Do you remember the Israelites? After they were affirmed by God in the presence of God through Moses and the Exodus, they found themselves in the wilderness for forty years struggling with evil and searching for a God who seemed to be non-existent.
Do you remember Moses? After he was affirmed by God in the presence of God as the leader of God’s chosen people as he led the Israelites out of Egypt, he found himself in the wilderness on Mount Sinai for forty days struggling with evil and searching for a God who seemed to be non-existent.
Do you remember Elijah? After he was affirmed by God in the presence of God on the top of Mount Carmel, he found himself in the wilderness for forty days struggling, searching for a God who seemed to be non-existent.
Today, and every Sunday, we come to this place, hopefully we are also affirmed by God in the presence of God. We are affirmed as we sing the songs of faith and say the prayers of faith. We are affirmed as we gather around a communion table, as we listen to the Word of God through music and word, and as we commune with our sisters and brothers in Christ.
Together, we sense with our hearts, hear with our ears, and see with our eyes the very presence of God. As we come together in this place and make commitments and recommitments to God, we are empowered by the Spirit of God, and we are affirmed.
However, like the Israelites, like Moses, and like Elijah, Monday morning comes. Your alarm goes off way to early. You drag yourself to the kitchen only to discover that you are out of coffee. You go and wake the children so they can get ready for school. Whining and complaining ensue.
Arguments over what to wear and what’s for breakfast follow. You drop the kids off at school. It’s not even 9 am and you are exhausted. You need coffee. But at this point you are so strained and stressed, you think: “a glass or maybe a bottle of wine would be better!”
You make it to work, and it’s just that, it’s work. Same old mess day after day, week after week. At work, there are all kinds of trials, temptations. This is where you are most aware that you are not the person you need to be, the person you could be, the person you should be.
On the way home from work, the check engine light comes on in the car that you paid a fortune in repairs the previous month.
At home there is still arguing, but now it’s over homework and video games. Then the phone rings in the middle of the chaos and news is received that a close relative has bust been diagnosed with cancer.
One day— affirmed by God in the presence of God. The next day— hurled into the wilderness, struggling with all kinds of evil, into a place where God seems to be non-existent.
The good news is that God, the Creator of all that is, understands. The good news is that the Source of it all empathizes. The good news of the gospel is that God has experienced this world as we often experience it through the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
One day, Jesus was affirmed by God in the presence of God like none other. Matthew writes that at Jesus’ baptism, the heavens which were thought by many to have been closed, were “suddenly opened,” and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus “like a dove.” Then there was this voice from heaven: “This is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
One day affirmed by God in the presence of God, but then, without warning, Monday morning came. Jesus is led immediately into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. After being affirmed by God in the presence of God, Jesus is immediately led into a place where God seemed to be non-existent, where he experiences all kinds of temptation: physical, material, spiritual.
At one time, when I was much younger, much more naïve, much less experienced in this world, this passage of scripture used to trouble me. For what kind of God would affirm their child one day and then lead him into the wilderness the next day, where there are trials, temptations, dangers, and sufferings? What kind of God would lead us into temptation?
Well, since becoming more experienced in life, earning some of these gray hairs, I no longer struggle with these questions. Because, the reality is that God does not have to lead us into a wilderness or into temptation. We are already there. We are there because we are human, and life itself is a wilderness. We encounter suffering, evil, and temptation everyday of our lives, not because God gives it to us, but because we are earthly creatures living in a fragmented world.
Like you and me, Jesus found himself as a human being in the wilderness, into a place where God seemed to be non-existent, into a place of great temptation. One day, Jesus is affirmed by God in the presence of God. The next day he finds himself in a seemingly God-forsaken wilderness.
But Matthew says, and here’s the really good news, good news that we can miss if we are not careful: Jesus was not alone in that wilderness. It’s just one short sentence, but it is a beautiful sentence: “And the angels waited on him.”
I love the way Mark tells the entire story of Jesus’ temptation in just two simple verses:
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:12-13).
The gospel writers tell us that angels, representing God’s divine providence and presence waited on Jesus. Struggle and trial and temptation are present in the wilderness, but the Gospels declare: “So is God!” Throughout Jesus’ forty days and nights, God was not absent! God was with Jesus, ministering to him, serving him, waiting on him.
I believe this says something about how we sometimes encounter the presence of God. Oftentimes, the discovery of a divine presence or a holy providence comes during times struggle and testing. So, in an amazing and ironic kind of way, we can thank God for our troubles. Because without such struggling, without human suffering, we may never know this inexplicable yet undeniable grace.
I believe this also says something about the danger of pride. I believe we are sometimes tempted to believe that we can make it through our wilderness alone, on our own power. We are tempted to believe that physical power, financial power or even our own spiritual power can see us through our Monday mornings.
We must be able to humbly recognize that come Monday, we need another power. If the Son of God needed angels to wait on him in his wilderness, how much more do we need angels? How much more do we need God’s abiding presence? How much more do we need the church? How much more do we need one another? How much more do we need those who have been called to be God’s transforming agents in this world, who are, even now, sitting all around us?
It’s Sunday morning. Gathered here, in the presence of God, we are loved, and we are affirmed. The heavens are open. God’s Spirit fills this room, and God is speaking to our hearts.
In a few moments, we will receive the bread and the cup, and we will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved with a grace that is greater than our sin. We will pray. We will sing a hymn. And we will make commitments and our re-commitments. During the Benediction you will hear the wonderful words: “You and you and you and you are God’s beloved children, with whom God is well pleased.”
Yes, it is Sunday morning, and here in the very presence of God, we are affirmed.
But we can be certain of this: Monday morning is coming. For some of us Monday morning may come this Sunday afternoon. As sure as we are here, it is coming. But always remember…
Remember the Israelites. They found God and the promised land.
Remember Moses. He found God and the Ten Commandments.
Remember Elijah. He found God in a still, small voice.
Remember Jesus. The son of God found God through angels who waited on him.
And as children of God, as sons and daughters of God, so can we.
No, so will we. Because when I look around this room, you know what I see?
I see angels.