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Friday, February 22, 2008
Rehab (a.k.a. Lent) a sermon.
Rehab. Sermon by John David Walt, Jr. given in Estes Chapel on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary on February 14, 2008. Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Read Matthew 4:1-11.

The highlight of this just past 50th annual Grammy awards, in my estimation, was the performance telecast live from London by British pop star Amy Winehouse. She was singing the song that won the Grammy for song of the year. I can still hear it. Prior to Sunday night I’m sad to day I didn’t know Amy Winehouse. Now I can’t get her song off my mind. They try to make me go to rehab and I say No! No! No! Just Tuesday I was here before you leading us to sing the Lord’s Prayer. Today it’s Amy Winehouse. And isn’t that how it ought to be in this family called the Body of Christ? Our President, Dr. Kalas, aptly reminded us on Tuesday that “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” If we fail to pay attention to the songs of the world around us, they will have little reason to pay any attention to our song. I’ve titled this sermon Rehab because the ratio of people googling rehab to Lent will be about 50,000 to 20. I love the way John Weiss is leading the church up the highway to pray for Britney Spears. How about we start praying for Amy Winehouse? From all I hear about her addictions, the song portrays her real struggle. Karen Heller with The Philadelphia Inquirer summarizes Winehouse in this way:

“She's only 24 with six Grammy nods, crashing headfirst into success and despair, with a codependent husband in jail, exhibitionist parents with questionable judgment, and the paparazzi documenting her emotional and physical distress. Meanwhile, a haute designer [Karl Lagerfeld] appropriates her disheveled style and eating issues to market to the elite while proclaiming her the new Bardot.[87]”

She could use our prayers. Listen to her own words, “I don’t ever want to drink again. I just need a friend.” She’s a precious daughter of the most high God. Every day her Abba in Heaven stands at the end of the road scanning the horizon, watching for the first sight of her return ready to run into her embrace.

They try to make me go to rehab and I say No! No! No! The song is so unbelievably popular because it hits a nerve. I don’t want to go to rehab. Do you? But I can promise you this. I need rehab and so do you. I am a man who needs to go to rehab and I live among a people who need to go to rehab. I’m not talking about Christianity as therapy. (Although it is interesting to note that our word therapy comes from a Greek word meaning to heal or to minister) I’m not talking about rehab in the 28 day sense. I’m talking about rehab in the 40 day sense and all the richness that this number implies. Take a look at how the word is defined. That’s precisely what the desert of Lent is about. Take a look at how the word is defined. 40 days of intensive rehabilitation. We fast. We pray. We give. We covenant together as a people for an intensive period to “dry out,” to renounce the impetuous indulgence of our insatiable appetites. Together, surrounded by sackcloth with ashes on our foreheads we enter the Spirit’s treatment facility known as the desert. Jesus leads us into the Lenten theatre of the Holy War against sin in the power of the Holy Spirit. We enter in to face the tripartite enemies of the soul: the world, the flesh and the devil and to confront them in the full armor of God, in the Trinitarian energy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We must come to grips that something deep inside of us still doesn’t want to go to rehab. While we may listen to the song, we must stop singing it and learn the new song the Spirit is always teaching. And what, you may ask, is the song of the Spirit. Thank you. I’m convinced that the song of the Spirit is found in what we know as one of the earliest songs of the Church. Philippians 2:5-11.

5 Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

I want to encourage you to take a devotional risk in these 40 days. I’m going to offer you three desert practices this morning. Go into a room, close the door and sing this scripture back to God as a song. Make up the melody. Chant it. Dance it. Whatever can break it free from the confines of ink and paper. This is the Spirit’s song about the Son to the glory of the Father. Even if you can’t sing. Your heart can make melody.

Isn’t that like the Spirit, to sing about the Son. Isn’t it just like the Son to demonstrate and display what it looks like when the Spirit lives and works with perfection in a human being to the glory of the Father. Why did Jesus go into the Desert? He certainly didn’t need to. This is not like Luke Sky Walker confronting Darth Vader. It’s more like the New York Giants taking on West Jessamine High. Jesus enters the desert because he knows we human beings are slaves to sin and that we are prone to spend 40 years of our life lost and wandering craving anything that promises comfort and security. The rehabilitation of Lent, the treatment facility of the desert designs to wean us from the brokenness and laziness of our own spirit which incessantly attempts to turn stones into bread, which constantly puts God to the test and which will readily forfeit our own soul in order to live a secret life in Egypt and gain the whole world (i.e. worships Satan). The treatment facility of the desert designs to wean us from the indulgent immature laziness and brokenness of our own spirit and restore in us the very life and breath of God, remaking us in the strong, beautiful, loving, meek, merciful, pure hearted, peacemaking, persecuted and yet unquenchable image of Jesus Christ.

