A Driving Spirit

[]We are a nation of people who love to drive. Today I had hoped to wear one of those leather driving caps and goggles so we could talk about a driving experience. But many of you can probably reflect back to when you were about a year away from driving and you could anticipate that Dad or Mom or uncle or aunt so-and-so was going to teach you to drive. And once you learned to drive, life was going to be great. And it was…unless you got in an accident or got a ticket. But the anticipation very profound. And the experience of learning to drive. mastering those talents and techniques that come with that, and then passing the driving test and getting that license is a very proud experience for all of us. And what does that say to us when we get that license? When I was a teenager, it was the words 'freedom' and 'control.' As long as I had the car and was away from the house, I had some freedom and some control, and life was of my own destiny, of my own choosing. It was a wonderful time in my life. And it was probably a wonderful time for most of us, being able to have that freedom to drive. That's why I entitled today's message, 'A Driving Spirit.' As Americans we really can associate with driving and everything that comes with that, but especially the freedom and control.

Now contrast that same experience with our faith, and then reflect on this story about Jesus who, after being baptized with the Holy Spirit, is driven not by a car, but driven by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness, a force so powerful that Mark's Gospel lesson makes it seem that it was a force more powerful than Jesus' own self-control or will. It drove him out into the wilderness. Is our faith like that? Is the Holy Spirit in our lives something that is so powerful that it drives us in a way where we absolutely feel like we're not in control? Or perhaps we aren't free to do all those things that we want to do, that maybe life is no longer our own destiny the way it is when we get our driver's license. Is the Holy Spirit that powerful? And can it be that powerful in our lives?

If we were to look at what happened with Jesus after he is driven out into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, if we could exert our control we would probably say, "I don't want to go out into the wilderness for forty days and nights, to be without food, to be tempted by evil." Who would want that? It's one of the reason, when I look at this particular passage in Mark, I get the sense that perhaps Jesus wasn't in full control of his life at that very moment. But how about us? In the experience of baptism, we call on the Holy Spirit to be our guide, to awaken in us and to guide us and to move us into God's ways. And we sing about that, and we pray about that. But for us, is it the same? And can we give ourselves to the Spirit the same way that Jesus gave himself to that Holy Spirit? Will we allow the Spirit to drive us out into a wilderness experience, even for just forty days?

It is my thought that, as Americans who are in control of our lives, that is a very hard thing for us to do. We spend our lives from our childhood up trying to gain control over our lives, to get out from under the thumb of parents and guardians and family members who are always telling us what to do…only to get into higher education where professors tell us what we have to do…and then into jobs where the boss tells you what to do…and then we become parents and realize, "Gee, there are people telling us what to do at the same time that we're telling our children what to do"…until we perhaps get to the point in our lives where maybe our children are telling us what to do. And perhaps God's Spirit is also reining us back in and telling us more about what to do.

Growing up in this country makes it hard, I think, for us to hand ourselves over to the Spirit the way that Jesus handed himself over to the Spirit and allowed himself to be driven out. During this period of forty days when he was in the wilderness, he was attended to by angels, the passage says. And if we, in this period of forty days of Lent, allowed ourselves to be driven out into a different experience, will we also be waited on by angels? Perhaps. But more than likely, if we allow ourselves to be driven into a different experience this Lent, it will be us who will be there to help and wait on one another. The Lenten experience in modern times calls on us to spend some time in solitude and reflection. And I imagine that Jesus, when he was in the wilderness, had plenty of time for that too in between whatever temptations came his way. We are invited into that same type of experience to allow ourselves some solitude, some time of reflecting on good things and some things perhaps that we wish we could forget or get past.

But will we allow the Spirit to come into our lives in that way? We're usually more than happy to allow the Spirit to come into our lives in new and exciting ways that we want, and when we can see something wonderful that we would gain, or as a healing presence to lift us up, or as a spirit of joy to move us away from sadness. But do we allow the Sprit to bring us to a different depth of our spiritual being? That, for me, is the calling for this Lenten season. Let the Spirit have full control in your lives. Let the Spirit guide you to different things. We all have practices that we do every Lenten season. For some, it's sacrifice. For others, it might be a special time of study. And we have Lenten devotionals for you to take to spend some time in study and prayer. It's a time of setting aside some things in order to be able to do something else. It is a time for Christian service, for helping one another, for loving one another, for doing those things which we often put off. Lent is the time for doing that. As the children will hear in children's church today, it is a time for good deeds. And they'll be working on a project and, in a few weeks, showing us the fruit of their labors.

It is a time for all of these different traditions. Can we, for once, suspend all those traditions? Just throw them out the window? Consider sitting down and praying that the Spirit will lead you to do something different today. And then, in the time of solitude, allow those thoughts to fall upon you, weeding out that which might not be a good temptation, and listening for that still small voice to say, "Ah, today, I want you to…such-and-such." Or, "I have this uncontrollable urge to jump in the car and go see someone I haven't seen in years." That very well could be a driving force of the Spirit calling us to do something different and new and unique, not calling us to be stuck in the same patterns we find ourselves in day after day, month after month, and year after year. The Spirit is living. The Spirit is like the wind or a fire. It moves with turbulence and can throw us from one side to another, in one direction or another, sometimes forward, and sometimes backwards. When we spend time reflecting on occasions when the Spirit was most active in our lives, even if we moved backwards, we see that there were moments of grace and moments of clarity that hit us that then helped us to catapult ourselves much further forward.

This Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness is the very same Spirit that is in us and that is waiting to come out if we can just give up control. So in this season of Lent, practice some new spiritual disciplines, something you haven't done before. I urge you to come to the Bible study. But let the fullness of the Spirit take over your life for just a few moments of every day. Since forty is a godly number that appears in Scripture, try it for forty seconds, then maybe forty minutes, and then maybe forty hours. And then if we reach that point, maybe we can move on to the full forty days.

But in whatever way you do it, try it, I urge you…I implore you. Try to find that place where you know that the Spirit is active and working within you. It will make a profound difference in your life, and it will forever become part of your faith.

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve