About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

In Betweenies

Date: 02/13/2005

Feast: 1st s in Le

Church: LHPC

James McTyre

Bible text: Matt. 4:1-11

Theme: Temptations

Jesus is baptized and then he goes into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. We’re in our own period of 40 days and 40 nights – Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter. Lent began last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, when the ashes from the palm leaves of Palm Sunday, 2004 were placed upon the foreheads of the faithful.

Growing up low-church Presbyterian in West Virginia, I think it was high school before I saw people with the black mark on their forehead, coming in late to school. “What’s that about?” we’d whisper. “I dunno,” we’d whisper back. If anyone was bold enough to ask, the answer from the observant faithful was usually, “Some church thing.” Some church thing gets you out of first period.

Jesus is baptized and goes into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. No food. No books. No television. No cigarettes. No chocolate. He has none of the things people often choose to give up for Lent. And if there is a mark on his forehead, it’s an invisible mark. It’s the stain of the water from the River Jordan. If Jesus has a mark on his forehead, it’s God’s fingerprint, from when God said, “This is my son, the beloved.”

Even though we didn’t have an Ash Wednesday service (moderate to low-church Presbyterians that we be), God has left a mark on the forehead of each and every one of you. And it’s more than just, “Some church thing.” God’s fingerprint is upon you. And even though you may forget about it, even though you may not see it, even though you may deny it… it’s there.

Your “wilderness” might be a place where you don’t eat for 40 days and 40 nights. (I doubt many of us could pull that off on purpose. Something like that usually comes with the flu, or worse.) Wilderness is a scary place, a place where we go because we have to go. Wilderness is where no matter how prepared we are, we feel like we’re on our own. When we’re lost in the wilderness, when we’re tempted to put our head in our hands because no one understands, not even God… when we’re that alone and empty… that’s when we have to feel for that mark, that fingerprint of God, from when God said, “This is my son… this is my daughter.”


Look carefully at scripture and you’ll see that Jesus’ 40 days and nights alone in the wilderness really weren’t about being tempted by the devil. That’s the part the movie makers always seize on. Jesus versus the Devil. Round one, round two, round three. Bam, bam, bam – Jesus puts him down with one hand tied behind his back. But the truth is, the devil doesn’t even show up until the very end. The truth is probably less exciting. More like, forty days in the wilderness, sitting on a rock, thinking, praying. Forty days of trying to figure out what it’s all about – from birth to baptism to beyond. Forty days for Jesus to listen to his stomach growl, and then stop growling.

I wonder how many of us could make it 40 days in the wild without food. Maybe Dennis or some of his Eagle Scouts could hack it. I have enough trouble making it 40 minutes without eating. (I get grumpy if I don’t snack on something.) The truth is, you and I are among the world’s luckiest people, because we don’t have to worry about making 40 minutes or 40 hours or 40 days without all the nourishment we need, and usually some to spare. We’re so used to getting everything we want, when we want it, that microwave ovens seem slower than they used to be. Restaurant service is nowhere near as fast (and certainly not as courteous) as it once was. Telephone hold times are longer, and longer, and longer. No one chooses to wait, or go without. Not even as a spiritual discipline.

Jesus had his temptations, and we have ours. It may be that our generation’s temptation is the temptation to wait poorly, to get grumpy, and to let our grumpiness lead us straight to the devil. It may be that our temptation is to jump ahead, to try to jump ahead of even God. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Maybe knowing God is dependent on stillness coming first. Maybe that’s why Jesus went out into the wilderness where not even the devil could find him. Maybe he had to know – and we have to know – how to wait (well) if we’re going to find God in the wilderness or anyplace.

I was talking one day last week with the mother of three kids. On her cell phone. Of course. I asked her where she was. In the minivan. Of course. Well, where was the minivan? “In between,” she said. In between what? In between here and there. In between dropping off this kid and picking up that one. So where was this mother of three? She had it right: She was In between. “And don’t worry,” she told me. “Your time will come.” And then her cell phone cut out.

No man’s land (or no woman’s land) is that land “in between.” In between what? Well that’s the thing. We’re not really sure. Between this and that, between here and there. Is there a purpose to our 40 hours of wandering on Kingston Pike and I-40, or are we just wandering in the wilderness of concrete and steel because that’s what everyone else is doing? We certainly don’t expect to find God in our wanderings. No, that’s asking way too much. We’re just happy to get where we’re supposed to be without having to explain why we’re late. And if we are late it’s because we were, (say it with me) “in between.”

Being in between is being in a dangerous place because we tempt ourselves. We really don’t need the devil’s help. We tempt ourselves with the idea that we have turned into “In-Betweenies.” People who are perpetually between this and that, aimless, pointless, empty. The temptation is to put our head in our hands and sigh so deeply that not even God can hear. What good is my life? What purpose have I achieved? What’s the use of this and that, and here and there? The temptation is to hear God calling, “Where are you, my son, my daughter?” and for us to answer, “Here I am, Lord. In the minivan.” And God says, “Which one? They all look alike from up here.” And we say, “Oh, never mind. I’ll be OK,” even though we know we’re lying.


We may not be short on food, but we ARE hungry – famished – for spiritual things. We yearn to be somewhere where we can feast on godly things, like hope, peace and love. We yearn to be in a place where we know where we are, and where we know who we are, and where we know God. Forty days old or forty years old, or eighty years or more – age means nothing unless we’re able to be still, and know that God is God, and we are who we are. And that’s good enough. Don’t ever tempt yourself into believing it’s not.

Feel the brow of your forehead. Feel the lines of worry. Feel the fine smoothness of youth. Feel for the mark of God, that invisible fingerprint that makes you more, infinitely more, than just another In-Betweenie.