A Look at How I Manuscript a Sermon: Lent 1A Matthew 4:1-11 – Temptation in the Wilderness

I’m posting the transcript of my message from last week again here today, but with a look at my method, and how I work using a manuscript. I usually type my talks out word for word, but I have always preferred to work from an outline when I’m speaking. So what I settled on early was to type out a manuscript in a form that looks more like an outline. It is the full script – which makes me more comfortable – but it is in a form that I can read from with quick glances, like an outline.

My typical page is in 14 point type. Each paragraph’s topic sentence is in bold, and the supporting sentences are bullet pointed. I typically indicate inflection with either an underlined word or a word in bold for each supporting sentence. You see in the picture above that I color code fonts. Black is for most of the text. I use blue font for quotes, scripture verses, and important words or phrases here and there. I use red font for things that I want to make sure and say word for word, and usually these are phrases that will be on the screens as well. I use green font anytime you see the letters “PT:” to signify that I’m making the point for the previous section, or giving the point of a story. This also indicates to me that I’m making a transition. From one bigger section to another. Anyone who speaks a lot knows that transitions are key so everything after a “PT:” is language on which I’ve really worked hard. It ends a section, and sets me up for the next phase of the talk. These, I usually try to read word for word as well.

I do some shorthand things, too, in order to save space. If I can keep each supporting sentence in a paragraph to one line, I can typically read it in only a glance and look back up. So if you see “JS” this is how I often write Jesus. Sometimes I’ll use the ≠ symbol to stand in for words like can’t, don’t, won’t, or phrases like “are not able to.” It lets me still read the line at a glance. The picture above is what a typical page looks like when I give the talk. I often use a red pen to scribble things in the margin I want to add in – so this is what most pages look like when I’m finally delivering the sermon.

Below is the sermon from last week. It doesn’t have the color coding & the formatting’s margins are off, but I think it is interesting to read from this form.


2014.03.09 – Lent 01
Matthew 4:1-11 – Temptation in the Wilderness

I have always been a fan of old maps – really maps of any kind – but old maps especially, cuz they give us this great snapshot or glimpse:

–         …of what they knew about their world @ that particular time.

–         Sometimes they are way off.

–         Sometimes they are surprisingly accurate.

–         But often in especially old maps the cartographers got to the part of the land mass that was still relatively unexplored;

–         They would label those regions: terra incognita. (Latin)

–         terra = land // incognita = unknown.

–         So terra incognita means this land is unknown to us.

–         We know there’s more stuff out there

–         We just don’t know how much & we can’t give any real detail.

–         So cartographers would take an educated guess & draw it.

–         Then they’d label it terra incognita.


There was always a little sense of danger associated w/that phrase. Uncharted territory was assumed to be a very dangerous place.

–         In fact on Roman maps they would write terra incognita;

–         And then write this: HIC SVNT DRACONES

–         Or in the old English translation it read “here be dragons”

–         (much better in a pirate voice).

–         Some aid HIC SVNT LEONES – “here are lions”.


It was all just meant to warn people this is the wilderness and that’s where the wild beasts live… this place is dangerous.

–         There is no map of this place, so the moment you cross over into terra incognita… you are functionally lost.

–         Nobody knows what is out there – just know it’s dangerous.

–         Nobody’s coming to get you if you get in trouble.

–         And you have to find your own way out.


In our story for today, Jesus finds himself in terra incognita.

–         The Bible’s word for the unknown land = word “wilderness.”

–         In or text from today, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness.

–         Fasting from food, and then enduring a tempting / testing.

–         This will be our text for today (If you have bible, turn to Mt. 4)


I’ve been reading a book this week called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit, who is an incredibly gifted writer.

–         She plays around with this idea of terra incognita and relates it to human spirituality & the soul.

–         Solnit says that in the same way an explorer agrees to get lost in order to press into new territory

–         …so anyone who wants to experience growth & wholeness as a person has to be willing to get a little lost for a time.

–         It’s the only way to venture beyond the limits we now know.


One of Solnit’s close friends is part of a Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue team – rescue folks = lost in backwoods of CO (happens a lot).

–         She told one story about a lost 11 year old boy.

–         He was deaf & was losing his eyesight.

–         He was at this camp where the counselors took them on an overnight excursion.

–         During a game of hide and seek he hid a little too well, because nobody found him.

