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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Lent 1 – Year C

None of us can escape our days in the desert. They come to us all and the question is not if they will come but only when they will come. You know what I mean. Those times when we feel alone or lost, when life is dry and barren, when the way forward seems unclear, when we feel like our resources are running dry, when we are struggling to keep it all together, struggling to put one foot in front of the other. They are times of intense worry and stress, times when life can seem out of our control, times when we are afraid life just might fall apart. These desert experiences can last from a few hours to a few years. They can make us physically sick, depressed, or both. And they can be caused by almost anything: One of our children has lost his/her way and he or she is on the verge of doing something very stupid or very destructive. The doctor calls us at home and gives us the exact news we dread hearing. Someone we love and cannot imagine living without has died or is dying. We have lost our job and we are afraid, age and the economy seem to be working against us. An investment we have made, a deal we have struck, a company we have built crashes or falls apart and the future we had planned for our family and ourselves evaporates in front of our eyes. These and many others examples are times when life drops us off in the desert.
It is interesting to note that the desert or the wilderness is mentioned more than 350 times in the Bible. The desert as a place was well known to the people of the 1st century. The desert as a state of being is a recurring theme throughout the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament. It is in the desert that Jacob is forced to confront the truth about himself and where he literally wrestles with God. The desert is the place Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years between their release from Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land. The desert is the location for the 40-day trial and temptation of Jesus after John baptizes him and before he begins his ministry. The desert in the Bible is a place of trial, testing and growth. It is the place we would rather not be, but it is also one of the places life takes us again and again. How do we survive in our own deserts? How do we as Christians make it through these times when we feel like life has left us in the wilderness?
First, and most importantly, remember that God goes with you. Although you might feel otherwise, you are not alone. For forty years the Israelites struggled in the wilderness to make it to the Promised Land. And while they griped and complained the entire time the truth is throughout that journey God traveled with them. He did not save them from the desert, but neither did he abandon them there.
And this leads me to my second point – you can trust that God will sustain you in the desert. Day by day when Moses and the children of Israel needed food God gave them quail and manna (which literally means bread from heaven.) When they were thirsty Moses touched a rock and unleashed a spring of water. They never had a feast, but they never starved. God gave them what they needed to make it through each day. In the desert they learned to trust in God and not just themselves. In the same way, we need to remember that when we find ourselves in our own wilderness there will be grace. God will give us nourishment to help us make it day-by-day, step-by-step. The neighbor who brings you dinner when your spouse is sick and in the hospital, the co-worker who covers for you when you miss work because of a death in the family, the friend who stops by for a visit and a prayer – these are examples of the presence of God’s grace. This is your manna. “Where is God,” you might ask during a tough time in your life? God is in the loving actions of the people who reach out to you.
I remember when Melissa was in the hospital in Savannah for several weeks with an unexplained intestinal blockage. Marshall was 3 years old and Eliza was 3 weeks old. I was having a hard enough time trying to care for my children, much less my children and my critically ill wife. As a result, I was absent from the hospital more than I wanted to be. Everyday a member of the parish, who was a physician in the same hospital, would take his lunch hour to come and sit with Melissa. He couldn’t cure her, but he could be with her. For an hour he would read her psalms, prayers, or passages of scripture. He would talk quietly with her or just sit as she slept. He was a source of nourishment for her during this time in the desert. He was a little bit of manna to help her make it through. He was an agent of God’s grace.
Third, in the wilderness there is always the temptation to let go of God. When Moses was too long on Mount Sinai, the Israelites thought God had abandoned them so they made their own god – a golden calf. When Jesus was alone in the wilderness Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread – to put the satisfaction of his own hunger above his obedience to God. When we are in the middle of a difficult time in our lives it is easy to reach for things we think will give us comfort, but which turn out to be things that only harm us in the long run. How many people drink or misuse prescription drugs to ease the pain of a difficult situation? How many people have affairs when their marriage is just too painful to deal with? How many people stuff food as a way to cope with their stress? These are all ways in which we build our own golden calf to comfort us in the desert. These are all false gods and they cannot get us through our time in the wilderness. In the long run false gods only destroy us. The fact of the matter is – when we are in the desert there is no easy or quick way out. We just have to make our way one step at a time, one day at a time, confident that we will reach the other side and knowing that there will be manna along the way.
I know many of you are feeling pretty good about your life at this particular moment but I also know there others out there this morning that are struggling. You lug around large amounts of stress and worry. You carry burdens that you think are too heavy to bear. You sometimes wonder how life got this way, how life ended up so differently from what you had planned. I know you are in the desert and wherever you look the landscape appears barren and the way difficult. I won’t insult you with any platitudes about how it is all going to be o.k. Because for many of you I know there are no quick or easy answers. All I can tell you is that you are not alone. God is with you and God’s grace surrounds you. Look for that grace and keep moving ahead one day at a time. Hold tight to your faith, keep reaching out to God in prayer and know that there is always hope.
Some things in life cannot be avoided. Sometimes we can’t go around the desert we just have to steal ourselves to go through it. God will bless you on your journey and walk with you every step of the way. Just remember all deserts have a border and on the other side of that border their lies a pleasant land. Amen.

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