February 10, 2021

I stand before you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Please God fill this sermon with your grace. Amen.

Do you remember looking for things when you were a child, not finding it and asking to your parents for help and then hearing:

“Did you even look?” “Are you blind?” “If it was a snake it would’ve bitten you.”

Well, as a grown man and husband I’ve turned to my wife on many occasions and asked her about things that I couldn’t find and yup, I still get those same answers with a few new twists such as: “Really?” “Seriously?” or “How long have you lived in this house?”

I sure do test her patience.

Oftentimes I do make a concerted effort, I move things around and still I don’t always find the thing that is usually right under my nose. If it were a snake it would have bitten me.

Before I move on. I want to address that last comment. “If it were a snake it would have bitten you.” It apparently comes from the rural south of the US. Where snakes are a little more common outdoors.

Funny side story. When I was in the Marines I was stationed in the desert and in the jungle. At both locations, there were a great deal of snakes. During my four-year-tour I only came close to two snakes, one in the desert of southern California. A rattlesnake but I heard it and never saw it. I had fallen on a mountain hike. My fall apparently aggravated this local reptile. I heard the strange rattle that is very hard to place. It sounds as if it is all around you. I moved away slowly and somehow picked the correct direction for my escape because it worked. I never even saw the snake.

The other one was a huge python that I saw swimming in a river that I was working near in the Philippines. But only once in my life has a snake struck at me and that was right here on Long Island of all places. I was out for a morning jog and a snake sprung out the grass going after my foot. I jumped and it missed thank God but I couldn’t get over the fact that of all places it happened on Long Island in New York.

This expression also reminds me of a bible verse and a translation that really sticks with me. The verse is Genesis 3:15. In the garden of Eden, God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” 

Quick joke: What do you give a snake with a bruised head? An ASP-irin.

If you don’t like that snake joke just Hisssss.

Reading this verse from the ESV it almost appears as if there is a balance of power. Lopsided yes, but a balance of power none-the-less. However, if you dig deeper into this translation there really is no balance at all. In ancient Hebrew the verb that speaks about the man (Jesus) actually better translates to “Crush” or “Trample”. And the verb used for the snake (Satan) is not about any contact being made at all. There is no strike that lands or a bruise produced. The snake is hissing and panting from the effort of the attack. The snake is trying it’s best to strike at the heel but it never succeeds. There is no balance of power at all. A better translation to me would be, “He will crush the head of the snake as it struggles to strike.” I love that. Satan never stood a chance despite his best efforts.

Our Gospel is from the book of Mark. Quick review, Jesus calls four fisherman to follow Him and they did. They all went to Capernaum, a small fishing village where the four lived. On the sabbath, Jesus taught at the synagogue and also cast out a demon from a possessed man. The demon also dares to declare the identity of Jesus as “The Holy One of God”, the Messiah. They then go to Simon and Andrews house. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. And immediately she becomes Deb Graybosch, she takes on the work of a deacon or deaconess. She serves Jesus and His disciples. A servant of the Messiah’s ministry. Then we find that you can’t keep a secret in this small town because next we see that they bring all the sick and demon-possessed to Jesus and He heals them. 

The next morning while it was still dark, Jesus goes out to pray. He goes out to a deserted place. There are only three times in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus goes off to pray and each time it is in a dark and desolate place. Being alone in a dark and desolate place in the first century or any century is not safe. Jesus shows us the importance of that risk. I’m not saying you need to go out to a dangerous location to pray BUT I am saying it is important for you to find some true alone time for your face-to-face with God.

Jesus never went out looking for people to heal. They’re everywhere. He came to speak, preach and spread the Gospel. We are called to repent, turn around from our sinful ways and turn to Jesus. Have faith in Him and share that faith. Share His Holy Word. Spread the Good News.

I knew a man suffering greatly from Alzheimers. He was soothed and calmed by hearing the Lord’s prayer. He would even join in reciting that perfect and powerful  prayer.

I know a man who felt lost and confused and completely caught up in the whirlwind of his life. But at a very desperate point of one life-changing day he felt God’s presence. On one of the worst days of his life, he was faithfully convinced God intervened and got Him through that particular day. 

I know people who have tested God in tough and tragic times and faithfully accepted the test results which altered the course of their lives.

I thank God there have been times when I have been His tool in the lives of others and I joyfully witnessed the impact upon their faith. One friend was on the verge of a desperate act when he called me. I spoke with him for most of the night and we worked together to bring him back from the danger zone.

Two women in my life have died and came back to me. For one she went into the light and was greeted by a loved one and was told it wasn’t her time. For the other woman, she didn’t remember anything, there was nothingness. Despite the extreme difference both of them continue to struggle with their faith just as we all do.

We don’t know when He will be revealed to us in this life or in the afterlife. All things in His time and be faithfully assured that He has a an appointed time for our meeting and plan for each and every one of us.

We’re too quick to give up on ourselves and our faith. We can get too caught up in our selves and our own little world and we let it trap us from the greatest truth. It’s not our little world. We are in God’s world trying to hide from that very undeniable fact. We are often too confused and afraid to truly face God.

We have varied lives full of comfort, security, work, pain, chaos and we all have our distractions. We have to stop and shut everything off. God is there waiting for us in the dark places where we are afraid to go. God is there. God is waiting for us. God can be found in the wilderness. 

The wilderness is outside our comfort zone. A place where we are constantly aware that we are not in control. The wilderness is a land of life and death. The harshest reality surrounded by the truest of truths. A place we perceive as dangerous and barren brings us the Gospel. As Jesus returned from the wilderness proclaiming that the time has been fulfilled. The time to begin His Holy ministry. Just like in Genesis, when the earth was a dark and formless void before God spoke and turned on the lights.

Mark 1, verse 37, Simon and Andrew find Jesus praying, of course they interrupt and say, “Everyone is looking for you.”

Really? Seriously? Did they even look? Are we really looking for Jesus? Are we still looking or have we given up? We often give up on our searches too quickly and then rely on someone else to find what we’re looking for like a parent, a spouse, a Simon or an Andrew. 

I’m giving a sermon on my oldest son’s birthday. I often think back to when he was a child. Now he’s a grown man the same age as Jesus when Jesus left the wilderness to begin His ministry. My son is in the wilderness of Texas. Just an FYI – There are around 75 species of snakes in Texas. 8 species of rattlesnakes alone. 

Then I think of Mary’s child. Y’know, Jesus, our snake stomping Saviour. Mary and Joseph had to go searching for Jesus. In Luke chapter 2, Jesus as a young boy goes with His family to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival. Afterwards all the family and friends left. But unaware to anyone, Jesus stayed behind. After 3 days of panicked searching His parents find Him in the temple courts. Mary asks, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 

Now a child can help us find the answer we’re looking for. Jesus always has the perfect answer we need. Jesus answers, “Why were you searching for me?” He never went away. He continues, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” We just need to know where to find Him. He’s right there with us. Always in all ways. He’s in the scripture, He’s at church, He’s in your heart.

Jesus never left the temple. Joseph and Mary had to turn around to find Jesus. They were the ones lost not Him. We may move away from God but God is always there. We are lost when God is not our focus. We have a “God-sized” hole in our hearts and we’re afraid to admit it. As the Angels say, “Do not be afraid.” Find that time to be alone and face your “real” God! Face the greatest truth!

We need to reach into the wilderness of our own fears and darkness. We need a powerful wilderness experience to drive us out of our comfort zone away from our life of lies. The wilderness is where our normal way of life no longer works. Like when I thought I was safe from snakes on the streets of Long Island. 

The reality of Satan can pounce on you at any second. I didn’t crush the snakes head but God miracled me some great reflexes in that moment to leap over that heel strike. It was the end of my jog and my legs that day felt like lead. My jog felt more like an anchor drag. I was pretty much done. My dig-deep button was stuck shut. I used it up already. It may not have been a 40-year-exodus but it was all I had in the tank that morning. What I was lacking God provided. And at that moment with God’s help I leapt like a gazelle. I got over myself and let God be God.

We need to make that leap of faith like a gazelle and trust in God! The promised land can only be seen from the wilderness. And trust me, you will not be alone. You will be bonding with Jesus, the Christ who was born, lived, died and rose again for YOU, for ALL of US. Jesus our own personal land of milk and honey, our living water, our bread, our hope, strength and life, our way, our truth, our eternal salvation. Jesus our everything!