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

Under Construction in the Wilderness

Wilderness Road (Negev desert)Scripture Text: Isaiah 40: 3-5

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

So, here we wander in the wilderness, hoping against hope that it will all be over soon, that things will finally, once and for all, get back to normal. So, what IS normal? Is it places that are not the wilderness? It is times that are not now? Is it ways of being that were before? Here, the exiles, just released from captivity, dripping with newfound freedom, are beginning to return. They are making their way through the wilderness, headed toward “getting back to normal”. But their city and their way of life lies in ruins. They can’t just go back and pick where they left off. They are looking for comfort, for solace, for a promise that God will put things back the way they were before.

 

But that is not the promise that has been made. Rather than repair, God promises re-creation; rather than vindication, God promises redemption, and rather than solace, God promises transformation. God is making something new—lifting valleys, lowering mountains, and, ultimately, when all is said and done, revealing a glory that we’ve never seen before. The truth is, there is no going back. So what is normal? Perhaps “normal” is newness, going forward, becoming re-created. What if THAT was normal?

 

I mean, have you ever really witnessed a highway being built? (If you haven’t, you don’t live where I do!) It’s not easy. It takes preparation and time and lots of heavy lifting. You have to recruit people to do it, you have to clear the way, you have to show people how to navigate through it. And once in a while (or every other week-end, as the case may be where I live), they have to close the road so that it can be made new. See, lifting valleys and lowering mountains is not an easy feat. God is not a magician. (Oh, sure, God could raise and flatten with the wave of a hand, I’m sure, but what fun is that?) In fact, I’m thinking the world, all of Creation, is even now groaning and shaking with all the movement that is happening, wanting at its very core to burst forth into being, to ignore God’s prodding to wait and be patient. And, no, it will never be like it was before. There is no going back. There is never any going back. In this life of faith, “normal” is newness, it is going forward through the wilderness toward a new normal.

 

At the end of the exile, the people realized that their former lives did not exist. And so, in this new normal, they had to rethink and recast their image of God. They had to find God again in the midst of a strange, new world. They had to discover that God was not in the repair business, that God was not there to clean up their mess and fix their woes, that God loves us too much to put things back the way they were before.

 

We are no different. This wilderness journey that we are on is not a “break” from our lives. Lent is not a season of denying ourselves and giving up sweets and talking about sin and suffering and repentance over and over and then sliding into to Easter morning with a “whew, glad THAT’S over…now we can go back.” If that were the case, there would be no point. If that’s what you think, there is a chocolate bunny that you can have right now! See, the deal is, the wilderness changes you; it changes your life; it changes the world. God is doing something new. There is a new normal. You can never, ever go back. But you CAN go home again. THAT’S what the wilderness teaches you.

 

If you always imagine God in the same way, no matter how true and beautiful it may be, you will not be able to receive the gift of the new ways he has ready for you. (Carlos Valles)

 

FOR TODAY: Think about your Lenten practices that you are doing. What new normal is coming to be?    

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli