Lent is a good time for wandering in the wilderness– a place that naturally causes us to be slow and cautious. We have to go in alone, experience our own journey and receive our own call from God.
If we move too quickly, we might miss something. Or we might get lost. Maybe that’s the point of Mark’s expeditious storyline: we have to first be lost before we are found.
Maybe the Holy Spirit draws us out to the wilderness, not so we lose our whereabouts, but to help us lose the stuff that weighs us down and holds us back from a greater challenge – life after Lent. Living our faith out in our communities where the wild things are.
The wilderness that Jesus enters is a literal wilderness, where many people do not go. But those who do go often pack for the journey – a tent, sleeping bag, food, you know, the basic essentials.
I am not one of those people. While I like my alone time, I’m not the “outdoor” type. I’m more “Indoorsy” as the comedian Jim Gaffigan would joke.
I prefer hotel beds and bathrooms as opposed to sleeping on sticks and rocks, and leaving myself vulnerable to wild animals. But it should never go without saying, following Jesus can be a physically risky endeavor.
But Jesus is also out there spiritually, and this is a place that even fewer people dare to go. And who can blame them. Those spiritual places force us to see ourselves as we are, without filter or finery. They cause us to change our mindset, especially when we’re content.
That’s the thing about Lent. It invites us to places we dare not go and to face the things that make us uncomfortable. It could be physical – sleeping outdoors and waking up covered in a rash. Or it might be spiritual, like facing temptations that lure you away from becoming more like Christ in the world.
Maybe God drives us to these wild places because God knows that out of the wild our personal demons and struggles unlock our true strength. Maybe God knows better than us that the fears we face can forge a stronger bond to the Divine.
We might be tempted to skirt the wilderness, to turn away from encountering the wild places in our lives. It’s not hard to give over to temptation or to run off with the wild beasts.
But if we are to be called disciples, if we are to be renewed for new possibilities and be prepared to truly live in our world as God calls us, we must face the wild. And we must go in alone.
Now if we blinked we might miss the hidden gem in in this particular story. And if we don’t slow down we might overlook the fact that there are angels with Jesus.
Buried in Mark’s story is a reminder that wherever we are in life, we are never alone. God is right here with us, just as the angels were with Jesus, serving and caring for him. Just as we learned last week, “When we go with Jesus God goes with us.”
As Emily Heath describes, “Lent is an opportunity to spend 40 days alone with the one who has been there before.”
She asks, “Have you ever had a hard time with faith? Jesus knew what that was like. Do you struggle to make choices? So did Jesus. Are you grieving? Jesus grieved too. Are you preparing yourself for something new, for something you don’t know how you are going to survive? Jesus knew what that was like, too.”
Jesus goes out alone with God. And we too are cajoled and prodded by the Holy Spirit to leave our comforts behind to join him.
Despite the temptation to believe differently, we are never really alone. The Spirit of God is there to “…help us in our weakness,” says St. Paul, “it intercedes for us” (Romans 8:26-27).
Out there we go – to find our footing and strength that will help us move closer to our true selves as both disciples of Christ and children of a loving and giving God.
Out there we go – to develop our spiritual muscles that will help us stand up to the spiritual darkness and systematic violence that plague our communities, and threaten harm upon God’s children.
Out there we go – to learn how to stand in the fray of hatred and bigotry, to teach and to be the love of God to all people.
We might be tempted to think that our faith, spirituality, or religious preferences should be private – between the individual and God. But Jesus teaches us it’s very public as well. Our true self comes alive in our personal relationships with other people.
The mass shootings that seem to happen way too frequently force us to look deeply and directly into the eyes of evil, and seek the heart of Christ in every situation. If God is in all things, so too is Christ. We have to take the time to look and find ourselves in that darkness too.
You see, God has called us to be the angels that nurse the sick and wounded back to health; to feed the spiritual and literal hungry and starving around the world; to protect each and every child no matter the cost to our standing in society; and raise everyone up to God’s glory and righteousness just as God did for his Son.
I hope that you will take the time this Lenten season to really be honest with yourself, and to see what the wilderness is offerings you – a new life, a new ministry, and new ways of being God’s beloved.
As you face the tough decisions and tougher realities, know that God looks at you, and cares for you, with nothing but compassion and love, just as God watched over Jesus as he journeyed towards the cross and beyond.
The Holy Spirit brings us into the wilderness to discover the joy of being the beloved sons and daughters.
“Even if it means going further in the wilderness, even if we feel more lost than ever, I invite you to follow the one who has been there before us. He might not lead us down easy paths, but he will also not lead us astray.”
Brown Taylor, Barbara. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2. [Westminster John Knox: 2008]. p.45.
Heath, Emily C. Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century, January 31, 2018. p.20.
Johnson, Deon. Wilderness. episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. February18, 2018.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”