But there is a subtle deception waiting for us in the desert. We easily become deceived into making the world, the flesh and the devil our focus. We focus on what is wrong with us and Lent becomes a darkly introspective narcissistic quest to get fixed. Intensive introspection cunningly plays into the maintenance of what Dr. Mulholland in his writings calls the false self. Worse yet, we get tricked into making religion and religious practice and piety our focus. We are ever talking about what we are fasting from and how much we want it and how hard it is and how we can’t wait for it to be over. Here’s another way we miss it. We launch into a way of fasting and praying as though we were pushing and pulling the levers of heaven, putting God to some kind of test. Intensive religion plays into the hands of the flesh in perhaps the most deceptive way of all, feeding what Mulholland in his book calls the religious false self. Then there’s the devil. Driving in the van somewhere a few weeks back, my 5 year old, Mary Kathryn proffered this analysis, “Daddy, you know God owns this world, but the devil tries to control it. And you know, Daddy, the devil will trick you.” Perhaps the devil’s greatest deception is to convince us that he is everywhere and behind everything that goes wrong. This deception has a way of blinding us to the unlikely places and unexpected ways that he does present himself. Matthew seems careful to point out that Satan shows up with his tricks only at the end of the 40 days. Maybe his most surprising strategy is proof texting scripture. Wouldn’t it make a great bumper sticker: Satan Proof Texts. Those of you in Dr. Seamands Spiritual Warfare class will learn well that the focus of spiritual warfare is not on the devil but on the Spirit and the Word of God.

The proper focus of Lent, the Spirit’s strategy for the treatment center of the desert is to cause us to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world with every ounce of our personhood and every iota of our attention. We must get our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ. Every word he speaks, every move he makes, every encounter he engages, every person he touches, every step he takes, every prayer he utters --all filled and running over with the wisdom of God. Some weeks ago I preached on this text: Behold the Lamb of God. I repeat now what I said then. I think the entire paradigm of being and doing is worn out and tired. It sounds good, but what does it really mean. It’s quite existentially bound in the human experience. I think it is a false dichotomy. I’m making a switch. I’m trading in the notion of being and doing for the movement of beholding and becoming. It takes the focus off of human initiative and activity and focuses us on God’s initiative and activity. Beholding and becoming happen simultaneously as the fusion of contemplation and action, for what one beholds one becomes. Being and doing are two things. Beholding and becoming are one thing—one thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.

Philippians 2:5-11, the song of the Spirit, will always lead us to a place of beholding and becoming. Think of it visually. (my drawings didn't translate into the blog-- just make two pencil sketches-- one is a capital letter V (mind of Christ) and the other is a capital A without the cross bar (mind of Adam).

Jesus meets us in the desert because the desert is a very deceptive place. We readily succumb to vertigo, thinking that through all our intensity, and focus and religiosity that we are actually going down when in fact, we are fueling our own pride and climbing the mountain to make our own name great. The mind of Adam is pervasive in us. This is the very form of pride. In the Garden of Eden we find Satan interpreting the Word of God and again distorting its meaning. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Adam (and Eve) consider equality with God something to be grasped. This continues in a deadly ascent all the way to Babel where we see ourselves building a tower that reaches to the heavens in order to make our name great.

God sent his Son to show us the way to “on earth as it is in heaven.” In Jesus, Heaven comes down. Jesus shows us that the way is down. It is the way of life-laying-down-love-for-friends. This is the one who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing. This is the one who humbled himself and became obedient. This is the only one who can lead us to this place. God did not send his son in order that we would deconstruct his life into a set of principles or shape it into an ethic or create wrist lockets or any of the sort. Jesus is not a life application principle nor a life enhancing paradigm. He is not a purpose. He is a person. As we loose the controlling death grip we have on our self we will find his life welling up inside of us.

