Wilderness Re-Created

14-11-02-#6-Sermon-Thin PlaceScripture Text:  John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

Whew!  We made it through the wilderness.  The tomb is open and all is good.  The morning was glorious, full of light and life and, finally, alleluias.  THE LORD IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  The long Lenten wilderness journey is behind us.  Whew!  We made it!

But don’t you remember what kept happening in the wilderness?  In the wilderness, when we’re so unsure of where to go, when darkness seems to overtake us at times, when we often feel stripped of all we know, God comes.  God comes and re-creates in the most incredible ways.  God comes and brings light into darkness and life into death.  God comes and we are changed forever.  That happens in the wilderness when we no longer have the familiar and the comfortable to which we can hold.  Like Mary at the tomb, we are reminded to not hold on to what we know but rather to open our hands to the newness that God offers.

After Lent, we go back to our lives.  The time of giving up and emptying out is behind us.  So with what do we fill our lives?  If we go back and pick up where we left off, cramming our lives full of all the stuff that we just stored in the closet for the season, it will all be for naught.  But if we finally know that in all of God’s resurrecting, we, too, were raised.  If we remember that in all of God’s re-creating, even the wilderness, the chaos, was made new again.  If we find ourselves with eyes that see differently and hearts that beat in new ways, we will see that the wilderness is where we are meant to be.  We were never meant to settle into ways of thinking and be satisfied with routine ways of being.  Instead we are called to go forth into newness, into what we do not know, down roads that our faith calls us to follow.

It seems that God is continually calling us into places and times that we’ve never been, constantly empowering us to push the limits of our “comfort zones”, to embark on a larger and more all-encompassing journey toward a oneness with God.  It seems that God always calls us beyond where we are and beyond where we’ve been, not to the places that are planted and built and paved over with our preconceptions and biases but, rather, to places in the wilds of our lives with some vision of a faint pathway that we must pave and on which we must trudge ahead.  Perhaps, then, this wilderness journey is not one in which we launch out and pursue a new life but is instead one that brings us to the center of our own life, one that brings us home, but changed.

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.  (T.S. Eliot)

FROM NOW ON:  Make the wilderness journey your home.

 

Well, we have come to the end of the season.  I am honored that once again so many of my old friends joined me for the journey.  And along the way, there were others that I am so grateful chose to join us.  That’s what happens when you travel unfamiliar roads!  I’m going to take a break from the “every day” writing and will try to post at least once a week or so.  Stay tuned!  Keep journeying!  AND, email me and let me know YOUR thoughts!  I’m going to try to put my email in “code” below my name so the spammers don’t find me, but you are smart people and you can figure it out!  Thank you again for journeying with me!  Happy Easter!  WE ARE RISEN!  WE ARE RISEN INDEED!

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Shelli Williams 13 (run all those together), then [that funny little a with the circle], gmail.com

The Wilderness is Where We Found Who We Are

Diving into watersScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of  sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

So Jesus was born in the wilderness.  So Jesus, even as a small child, was whisked off into the wilderness to surely save his life.  And now, Jesus goes into the wilderness and is baptized by John.  You see, Jesus wasn’t baptized at the beautiful marble or wood font that is in the front of your sanctuary.  Jesus wasn’t baptized surrounded by the comforts of air conditioning and pew cushions.  When Jesus knelt, there was no altar cushion beneath his knees.  There was no celebratory lunch after his baptism.  Jesus went into the wilderness and made his way into the cold water of the Jordan, feeling it first with his foot and then slowly, ever so slowly, making his way to the place where John stood.  And as he walked into the water, his clothes and his body were consumed by the waters and the chill overwhelmed him.  And then John, clothed in stinky wet camel’s hair with a sagging leather belt around his waist, gingerly took Jesus and pushed him beneath the swirling waters of the river.  “In the Name of God, I baptize you.”  And as Jesus rose out of the water, gasping for breath, he looked up and the heavens were torn apart, torn apart never to be put back in quite the same way again, never capable of going back to the way they were.  And from this gaping opening in the heavens, the Spirit seemed to descend like a dove.  And they all heard it.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In that moment, there in the wilderness, Jesus found who he was.  There in the wilderness with the wild animals and the blowing sands and the swirling waters of the river Jesus found who he was.  There in the wilderness where life is wild and unpredictable, where the path is not as worn as the one we frequent in the city, where the dwelling place is open to the sky and not walled in, where nothing can be controlled and nothing can be held, Jesus found who he was.  It seems to me that Jesus keeps returning to the wilderness, keeps returning to the place where we don’t expect him to be.  Perhaps our cue is that we are called to do the same.  Perhaps the wilderness is where we find who we are.

