February 17, 2002
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Psalm 51:1-12
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. 5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. 6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. (NRSV)

Matthew 4:1-11
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " 7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (NRSV)

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It seems like just last week we were singing Christmas Carols… and we were. Yet, here it is – the first Sunday of Lent – already. The first Sunday of a new season in the life of the Church, the first Sunday to begin something new or give up something old. We have just 40 days and 40 nights in which to prepare for Easter Sunday.

Jesus sets the example for us. He had been baptized by his cousin John – and the holy spirit came upon him and he had heard the voice of God saying “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus had received a special blessing. But right after that the same spirit led him out to the wilderness for a bit of soul searching. Jesus went into the wilderness to prepare himself for what was ahead.

Soul searching is what Lent is all about. Just like Jesus, we are all being sent into the desert for the next 40 days and nights, to contemplate the direction of our lives… We are being asked to prepare for Easter Sunday by examining our hearts and our minds. We are to walk in Jesus’ shoes, for just 6 short weeks. We are to live our lives, through his life… And maybe at the end of that time of soul searching we will have a real sense of what Easter is all about.

Most of us avoid soul searching… because it seems like such a dark and foreboding task. To look deep into your soul can be threatening… isn’t it like the wilderness, where the air is thick and its hard to see. You could be tripped up by something that you don’t see and don’t want to see. Like anger or hatred or fear or guilt…

So, most of us avoid that darkness, we would rather stay in our daily routine. We would rather focus our attention of the demands that our lives put right in front of us, the everyday basics. It makes us feel safe, we aren’t threaten by the unknown.

But how many of us really would say that our daily routines are enough. How many of us would say that we are totally comfortable with our lives and who we are. How many of us really feel safe and secure. Who among us would say that our relationship with God is just as we want it, and who among us would say that their daily routine is enough to foster a deeper relationship with God.

But wading through the muck and mire of the wilderness with Jesus, that dark and foreboding unknown waiting to trip us. Is that what is required? Being trapped is a dark and threatening place for 6 weeks? Is that what Lent is about? Is that the only route to a deeper relationship with God?

I think we have made some assumptions about the wilderness. We see it as dark – Jesus lived his life in the middle east – the wilderness that Jesus went into is the desert.

The desert isn’t dark and foreboding, it is warm and bright and sunny. The air is fresh and clean, the sun sparkles as it hits the sand. And even though the desert is an arid place flowers bloom abundantly with only a tiny bit of rainy encouragement

In the desert you can see where you are going, you won’t get tripped up. In the desert your soul can bask in the sunlight – can be refreshed and gain strength. The sun is so bright that there are barely any shadows – it will feel secure. It is so quiet in the desert, that you can hear God’s voice.

That Dark and foreboding place – that is the wilderness of your daily life. That is where you find the routines that dull your senses, the frustration of your busyness, the struggles that overwhelm you – the fears that hold you back, the anger that keeps you from loving…

The desert of soul searching is a sunny place where the littlest bit of rain produces growth. The wilderness of our daily life is a place where spiritual growth is stunted by the darkness of daily worries.

Jesus went into the desert and what did he find? The shadows were lifted and he began to understand. He could see clearly who he was – how he was to relate to God. Why - it was so quiet that he could hear God’s voice. Jesus discovered his strength and his trust in God, He came to terms with his love for God. He heard again the words of scripture, commanding him to love and worship God. He discovered that he could resist any temptation for the sake of that relationship.

Jesus made a conscious decision to go into the desert – he wasn’t pushed or pulled along – he was led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus must have known that during his ministry he would face many challenges and temptations. The only way he would be able to resist and overcome them was to find a personal and immediate connection with God. He followed the holy spirit into a time of soul searching and self-reflection, and his soul was renewed and strengthened.

During lent you have the opportunity to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and follow the holy spirit into the desert. You are invited into a time of personal reflection and soul searching.

You are invited to be renewed – to gather your strength. You are invited to a warm and sunny place, that will allow for great growth. You are invited to find out who you really are – A person of great integrity – A person of courage and strength - who can resist any temptation - A person loved by God.

It is your decision – stay in the darkness or follow the holy spirit into the light. It is a pivotal decision – your life depends on it.

Lent is the time to step out of the dark and deafening routine of life. The time has come to go out into the sunshine of the desert, to see the beauty of your soul, to hear the wonder of God’s voice. What will you decide to do with the next 40 days and 40 nights? Will you be prepared for Easter?

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