Riding Into The Wilderness

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 4.1-13.1; Corinthians 1-18

We always begin on this first Sunday of Lent by hearing the story of Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, how he journeyed to the edge of life. How he was famished, how he was thirsty, how he was in the place where the wild animals threatened his life. He went right to the edge. The wilderness was the place of threat, of the margins of life. It is a place we often encounter in the bible.

When Jesus goes to the wilderness on this day after his baptism to begin his ministry, the devil comes and meets him. And there was a confrontation, an attempted seduction. An attempted diversion from the plan of God, and boy, was it clever. Because the devil tempts Jesus as a human being. We believe he was fully God, but also fully human. And as a human being, the devil tempts Jesus with the very same things that we want from God. Food. Material things that sustain us. Power and glory, yeah, we want that on some level. And protection. We want safety.

But Jesus, even though he was at the edge, realized that he had a choice. A choice whether to submit to the plan that God had for him, to become what God created him to be, or on the other hand, to go for the things that we crave, that we hunger for. Provision, power, protection. Apart from God. On our own. We heard the story of Jesus going into the wilderness and choosing faithfully.

Well, now Jesus’ journey invites us as we begin the season of Lent to take our own journey into the wilderness, to take a spiritual journey to the edge. Some of us are already there. Because in the wilderness, when we are on the edge, when we are hungry, when we are famished, when we don’t know where our next meal is coming from, when we don’t know what wild animals threaten us, when we are the margins, when we are at the edge, we discover what we are truly made of.

In the wilderness we meet our devils. But the scriptural truth of Lent is also that we meet not only our devils but also we meet God there.

I just got back from Uganda you may have heard, last Thursday. And while we were there for 10 days we took probably thousands of pictures between the two of us. But I’d like to give you two pictures of Uganda that you can perhaps reflect on this morning. The first is a picture of a bicycle. Now there are a lot of cars there, but the fact is not many people own cars there because it is so expensive. So they use, as a main mode of transportation, bicycles. In the cities, in the countryside, you see them riding their bicycles. And because it’s their only mode of transportation the bicycles carry not only themselves, not only the riders, but everything that they need. So when you’re driving down the street, down a dirt road or a paved road, whether you’re in the city with lots of traffic and cars zooming in and out, you see the bicycles there. You see them carrying all of the stuff that they need for survival.

The traditional Ugandan hut is a circular hut and at the top they have these grass reeds that provide the ceiling, and they’re about 8 feet long. They tie them up in big bundles and they put them on the ends of their bike. So you see them driving down the road on this little skinny bike and on the back is this 8 foot wide bunch of reeds. And they’re kind of driving down the road trying to stay balanced. Sometimes they have these big bags of charcoal, they don’t use power, so they have charcoal for cooking and they have these huge bags that are about this tall, and they tie them up on the back of their bike because they buy the charcoal and they take it home. How are they going to take it home? They take it on their bike. Sometimes they tie all of their dead chickens to their bike to take home and eat. Or to take to the market to sell. Sometimes they take big bags of potatoes or fruit, sometimes they take their big jugs of water. They have these 5 gallon yellow jugs of water, they don’t have running water in their homes, so they have to take it to the center of their village or in town to pump the water and then they take it back home. They don’t want to do that every day so they pile these yellow 5 gallon jugs of water, not one of them, not two of them, not three of them, not four them… but six 5 gallon jugs of water on one bicycle. Isn’t that amazing?

And as I watched them ride through traffic with this accumulated stuff on their bicycles, it occurred to me that it is an apt metaphor for life. Because we ride through our lives and we gradually accumulate all of the stuff that we need to survive. And we accumulate more and more and more stuff, it’s amazing the crap that you can carry on your bike, if you’ll excuse the vulgarity. Some of it is good stuff, some of it is stuff we need: water, stuff to construct our homes, food. But a lot of the stuff that ends up on our bicycles is stuff that we just accumulate along the way: the burdens that we bear, the hurts that we’ve suffered, the cares of our world, the relationships that we struggle with, our own illnesses, our own struggles. And those things get loaded up on our bike and we don’t realize it and we’re riding along and it gets tougher and tougher to pedal and all of the sudden we realize that we’re riding a bike that weighs 350 pounds.

Well, Lent invites us to take the dirt road into the wilderness. To live life on the edge for a little while. Because what we do in the season of Lent is we hop off our bike and we spend some time reflecting and studying and we take an inventory of all the stuff that we have accumulated in our lives.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Sabbatical

    Well my friends, this is my last point of contact with you for the next three months, barring unforeseen circumstances. I am taking a sabbatical this summer, granted to me by you (through a congregational meeting some time ago). Clergy sabbaticals are designed for rest, recovery, and restoration. It’s a healthy thing to do, of course, and the Presbytery of Utah recommends that congregations grant their pastors a sabbatical every seven years (serving the same church, that is). It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been here in Logan for eight and a half years.

    The end goal for such a time is to provide pastors with opportunity for spiritual and mental rest and restoration, to help re-energize pastors, and to prevent burnout. Pastors have a fairly high rate of burnout, but providing time for spiritual, mental, and physical self-care is one of the best ways to prevent such things.

    It’s not only about rest, however. I’ll be studying and engaging in some healthy spiritual practices too. I will be worshiping at other churches each Sunday to experience the ways that other congregations praise the Lord, so that I might observe and consider new things for the ministry life of FPC Logan. I have a small collection of books I plan to read, including Canoeing the Mountains (a book about Christian leadership in uncharted territory) and One Long River of Song (recommended by someone at FPC), and a few others that I hope will inspire good preaching and pastoral leadership when I return. These readings will go along with daily scripture study. Due to the Covid pandemic I didn’t attend any continuing education conferences last year, but I plan to use part of this sabbatical time to so some individual continuing education. There is always something more for me to learn about my role as your pastor. I look forward to sharing some of this with you upon my return to First Presbyterian Church in September.

    Summer Worship—

    A reminder to you all that during the months of June, July, and August worship will be at 9am and 10:30am. If you show up at 11 you’ll miss half of the sermon!Masks will be required until Session determines otherwise, and worship will be in Bruner Hall for both services (this allows us to space out our seating). I have carefully chosen guest preachers for you on the Sundays that Pastor Meg won’t be preaching. They range from experienced pastors to seminary graduates, but I fell they will all bring a wonderful message to you each Sunday. Please give them the warmest welcome when they help lead worship.

    We have a system in place to live stream worship to YouTube, but there are a few technical challenges with this that I’ve been trying to work out over the last month (with audio and live streaming the video). If you choose to worship from home and the live stream is not available on Sunday mornings (because of some technical difficulty), we will try to post the recording for your viewing on Monday morning when the office is open. Please extend us some grace with this. I think it will all work out, but it’s not always a simple process and complications arise.

    Praying that you all have a wonderful, Spirit-filled summer. I’ll see you soon.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all, —Derek

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