Sermon for March 1, 2020 -- A Voice in the Wilderness

“A Voice in the Wilderness”

Pastor Bill Dow

March 1, 2020


Help me out and finish these phases…


OHHH, N-E-S-T-L-E-S…(Nestles makes the very best – Chocolate)

Takes a licking…(and keeps on ticking) Timex

Mother Please! (I’d rather do it myself) Anacin

Great taste! (Less filling) Miller Lite


Seeds have been planted. Some over 60 years old! Still producing. They give voice to a message and are rooted in our awareness.

Where do they come from?? Yes! Advertisers. Needs benefit statements. Products solving everyday needs or desires, but also creating needs, creating desires, presenting solutions. Advertisers really know how to get into our heads. That’s what they do.

Digital marketing experts suggest that the average person in the United States sees 4 to 10 thousand marketing messages each day. That’s a powerful voice. 

When you stop and think about it, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction imprinted into our daily lives through advertising: we’re not as pretty or slim as the models, our lives are boring, isn’t life is supposed to be pain free, our needs come first, having makes us happy. And in the presence of these powerful and numerous messages we often find ourselves dissatisfied and detached.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the temptation of Jesus directly follows his baptism by John in the Jordan River. We learn that God initiates the relationship of acceptance and pleasure with an image that appears to be a dove and a voice that proclaims Jesus as God’s Son. And in very next sentence, Jesus is being led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, another voice that every one of us has experienced, and a voice that every one of us responds to… in some way. 

The voice of temptation offers quick and easy solutions that serve our default desire for self-preservation and self-promotion. The voice of temptation points to short cuts that promise fulfillment and often delivers a short-term moment of satisfaction. But what comes next?

Jesus was offered a quick and doable solution to the very real condition of hunger, a condition that his mission was dedicated to address. Jesus was also offered an opportunity to validate holy scripture in literal and physical terms. And the last temptation was the unifying of the whole world – world peace, through Him. 

But Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, declines all three – not out of a sense of personal holiness, but out of his love for humanity – out of his love for the likes of you and me. 

Addressing the reality of hunger is a way for us to learn and grow in the ways of serving God. Believing the scriptures helps us to learn and grow in the way of faith. Fostering unity is the way of mutual respect and a world view that we are all in this together. 

It’s one thing to be told that you are created in the image of God. It’s another to realize it. To taste it. To see it. To live it. To embrace God’s creative genius. Jesus’ desire for you and for me is to grow into the fullness of living in the course of our lifetime. Jesus creates that potential when he dismisses the opportunity to establish the Reign of God with the snap of his fingers. Jesus desires friendship and loyalty, not minions! 

His response to temptation affirms that there are no short cuts. We are called into the fullness of our potential by living a life that manages both short and long-term desires of the heart by listening to the voices of faith within, voices that echo the et

And that brings us to the lottery ticket. It’s real. There is $7 million dollars of prize money in this game, including 3 grand prize tickets. When I checked on Wednesday, all three were still out there. My hope is that it stays where it is during the entire Season of Lent. It’s there to tempt both you and me. A winning ticket could ensure financial security for the church for many years to come.

If that ticket disappears, I’m not going to say a word, and neither should you. But if that ticket is still there on Palm Sunday we’re going to get to that part where Jesus goes into the Garden of Gethsemane and prays, with all his being, three times, that this cup, this horrible death be somehow removed. We will stop there and cut up that ticket, affirming in a very real way that there are no short cuts on the journey of faith, and that even Jesus has experienced the reality of unanswered prayer, just like so many of us.

Seeds have been planted. Voices are everywhere. Let’s face it. There’s no jingle for fasting. In this part of the world we’re all sick of winter. Ash Wednesday has once again reminded us of our mortality. The marketplace is working to convince us that we are unfulfilled, that life could be, and should be so much more. 

Lent provides us with a season to honestly examine the source of the voices we claim as our own. Who’s being served? Are we hedging our bets? Are the voices we respond to promoting justice and peace? Is dignity being maintained…even for those we don’t really like very much? Who is in control? Who do we answer to? 

Mainline protestant churches in North America are in decline. This is not a newsflash. Giving has slipped below 3%. Conflict over issues of holiness has worked as a lever, moving people from worship to recreation. Our history of harsh judgement follows us around like a ball and chain. How do we break free?

We have figured out that the life of the church goes beyond worship on Sunday. In fact there are churches that no longer gather on Sunday but provide services during the week for people who are hungry, people who are lost and disenfranchised. 

Lent is our time for inward examination. The breath of life is still in us. Winter is loosening its grip on the land and new life is waking. In Christ we are participants in a movement that spans two millennia and transcends all boundaries. 

Take special note of the last verse in today’s Gospel reading. “The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.”

The Common English Bible does a nice job here. Many translations use the word minister…that angels ministered unto Jesus. The Greek word being translated is diakoneó (dee-ak-on-eh'-o). It’s the source of the church word “deacon” and in many contexts projects the image of a slave serving a guest at table. 

This image is conflicted with another market message planted in us. Remember this one? “You only go around once in life, so you have to grab for all the gusto you can.” The Lenten perspective recognizes this message as a weed seed.

As we approach the table of Holy Communion this day, let us commend ourselves to a Holy Lenten Season dedicated to growth, not necessarily in numbers, but in spirit and faith, listening and responding to the voice that calls us into eternal life.

Thanks be to God.

  August 2021  
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