5]
      • Exiles Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness to wander as far as they can until they run out of food and water → Hagar prepares for both she and her son to die in the wilderness – text: Finally the water in the flask ran out, and she put the boy down under one of the desert shrubs. She walked away from him about as far as a bow shot and sat down, telling herself, I can’t bear to see the boy die. She sat at a distance, cried out in grief, and wept.[6]
        • Heart-wrenching, isn’t it?
        • Hagar → moved into this wilderness wandering – dangerous and desperate – against her will
        • But that doesn’t mean that God is not there in that movement as well! –text: God heard the boy’s cries, and God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Hagar! What’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy’s cries over there. Get up, pick up the boy, and take him by the hand because I will make of him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went over, filled the water flask, and gave the boy a drink. God remained with the boy; he grew up, lived in the desert, and became an expert archer.[7]
          • Scholar: Here again, God chooses to work through complex situations and imperfect human beings on behalf of the divine purposes. God works with individuals on the scene; God does not perfect people before deciding to work through them.[8] → This is one of those “why do bad things happen to good people” situations. Hagar has done nothing wrong, and yet this horrible thing has been done to her. Did God cause that horrible thing? No. Sarah, in her jealousy and over-protectiveness, did it. But even in this ugly situation, God was at work. God was moving through the wilderness with Hagar and Ishmael just as God moved through the wilderness with Jesus, protecting and providing and guiding every step of the way.
    • Ishmael’s fate = father of faith we know well: Islam
      • Reason Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are called “Abrahamic religions” – all trace their faith history and roots back to Abraham
      • Our God = Jewish Adonai = Muslim Allah → So when evil, hate-fueled acts are perpetrating against our Abrahamic brothers and sisters because of their religion, friends, it breaks the heart of the same God.
        • Could be evil, hate-fueled acts on a large scale like recent attacks in New Zealand
        • Could be evil, hate-fueled acts on a smaller scale like systematic discrimination and suspicion that our Muslim brothers and sisters face in this country day in and day out
        • All of it breaks God’s heart – our God and theirs, one and the same. All of it forces someone else into their own wilderness struggle, and our Old Testament story shows us just who God goes with friends. Did God stay with Sarah, the forcer, in that moment … or did God move with the outcast ones into the uncertainty and vulnerability of the wilderness?
  • Our God is a still-moving God. Moving in ways, seen and unseen. Moving in ways both understood and wholly mysterious. Moving in ways that are subtle and conspicuous. So no matter what phase of your journey you’re on, know that God is moving with you. God is with you, stumbling and struggling and slogging. God is moving with you, dancing and dreaming and daring. God is moving. God is moving. God is moving.

[1] Lk 4:1-2a.

[2] Mt 3:17.

[3] Lk 4:2

[4] Jessica LaGrone. “Lenten Series: God on the Move – Lent 1: God Moves … Into the Desert” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 194.

[5] Gen 21:9-10.

[6] Gen 21:15-16.

[7] Gen 21:17-20.

[8] Terence E. Fretheim. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 489.

3 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: God Moves … Into the Desert

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: God Moves … Past All Obstacles | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: God Moves … Down the Road | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  3. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: God Moves Us … to Empty Ourselves | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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