First Congregational Church
February 17, 2013
First Sunday in Lent
"Lord of the Rings, Sirens, Hurricanes & Wilderness"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So just for fun, how would you describe "wilderness?"
Thank you all for your contributions. It's fascinating how there are so many different and yet similar conceptions about wilderness. Ole vas in to his doctor last week, and the doc asked him what he did the day before. Ole said, "Vell, yesterday afternoon, I vaded across the edge of a lake, escaped from a mountain lion in the heavy brush, marched up and down a mountain, stood in a patch of poison ify, crawled out of qvick sand, and yumped away from an aggressive rattlesnake." Inspired by the story, the doctor said, "Ole, you must be an awesome outdoorsman!" "No," Ole replied, "I'm yust a really bad golfer."
How often is it that we discover a wilderness in a golf course? Before we get to this morning's scripture, just a brief scene-setting. Unless you see what's coming, the third chapter of Luke seems rather odd. The second chapter of Luke tells about Jesus' birth, the shepherds and angels, then Jesus' presentation in the Temple - something like early confirmation, I suppose, and the lone story about Jesus' boyhood. The third chapter of Luke talks about an adult John the Baptist preaching and telling about the one who would be greater than he, who would come after him. And then it gives a brief description of Jesus' baptism and the whole long list of his genealogy through Joseph's family, going all the way back to Adam.
That whole long set-up, but most especially the lineage list, seems rather odd, until you realize or remember that Luke is a master story-teller. He sets this stage so that when Jesus goes into his own wilderness experience in chapter 4, we are reminded of whom Jesus really is.
Luke 4:1-13 Scripted For Three Readers
(Andy) Narrator: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him,
(Dinah) Devil: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
(John) Jesus: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
(Andy) Narrator: Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
(Dinah) Devil: “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. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
(John) Jesus: “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
(Andy) Narrator: Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
(Dinah) Devil: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
(John) Jesus: “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
(Andy) Narrator: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Thank you, gentlemen. In preparing for the writing of this message, I was reading up on author J.R.R. Tolkien. I discovered that after serving in WWI, Tolkien's first job was "at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W." For some people, that in itself would be a special kind of wilderness.
Most of us might recognize the name J.R.R. Tolkien, and some of us would even recall that he wrote a trilogy called The Lord of the Rings. It was intended to be a sequel to an earlier book by Tolkien, called The Hobbit, but The Lord of the Rings 'took on a life of its own.' Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, The Lord of the Rings is the second best-selling novel ever written, and The Hobbit is the fourth best-selling novel ever written. The best? The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
A little while back I caught a snippet of The Hobbit, and when I checked in at Calvin Seminary's lectionary site, a little light went on. The newest version of The Hobbit is directed by Peter Jackson, and it takes a few liberties with Tolkien's book. But here's cutting to the chase. Gollum is the ugly, hairless, groveling creature who came into being after being corrupted by the power of a special ring. The main character, Frodo Baggins attempts to carry the Ring of power back to Mordor so as to destroy it. Frodo takes along his best - and truest - friend, Samwise Gamgee.
As they make their way to Mordor, Gollum steadily and relentlessly, subtly and quietly attacks Frodo. Bit by bit, innuendo by innuendo, whisper by whisper Gollum wears Frodo down, poisoning him against his friend and protector, Sam, and wooing Frodo to Gollum’s side. Seldom is Gollum overt, seldom does he make anything remotely akin to a bold or obvious move. But he whittles away at Frodo’s determination and seizes on every opportunity to make Sam look bad in Frodo’s eyes until finally Gollum succeeds in turning Frodo against Sam. Sam is sent packing, leaving Frodo unprotected and now utterly vulnerable to Gollum’s full frontal assault in trying to get the Ring back for himself.
From our scripture passage this morning, we are reminded that we can be tempted in the big events of our lives. And even Jesus isn't exempt from instances of temptation. But Frodo, Sam and Gollum remind us that it's not just the big moments of life that lead us off our path, it’s all the little compromises we make along our journeys that can lead us into danger.