–         When he never made his way back to camp, they called Search & Rescue, who looked all night & couldn’t find him.

–         It was particularly tough because he couldn’t hear them calling…

–         When he thought he might be lost, he did everything right.

–         He had stayed put & used a whistle to call his counselors.

–         But he couldn’t hear that he was too close to a stream – loud.

–         Nobody looking for him could hear the whistle.

–         So he curled up between two fallen trees and waited for morning… when the sun came up – started blowing again.

–         Solnit’s friend actually was the one to find him; cold but fine.


The Search & Rescue people say that the key to survival is knowing you are lost. That’s why kids are found more often than adults. Kid’s don’t stray as far, they curl up in a sheltered place and wait for help.


Solnit says that there’s a kind of formula for how to get lost.

–         There’s an art to watching weather, landmarks, trails, your route, how the journey back will differ from the journey out.

–         You have to be able to read the sun, the moon & stars, the wind,

–         The way the land slopes, the direction of running water

–         …and a thousand other things that can be read by those who are literate in the language of the wilderness.

–         The LOST are often illiterate in this language – so they panic.


Solnit actually has this killer definition of what it means to be lost.

She says that to be lost means that the world has suddenly gotten larger than your knowledge of it. Isn’t that great? terra incognita.

–         That’s what it means to be lost.

–         The world is suddenly much larger than your knowledge of it.


There’s actually a brain-chemistry to getting lost.

–         There’s a part of the brain called the hippocampus which specializes in making mental maps.

–         When you visit a brand new environment the hippocampus makes & stores a map of the place.

–         But in times of stress it stops firing … stops mapping.

–         Stress also activates the amygdala, which regulates, among other things – adrenaline.

–         … which gives us this need to act & move & do something.


PT: This means that in times of acute stress we simultaneously lose the ability to map our surroundings, while our body is flooded with adrenaline & we have this irresistible impulse to move & do something.


That’s why hunters are the most often good & lost in the mountains.

–         They go off trail completely excited about chasing game. They’re running through the woods, but their mind isn’t mapping like it usually does.

–         When they finally stop & realize they don’t know where they are their body is so flooded with adrenaline…

–         … that even though they know they should stay put, they can’t help themselves, & they try to walk out of trouble.

–         Usually making things worse.

–         Before you know it they are completely lost.

We live in a world where we always know where we are.

These days we are so dependent upon our GPS in our cars or cell phones, we hardly even know how to read a map.

–         Much less navigate by the night sky. Or our wits.

–         Not only that, most of our world is paved & marked.

–         Most of us have never been really lost…

–         We might have been turned around, or in the wrong place.

–         But we don’t have much experience w/being lost.

–         So if it ever really does happen to us? (spiritually, existentially)

–         We are a slave to our limbic system: it’s fight, flight, or freeze.

–         We ≠tools to survive if we get lost (no matter how much survivorman…


It hasn’t always been this way. Solnit poked @ in the historiography of the 19th century & learned that people back then didn’t really got lost very often – not like we do now, requires Search & Rescue squads.

–         A hundred years ago being off course by a day or two…

–         Or spending a few nights or even a few weeks not quite sure where you were was actually not that uncommon.


Daniel Boone once said, “I was never lost in the woods my whole life, though once I was confused for three days.”

–         For him it was a legitimate distinction

–         He knew that he would eventually get himself back to where he knew where he was, (& in the meantime he knew what to do).

–         That’s not really lost.


Solnit says that Sacajawea’s main role in the famous Lewis & Clarke campaign was not really to be the guide.

–         Her main role was that she made everyone comfortable, because she was so comfortable.

–         These guys were experienced scouts, trappers, and explorers, but it was different for Sacajawea – the forest was her home.

–         She knew all of the plants they could eat.

–         She understood many of the native languages.

–         And she had an infant with her, so every tribe they encountered knew this was not a war party.

–         She was completely at home there.

–         And it made everyone around her calm & peaceful.


And that was extremely valuable, because all explorers are essentially functionally lost – they’d never seen these places before.

–         But they had a rich body of experiences w/being lost…

–         And this gave them the one thing most lost people never have: a sense of optimism… or what we would call HOPE.

–         Even though the world had suddenly gotten larger than their knowledge of it, they weren’t panicked or anxiety stricken.

–         They knew they had a whole set of competencies that were formed in them through days & months in the wilderness.

