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Throw Out the Garbage
February 12, 1989

ROMANS 10:8-13, LUKE 4:1-13

From time to time we hear of houses where the garbage gets out of control. Usually it is the home of an elderly person, but the last account I read was about a family in San Jose. The police investigated and found a house full of garbage. There was barely a pathway through the accumulated mess. The stench was horrible. Rats, flies, and maggots had made themselves at home. I find it difficult to comprehend how a family could let garbage overpower them, until I look at my desk! Does the junk mail pile up at your house? Itís easy to accumulate clutter, because it takes time and energy to decide what goes and what stays. When unable to make a decision, the clutter, junk, and garbage accumulate. When that happens, outside intervention is sometimes required.

Garbage also accumulates in our heads and in our inner lives. As it is difficult to decide what stays on the desk and what goes into the wastebasket, so it is difficult to decide what is clutter in the head and heart, and what is essential. When there is too much garbage in our inner lives, we are overwhelmed and unable to function as effectively, efficiently, and productively as we might. The image I see is a person standing in a house filled with garbage, overwhelmed, immobilized, unsure as to how to get out. To help you clean out your inner life, I invite you, I challenge you, to go into the wilderness this Lent.

Last week I defined the wilderness as the place or experience where we meet God or struggle with the devil. To go into the wilderness means to take on the pain and suffering of the world, to go into the wilderness of our society where the devil runs rampant. There is also a wilderness inside each of us. Going into your inner wilderness means to struggle with your fears, doubts, sense of identity, and your relationship with God, your salvation.

Lamar Williamson, Jr., in his commentary on Mark in the new Interpretation series defines the wilderness as the "dwelling place of forces hostile to God, the residue of the primeval chaos that menaces human life." (p. 36) Going into the wilderness, he says, is usually the result of a "crisis induced by a sense of the absence of God." Your inner wilderness is not necessarily a friendly place to ivist. It is probably a place where you feel overwhelmed by garbage. It is probably a lonely place, where you feel alone and even alienated from God.

Jesus went into the wilderness often. The first experience recorded is the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism. There in the wilderness Jesus struggled with the devil. Jesus confronted his unanswered questions, his doubts and fears. Jesus threw out garbage. Jesus threw out the extraneous, the clutter, the confusion. He cleared his head. He found clarity in his vision, certainty in his mission, and focus in his commitment.

The devil tempted Jesus with miracles, authority, power, wealth, and testing God. Jesus threw out miracle religion. He refused to turn stones into bread just because he was hungry. He refused to use his powers for himself. He refused to use miracles as a basis to win followers. People who follow because of miracles or because they will be given bread are fickle and shallow. Jesus rejected miracles. Jesus calls people to follow who will simply, loyally, and faithfully trust him; not people who will stay with him only when life goes their way, when they are comfortably fed and miraculously cared for.

Jesus rejected authority and glory. The devil showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and said, "They can be yours. You can have authority and glory." But, Jesus rejected authority. People who follow because the leader has a big stick and has the authority to coerce or force them to follow, will follow only as long as the leader is strong and in control. Jesus rejected authority. Jesus calls people to follow who will simply, loyally, and faithfully trust him; not people who follow because they are coerced.

Then the devil tried to undermine Jesusí trust in God. "Test God," the devil said. "Throw yourself off the temple, and let the angels catch you. God promised to give his angels charge over you. Prove it." But, Jesus threw out such garbage. He said, "You shall not test the Lord your God." Jesus refused to test God, refused to make deals with God.

Some people try to bribe God,

"Iíll be good so you will protect me."

"Iíve lived a good life, why is God punishing me now with illness?"

"I should be rewarded. Good should be rewarded and evil punished."

Jesus threw out such garbage. Jesus rejected rewards, deals, bribes, and blackmail. Jesus calls people to follow who will simply, loyally, faithfully trust him; not people who try to make deals and bribe God.

Jesusí experience in the wilderness is an example of the wilderness questions and temptations we all face. Thereís a lot of garbage in most of us tempting us to trust in clutter for our salvation, rather than trust in Jesus Christ.

Are you tempted to trust in miracles? Jesus rejected miracles.

Do you expect someone to take care of you, or something to miraculously help you?

Is your religion and your life style one of dependence?

Do you expect to be bailed out, cared for, when the going gets tough?

In the words of the spiritual, "You must walk this lonesome valley. Nobody else can walk it for you. You must walk it by yourself." Go into the wilderness this Lent, struggle with the temptation to lean on others, and trust in miraculous intervention.

Please understand. I am not denying miracles. Most of us here can testify to Godís miraculous intervention in our lives. Such miracles are Godís doing, the result of Godís grace. But, sometimes there are no miracles. Miracles are not our right, they are gifts. Donít depend on miracles, depend on God.

Throw out a religion of miraculous rescue, and put your trust in Jesus Christ. In the Epistle lesson this morning, Paul wrote, (Romans 10:13) "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Put not your trust in miracles, parents, children, friends, or the government to rescue you. Put your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation.

Are you tempted to trust in authority? Jesus rejected authority.

Do you blindly obey whomever and whatever tells you what to do?

Are you looking for an authority to direct you?

Lots of people today are following preachers, cult leaders, gurus, politicians, who tell them what to believe and what to do. Are you looking for a religion of authority?

In the final analysis, you are your own authority. You decide what you believe. You work out your salvation. You live your life in relationship with God. "Nobody else can walk it for you. You must walk it by yourself."

Go into the wilderness this Lent, struggle with the temptation to lay your soul on someone elseís altar, at the feet of some self-appointed authority. Confront that temptation, and throw out such garbage. Throw out a religion of authority, a religion of simple rules and easy answers; and put your trust in Jesus Christ. "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Put not your trust in some preacher or some church doctrines. Put your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation.

Are you tempted to trust in rewards, deals, and bribing God? Jesus rejected the testing of God.

Do you try to bribe God with your righteousness?

"I live a good life, Lord, why should bad things happen to me?"

With such a religion, when the bad times hit--and they will--such believers may become so disillusioned they might lose everything. They may throw out the baby with the bath. They need to separate the garbage and the clutter from the kernel of faith.

Go into the wilderness this Lent, struggle with the temptation to define life on the rational, logical basis of reward and punishment. The good is not always rewarded. Thorw out such garbage, and put your trust in Jesus Christ. "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Put not your trust in a religion of rewards, deals and bribes. Put your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation.

Weíve had several phone conversations lately with friends from Minnesota, former church members and neighbors in Milaca, our first church out of seminary, the town where our two oldest sons were born. Their oldest daughter, Pam, was about 11 when we moved there. I confirmed Pam. She played the piano and wanted to sing, so I gave her some voice lessons. She was a peppy, vivacious, attractive, friendly girl with leadership skills. After she married, her husband became a United Methodist minister, she taught school, and directed church choirs. They have three children. Last summer Pam developed back pain after wind surfing on the lake. The doctor treated her for muscle pain. Three weeks ago, after the pain became unbearable, the doctor discovered a tumor on her spine. Wednesday Pam died.

Her family is now in the wilderness, confused, bewildered, in shock. No doubt there is anger, and a strong temptation to bitterness and cynicism. They are struggling with the devil in the wilderness, no doubt asking those unanswerable questions:

Why did God let her die?

Why do the good die young?

Why did God take a mother from her children?

Why did God take a Christian from her church and community service?

Why is good not rewarded?

Is there really a loving and just God?

There in the inner wilderness, we face such questions, confront the devil, and, hopefully, throw out the garbage of miracles, authority, rewards, and bribery.

The wilderness strips us of non-essentials. The wilderness strips us of garbage. There in the wilderness, we stand before God naked, stripped of excuses and rationalizations, stripped of bribery and coercion, stripped of pretense and subterfuge, stripped of dependence on miracles, stripped to the core, to the basics, where we stand naked before God, calling on the name of the Lord for our salvation.

Jesus struggled with the devil in the wilderness by himself, but he was not alone. The angels ministered to him. After forty days of struggle, Jesus came out of the wilderness purified, rid of garbage, centered, confident, resolute, and empowered to be what he was called to be, and ready to do his mission, to do Godís work.

Go into the wilderness this Lent, confident that the angels will minister to you. Throw out the garbage. Put your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation. Get in touch with your inner resources. Let the Holy Spirit love you and empower you; so when life gets tough, you will persevere.

Iím talking about choices this morning. There must be a time in your life, and perhaps more than one, when you consciously decide to trust in Jesus Christ, and commit your life to him. Anything other than Jesus is garbage, and will let you down.

ã 1989 Douglas I. Norris