Fairhaven Sermon 2-18-2024

Fairhaven Sermon 2-18-2024
Fairhaven Sermon 2 18 2024 Dyaln Parson


In this week's sermon Pastor Dylan Parson opens with a compelling story of a Christian brother's journey towards monastic life and the spiritual and physical trials he endures when he attempts to hold onto his earthly possessions as a safety net. This narrative sets the stage for the sermon's broader theme: our cultural and personal reluctance to fully relinquish control and trust in God's providence. Dylan eloquently ties this ancient lesson to contemporary issues, highlighting how modern society's dependence on technology, safety measures, and material comforts often masks a deep-seated fear of vulnerability and isolation. Through this lens, the sermon explores the psychological impact of such dependencies on both adults and children, emphasizing the lost opportunities for growth and resilience.

Drawing on the metaphor of Jesus' time in the wilderness, Dylan further delves into the transformative power of facing one's fears and vulnerabilities without the false securities of the material world. He describes the wilderness not just as a physical locale but as a spiritual state where one is stripped of all but faith in God, suggesting that true spiritual strength is forged in the absence of earthly crutches. This message is reinforced with stories from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who sought purity of faith in the harshness of the desert, and challenges the congregation to consider what they might be holding onto that prevents full reliance on God. The sermon concludes with a call to embrace Lent as a period of introspection and purification, encouraging individuals to identify and set aside their metaphorical "pieces of meat" that attract the demons of temptation, thus deepening their relationship with God and emerging stronger in their faith.


A story that a couple of you have heard to open. Long ago, a Christian brother was leaving the world to become a monk in the desert. And though he gave his goods to the poor, he kept some for his own use, just in case. He went to Father Anthony, and when Anthony knew what he had done, Anthony told him, If you want to be a monk, go to that village over there, buy some meat, hang it on your naked body, and come back here.

The brother went, and dogs and birds tore at his body. He came back to Anthony, who asked him if he had done what he was told. He showed him his torn body. Then Anthony said, Those who renounce the world but want to keep their money are attacked in that way by demons and torn to pieces.

We love having a safety net, don't we? Just in case, option A, plan B if things don't work out. Think about how averse we are now as a culture. I think this is a fairly recent development, but it's always been there to some extent, to any sense of real, genuine isolation or risk. I was reading recently some psychologists say that a problem with children's development now is that parents are so averse to letting them just play and potentially hurt themselves that it makes it harder for them to transition into adulthood.

Kids used to fall off the monkey bars. They aren't allowed to do that anymore, and it's causing developmental issues. Whenever I was a kid, and I'm sure all of you had this exact experience, although maybe it was in the city instead of the country, I could wander off into the woods for hours and make my way back when the sun started to come down. A good yell could probably reach me, depending on whether I was on the front or back of the rocks in the woods.

But oftentimes I was out there, just me and the dog, maybe a 15 to 20 minute hike from my backyard. I was in the woods pretty good. That feels insane to me now. As an adult in the age of the cell phone, that was completely normal.

Now, would that be normal? I don't know if it would be. As an adult, I would be unlikely to go for a walk anywhere, let alone for a couple hours without my phone. If I dropped it on the counter before I left, Stormy would immediately assume I was murdered. That's for sure.

If someone's unreachable for a few hours now, it's cause for at least a little bit of terror. It's extremely common for even the youngest kids to have a cell phone. Again, in case something would happen at soccer practice, or even while staying over at a trusted friend's house. A cell phone acts as kind of a tether to safety, a life preserver, ensures we're never really, really, really alone.

That's just the most surface level way that our devices provide us with a sense of safety and control. Everyone who's lived in the smartphone age knows that an awkward lull in conversation or five minutes in a waiting room is an opening to pull out your phone, look like you're doing something important, catch up on emails, respond to some text. We fill the void that boredom or awkwardness used to occupy very easily. But that's not the only way that we shore up our sense of safety and security, that we build up stuff around ourselves.

I've got one of the few jobs in America left with a pension. What is a pension or a 401k, but looking for security when we're old. Almost everyone would prefer to insulate themselves from what may come by keeping money aside. Plenty of people carry a gun every day of their lives, probably more now than they did in the old west.

We have security systems now in many of our houses, as if that would stop any intruder who was committed enough to just break a window. But we crave that sense of feeling in control, feeling secure, knowing that deep down we're mortal, we can, we will eventually die. The thing about the desert though, where we find Jesus today, is that there's no safety net in the desert. The real hard truth is there's no safety net anywhere at all.