I love Julian of Norwich’s quote from February 21 of our Spring Scripture & Saints Reader:

And after this our Lord showed himself more glorified, to my eyes, than I saw Him before. By this I was taught that our soul shall never have rest till it comes to Him, knowing that He is fullness of joy, friendly and courteous, blissful and very life. Our Lord Jesus said again and again, “It is I; it is I; it is I who am highest; it is I whom you love; it is I whom you delight in; it is I whom you serve; it is I whom you long for, whom you desire; it is I whom you mean; it is I who am all.”
—St. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

When we follow Jesus to this place of abandon here’s what begins to happen: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. Isaiah 35

How’s that for rehab? The very desert itself transforms into our Father’s House, a veritable school house of prayer where the only tenured faculty are the Son and the Spirit. You see, by the power of the Spirit we are welcomed into the deep love shared between Father and Son where our own hearts cry out Abba! Here we feast on the Word of God as the Spirit teaches us to speak it as our heart language of prayer. Only then will we rise up into that house of prayer for all nations and as we lift our eyes to scan the horizons we will see nations coming to our Light. If you abide in me and my words abide in you may ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.

Now to the final two spiritual practices for the desert season of Lent.

In the desert we learn to hear the Spirit whispering this one word invitation: Abide. Abide in me and I will abide in you. We find this word covering the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus teaches us what it will be like to know and walk and work with him following his departure. He instructs us in the ways of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly though, this is not the first place we see the term. The Greek term is meinete. We see it first at the Jordan River. 40 days prior to his desert fasting, Jesus stood in the waters of the Jordan. He goes under the water in baptism. The voice of God speaks, “This is my Son, my beloved one. With him I am well pleased.” We see the Spirit descending like a dove and “abiding” with him. The term meinete is used. Here we see the Word and the Spirit revealing themselves and working together in the Son both to announce and to prepare him for the mission ahead. What’s fascinating is how these deeply life affirming words were spoken at the beginning of his public ministry, prior to any sermons or miracles or other demonstrations of his divine power. These words were spoken for him and yet they were also spoken for us.

I will never forget being part of a Lenten prayer and fasting group of students, staff and faculty a few years back. We were sharing about this temptation narrative and how Jesus responds to the first temptation to “turn these stones into bread,” saying, “It is written, man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” One of the quieter students, Jason, raised his hand to offer a comment. He said, “You know, I think the word that Jesus was feasting on in the desert was the word that had days prior come from the mouth of God. ‘This is my Son, my beloved. With him I am well pleased.”

The desert place of fasting leads us to the Spirit’s place of feasting where we eat this Word. Satan’s test becomes the Spirit’s triumph as we eat this Word. I am finding a way of eating this Word every day. It happens in the shower. As the water cascades over my head and down my body, I begin to say aloud these words, “My Abba. My Abba. My Abba. My Abba!” I say them until I am really saying them to God. Then I repeat his response in my own voice, aloud, “My Son. My Son. My Son. My Son!” Again, I say them until they register deep in my heart and spirit. I respond, “My Abba. My Abba. My Abba. My Abba!” He responds (again in my audible voice), “My Beloved. My Beloved. My Beloved. My Beloved!” I speak back, “My Abba. My Abba. My Abba. My Abba!” He responds, “With you, I am well pleased! With you, I am well pleased! With you, I am well pleased.” It is like the scene of his baptism being played out in my shower day after day after day after day. This is how the Word of God becomes the mind of Christ in us. Because of the pervasive nature of the mind of Adam, it takes daily immersion in this extraordinary reality. Because of the deceptive temptation to prove oneself by turning stones into bread, it takes daily feasting on this extravagant word. Every other basis of identity is false. This is what I call a story immersion practice. I am learning to participate in the true story. It is changing me. I commend the practice to you.

Now to the final practice. You remember at the end of John’s Gospel when Jesus, raised from the dead, meets with his disciples behind closed doors and breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It was as though he wanted them to breathe in as he was breathing out. That’s what abiding is like. It’s like breathing. That’s how near he longs to be to us. It’s a practice of the spirit I want to commend to you today. As we walk out these desert days, try this: as you breathe in whisper these words: Abide in me. And as you breathe out, whisper these words: And I will abide in you. Try it now.

