Feb 18: Trust While Tossed

Feb 18: Trust While Tossed

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Audio of Scripture reading and sermon only

Feburary 18 – First Sunday of Lent

Other sermons in this 2024 Lentent series
“Depths of Love”

Scripture: Mark 1:9-15

A lot of people use the daily devotional Jesus Calling. Each devotion is written using the voice of Jesus, as if it’s Jesus speaking the words on the page to the reader.

cover of the book "Jesus Calling"

One of the most common themes throughout Jesus Calling is trust. Again and again, Jesus exhorts the reader, “trust me.” This advice to trust him, at least as it’s presented in Jesus Calling, sometimes feels a bit too simplistic to me. Stop worrying and trust me. Stop trying to control your day; entrust the details of it to me. If your life is falling apart, that’s OK; trust me anyhow.

Because of the way I’m wired, my response is often to fire back at this Jesus, “How? Don’t just tell me to do something I know I shoud do, show me how to do it. Tell me how to do it. Tell me what that kind of trust looks like.” I have a similar response to movie scenes where a teacher/instructor is called upon to impart their knowledge or skill to a new student of their particular art. And then, instead of actually giving the student actual instructions in how to do it, they instead throw them “in the ring,” so to speak, and yell at them when they’re not figuring out how to do what they don’t yet know how to do. That’s kind of how it feels when the Jesus in Jesus Calling counsels me, the reader, to “trust me.”

So, here’s the predicament for many of us, I’m sure. We want to trust God more, but we’re not always sure how to do that. We’re all too aware of our worries and anxieties. We know how often we give our worries over to the Lord only to take them back a short while later. We know that the Bible tells us to “worry not,” but we do. It seems that our trust in God falls way short of where we’d like it to be.

Well, here’s a thought. Maybe trust is something that starts out small and grows over time; maybe slow enought that we’re not even aware that it’s happening. For example, my trust in my wife Caroline’s commitment to our marriage vows is far greater today than on our wedding day. Now, on our wedding day, I had no reason to doubt her commitment to fulfilling her marriage vow to me, but thirty-four years later, I have extensive evidence of that commitment. In the wording of the traditional liturgy, each one promises to “have and to hold [the other]…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” On day one of our marriage, those were just concepts. But over the course of thirty-four years, those concepts became real life experiences. We’ve been through times of better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. She’s demonstrated her commitment to sticking with me. And because of that, I have greater trust today that she’ll continue to do so. And hopefully, her trust in me for the same is greater today.

We want to trust God more, but we’re not always sure how to do that.

This illustration of trust within marriage actually points to an important life element which fosters the growth of trust, which is this: the presence of challenging life events or situations. What strengthens a marriage and fosters greater trust in the other is successfully navigating the seasons of life at its worst, poorest, and sickest.  In life, I think trust grows the most in times of greatest challenge.

painting of Jesus sitting on a boulder looking out into a barren desert. Behind him is a dead tree with a black bird pirched on a limb.

Let’s take a quick look at one of Jesus’ biggest challenges. In today’s Gospel reading, Mark covers a huge chunk of Jesus’ life in fewer verses than there are fingers on your hands. He covers Jesus’ baptism, wilderness temptation, the arrest of John the Baptism, and Jesus beginning his ministry in only seven verses! Regarding the wilderness temptations, Matthew devotes eleven verses to it, and Luke, thirteen. But Mark whittles it down to two verses! Both Matthew and Luke provide the details of the temptations Jesus faced. They tell of three specific conversations in which Satan tries to convince Jesus to abandon his call, and how Jesus repels the temptation by quoting Scripture. But Mark doesn’t give us any of this. All he says is, “At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him” (Mark 1:12-13).

Clearly, the details of Jesus’ forty-day adventure were not important to Mark. But something else was important to him. Luke and Matthew report that shortly after his baptism, Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness. But how does Mark describe what took place? He says, “At once, the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness.” In Mark’s version, Jesus wasn’t given the opportunity to bask for a bit in his baptismal experience. No family celebration, no catching up with his cousin, John. Nope! According to Mark, his wilderness experience started right away, and he wasn’t casually led there by the Spirit, he was forced to go out there! You almost get the sense that it might have been something Jesus was trying to avoid. Who would want to spend forty days in the remote desert being continually bombarded by Satan, all while eating nothing and having to avoid being attacked by wild animals? Mark simply reports that throughout those forty days he was with wile animals and he was looked after by angels.