–         Solnit writes, “Lost, these people I talked to helped me understand, was mostly a state of mind.”

–         This, I believe, is true not only in the backwoods of Colorado.

–         It’s true in terms of the soul & the human experience.

–         2 people can be undergoing the exact same life experience:

–         1 = completely lost // other = be optimistic, hopeful.

–         Difference? A rich body of experience w/getting lost & through spending lots of time in the wilderness.


PT: If being lost is when we realize that the world is suddenly larger than our knowledge of it, then getting lost is a spiritual necessity. We’ll never reach anything like spiritual maturity w/out it.


The story of Israel is one trip after another into the terra incognita.

–         Over and over we see that God does much of his best work with people who are truly and seriously lost.

–         Abraham and Sarah  – God didn’t even say where they were going, he just said go to a land I will send you.

–         By the time they realized they were good & lost, Abraham had learned to hear the voice of God when nobody else could.

–         Elijah got lost in the desert while running from Queen Jezebel.

–         He learned that God’s voice is often so soft; it’s like a whisper it was when he got calm in the wilderness.

–         Moses and the Children of Israel spent 40 years lost in the wilderness, learning to depend upon God for everything.

–         By the time they got to the Promised Land, they were ready to fight wars armed w/nothing but trumpets.


PT: Over and over it seems as though the only way God could do what God was trying to do with his people was to get them good and lost. When this happened, the scripture usually said that they were led into the wilderness. This makes the wilderness incredibly important for us.


Stanley Hauerwas says that the wilderness is the place reserved for learning how to go on when you don’t know where you are.

–         I’m not sure there could be a more important thing to learn.

–         … how to go on when we don’t know where we are.

–         You start to realize that if we’re going to be ready for the times in our lives when we are good & seriously lost… we are going to need to have practiced it before.

–         We need to have allowed ourselves to become a little bit lost every now and then.

–         … not so much physically (although in controlled ways that’s not necessarily bad), but in a spiritual sense:

–         Everyone needs a little time in the wilderness.

–         The Wilderness is where God does God’s best work.

–         We all have to find a way for our world to suddenly get much larger than our knowledge of it.

–         If we can do this, we’ll find that God seems to have a knack for working w/people who are lost.


Henry David Thoreau says in his book Walden, that never to be lost is to never really live.

–         It’s actually terrible for the soul to never find ourselves lost.

–         Because it’s only in terra incognita that we learn how to continue on even though we don’t know where we are.

–         And for life this is an essential skill set.


Thoreau writes, “it is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable, experience to be lost in the woods any time… not till we are completely lost, or turned round… do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”


The wilderness is about learning who we are… where we are… and who God is … and how it all relates together.

–         Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness learning to trust in God

–         Elijah spend 40 days learning to hear the still small voice of God

–         Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, tested by the devil.

–         Each year we spend 40 days in the wilderness during Lent\

–         Lent is our yearly chance to get a little bit lost in the wilderness.


Often think of wilderness in terms of bad life events, someone gets sick, lose a job, etc. and those things can take us there for sure.

–         But there is a sense in which the wilderness is a kind of grace.

–         “JS was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.”

–         He was “led” there by the Spirit of God.

–         He isn’t being punished, he hasn’t strayed

–         He’s there because he was led.

–         He’s led there because something God wants Jesus to learn or experience which is essential to his mission… and the only place he can learn or experience this is in the wilderness.

–         There’s something about JS’s mission later on that’s going to require some formation right here & now in the wilderness.

–         He’s gotta be willing to get a little bit lost in the wilderness for awhile… 40 days to be precise.


Now, when a Jewish writer tells a story, and he uses the number 40 and talks about the wilderness – everyone would immediately know:

–         This is about the Exodus

–         He’s alluding to Moses & the 40 yrs. the Children ifIsrael spent wandering around in the wilderness.


When God led Moses & the people out of Egypt, he wanted them to go straight into the Promised Land.

–         But they had spent 400 years in slavery.

–         They had no imagination for how to live as free people.

–         They had trusted in Pharaoh for so long they had no idea how to trust in God.

–         So God led them into the wilderness, to place of utter vulnerability, to teach them how to trust.

–         They needed food – so God fed them w/Manna.

–         They needed water – Moses strike a rock w/his staff.

–         They needed direction –a cloud by day, & pillar of fire by night.


