First Presbyterian Church

of Hemet
A Blessing, a Test and a New Life  
February 18, 2018 
I Corinthians 10:11-13; Mark 1:9-15 
 
I was bored with running on streets and I thought trial running might be a new adventure. I imagined that I would be running in the San Jacinto Mountains. Instead, when I got to the Soboba Indian Reservation I saw a lot of dirt hills and a staging area that was a ball field. I decided to run the 10 kilometer run instead of the five. I did well—I won my age group.
   
I remember running on fire roads for most of the course. One of the fire roads was very steep. I had to slow down to avoid sliding down the hill. I finished the race, enjoyed the booths and displays and went home with a plate for my first in my age group win.
 
I didn’t recover from the race like I did all the others. My left hip hurt. I had hurt it in high school, but that was decades ago and I thought nothing of it. But the hip just wouldn’t heal. It felt like I pulled a muscle. So I went to the doctor. He took an x-ray. He told me I had bone on bone where the ball meets the socket. I would need total hip replacement.
  
Well, if somebody is going to cut me I want a second opinion. And I’m going to talk to friends and people who have had their hip or knee replaced. A friend who is a doctor of internal medicine recommended a book called Heal Your Hips. It recommended exercises in a swimming pool to avoid surgery. The second orthopedist said the same thing as the first. I would need surgery. But still I avoided it. Finally, about 15 months after the Soboba Indian Reservation run I was at a family gathering and my oldest brother remarked how crippled my twin sister and I looked as we walked up a hill to a wedding reception. I was on retreat, as well, and found myself taking stairs one step at a time. It was time to go see the second doctor and have them do the work he recommended. I am thankful I had the surgery and while not running anymore, have full range of motion and almost no pain. It was a small trial but that was my 18 months test of my body.
 
Jesus had just been baptized in Jordan River. He heard a voice of blessing, an assurance that he was God’s son, that he was loved, and that he made the heart of his God happy. Now, the Bible says “the Spirit” sent him out into the wilderness. Besides the Spirit descending on him, this is the only mention of the Spirit in the Gospel According to Mark. But it was the Spirit, not Jesus’ wanderlust, or anxiety or parents who sent him out into the wilderness.
 
If you’ve ever driven between Barstow and Needles you have a pretty good idea of the kind of wilderness that Jesus was sent out to. When I was a student the summer of 1977 about a half dozen of our student group, not me—I didn’t go-- took a bus down to the Jordan River and then walked about twenty miles from the low elevation of the Jordan River to the higher elevation that is Jerusalem. One of my fellow students was a lineman on the college football team. He told me, “I’ve been in a lot of tough practices, but the long uphill climb and the lack of water between the Jordan and Jerusalem was one of the toughest things I’ve ever endured.” 
That’s the kind of wilderness Jesus went out to. Mark is the briefest of the Evangelists but he tells us three things about what Jesus encountered there: (1) he was tempted by Satan, (2) the wild animals were with him, and (3) the angels attended him.
  
I’ve wondered all week why Mark is so brief in describing the temptations. After all, Matthew and Luke tell us about three temptations—two to power and one to food. We are given great detail. But not by Mark. I asked my wife why she thought Mark only gave us two sentences in the English about the temptation, and she said “because Mark didn’t have Velcro to go into detail.” I think Mark is telling us something. Mark uses the word immediately 41 times in “his story of Jesus and his love.” Immediately the Spirit sent Jesus out into the wilderness. Jesus is a man of action, and he brooked no obstacles to go about his appointed tasks.
 
But it’s with the temptation that I want to stay. Our pew Bibles, the Today’s New International Version says “the Greek for tempted can also means tested.” My Greek English dictionary says of the word used of Jesus temptation, “in the bad sense also of enticement to sin. But of the temptation we heard in 1 Corinthians it says “in a good sense of God or Christ, who put [people] to the test so that they may prove themselves true.” You see there’s a good kind of temptation which builds character. There’s also a bad kind of temptation which destroys character.
 
We mention temptation almost every week in worship. “Lead us not into temptation.” Did you hear what the Pope says? He wants to change the Lord’s Prayer because he believes only the devil tempts. The Pope is focusing on the bad sense of temptation. That’s why the ecumenical version of the Lord’s Prayer is no longer “lead us not into temptation” but “save us from the time of trial.” The new version recognizes the truth of I Corinthians that none of the bad kind of temptation comes from God.
 
We’re better off if we use the alternative meaning of temptation, that of a test. Because like a bum hip was for me, all of us have tests. The question is if we see them from God or not.
 
It’s the forty days that is important here. When my wife recently broke some bones in her elbow we went to the orthopedist to have the cast taken off. They x-rayed it, and the breaks were still obvious. When the cast came off we thought my wife would have full range of motion. But the Physician’s Assistant said “it will be three or four more months until you have full range of motion.” 

Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days. Sure, it reminds us of the forty years that the former children of Abraham and Sarah were in their own wilderness. But generally, if something is a test from God, it will be forty or more days before you know how you’ll come out the other side. That’s how long it takes to return to your new normal.
 
It’s in the new normal where we find out if it was from God, or from Satan. I haven’t said a word about Satan in my four months among you. I heard a preacher come to First Presbyterian, Redlands, a college professor who I believe wrote one year’s Presbyterian Women’s curriculum. And she indicated she didn’t believe in a personal Satan. It’s a matter for debate, a debate I don’t fully understand. But Mark assumes that there was a real Satan, who tested Jesus, and it took angels to get him through the test.
 
What gets you through your tests? Who are your angels? Yesterday in the Daily Calm application the leader was telling of a time when she was struggling with depression. She was talking about Random Acts of Kindness and said that in the midst of her depression she went to the grocery store and there was a man with a very large basket of groceries in front of her. He saw what she had and encouraged her to go ahead of him in line. The narrator said, “I cannot say how good that made me feel in the middle of my depression.”
 
I haven’t encountered angels from heaven. Maybe you have. Jesus apparently did. But we have an opportunity every day to be someone’s angel if we open ourselves up to God’s love. Remember the little expression my wife and I found in a jar full of quotes that we received one Christmas from a friend, “remember, everyone you meet is fighting some battle.” It could be a battle for health or significance. It could be a battle for understanding or harmony. But all of us have sisters or brothers, spouses or no spouses, grown children or no children that we wear in our hearts. We need angels to minister to us in our own private wildernesses.
 
I love what Jesus did after he got out of the wilderness. He waited until his cousin and forerunner John was unjustly put into prison, and then he began a new life of proclaiming the good news of God. He used the blessing of his baptism and his wilderness experience to bring new blessings to the place where he grew up. We’re to use our new hips, our restored sight, our new heart valves, our restored speech and minds to bless those who are closest to us. And remember, God keeps on wanting to expand our circles of care as we grow older and more in love with that God.
 
Temptation can be a bad thing. It’s true, many of us struggle with habits that do not serve us or God’s world well. Erik Ericson, a seminal psychologist tells us that one of the most significant temptations older adults struggle with is despair, of not feeling we count or that are lives have made any sense. He calls the last stage of life the struggle between what he calls ego integration and despair. But I suspect the larger challenge is to see the normal stuff of life as part of God’s work in us to make us more like Christ.
  
When I look back on my life I have work to do about the jobs I didn’t get. How did four and half months of driving Uber and Lyft figure into God’s larger intention for my life. How did my mother-in-law’s sudden death just after we were married shape the marriage I’ve been in for 30 years? How did giving up running make me into a different person as one who is trying to treat my body like a temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s all a test. But a good one. Because the wild animals are with us AND the angels are attending us. Both are true. The wild animals of lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And the angels of other people’s blessing. Find both, find God. Because God is the one who leads you into the wilderness of testing in order to be a blessing to someone today.
 
Our hearts are saddened and some of us more than a little angry over the killing this past week in Parkland, Florida. We want kids to be safe when they go to school. We want things to be like they once were when we went to school. We want assault weapons to be no part of our society. Yet we feel stuck. You know we have the Second Amendment, we know there are people who use guns for hunting, but the price seems to steep for all of us. Comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who fear for their political future and give us grace as a society to attach this scourge of guns and mental illness that is among us.
 
We pray for our community. We thank you for it. We thank you for the residences where many of us live. We thank you for our neighbors and friends. We thank you for the pleasant weather even as we pray for rain. Come to us in the times of testing and temptation that we may grow through our trials into the kind of person you would have us become.
 
We pray for the sick among us. We pray for  
We thank you for the new members among us. Help them to find places to fit in, to contribute. Help us to be open to their gifts and new perspectives. Remember the people who are working hard on the Rummage Sale, and in teaching, that both in our serving and in our teaching there might be joy and reminders of why we do what we do.
 
Lead us as a congregation into new ways of being in the world. Help us to be open to new ideas, and to hold on to the traditions that are working for us. Guide us in this season of discernment for we offer these prayers in the name of the One who taught us to pray:
 
Do you desire to follow Jesus Christ and be his disciple? 
Are you ready to take responsibility as a member of this community, to help us continue the work of Jesus? 
Faithful God, in baptism you claimed us, and by your Spirit you are working in our lives. We thank you for leading Janet, Joventa and Jonas, Mary Ellen and Ron, Emy and Ed to this time and place. Establish them in your truth and guide them by your Spirit, that together with all the members and friends of First Presbyterian Church they may grow in faith, hope and love and all the gifts of your Spirit. We ask this in the name of the One who loved us first, Jesus Christ the righteous. Amen.