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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  • A Season of Resurrection

    Resurrection day has arrived. And with it the reminder of eternal hope because of Jesus Christ. Spring has also arrived here in Cache Valley, and while it’s not over, the end of our year-long pandemic seems to be approaching, thanks be to God. I hope this day finds you well in spirit and body, and also vaccinated (or soon-to be). I saw a sign the other day that reminded me while we’ve all been through the same storm in this last year, we haven’t all been in the same boat. Some people have weathered this storm fairly well, others have struggled mightily in one way or another. In spiritual terms, economic terms, emotional terms, and in health. And of course, not everyone has made it through the storm. I am worried that recent progress in this pandemic could be lost, but I’m thankful so many vaccinations are underway. As I’m sure it has been for you, this has been an emotionally challenging year for me as well. It seems to have contained more “downs” than “ups.” But my belief in God keeps me hopeful. Having spoken to many of you, I am thankful that a large portion of our congregation has received Covid-19 vaccinations or are in process of doing that now. The better our state and local community are doing, the sooner we’ll be able to worship in the building together.

    We’re beginning to worship together (outdoors, for the moment) for the first time in over a year. Your elders and Worship Committee have been hard at work making plans for us to transition from online worship back to in-person worship. I’d like to share with you how this process will work. To begin, we will continue to have online worship in some form, even as we get back to in-person outdoor worship (and eventually indoor). This allows anyone who wishes to continue worshiping from home to do so. We will be purchasing a special camera that allows us to livestream a worship service (which means what we do in worship goes straight to YouTube, with no long hours of editing required).

    Details for May are not yet determined, although we are making preparations and plans for indoor worship, for when Session feels it is safe. Session and the Worship Committee have approved the following plans for April:

    April 4th (Easter Sunday!)—we will worship together outdoors, in the Peace Garden and along the East side of the sanctuary, at 11 a.m.  We will hold this outdoor service (with members of our choir leading us in song) no matter the weather, so bring an umbrella or rain jacket if necessary. Masks will be required. YouTube worship will also be available.

    April 11th—we will worship via YouTube on April 11th, with a sermon delivered by an outstanding preacher named Rev. Brian Ellison. Brian is the Executive Director of the Covenant Network, a national group of church leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole, that seeks to support the mission and unity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to articulate and act on the church’s historic, progressive vision and to work for a fully inclusive church (particularly concerning the LGBTQIA+ community). FPC Logan is a member of the Covenant Network. Meg and I will lead the service, but Brian will be our preacher.

    April 18th—we will worship together outdoors at Trapper Park in southwest Logan, at 11 a.m. This Sunday is dedicated to Earth Day, and after a service (with music from our Praise Band) you are invited to walk the wonderful Logan River Trail with us. Materials will be provided to collect trash along the trail. There is a pavilion at Trapper’s Park. We will hold this service rain or shine (come dressed for the weather). Masks will be required for the service in the park. A YouTube service will be available for those who wish to stay home.

    April 25th—we will worship via YouTube on April 25th. Going back to YouTube this Sunday allows us to evaluate the recent outdoor services and make plans for future services, which may be outdoor, or if we are fortunate, perhaps indoor.

    I thank you for your grace and patience during this long year, and in coming months. It’s been a difficult one for your pastors and church staff too. I am thankful that we’ve had YouTube worship, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to seeing each other in person and worshiping the Lord together.

    In this season of resurrection, may your hearts be filled with grace, peace, and joy.

    —Pastor Derek

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