PT: 40 years it took for God to give them a new orientation, so they’d stop thinking like slaves, and start thinking like children of God.


If you want to think of it in terms of orientation:

–         They began w/and OLD ORIENTATION – of slavery.

–         God wanted them to have a NEW ORIENTATION – free children.

–         And the only way to get them from their Old orientation to a new orientation was to lead them into a time of DISORIENTATION – in which they are completely vulnerable.

–         That’s the role of the wilderness: it moves us from an old orientation where we think we know everything about our world.

–         To a place where the world is suddenly much larger than our knowledge of it… that’s a season of disorientation.

–         This mvmt: old orientation > disorientation > new orientation

–         This is the movement of death & resurrection to new life.

–         This is: I once was lost but now am found.

–         This is: I used to trust myself for my future, now I trust God 4…

–         This is: I got this… I’ve got my life under control, to I don’t have this… God has this & I’m going to trust him for my life.


Every temptation JS faced was a temptation just to say, “I got this” instead of “thy will be done.”


Jesus was completely alone, cut off from his community. He’s in the middle of the desert, so survival is an issue.

–         He’s been fasting 40 days, so his body is weak & tired.

–         He’s hungry – so his appetites are raging.

–         He is as weak and vulnerable as a person can be

–         And it’s at that point that he undergoes a test.

–         And every temptation is the temptation to leave vulnerability for some kind of false strength.


First temptation – turn the stone into bread. In theological circles this is what’s known as the Panera temptation.

–         The tempter is shrewd, & uses JS’s own appetites against him.

–         But Jesus refuses to leave behind his own vulnerability.

–         He refuses to be ruled by his appetites.

–         Here we should think of Jacob & Esau & the day Esau came in from hunting & traded his identity for a bowl of beans.

–         We should think of Adam & Eve trading their lives for fruit.


PT: The appetites have such power over us. Food, sex, power, security… we have these natural appetites for things that are good. But when we allow them to rule over us they become a temptation.


This is one meaning of the Lenten fast – really all fasting is about this. It’s a way of saying, no appetite will have the kind of control over me that God is meant to have.

–         Think how many lives are being ruined by appetites:

–         Food / sex / pleasure / security / esteem / power.

–         During lent we short circuit one of those through denial.

–         It’s a short trip into the wilderness that reinforces for us the idea that our appetites won’t rule our lives.


Second Temptation – the devil takes him from the desert to the pinnacle of the temple & says to him:


“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”


–         So he starts w/”If you are the Son of God.”

–         He’s messing w/his identity.

–         Hoping it’s like calling Marty McFly a chicken

–         Hoping it will make Jesus insecure.

–         Will he trust God for his identity, or prove his identity.


This is one of the deep wisdom’s of the wilderness: The wilderness teaches us to be confident in who we are.

–         A few years back I read an article about a mom who was shopping at Bloomingdales in NYC.

–         Her 9 year old son had been bugging her to let him find his way home by himself – so she let him.

–         She gave him a MetroCard & some money & said “cu@ home.”

–         2 trains and one bus transfer & he was home

–         She said that when he got home he was brimming w/confidence… just ecstatic.

–         What was interesting is that she got totally attacked by people who read the article & wanted to take the kid away from her.


This motivated her to do some research:

–         There is only a 1 in 1 million chance child will be abducted by a stranger inAmerica.

–         It’s an incredibly rare event & you cannot protect children from an incredibly rare event.

–         …like trying to build a shield against being struck by lightning.

–         Her basic argument is that “a child who thinks he can’t do anything on his own, eventually can’t.”


PT: Not saying you have to prove who you are – it’s not like that. But you have to discover who you are in Christ & have confidence in that. In the wilderness we learn how to be vulnerable enough to trust God for our identity; instead of constantly proving our worth, we find it in God.


One of the main tricks of the devil is convincing us that we are less than we really are. That’s what the tempter’s messing with.

–         How many of you are feeling less than you really are these days?

–         Maybe an intentional wilderness experience would help.

–         Maybe you need to get out of your safe zone & take a risk.

–         Sometimes Lent can be about taking risks, not to generate our identity, but to have confidence in who God made us to be.


Third temptation – Satan offers Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, great power, if he’ll just worship the devil one time.

–         This is the temptation to worship anything other than God.

–         Jesus was trying to bring about a new kingdom.

