Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sermon - Removing the Earthly Barriers

A couple times a year I am ask to be a fill-in speaker at my church. I attend a small United Methodist Church out in the country. It's always very special for me to do this. I hope you will enjoy, "Removing the Earthly Barriers".

And I begin . . .

This is an exciting holiday season isn’t it. I must ask you, how many of you have already started to hang your black, green, and purple Easter lights on your houses and in the trees around your yard? How many of you know we are actually in a holiday season. Better yet, how many of you really knew that the New Orleans, Mardi Gras celebration on February 5th, was tied to a religious holiday. That’s right! Mardi Gras, with the beads, and the drinking, and crazy parties. The root of the celebration stems from the beginning of Lent.

Now I was being a bit sarcastic wasn’t I. I know many of you here know a good bit about the season of Lent. Some of you may be very involved. Maybe some of you are fasting, doing without chocolate, possibly avoiding coffee. Some of you may be trying a new religious study or reading the special addition of the Upper Room. Yet many others of you may know very little about it.

As I started preparing for this service I looked at the calendars in my house to find out the exact date that Lent started. I looked in my Virginia Tech calendar. I couldn’t find it listed. I moved on to a second calendar that I have on my desk. With surprise, it wasn’t listed on that one either. I finally found it on the third calendar I looked at. I don’t know why I’m so surprised about this. As I think about it, the season of advent isn’t listed as a holiday on many calendars either.

For those of you who do not know, the season of Lent is the 40 day period, not counting Sundays, prior to Easter. We are currently approximately 16 days in to the season of Lent. This 40 day period was established by the early Catholic Church. It starts out with Ash Wednesday. Some churches have special service where the Pastor preaches on penance, fasting, and giving. Then you go up to the alter and have a cross marked upon your forhead with ashes, as you ask for forgiveness for your sins. That officially marks the beginning of the season.

Why 40 days you ask? The number 40 comes up many times in the Bible. First in the Old Testament in Noah’s day. In the book of Genesis 7:12. The earth was completely flooded for 40 days’. A flooding that washed away the evil that had infected the world.

Again you find the number 40 when you read about Moses. In Exodus 24:18. It say’s Moses went up into the mountain for 40 days and nights. And he returns with the 10 commandments. A key tool for avoiding the sinful nature of man.

In Numbers 32:13 we read how the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Which by that time they had rid the tribes of the old and only the new would enter the promise land.

But Lent owes much of it’s spiritual meaning to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry. This happens just as Jesus becomes an adult. Before people really know of his greatness. Jesus goes down to John, asks to be Baptized, following that he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Just simply led by the Spirit to go. He did not get his backpack ready. He didn’t take a book or video game to keep him occupied. Not even a tent or jacket incase the weather was bad. He just went.

We pick this up in Matthew 4. And I read. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.” The scripture goes on to tell about how the devil comes to Jesus and begins to test or tempt him with earthy things.

It is so interesting to me how Jesus becomes weak with hunger. Carries absolutely nothing to protect himself, and THEN he is ready to meet with the devil. Isn’t that strange? If I was to get ready for a fight. I would make sure I was at the top of my game physically before stepping into the ring with the devil. (working out movements) . . . . And I kid you not. We actually receive letters from the grade school the week of the SOL test that says, “Please feed your kids a good breakfast and make sure they have a good nights rest so they will score better on those important test”. But here we see Jesus, hungry and exposed. Yet that’s what he did, purposely, to prepare for this moment.

What in the world was he doing out there for 40 days? Picture it in your mind. Imagen, walking out of your door today with nothing more than the clothes on your back. Just wandering on foot. No interaction with people. No clock or schedule. No TV, or cell phone or computer! No special hiking boots or hand gun to protect you from danger. The 1st day passes, then the 2nd and the 3rd. It don’t sound so bad yet does it. Lets get a little deeper.

No pillow to lay your head on at night, nor blanket to cover you. No bath or make-up or ability to shave. Moving into the second week, day 10, 11, and 12 pass.

