Sermon Starter: In the Wilderness

February 23rd, 2011

“Do you ever feel like you just don’t belong anywhere?”

This question was posed to me by an older and wiser colleague of mine a while back. We were both at a conference with pastors from all different denominations, and we had both been recently informed that we had been appointed to new churches, and we were both a bit nervous about it.

“All the time.” I replied. That was the end of the conversation. Nothing more needed to be said. In that moment we recognized a tremendous kinship with one another because we both found ourselves in the wilderness.

The wilderness is one of the most important symbols we find throughout the Bible. The wilderness is significant because it stands in contrast to the city. In the city all of your needs are met, you are protected from the elements and predators, there are lots of things to see and do, and you can be secure in your surroundings. The wilderness is a whole different story. In the wilderness you don’t know where your next meal or drink of water is coming from, you don’t know where you next lodging will be, you are at the mercy of nature, and you are all alone. In the wilderness there are no distractions and there are no protections. It’s just you and God. So it’s no surprise that our most powerful images of God’s might, God’s wrath, God’s protection, and God’s provision for our every need come from times that people found themselves in the wilderness.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a wilderness even if we’re in the city. The Samaritan woman lived among the people in Sychar, but she was all alone in the crowd. She had to come to the well during the hottest part of the day to avoid the stares and whispers of her neighbors. And it’s here in her own personal wilderness that she meets Jesus. This brief encounter at the well heals her where she is most vulnerable and most broken.  Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, this woman had to come to a place where God was all she had to realize that God is all she needed.

During Lent some of us give up things like sweets, red meat, or bad habits. Some of us even fast and pray. The whole idea is that the absence of a certain familiar thing creates a kind of wilderness for us so we can focus on God’s presence in our lives. During this season let’s also keep an eye out for those among us that find themselves in a long term wilderness. Let us, like Jesus, offer the living water of love and fellowship for which they so greatly thirst.

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