–         Here was a way to do it w/out having to suffer & die.

–         Just a little compromise… not a big deal;

–         …that was the temptation.

–         Jesus just says, “you can only worship one God.”


What other gods do we worship? The god of the appetites? The god of “I am what I do.” The got of individualism, consumerism, nationalism?

–         In Lent we try to identify & subvert those idols.

–         For me one of my false gods is productivity.

–         One of my Lenten fasts is that when I sit down to start my day, to be productive & work, I just sit there for 10 minutes.

–         I just do nothing for 10 minutes… waste time.

–         It’s killing me… easily the hardest fast I’ve ever done.

–         I’m sitting where I get things done & yet I’m unproductive.

–         It’s subverting that false god of productivity I worship.

–         What false god to you worship?


PT: At every turn Jesus is tempted with some way out of the wilderness, out of the vulnerable place, and each time he affirms his calling and embraces vulnerability. This is the movement we are all trying to make during the season of LENT.


When we spend time in the wilderness, we position ourselves in places where God can really get at us, and change us, grow us.


Rebecca Solnit says that people who get lost in the wilderness later on say that a strange thing happens.

–         They find themselves fully present in that moment.

–         They are present to themselves, to God, and to the world.

–         They aren’t reprocessing the past, or dreaming about the future.

–         When you are LOST, all there is is this moment.

–         Solnit says that it is that presence in the moment that teaches us how to live with uncertainty and mystery

–         …the stuff that usually makes us feel too vulnerable.

–         We just accept it & trust in God.

–         People that are LOST live only in the present moment.


The English word for lost actually comes from and Old Norse word los, meaning the disbanding of an army:

–         The word evokes images of soldiers falling out of formation and heading home… a truce with the whole wide world.

–         There is a sense in which getting lost is an essential part of our pathway toward peace.

–         We leave the fight to mitigate our own vulnerability.

–         The wilderness teaches us to accept our limitations

–         … and to be confident in who we are in Christ.


Solnit calls this the “art of being at home in the unknown, so that being in its midst isn’t cause for panic or suffering, of being at home with being lost.”


That’s Lent. In let we enter the wilderness in small ways so that we can learn to be lost without fear and anxiety, because then we will start to see the ways in which God is always holding us in the palm of his hand even when we are not feeling so lost anymore.


And this does something quite transformative in our hearts.

–         Just like Daniel Boone saying he never felt lost in the woods;

–         He might have been confused now and then, but he never experienced the anxiety and fear that goes along with being lost;

–         What would it be like to live without anxiety & fear?

–         Christians can be the one group of people who’ve spent enough time in the wilderness to know that they can trust in God…

–         That we don’t have to try and make ourselves safe…

–         When we know that we are totally safe… all of the sudden not every little thing seems like such a threat.

–         That’s the way to peace

–         Not that we stop feeling violent… we stop feeling threatened.


And this has an incredible impact on the world. Just like Sacajawea bringing came and peace to her fellow explorers.

–         We become a sign of peace to our world.

–         This consistently non-anxious presence

–         And though everyone else might fear the wilderness.

–         Though everyone else feels lost and alone

–         Those who have spent our time in the wilderness can live confidently, trusting that God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory.

The wilderness is where we are tempted by our appetites. And we learn that those things cannot bring us life… because man does not live on bread alone.


The wilderness is where we come home to ourselves. Where we discover our own beauty… the beauty that comes from being a precious child of God. We are beautiful to God the same way our children are beautiful to us.


The wilderness teaches us to believe that the great adventure of our lifetime is not simply to make our way in the world, to survive, or to thrive, to power up, or get rich, or win, or prove ourselves. The great adventure of our lifetime is to know God, and to know ourselves as his precious children, and to worship him God alone.


The great lesson of the wilderness is not that we know “how not to die,” but how to hope in the face of death. What we learn in the wilderness – and only in the wilderness – is that we have nothing to fear in this life, because although we might be facing terra incognita, we know where the story is headed, because the end of the story has broken through in Jesus Christ.


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  • joncarllewis

    Thank you so much. I have a (Very) few sermons under my belt, but am always looking for good ways to capture the text on the page so i can do an almost-dramatic reading of it when the time comes. I’ve been thinking in terms of a script, but your method looks like it might work very well for me. Thank you, and may God richly bless you in all of your endeavors.