The First Sunday in Lent! It’s hard to believe. Springtime is supposed to be here!! 43 days until Opening Day for Major League Baseball Season and we are still navigating ice patches and snow drifts. What is wrong with this picture?
Maybe it’s God’s way of reminding us that our Lenten journey is NOT supposed to be like a Spring Festival. We have to build up to that “newness of Spring”, that re-birth we experience in flowers and an empty Cross. My friends, we are not there yet!! We have a journey ahead of us that is like no other journey. It is a journey when we look deep within our own humanness, just as Jesus did following his baptism and throughout his 40 days in the wilderness. We hear that story this morning in the Gospel of Mark. It is a fairly straightforward story! It is a story of description and detail and not one of beauty and glory.
We have to examine for a moment what happens during this glimpse of scripture. It is a short rendition of Jesus’ baptism, a major event, needless to say because it is after (or while) he comes up from the water the “heavens” are “ripped open” and the Voice of the Lord, along with the Spirit, descends upon Him and declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”. God has laid claim upon who Jesus is!! There is no doubt. Then immediately we hear that the “same” Spirit that descended upon Him sent Him into the desert or better yet the “wilderness” for 40 days only to be waited on by the angels and surrounded by the wild beasts!! Now how is that for a baptismal present? Most people get a nice luncheon, a few religious gifts, and if you are lucky, a white dress that your mother and grandmother will hold onto for a century or two.
But no! Jesus gets sent into the wilderness to face temptation! Now I’m a bit confused. God, through the Spirit, has just told Jesus that He is the Beloved!! God has issued a baptism like no other, and now sends His Son into the wilderness!!
So, why did the story have to go south? Why did Jesus enter the wilderness? We have in the Gospel of Mark, no commentary on Jesus’ feelings, just the abrupt entrance into the wilderness. How appropriate is that? OFTEN TIME, MORE THAN NOT, WE DON’T GET TO PONDER OUR FEELINGS BEFORE WE ENTER THE WILDERNESS!!
Let’s be clear about our definition of wilderness as we look at this scripture. In the biblical and theological sense, wilderness is “that place, any place we don’t want to be”!! We see it here, Jesus was in a place where he was alone (with the exception of the angels and the wild animals that could devour him), no friends, no support team, and no cheerleaders. He was in a “dark place”!!
How often are we in the wilderness? If we are honest with ourselves, probably fairly often. Now, we have become a people who have learned (or convinced) ourselves that we can calculate our degree of wilderness experiences. I worry about that calculation. I worry about it because it assumes that “we are in control”. The biblical story does not allow Jesus to calculate His wilderness experience. It simply states that Satan was present and “tempted Him” while in the wilderness!!
It appears to me that it was clear that Satan did not want Jesus to accomplish His mission and with Jesus in the wilderness was the perfect time for him to do just that!! That tends to be the way Satan works on us as well. Side-tracking us in our own wilderness of culture, society, people groups, and the like. Our lives tend to be very biblical about those things. The wilderness journey for most of us tends to be that time in our life when things go “crazy”. As I mentioned earlier, we tend to calculate our “craziness”. Now wilderness is just that, “wild-ness”!! I don’t see us having much room for calculation!! We only have time to deal with the wild-ness in our lives.
How we deal with this wilderness in our lives is what is key!! Hence, our Lenten journey that we will take together as a gathered community!
One of the things that we often overlook in this biblical story and in our wilderness journey is that God sent Jesus into the wilderness with God’s Blessing!!
Hence, after Jesus’ baptism, God reminded Jesus that He was the “beloved one” and that God was well pleased with Him.
Sound familiar? Our baptism is very similar. Our baptism into the Church reminds us of this very story. That God has called us into a relationship with Him and that what is required of us is to work in God’s Kingdom, which in turn, includes the wilderness!!
We are a forgetful people and that is one of the reasons our Lenten journey is sometimes so difficult. WE FORGET WE ARE LOVED!!! God makes “no bones” about it with Jesus’ baptism, “You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased”. Sometimes we have to be reminded of that in very powerful ways. I remember hearing the story of Bill Jones, the renowned preacher, when he and his wife were having a conversation and it went like this. His wife Martha said to Bill, “Bill, you never tell me that you love me anymore, why can’t you be like every other man in the world and tell me that you love me at least every week?” Bill turned and looked at her and replied, “I told you once that I loved you, if that changes, I will let you know!” Every time we enter our wilderness we have to hold onto that claim that God loves us and through that love requires us to be humble and obedient!
So, holding onto that love that God provides for us we must enter our wilderness.
Just like Jesus’ story, we have to be aware of the deception, of what is lurking around in the bushes, the possibility of the wild animals in our life. As the writer of 1 Peter reminds us “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour”.
During our Lenten journey we have to equip ourselves. We do this through prayer, study, praise, and worship!! We gather forces together to be strong!!
Thus the beginning of Lent is a time to “re-arm” ourselves and begin to equip ourselves for the wilderness journeys we will all face. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth, “Let a person examine himself to see if he be in the faith”. (II Corinthians 13:5)
Our Lenten journey in the wilderness begins with identifying that we will be in the wilderness, it is a Holy Place. A place where God dwells with us. We are not alone!!!
We must remember this because in our Lenten journey we must lay claim to Jesus being in our life!! We simply must be reminded that Jesus did not give up and if Jesus is our source of strength and advocate, we must lay claim to Christ in our everyday lives.
As we examine our lives and journey throughout the wilderness over the next several weeks we need to do a couple of things intentionally:
1. Examine our wilderness and look at those things that are setting out to devour us.
2. We must continue to lift up our souls to the Lord. We cannot do this alone!!
3. We must be willing to follow in Christ’s path; be taught in the Spirit and be consistent in our walk and our choices.
I had a friend once tell me, “Lent is not to be enjoyed, it is to be a transformational tool in your life as a Christian”!! It is my prayer over the next several weeks that we, as a community of faith will walk through the wilderness together!!
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.