Wilderness Time: “A Time Comfort”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 13, 2016
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We are winding down our time in the wilderness as we approach Resurrection morning. This morning we’re looking at the time for comfort in the wilderness that we enjoy as children of the living God. Comfort that comes when we need it the most. Then next Sunday we will celebrate Palm Sunday and consider a time of new beginnings and then of course, two weeks from today is Easter Morning! We will have two services Easter morning – one at 6:30 at our property at Utah and Adams and one here, at 11:15 a.m. Please invite your neighbors, friends and family to join us Easter Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection. We have a very special worship planned, I hope you can all be there with a friend or two.
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
The Angels waited on him. After being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, the angels of the Lord waited on Jesus. When Jesus thought he might not be able to endure the pressures of Satan, the Lord sent his angels to wait on him, to bring him comfort, to remind him that God was with him, especially during his wilderness experience.
Isn’t that how we would want to experience God’s divine comfort? Have you ever been at the end of your rope and after you’ve tied a knot and hung on, and hung on, and hung on, you began to wonder if this just might be the end? The world feels like it’s about to crumble and just in the nick of time, God offered the comfort that only he can. Have you had this experience?
It’s likely that most of us won’t be pushed to our physical limitations in a true wilderness experience, but many of us have experienced the emotional or spiritual battles that lead to the feeling of abandonment, of doubt, of hopelessness, or grief. Scripture demonstrates to us again and again that we are never alone, we are continuously blessed and protected, sometimes from ourselves and often from the pressures of the outside world.
Think about Abraham and Sarah. Their story is told in Genesis 18. You remember them? They were well past their childbearing years and had been the talk of the neighborhood. I mean, if you didn’t have children you must be on God’s naughty list, your sin must be so awful that God refused to bless you with children. But God did not leave Abraham and Sarah barren and ostracized. He sent angels to comfort them.
Listen to the story: Genesis, as told by Pastor Sandy.
Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent one afternoon. Three men stopped as they were walking by and Abraham, recognizing they were important, bent over backwards to offer them hospitality. He offered them water to wash their feet, led them to the shade underneath a tree where they could sit down and relax after their day’s journey. He pressed Sarah into service (“come on wife”), and asked her to make some cakes. He had his servant butcher a calf and brought the feast to them, complete with curds and milk. While they were eating, Abraham stood under the tree, watching and talking with them.
One of the men expressed interest in his wife Sarah and then told Abraham that she would become pregnant and bear a son. Being beyond childbearing age that idea made Sarah laugh. Hearing Sarah snicker, the speaker, now identified as the Lord, says, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’
God continued, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” The comfort of the Lord came to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, when all hope had been given up. God blessed them with a son, Isaac.
Next we consider the angel who met the grieving women at Jesus’ tomb and proclaimed the great message of comfort and hope: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” The comfort of these women came to them in the form of an angel, whose appearance, scripture says, was bright as lightening and his clothes white as snow. He told the women not to be afraid, he knew they were looking for Jesus. “He’s not here; he has risen.” In the midst of terrible grief and disappointment, the women were lifted up by the comfort of the Lord, sent in the form of an angel.
Wilderness time can be a difficult and frightening place. We must arm ourselves with the stories of our ancestors and recall where our strength comes from.
Psalm 121 is the Assurance of God’s Protection. It reads:
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
Sometimes we tell ourselves that optimism is all we need. If we only have a positive attitude we will endure. “Think of the optimist who fell off a skyscraper. As he passed the twelfth floor, horrified onlookers hear him shout, “So far, so good!” Optimism is great, but, but is it enough? What about the two hunters who heard about a bounty offered for the hides of the wolves that were decimating the farmer’s livestock. They headed out to the wilderness to shoot some wolves and make themselves rich. They had just fallen asleep out under the stars when a noise woke one of them. In the reflection of the campfire he saw the eyes of twenty-five wolves (that’d be 50 eyes!) – teeth gleaming. He shook his friend and whispered hoarsely, “Wake up! Wake up! We’re rich!”
Optimism is great, but is it enough? No, the optimism of our falling friend by itself is no match for the gradational pull of the earth; nor is the optimism of our hunted hunter by itself a match for the wild beasts of the wilderness. Something more is needed! It is that “something more” that we focus on this morning. Mark’s Gospel says, “And he was with the wild beasts.” But then Mark says there was something more in the wilderness: “And the angels waited on him.”
So how do we know if an angel is among us? I mean, we don’t generally see what we stereotypically call an angel; halo, wings, angelic face, playing a harp and flying around. What you’ll notice about the biblical accounts of angels, there is little focus on what angels look like, and more focus on what they do, and how they intervene on God’s behalf to bring comfort to a hurting world.
“The Hebrew word “malach” and the Greek word “angelos” both mean “messenger.” Angels are messengers of hope when God’s message of hope is needed most. They are expressions of the inexpressible – the way we talk about God being present and bringing hope. Think of the role of angels in the Bible. They usually appear at the low points in the lives of those who receive their messages. They deliver their messages in the wilderness times: Abraham and Sarah unknowingly entertained three angels who gave them the message of hope that they would have a son. Jacob wrestled all night with an angel as he struggled with God and with himself about his life and the fear he had of facing his estranged twin brother Esau. An angel brought hope and strength to Elijah when he sat down under a broom tree just wanting God to take his life.
“An angel met the grieving women at Jesus’ tomb and proclaimed the greatest message of hope: “He is not here, he has risen.” These were terribly low times in these individuals’ lives. These were times when God seemed far away and when the next moment seemed uncertain. They were times when both their need and their weakness to do anything about that need, were very apparent. It was precisely in that moment of need and weakness that the messengers of God delivered their messages. This is the good news that Paul discovered and recounted in the Epistle reading. Paul was tormented by some excruciating malady he called a “thorn in the flesh.” When he prayed repeatedly for his awful “thorn in the flesh” to be removed, he received this answer from the lord: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
“In our times of need and weakness, God’s message of hope and comfort is spoken – most often in a language too deep for words and too profound to voice. In the times of greatest need, God’s message of hope comes through when the soul is open to receive it, and sometimes even when the soul is not open. That is the good news of comfort in the wilderness. We are not alone in the wilderness. We have available to us God’s sustenance and strength and we can leave the wilderness stronger people through God’s working in our lives. In the wilderness we are comforted not by mere optimism, but by hope – the hope that comes from knowing we are not alone; the hope that comes from knowing that the wilderness is not all there is and the hope that comes from knowing that when our strength has gone, God’s strength is sufficient.
“Emily Dickinson, struggling to express the inexpressible, wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Hope is not a thing that flies serenely above the storms, untouched by the demands and challenges we face. Rather, the power of hope lies in its presence in our everyday lives – it “perches in the soul.” Hope stays within us, singing its song in the bleakest wilderness. There is also something else. If angels are simply messengers, can it be that most of the angels we meet are fellow human beings? Think of your darkest wilderness experiences. Were there people who were God’s messengers of hope for you? That is one of the most beautiful ministries that God gives any of us – to become a ministering angel to help a brother or sister in the wilderness, experience the comforting presence of God. Even in the worst wilderness imaginable, God calls us to be persons through whom the light and life and love of God flow into a wilderness world. John Henry Jowett said, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.”
Let us pray: Gracious God, creator of heaven and earth, bring us comfort today as we work our way through our own wilderness experiences. Thank you for being with us in our trials and thank you for the gift of hope and comfort you offer to us through your son Jesus Christ. Amen.