How often is it that we discover a wilderness in a golf course? How often is it in following a voice that knows us that we find our selves at risk of loosing what we hold dear?
I loved my eighth grade English teacher. His name was Mr. Brix, and he was amazing. He believed in giving 20 word spelling tests each week and making us give speeches and assigning good reading material. So we read the Homer's Illiad - and The Odyssey! One particular moment I hope I never forget is the day he said, "People, you have to think!" I don't know if it was this motion of his hand thumping his bald head that added to the impression, but I think it was my first introduction to the desire to think higher thoughts. Now if I could just have one.
The Odyssey tells the story of Ulysses, the Greek hero who destroys Troy. What would have taken 10.5 days walking took ten years by ship. So he goes home by way of the Isle of the Sirens. The voices of these beautiful creatures sang out across the sea in such enticing tones that many sailors were led to their deaths on the jagged, rocky shores, never to see home or their destination.
To counter their temptations, Ulysses commanded that his men put wax in their ears so they couldn't hear the voices and so be led to their destruction. But for himself, he was tied to the mast so that he could hear their singing. He commanded that none of his orders while hearing them were to be obeyed. The voices almost drive him mad until finally the ship passes by, the voices are stilled, and once more his ears are filled with the voices of his wife and son, with home, with his true destination.
How often is it that we discover a wilderness in a golf course? How often is in following a voice that knows us that we find our selves at risk of loosing what we hold dear? How often do we think to prepare when we have to go through temptations and wilderness?
C.S. Lewis was a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and they both taught at Oxford University. (I didn't really mean for this to be a literary-minded message, but here we are.) C.S. Lewis once said, "Only the person who never yielded to temptation knows the full strength of temptation." When I first read that comment, I also wondered what Scott Hoezee's point was in including it with his Questions to Ponder over there at calvinseminary.edu. Then he explained.
If a hurricane roars ashore somewhere, which person will be in the best position to talk about the strength of the wind: the one who was blown over immediately, the one who managed to stay on his feet until the wind hit 75 MPH, or the one who never was blown over, not even when the wind topped out at 130 MPH?
Obviously the one who was able to resist the storm's fullest fury is the one who knows better than anyone what all it took to stay on his feet. So also with temptation: Jesus never wavered. When he was tempted to serve himself, tempted with power and tempted with avoiding his mission, Jesus' humanity was probably all about he easy way out. When we've not eaten for a long time, who among us don't get a little ornery, a little low on patience?
Many of us grew up with the assumption that, of course Jesus could not have sinned. Somehow, some-way, his divine nature would have overwhelmed the human nature at that point to prevent disaster. But here's the thing. If Jesus could get hungry the same as the rest of us (and for the exact same reason), then perhaps he resisted temptation in the same way - tapping in to the same power that is available to the rest of us. Our passage provides hope not just for Jesus, but for all of us as we are tossed about on the rough seas of temptation, too.
So many people get the idea that Lent is a time of darkness and introversion and suffering. It may be sometimes that way for us. But the Old English word for Lent means spring time. In the midst of our grey days, those little bulbs under the ground are getting all geared up. We can't see them, the bulbs or the energy coursing through their little veins or whatever you call them. We know they're there. So we get excited for spring.
What if we looked at Lent the same way? We know Easter is coming, and as it draws closer, we get more and more geared up for it. But what if we stick to the path of watching for the things that can lead us off-course - things like complaining or isolating ourselves? What if we "watch" for those around us that may be struggling in their wilderness, and rather than becoming a distracting siren, we become a voice of cheering on? What if we take these days between now and Easter to listen to what God has to say, rather than just what our hearts or minds have to say? What if we end our time in prayer?
Loving God, we thank you that you show us over and over - what your love is like. We thank you that even when we give in to the voices that call us away, you do not stop loving us. In these next weeks, God, help us to remember that you are the Lord - God - of everything - and that even the Evil One has license to do whatever it does because you give permission for Satan to be. So remind us, God, of the truly holy journey that you set us on - and travel with us. Strengthen us as we go into your kingdom and all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.