Saturday, February 25, 2012

Angels in the wilderness

Mark 1:9-15

I want to take the sermon in a different direction than this, but I found a story I just have to share.

"The Road to Holiness."
A seeker after truth came to a saint for guidance. "Tell me, wise one, how did you become holy?" "Two words." "And what are they, please?" "Right choices." The seeker was fascinated. "How does one learn to choose rightly?" "One word." "One word! May I have it, please?" the seeker asked. "Growth." The seeker was thrilled. "How does one grow?" "Two words." "What are they, pray tell?" "Wrong choices."

We began our Monday morning Sunday’s Coming Bible study by considering a question. How would you feel if you were driven into the wilderness as the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness? (Invite responses)
My first response was that my idea of camping is Holiday Inn. In reality, as long as I had enough to eat and a decent bed, a few days in a wilderness could provide an abundance of time to take stock of my life and give God a chance to work in my heart to reshape me. I could probably handle being alone in the wilderness for about a week really well.
Forty days would be quite a stretch for me, and for most of us, even assuming all our health care needs would be met. In forty days, we have time to realize how much we depend on the company of others to amuse us and distract us; there is time to allow God to work on us and show us how sinful we are, and how dependent we are on God for forgiveness; and there is time to recognize the many times in our lives where God was present with us even though we were not aware of God’s presence.
What I noticed especially this time in reading the Gospel text is verse 13: “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Mark gives us no details of the types of temptation Jesus faced. He was in the wilderness long enough to be sure he could follow God’s plan and long enough to develop a sense of how it would all play out.
I noticed in this text that Jesus had company. He had all of creation with him in that wilderness. Gerbils, owls, foxes, snakes, beetles, hyenas, grackles, and lizards all were Jesus’ companions. They would have shown him where the water was, and where to escape the heat of the sun, and perhaps kept watch over him as he slept.
I notice in this verse that unlike in Matthew and Luke, Jesus did not fast for 40 days. He must have eaten whatever he could find – locusts and honey, seeds, plants and their fruit, and all sorts of things Andrew Zimmern (from Bizarre Foods TV show) would know about.
I also notice in this verse that the angels waited on him. There is nothing in this text that says the angels came to him at the end of the 40 days as Matthew reports. Mark just says, “and the angels waited on him.” So, in addition to the beasts of the wilderness, Jesus was accompanied by the angels – God’s messengers.
Mark says the angels waited on Jesus. When we go to a restaurant, the server waits on us, takes care of us, makes sure we have enough iced tea, makes suggestions for meal choices, takes away our empty dishes, offers us dessert. The servers in fancy restaurants even put the napkin on our laps for us. Servers do everything they can to make us comfortable, except perhaps for raising our forks and wiping our lips.
We don’t know just what the angels did for Jesus – the text doesn’t say – but it’s easy to imagine they did everything they could to make him comfortable, except they couldn’t make his choices for him. I imagine the angels (remember angels are God’s messengers) giving Jesus plenty of encouragement, helping him believe that he is able to accomplish what he has been sent to accomplish, helping him resist the temptations Satan offered him.
I take comfort in knowing that the angels were with Jesus, because we surely need angels with us, too. It’s reassuring to believe that the angels watch over us as we have surgery, travel, raise our children, make decisions about our future, and so forth.
We hear stories of miraculous events, humanly impossible events, and believe that the angels were somehow involved – waiting on us. I certainly trust that God’s angels are everywhere, protecting us from at least some of life’s dangers, and accompanying us as we journey through life and in the moment of our death.
I believe the angels were with Whitney Houston as she lay dying in her tub. Unfortunately they were not able to protect her from her choices and her addictions. But I believe they never left her alone.
I believe the angels were with the journalists killed last week in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, and remain there with all the people of Syria and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somalia as they face the dangers of war and oppression and violence.
 I believe the angels are with all who struggle to pay their bills, face homelessness, and joblessness.
I believe the angels are with all of us as we face various health crises for ourselves and our loved ones.
Angels are God’s messengers who sometimes perform miracles. Mostly, they accompany us and watch over us on God’s behalf. As they watched over Jesus and waited on him in the wilderness, it’s good to know that they are also watching over us and waiting on us in our times of testing and our times of learning to trust in God’s plan.
 This week, I suggest you intentionally create a wilderness experience for yourselves. Intentionally take some time away from all distractions. Find some silence and some solitude. Not just five minutes, but an hour, or a morning, or a day, or more.
In your time in this wilderness, imagine you are like Jesus, and seeking to learn about God’s plan for your life right now. What temptation is God telling you to resist? What new challenge is God calling you to do?
Remember, too, that as you spend this time in the wilderness, you will not be really alone. The angels will be watching over you and waiting on you. God’s Holy Spirit will be with you, too, guiding you, and helping you make choices, and perhaps even helping you make the choice to enter the wilderness.
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, you entered the wilderness to pray and listen, to be encouraged, and to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for your life. Be present in our lives as we seek to serve you. Send your angels and your Holy Spirit to be with us in our time of prayer and discernment. Amen