No money. No food, nor drink. No protection from the elements. Week 3 and week 4.

How far would you walk before you were tired or out of breath. Would you begin to feel exposed? Would you stay in one place or continue to wonder? How would you pass the time. Day 35, 36, 37.

What would your thoughts be? How would you feel. It’s hot and dry and the sand is blowing in your face. No shelter. Day 40 Just you alone and hungry.

The desert experience is about deprivation. It was about not having instead of having. It’s having nothing at all, yet about being filled. It was about removing all the earthly things that surround us and yet coming closer to God the Father.

Every once and a while our society goes through a time of weakness. A time when money is tight and we must do without some of the earthly things we come to love. For many people, deprivation is a great evil, and to be avoided at all costs. In deprivation, we might discover that we are not strong. Instead we are human. We fear and hurt and get embarrised. Removing our tough exterior we just might find a vulnerable or humble creature which we are not really use to.

Removing our earthly material walls we may learn we are slaves to our bellies, to the opinions of others, to pleasures, and nice commodies. We can not bear pain so we take a pill. We are not good at something so we drink. We can not bear being cold so we cut up the heat. We cannon bear growing old, so we dye our hair. Like Darth Vader in Star Wars, we replace our humanity with technology or other things until there is very little of our own selves left. Some of us become slaves to a ridgid schedule. How many of us are guilty of having over-promised ourselves to things. Or how many of us are slaves to past experience? Like shackles we are dragging along our baggage refusing to put it down. We refuse to put it down and walk with God. We even surround ourselves with walls of lies to avoid the truths in our lives. What are we trying to compensate for?

All these things are the devils temptations which we have choose to take up. At any point in time we can say NO! These earthly things will no longer have power over me!

Now, doing without can strip away some of the false walls we have built up around ourselves and can give us a glimpse of our own truth. And that is sometimes hard to face.

I have a children’s book I read to my kids. It’s called, “Another Monster at the End of this Book”. In this story Elmo is trying to get to the back of the book to see the “Monster”. But Grover is trying to stop him from going. Grover builds walls alphabet blocks, and glues the pages together and even begg’s Elmo at one point not to go. But Elmo continues to the end. And you’ll never guess who the monsters are. At the end of the story they find out that the “Monsters” are themselves. They laugh as they are no longer afraid of the monster any more.

The point is that we often build up things that separate us from God. Daily things. Material things. The Devil is always there read to offer us a sweet deal isn’t he. We often wear a fuzzy monster coat of sin and personal desires. Our life gets so noisy that walls of earthly things separate us from the voice of our Lord and Savior.

During this season of Lent, we have the opportunity to take the monster coat off. To remove the walls of separation. And once we do surrender that coat, that wall, we can once again hear the voice of the Lord more clearly and reclaim the true song in our heart. We should use this season of Lent to enter into our own private desert where it is just you and God. In doing this we may be required to come face to face with our own sins. We may need to be willing to leave the things we are clinging to at the cross of the Lord. But by releasing these things, we will grow stronger with the Lord.

I leave you with this thought. Remember above I said, “What in the world was Jesus doing out there for 40 days?” So I ask you now, if you were in a private desert, where all the distractions were removed, and you found yourself in the presents the Lord, what would you be doing?

Let us pray,

Oh Lord, we call to you, Hear our voice. Come quickly. We come to you today, asking for your guidance through our own desirt. We want to wander twards you during this Holy season. Help us to leave our sinful earthly ways as we travel. Let our hearts not draw tward the things that separates us from you. Help us to tear down these walls and remove the old and become new. Rescue us from our personal earthly chains. Rescue us when our spirits are weak. We reach out our hands to you. Our soul is thirsts for your presence. Re-teach us your way, O Lord, We want to walk by your side. Give us an undivided heart that we may serve you completely. You are great and your love is never ending. You fill us in a way that earthly things can not. Thank you for always being there, waiting. No matter how long it takes us to call out, you are there, waiting. Ready to show us the way, you are there, waiting. Waiting, Ready to carry us on. Thank you Oh Lord, for your never ending Love.

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