Into the Wilderness

Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Mark 1:9-15

“And the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Satan, and beasts, and angels…oh my! Okay, so I have the Wizard of Oz on my mind seeing that our youth are performing it this weekend. But I see some striking parallels with the story in Mark’s gospel today. In Mark’s account of the temptation story, Jesus is literally driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He is not simply led or guided by the Spirit, but compelled or driven out. It is something that he has to do. The word Spirit means breath or wind, and wind as you know is uncontrollable. Oh we can try and harness the wind and use it for energy as in wind turbines, but when the wind wants to, nothing can stand in its’ way. It’s a source of great energy, but also unpredictable and at times, dangerous.

In the Wizard of Oz, a dangerous wind from a tornado blows Dorothy to Oz where she did not intend to go. She was home safe and happy until the wind took her to a strange and unfamiliar place. Both Jesus and Dorothy encounter dangers, and wild beasts, and …. temptations, or trials. It would seem that they have been abandoned. Why would they be taken so far away from the comforts of their daily lives? What reason could there be to send them into such potentially dangerous situations? What could they possibly gain from these wilderness experiences? Where is God?

It’s a question many of us ask today especially when we are driven into times of wilderness in our own lives. We can find ourselves overwhelmed at times with all sorts of trials, sufferings, and pain. They can come one after another and it seems as though we are lost in the wilderness like the ancient Israelites wandering and feeling hopeless….forgetting that God had already delivered them. The news we hear reinforces the evil that happens all over the world and we may worry as to what is going to happen next. And we are tempted to think that God is absent. Perhaps this is the greatest temptation we face today, the temptation to think God has abandoned us.

And this is the reason Lent is so important. It forces us to go to the places we would rather not go and find God in the midst of it. It compels us to go into the wilderness, to face the things that test and tempt us head-on. We began this journey on Ash Wednesday when the ashy crosses were imprinted on our foreheads as a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Death is not an easy thing to think about, but that is what we are forced to face – our mortality. It is what Jesus had to face as well. Unlike Matthew and Luke’s gospels, we are not told what temptations Jesus had to face from Satan. We do not hear the three accounts of Satan’s temptations. We only know Jesus was tempted and tried. And in the wilderness he was forced to think and pray about his reason for being here. Jesus, newly baptized, had to wrestle in the wilderness with his willingness to accept this vocation – this calling – and claim his identity as God’s Son, the Beloved. His mission from God was to save all humanity even if that meant dying for us on a cross. That couldn’t have been an easy reality to face or say yes to, but he did.

Lent insists that we too journey to the cross, look at the cross –not cover it up or turn away – but look at it and reflect on exactly what it means to us. What significance does the cross have in our everyday lives? Does what Jesus did impact how we live? Has it changed us? Do we think and act differently because we are followers of Jesus? These are deep questions that require a lot of meditation and prayer,
and in our busy lives it’s easy to take these questions for granted, but how we answer them means everything. We can’t experience the joy of Easter unless we experience the journey of the cross to get there. We can’t experience that kind of joy without understanding the pain involved to get there. And so we are compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to the wilderness and seek to be transformed. The temptation is to think that if we delve too deep God will not be there.

The Good News is that Jesus showed us that there is nowhere we go that God is not present. There is no wilderness too barren that God cannot fill our needs. There is no pit that we may find ourselves in that God will not be there. In the wilderness Jesus was tempted by Satan. He was with wild beasts. But he was also ministered to by angels. Though evil was all around Jesus, God did not abandon him. God and the holy angels are with us too.

God has also given us the gift of one another. We, as Christians, are to care and minister to one another, lift one another up, and accompany each other on our journey of faith, much like Dorothy’s friend’s the Tin-Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion. During this season of Lent and self-reflection we have the opportunity to look at ourselves and see our own faults rather than looking for the faults in others. We have the opportunity to see those things that pull us away from God and repent of our sins. And once the curtain has been pulled away, our sins revealed and God’s forgiveness received, our true identity is revealed. We discover who we truly are and the gifts from God that each one of us possesses. Gifts meant to share with the world so that Good News can be heard and received through our proclamation.

Being driven into the wilderness or into a strange place is not a punishment, but a gift when seen through the eyes of faith. These times can be holy places where we have the opportunity to grow closer to God. The promised land is not a place, but a space where God abides. In our journey of faith we will encounter trials and temptations. We will suffer and grieve; we cannot escape that any more than Jesus did. But in the midst of it all we also have the deep joy of knowing that God is with us through it all and will never leave us or forsake us.

As we journey into the wilderness this Lent let’s not think about what we have to give up, but what God gave up for us. Let’s not think about what we have to fear, but how God through Jesus conquered anything we truly have to fear. Amen!

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