You see, in the comforts of our homes, in the security of our lives, in the places where we close our doors and lock them off to the world, we are told what we should be.  We are told that we should pursue success and affirmation, that we should climb the ladder with our accomplishments and our resume’.  We are made to believe that if we mingle with the right people and show up in the right places and post cute little pictures and statements on social media, we will get somewhere.  But in the wilderness, where the pathway is unpredictable and not well-trodden, where we experience some discomfort and disillusionment with who we are, where we experience crises of identity and crises of faith, where we feel like we don’t fit and we don’t belong, where we feel, sometimes, like we can’t even connect with God there, there, we find who we are.  We are pushed down into the waters of unknowing and we emerge with a new perspective.  We are immersed in something that we do not control and cannot stop and find new ways to be.  And the heavens open and the very Spirit of God spills onto us.  And we hear it.  We hear who we are, a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Maybe we’re beginning to see a pattern here.  Jesus’ life was not exactly charmed in the worldly sense of the word.  It seems, rather, that the wilderness kept cropping up, somehow pulling him into its grip.  I don’t think it was a test.  I think it was God’s way of pulling us toward freedom, God’s way of releasing us from the expectation of others, from the assumptions that the world hands us of who we are supposed to be, that there is a certain path and a certain way that our life has laid out for us.  Jesus’s life was mostly about walking in the wilderness, walking the way that was not the expected, that was not the norm, walking the way that opened himself to being immersed so that, finally, he could find who he was.

Perhaps that’s the point of our Lenten journey.  It is not just a denying ourselves of something; it is not just doing something different, walking a different walk for a short season.  This Lenten journey forces us into the wilderness, with cold water and murky pathways and hands us a mirror so that we take a good hard look at our lives and finally, finally find who we are:  A daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.  And knowing who we are, everything has changed.

It is in the act of offerings our hearts in faith that something in us transforms…proclaiming that we no longer stand on the sidelines but are leaping directly into the center of our lives, our truth, our full potential. (Sharon Salzberg)

FOR TODAY:  Let yourself go into the wilderness.  Immerse yourself.  Find who you are—a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Much-Needed Wilderness

ivan-nikolaevich-kramskoy-christ-in-the-desert1Scripture Text:  Luke 4: 1-2

 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

 

Yes, as a matter of fact, this IS the third time we’ve heard this account as part of our wilderness journey. But we haven’t heard it from the same Gospel-writer.  All three of the synoptic Gospels include the account of Jesus being led into the wilderness following his Baptism. It’s one of the few passages that was not only included by each writer, but actually was included within pretty much the same sequence in the happenings of Jesus’ life. There doesn’t seem to be any need on the part of any of the writers to “rearrange” things to further the focus that the writer was trying to impart. It’s just included. It’s part of the story. Apparently, each Gospel account recognizes this as, for want of a better word, a much-needed wilderness.

 

So have you ever thought of the wilderness as something that we NEED? We probably spend more time trying our very best to avoid it or, if it can’t be avoided, to at least hurry to the end, trying to cram as much as we can into it, but with the goal to get to the end as soon as possible so that we can go back to normal, go back to our lives. But Jesus was led into the wilderness and stayed for forty days. He had just been baptized. According to the Scriptures, John the Baptist had just pointed to who he was and what his life meant. God had proclaimed him the “Beloved”, and had voiced what pleasure the Divine took in him. He was set to go, set to begin his ministry. Standing there on the banks of the Jordan, he was ready to begin. And he did. He began with what was apparently a much-needed wilderness.

 

So for forty days, Jesus wandered in the wilderness. Sure, he was tempted to control it, tempted to overpower it, tempted to make it his. He was probably tempted to go home, although none of the Gospel-writers wrote that one down. But he didn’t. He walked the wilderness. He prayed, he looked at himself, he talked to God. My guess is that he probably argued with and questioned God a bit. (Well, maybe that’s what I would have done!) The wilderness was not any easier for Jesus than it is for us. But Jesus knew that he had to embrace the time, that preparing himself for the years to come, for the tiresome tasks of serving others, for the draining tasks of healing and teaching, for the frustrating tasks of calling others who did not always stay on the path, for the disheartening tasks of rejection and difficulty and questions, and, finally, finally, for the implausible task of walking to the Cross, had to be done in this wilderness. This wilderness would give him what he needed and he knew it. It was the place where he had to let go of his own plans and his own preconceptions of what his life would hold. It was the place where he had to take a good hard luck at himself, at the ways that he stood in the way of his own life. It was the place where he would know, finally know, that he WAS God’s Beloved with whom God was well pleased and that God would never forsake him. It was the place that, finally, Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do.

 

We need the wilderness experience just as badly. It’s not a place where we prove our love to God or where we show how strong or how spiritual or how faithful we are. It is the place where we finally get out of ourselves, out of our routines, off the path that we have so carefully carved out for our lives, and, finally, without being able to see where we are going, we know that we are on the right path. It is the place where we can come to know who we are and what we are called to do.   Now we are ready to begin. And we return from the wilderness as a different one, as one who knows ourself as God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.  We will return famished and ready to fill ourselves with God.

 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. And when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. (Wendell Berry)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look around you.  Quit trying to figure a way out.  Just walk through the wilderness and see what God has to show you.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli