For the last few Wednesday services in Lent, I’ve been trying to give short meditations on topics of spiritual growth. I know it’s always difficult to preach about things like paradoxes and apophaticism (finding God in nothing, emptiness, darkness). But….I know there are people who are looking for this. So, I tried my hand at preaching nothingness. Here’s a slightly edited version of last week’s sermon.
I write in little bullet points, but just for sermons.
When Jesus was 30, before he started his ministry, he went out into the wilderness for 40 days and nights.
• While in the wilderness, he was approached by the devil, who offered him all sorts of things
• What’s interesting, though, is that God doesn’t intervene anywhere. He doesn’t stand over Jesus, just in case he gives in to the temptation. He doesn’t give him daily pep talks on how to resist, or offers to hang around just in case.
• He doesn’t seem to have any safety on. Jesus is just out there, by himself, facing temptation.
• We look back on the story and we don’t think about it, until you realize how it’s not all that different from sending your kid out to do anything – without you there.
• The first time you send them off to school, and then camp, and then college, and you know they’re on their own. No safety switch. They could succeed, or really fail.
But yet we do it, generation after generation – we send out kids out of the house. We know that eventually we have to take the risk of letting them walk out into the big bad world with no protection.
And it can be very scary on the other side, too.
• You are making a leap of faith, stepping out into the unknown.
• You will grow from the experience, unless something bad happens, in which case you’ll either learn from it, or it will leave you permanently scarred.
• It’s always a possibility.
But here’s what we know: until we let go of the safety switch in our lives, we’ll never know what we could become, or accomplish, or learn, or gain.
• We’ll be stuck forever with only what we have.
• And nothing more.
I think about faith that way.
• Again, faith isn’t about agreeing to things without questioning, it’s about putting your trust in God.
• But that trust, that faith, isn’t really faith until you’ve walked out into where it isn’t secure anymore, and you have to trust God.
This is the darkness. It’s where you can’t see what’s ahead, and you have to trust that God’s out there.
And it’s scary and unnerving, because the darkness is full of things like doubts and questions and things that make you wonder about what you’re doing and why and where does God fit into all this.
It’s a scary place, the darkness. But it’s also where you find God, even though God’s not necessarily there.
Think about Jesus in the wilderness. He went out, and didn’t see or hear from God the Father once.
• He did hear a lot from the devil, though.
• And yet, it was there that he came to understand his purpose and his calling
• It was out in the wilderness, where God wasn’t, that he found God.
And if that sounds confusing, it’s because it is.
• It’s a paradox – that we find God the most where he seems to be the least.
• Which is why the darkness is not something to fear, but something to enter into.
And the fear of the darkness, of stepping out, of entertaining doubt and uncertainty, keeps us from experiencing God.
But when you push through your fears, and embrace the darkness, that is often the path to the brightest visions.