And all of us wake up every morning by another miracle. You know, you've escaped a deadly disease. You've escaped the hunger or thirst that takes countless lives around the world because you were lucky. You know, we avoided a natural disaster, not because of anything you did.

You know, we didn't face any kind of bombing or warfare. And it's easy to get used to feeling secure, the way that we live our daily lives. It's easy to start believing we're in control of all those things, which is of course absurd when you think about it for like five seconds. In the desert though, in the wilderness, when you're out, it's different.

You can't escape the truth. You can hear the coyotes. You know, there's nothing quite like, I remember climbing down, I had walked the whole way up a mountain by myself one summer in North Carolina. And when I was coming down, as the sun was going down, I could hear coyotes and that'll get you.

You really start to feel your loneliness, your being alone when you hear coyotes coming down a mountain with nobody around you for probably a couple of miles on each side. You know, you're in the wilderness, you can feel the cold as the wind whips through your tent. The sun beats down and it's not enjoyable, it becomes a threat. Whether or not you eat, I love watching Dole Survival and all those survival shows.

Whether or not you eat, no matter how good you are, that's what all these shows prove. You could be in special ops for 30 years. You get out in the woods, whether you eat depends on luck. That's it.

All the little charms we hold tightly to, to trick ourselves into believing that we're stronger than death, right? That fades away. Nothing is left in the wilderness, but as Jesus experienced, you, Satan, the wild beasts, and the angels. And there's a reason then that Jesus drives, that the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness at his baptism. It's this necessary step before he embarks on active ministry, proclaiming the coming of the kingdom.

There's a reason that Jesus always is fleeing into what the Bible translates as a deserted place all the time in ministry, whenever he needs to return to God, set aside the clutter, the chaos of the disciples, the mobs of needy people, be by himself with God in the wilderness. There's a reason that Moses meets God on the heights of Mount Sinai where nobody else is around. There's a reason why many Native American tribes, countless cultures around the country, like the idea of a vision quest, that's a real thing. People go out into the wilderness by themselves, not to eat, not to drink, for days to see what happens, what they see, whenever everything is stripped away.

Wilderness has this purifying, clarifying effect on the spirit. When the Holy Spirit sends Jesus out into the wilderness, he's alone, almost alone. His mother, his earthly father, his siblings, his friends, the village that surrounded him his whole life, they're all far away. This is a new chapter.

It's almost like this is a placeholder. Go here in the meantime before you begin this new chapter. It's this ritual of turning over a new leaf. Whatever modest income he'd have made as a carpenter, he might have it with him.

He might have a little purse kind of thing, a pouch or whatever, but he might not, and he might as well not for what good is all that income that he's made, no matter how much it is in the desert. Like a hyena is coming at you, you're going to throw a piece of silver at him. Whatever you have is useless in the desert. When it comes down to it, he's got the clothes on his back.

Jesus is left alone with nothing but the angels, the wild beasts, and Satan, who is of course after him and us all the time, but in the desert, it's inescapable. It's obvious. He feels it. He hears him because there's nothing else.

In Mark's gospel, we're forced to imagine the details of Jesus' trial in the desert because Mark doesn't give us any details. Mark almost never gives us any details. He just tells us what happened and moved on. But imagine yourself in the situation, Jesus' temptation for 40 days in the wilderness.

What are you like out there? How deeply does your stomach have to ache for you to become desperate beyond your imagining, ready to do whatever Satan asks, and some of it sounds pretty good, in exchange for a meal or a sip of water? How long does it take when you have nothing at all to fall back on to give up whatever faith and values and commitments you hold dear? How long do you hold out before the recognition that you are just completely powerless over comes you? But Jesus makes it through all 40 days. He's been the son of God since before he was born, but this is nonetheless an experience that forges him into the one who can convincingly proclaim the good news, the coming of the kingdom to God's people. He comes out of the wilderness tested, proven, ready to go. He's faced down Satan and he's won.

He's made it through the fiery furnace. He's come off the ark like Noah after 40 days. He's made it across the Sinai into the promised land. He's made it through the trials.

And he's proven that whenever all the trappings of his life have been torn away, his commitment remains. He's human. He's frail the same way as us, but he made it. It's like steel that's been tempered in a forge and he's hardened against the worst that Satan can throw at him.

Pursuing this kind of spiritual strengthening is what Lent is for, for you and for me. Though of course much less dramatic. I guess we could spend Lent out in a cave and hope for the best, but we're given a little bit more lenience here to try in our daily lives, to go out in the wilderness in our hearts. And the story I told at the beginning of that desert monk who just couldn't give up everything to God demonstrates the alternative to Jesus' approach in the wilderness.