I think that in the way Mark presented these two experiences of Jesus together–his baptism and desert wanderings–especially in their immediacy and brevity, he was making an important connection by way of a comparison. That is, Mark had Jesus immediately move from an emotional and spiritual highpoint to a low point. In Mark’s version, they’re two sides of the same coin. On the one side is his baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon him and the Father’s voice is heard from above, affirming his call and his ministry. On the other side is his being forced out into the wilderness where he’s surrounded by wild beasts and the temptations of Satan, all the while growing hungrier by the day.

Isn’t this a picture of the lives of all humanity? And our own lives to some degree? One moment, we’re enjoying a day off, and then a phone call comes, telling us that a loved one died in a bad car accident. A new baby is delivered; he’s got all ten toes and ten fingers; she’s crying as expected. Everything seems to be fine until a test shows that he’s got heart problems, and already needs surgery. I have a family member whose wife tragically died just a day or two into their honeymoon. Of course, more often, it’s something less tragic than those examples. But the fact is, life is never a constant warm, sunny day. It has its storms. And a lot of the time, those storms are forced upon us; we don’t go looking for them. They just happen.

What should we do when we find ourselves out there in the wilderness? Well, this morning I’m suggesting that just as Jesus leaned into the angels and Holy Spirit who attended to him during his time in the wilderness, so should we lean into the Holy Spirit during our times in the “wilderness.” And what I mean by leaning into the Holy Spirit is this: First, we consciously and intentionally allow ourselves to be in the middle of whatever our wilderness may be. That means not trying to avoid it; not trying to make it better as quickly as possible. A big part of leaning into the Holy Spirit is allowing ourselves to be in the middle of it, even when it’s the last place we want to be. Giving ourselves the permission to feel the pain, the grief, the anger, the confusion, etc., is a vital part of getting through it well. In a very real sense, it gives the Holy Spirit something to work with.

And second, intentionally be in God’s Word. That’s what Jesus did. God’s Word became his weapon against whatever came against him. With every temptation he faced, he quoted Scripture as a way to resist the sin. God’s word feeds the soul. And when we’re in the middle of the wilderness, it’s the onslaughts against the soul that can hurt us the most. And just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that we necessarily have to look for answers to our suffering or reasons that we’re experiencing what we’re going through. In fact, it may be that when we don’t have answers, or don’t understand why it’s happening that our trust in God actually grows and becomes stronger. When we learn to trust God despite our doubts, despite our sufferings, and despite our limitations, then our faith goes deeper.

I know that some of you have doubts about God. You don’t know if he’s real, or if he’s here, or if he’s what he says he is. I know that. And God knows that. And it doesn’t bother God that you have doubts. Being in a place of doubt is a kind of wilderness, and I want you to know that even if you don’t know if God is there with you, many of us do know he’s with you. What I pray for is that in spite your doubts, a part of you will say, “God, help me to trust you even though I’m not so sure about you.” You might even make that request a declaration. “God, even though I’m not so sure about you, I nevertheless trust you!” And whether you realize it or not, making that kind of declaration has a way of slowly forming a faith within you out of which later on you will know and believe.

With all this said, hear this good news: the wilderness is a temporary thing. For Jesus, it was forty days. What came after? The beginning of his ministry. Making new friends, healing sick people, performing miracles, like changing water into wine at a friend’s wedding. But even then, there was the death of his beloved cousin, John the Baptist. That was a wilderness of grief for Jesus, no doubt. But I’m sure he leaned into it just as he did his temptations. It kind of all happens at the same time – the good, the bad, the joys, the sorrows. The call for each of us is to be present to whatever we’re experiencing while standing on God’s Word. Doing that, I believe, is the key to growing in our trust of God.

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