a sermon preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Winnsboro, Texas on March 6, 2022
Luke 4: 1-13
I recently heard about one of the most unusual Ultra Marathons in the world. Part running and part hiking, it’s called the Barkley Marathons and it’s actually five
20-mile marathons , run consecutively.
on an unmarked course that changes each day in the mountains of Tennessee in the autumn. The weather can be raining and cold. The course goes through brambles with mud, thorns and gravel, up and down steep terrain.
In the last 36 years over 1200 people have run the course but only 15 have actually finished it. It’s easy to get lost so runners carry flashlights and a ompass.
I forgot to mention that half of these five runs take place at night. OH---and also that once you arrive at the starting line they don’t tell you when the race will start.
It could be anytime within a 12-hour time period so runners set up a tent and try to rest until the signal goes off to indicate the start of the race.
And if you are confused at this point, that’s one of the things that makes the Barkley Marathon so unique.
And if you think the design of the marathon is confusing, the execution is also confusing because the five 20-mile runs over a 60 hour time span are back to back without a break--so sleep deprivation is a huge factor by the time you get to the end.
And it’s what made me think of our scripture today. It reminded me of Jesus’ time in the wilderness.
THAT is what Jesus did immediately after he was baptized.
He went into the wilderness to be tested.
Except the scripture says he
“was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”
Remember that part.
We will come back to that part later.
The scripture says that Jesus was there in the wilderness for 40 days. We are able to break down what happened during that time into three parts:
(1) He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3
This would have been a temptation we are all familiar with: hunger.
(2) Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7
This would have been the temptation to have power. I think we’re seeing this one play out in Ukraine. And again Jesus did not succumb to it.
(3) Finally………Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’ 11
This last one has been called the temptation of Ego or Pride. And we have seen a lot of people who desired to be placed on a pedestal if not the pinnacle of the temple. But Jesus would not give in to it.
So, the devil gave up and left.
Because Jesus wouldn’t take his bait.
And I would ask you now…..
What is your wilderness?
What could the devil tempt you with? Where do you find yourself weak or lost and confused? Feeling small or overlooked? Tempted to go against the values you know are not your own? When or where do you find yourself alone and afraid?
The spiritual journey is not linear or smooth and predictable. It’s messy and does not come without cost. Spiritual growth is messy, meandering and awkward. It sometimes involves other people and sometimes to an embarrassing degree.
You can get cancer or another kind of illness. You can end up depending on someone else in a way you never planned to or anticipated that you would ever have to depend on other people.
You might even find yourself in a wilderness with other people.
We can turn on the TV for a quick example of people who are sharing their wilderness experience with others. Last week we saw a lot of women on trains in Ukraine with other women and their children who have been reduced to their lowest level they thought possible locked into a wilderness they never planned with other women in their own wilderness. Those women shared the same wilderness.
And it’s a wilderness not of their own making while the whole world watched and none of us have been able to do much to help them even though we want desperately to and none of us know how much longer this wilderness is going to last. And if you are tempted to call one man, one human being by the name of Satan I might not argue with you at this point.
We will sing a hymn at the end of the service that says... "Jesus walked this Lonesome valley. He had to walk it by Himself....." alone, nobody else walked it for him……….but it is important to point out that in this scripture today it doesn’t sound like he was alone out there in the wilderness.
He was “led in the wilderness” by the holy spirit” . He never was really alone. God’s Holy Spirit was with him the whole time. And that part is important for us to remember here today. Because as lonesome as our journey into the wilderness of our own lives gets, we’re never ever alone. Even when we can’t see God or touch God.
We may feel like we’re in a wilderness alone but I want you to know today that we are never alone there.
When we read and absorb Psalm 139 and the words,
We realize this:
O Lord, you have
searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Reading this beautiful psalm we come to know that there is not a place we can go that God has not already been there.
And there is no place in our minds, no matter how dark or dreary or horrible the mood or our state of mind, that God will not accompany us to.
If you’ve been watching any of the television news of the Ukraine invasion in the last week, you will see that in the midst of such horrible physical atrocities one country can do to another physically, there has sprung up another beautiful and hopeful sign of the resilience of humanity.
Our planet got a little smaller this week as the bright blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag started showing up in places we’ve never seen it before.
People were not created to be alone. God took one look at Adam and knew he needed a partner.
When we close worship today we will sing a beautiful old Spiritual, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley”. I love the song and the tune. But as I looked closer to the lyrics in light of today’s scripture I realize that Jesus wasn’t alone when he went into the wilderness to be tempted. He was led into that wilderness by the Holy Spirit. And, in spite of what the song says, we will not walk the lonesome valley alone. Jesus accompanies us on our own Journey. We are never alone on our journey. The Triune God, Creator, Son and Holy Spirit is always with us.
Let us pray. Holy Brother Jesus, walk with us on our Journey through the Lenten season as we seek to draw closer to you. Melt into our minds, hover over our hearts and sustain our spirits as we seek a deeper relationship with you. Amen.