You can do it Jesus' way or you can do it that monk's way. The story comes from the so-called Desert Fathers and Mothers, a movement of Christians. They fled the cities of Egypt, of Syria, of Palestine. They went out into the desert because they were feeling too worldly.

They wanted to practice their faith in the desert because they knew it would be harder there. This is in the book that we've been reading for our Lenten study, this particular story. It stuck with me since I read it. Consider that Jesus survived the desert unscathed because Satan and the demons had nothing to grab onto on Jesus.

He went into it completely alone, really free, with nothing but his faith in God. That's what he had. If we're attached to anything at all, to the degree that we can't let it go, that we can't just rest in what God has for us, we are able to be torn to pieces when the attacks and temptations start to come. Consider the monk who, on the surface level, wanted to give his life to God, to God alone, but also wanted to keep an escape route clear just in case.

I might need a little bit of my savings if things get rough. If we hold tight to the sense of control, to possessions, to power, or some other object or habit that makes us feel comfortable and secure, in that vivid imagery of the story, we've wrapped ourselves in meat. The perfect prey for demons awaiting the chance to take us down, to grab at us. Lent is our annual opportunity to make a concerted effort to take stock of all that we've piled up around ourselves, the forts that we've built around our hearts, all the ways that we've come to believe that we're in control of our lives, of all the things that we've placed between ourselves and the pure love of Jesus.

This is the reason for fasting at Lent. Fasting more than simply giving up food, it might not even be food at all, is an intentional setting aside of those often unseen things that just become the atmosphere we live in, that we've gathered around that cushion us from the truth within and outside of us. If you're honest with yourself as you begin Lent, if you think about it, is there anything that you rely on more than the grace of God to get you through the day? And it comes down to it. Is there anything that you can't give up or set aside, even as you feel that tugging on your heart from God, to do it? Lent is a chance to journey into the wilderness of our hearts, to strip away all the excess that comes between us and God.

This Lent, as we walk towards the cross with Jesus, I'd say don't give up something that doesn't really have any spiritual meaning for you. Don't do it just to do it, right? Just because you're supposed to give up something for Lent is not a good reason to give up something for Lent. It's a test of self-control if you decide you're not going to eat chocolate for 50 days. And that's not a bad thing.

It's good to have self-control. But a real fast is setting aside something that has started to become maybe a bit of an idol, something that has become an obstacle to your growth in Jesus. A fast should change your relationship with God in a positive way. It should do something.

It should change your relationship with God by changing your relationship with other stuff. It should be an attempt to strip off a piece of meat, at least temporarily. The things that the wild beasts use to grab at you, maybe that meat is social media or news designed to get you agitated and scared and upset. Maybe storing up money and assets that you know might be better used to serve the poor, to serve God.

Maybe it's a more classic thing like alcoholic gambling. Who knows? You know. Maybe it's a grudge that you've nursed and even kind of secretly enjoyed for years. Lay it down because the demons are tearing at you through it.

Whatever it is for you specifically, a fast should be a laying down of your safety net, of whatever you rely on to keep you happy and content and safe that isn't Jesus. You set aside these sort of things, whatever it is for you, because only you know, and you will find that your relationship with God will grow. Remember the wilderness, whether that's in the heart or out in the desert, just inescapably reveals what is already true every other moment of our lives. It just makes it high contrast.

We're not in control. Not really. Our life is not ours. Not really.

Life and death are beyond our feeble power. And the future is in God's hands. Our only real choice is whether we're going to allow ourselves to rest in God's hands as well or try to do something ourselves. One more story from those desert monks.

It is said there was a working gardener who gave away all his profit in alms for the poor and kept for himself only enough to live on. Later on, Satan tempted him and said, Store up a little money as a provision to spend when you are old and infirm. So he made a store of coins in a big pot. It happened that he fell ill and his foot became gangrenous and he spent all his coins on doctors but grew no better.

An experienced doctor told him, Unless we amputate your foot, the gangrene will spread through your whole body. So they decided to amputate it. But the night before the operation, the gardener came to his senses and he was sorry for what he had done. And he groaned and he wept and he said to the Lord, Remember my earlier good works when I worked in the garden and served the poor.

Then an angel of the Lord stood before him and said, Where's your store of coins? Where has your trust in them gone to? Then he understood and he said, I have sinned, Lord, forgive me, and I will not do it again. Then the angel touched his foot and it was healed at once. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.