Monday, February 19, 2018

The Wilderness

Mark 1:9-15
February 18, 2018
Lent 1

Jesus was coming out of the water and he saw the
heavens torn apart and the spirit came down
and a voice said, “you are my son the beloved”.
And immediately the Sprit drove him out into the wilderness.

There is no time for even a short baptism party for Jesus here.
No time for punch and sheet cake today.
Christ in the Wilderness
Briton Riviere, 1898
The nice holy Spirit who
just descended on Jesus
like a sweet dove,
and brought him and everyone
the news that he was God’s beloved,
takes him and throws him
into the wilderness.
Immediately, before he’s even had a chance to dry himself off,

Now some of us may think that
a little time in the wilderness would
not be such a bad thing.
Relaxing, communing with nature,
cooking over an open fire.
Some people even call the wilderness “God’s country”
because they can more easily feel God’s presence there.

But that’s not the way the wilderness was seen in the bible.
In the bible, the wilderness is not a place of peace and relaxation,
it’s a place of danger and unpredictability.
There were wild animals and wild people,
and no food and no water.

It’s not God’s country, it’s the opposite of God’s country,
actually, as we find in this scripture, it’s Satan’s country.
It’s the place where people were most susceptible to temptation.
Not many of us have been to that kind of wilderness
by ourselves, without food, or supplies, or protection.
But many of us have experienced the wilderness in our lives.
In our hearts, and minds ,and spirits.
Times that are dark, where we feel, unsafe and desolate,
and alone, like God was not there at all.      

Those places where we face the loss of loved ones
Where we lose our hearts, where our dreams are crushed.
Where we experience depression, anxiety
Where we face our own sins and shortcomings.
Where we don’t think we can keep going.
Most of us know exactly how that wilderness feels.
It’s dark and scary and unpleasant.

We live in a world and a time where the name of the game is to
avoid that wilderness at all costs.
We try to avoid suffering of any kind.
We fill our lives and our kids lives with distractions,
we try to change any kind of uncomfortable situation.
we turn to entertainment, possessions, and addictions
in order to stave off the wilderness that comes in every life.

Ironically Even Christianity has sometimes
become a way for people to ignore their wilderness.
We reason that we shouldn’t feel any pain or doubt
if we just have faith. We say things like,
“God’s in control, God never gives you more than you can handle.”

But that’s not the story of Jesus.
One of the main things we learn from Jesus 
is that the way to life is through death.
The path of Jesus takes us from the joy
and promise of baptism and drives us
right into the wilderness.

Jesus temptation,
is to skip the wilderness and to go right on
to the good stuff: food, wealth, security.

And our biggest temptation
may be trying to avoiding the wilderness too.
To avoid the pain and reflection and just get back to the good stuff.
The place where we feel in control.
But that is not the way to life.
We can’t skip Good Friday and go right to Easter.

This week we had another mass shooting in our country,
I can’t even remember how many times
I’ve stood up in this spot and said those
same words to you in the past 7 years.
This time it was in a school and 17 people died.
Adults and children.

Now we’ve been through this enough
that we know how everyone reacts to them.
The politicians say it’s not time to talk
about politics, even though that’s the only
reason we’d ever want to hear from them.
People get outraged and demand gun laws.
Other people get defensive and claim
that the problem is not guns at all
And the only solution is to arm everyone.
We blame people with mental illness.
And everyone throws out “thoughts and prayers”
as if that wipes the slate clean for the next time.
We are tempted to find the simple solution
To just move on and forget about it, to blame it on others.
But I think we are too far beyond one simple
solution in this country. I don’t think we
will come out the other side of this before
we enter that wilderness.
Until we, as a country, really examine how we got to this place.

Until we look at ourselves in the mirror and see how,
from the foundation of our country
we made violence and domination a way of life
and how we’ve benefitted from that.
How we allowed corporations and money
to have more weight in our country than human lives.
How we’ve let so many people become
so disenfranchised and angry that they don’t value life.
We are the only country that this happens in. Why?

It’s not just one simple answer.
We need to go into that wilderness
and really examine ourselves to find that answer.
I think it’s started to happen.
I think we are more honest about ourselves as a country.
than we were even 10 years ago and that’s something.
We can’t just drive around it and make it all go away
with one law or one program or simple solution.
We need to go through that dark and scary wilderness
Where examine ourselves, take responsibility,
Confess, repent, change, find a new way.
Die to ourselves so we can rise again.
So The wilderness in scripture is a lonely, dangerous place.
full of doubt and darkness and desolation.
But there’s also another way that scripture looks at the wilderness.
The wilderness is also a place of new beginnings:

  • Moses led his flock of sheep beyond the wilderness of Sinai
    where he found a strange burning bush that talked to him
  • The Israelites passed through the wilderness for forty years
    and after they got out, they started a nation.
  • David waited in the wilderness for the time to come
    to take his place on the throne of Israel.
  • Jacob wrestled an angel in the wilderness and stopped running.
  • Isaiah and John cried out in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord”
  • Jesus 40 days in the wilderness was the beginning of his ministry.

The wildness is a place of struggle.
but it’s also a place of change, of opportunity of new beginnings.

That’s true of our lives too. 
It’s the wilderness, the hard times, the deserts,
in loss and struggle, doubt is where we find new beginnings,
change, opportunity, and new life.
I think it can be true of a nation too.

We don’t have to look for the wilderness.
When we need to go, the Spirit will drive us there.
But don’t give into the temptation to avoid it
and do not be afraid of it.
Although we might feel alone, God is there with us.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you are right about the " more honest with ourselves" but I'm afraid its just the opposite. I'm afraid the lesson we are learning as a country is that dis-honesty can get you anything, and not be held accountable. Now about God being there with us, I know you are right. It's just not the first time we've totally turned our back. So I'm thankful there are pastors and people in this world, like you, who hold up a true light.