It is as though the Spirit craves the pure oxygen of the Word of God in order to condition the human heart to contain fire—to be like the bush burning yet not consumed. We’ve all seen lots of wildfire, where the spirit was surely at work, but the person was not ready and either burned up or flamed out. And we’ve all seen our share of religious piety, faking fire while being cold as ice. What we long to be and what we long to see are human persons on fire with the flame of Love, gloriously burning and yet not consumed. This is the work of the desert. This is the fruit of rehab.

I close with this wisdom story from one of the early desert fathers. After I tell the story I invite you to a few minutes of complete silence, after which we will find a way to depart.

One day Abbot Lot went to see his teacher, Abbot Joseph - and Abbot Lot said, "Abbot Joseph, the best that I am able, I keep my little fast, my little rule, my little devotions. To the best that I am able, I keep my meditation and my prayer, I try to cleanse my heart of earthly desires, but Abbot Joseph - it is not enough. I still haven't found what I seek."

Now Abbot Joseph listened closely to his student, and when Abbot Lot was done speaking Abbot Joseph got up out of his chair, and he reached his arms and his hands up into the air until he stretched out each of his ten fingers - and out of the tips of each of his fingers shot pure flame - ten burning candles there in the middle of the desert - and Abbot Joseph said to Abbot Lot - "Why not be completely changed into fire?"

“Why not be completely changed into fire.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(you can listen to a shorter version of this sermon via podcast on Itunes. Get there from this link by clicking on the Kentucky link under the podcast heading.
posted by John David Walt | at 2/22/2008 12:33:00 PM



Blogger George said...

I listened to your sermon on the podcast and enjoyed it greatly.(I'm sure that the fact that I was listening while biking in sunny 80 degree weather had no adverse impact.) Thanks for the insights. They are personally timely. I particularly was struck by the behold/become contrast to being/doing.

Looking forward to a movie night after we return Mar 1.

Grace and peace,


3:17 PM EST  
Blogger masons said...

thanks so much JD.

9:25 AM EST  
Blogger The LeRoys said...


2:33 PM EST  
Blogger Kendra said...

I've been listening to the podcast and greatly appreciate it. Below is a little story I wrote as the Lord was working in my heart concerning idolatry a year or so ago. It was a very bold word from the Lord to my heart.


Such Beautiful Flowers, Such Deadly End

This weekend I helped a couple in our church pack their things and move to a new home. While I was polishing their silver, the wife excitedly came in from another room of the house with something to show. In her hand was the perfectly preserved, tiny body of a hummingbird. Its colors were beautiful, but I thought it a bit morbid at first. YET, she kept the bird as a reminder of the lesson God taught her when she found the live bird in her garage.

I must explain that the wife is an interior decorator. Her garage is a storehouse for floral and plant arrangements, decorating items, etc. Her beautiful floral arrangements are colorful and attractive, especially to a simplistic little hummingbird.

One day she found a hummingbird incessantly trying to nourish himself from the fake florals in her garage. As much as she tried to get him out, he would not give up hope that these "beauties" were the real deal.

A considerable amount of days later, the wife uncovered the poor little hummingbird's body while working in her garage. Convinced of his ability to find food in the fake flowers, the tiny little bird eventually died seeking it. To the wife, it was a reminder of her lust of the beautiful things of the world. Though not bad in themselves, they cannot nourish. Life is found in God through Christ.

When tempted to devote your energies to the fake flowers that attract you so strongly, but provide no nourishment - even promising death, consider the warning that this little bird gives. Life comes from the Life Giver alone. He sustains and nourishes our souls more than any worldly lust can.

10:56 AM EST  
Blogger KellyLawson22 said...

Really loved this one. Especially the challenge to beholding and becoming.

4:17 PM EST  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

loved this story kendra thanks for sharing

8:57 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is an amazing thing the way God leads us across each others path's, knitting us neatly into his mystery. Tonight I will worship with my students and my plan was to share with them the notion of hearing a new song. As I do most days I signed on to view willzhead, he hasn't posted in a few days, so I checked out the blogs he reads and found your blog. And scrolled down to your sermon and began reading it. Thanks for the word.

7:00 PM EDT  

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