First Lutheran Church
Lent 1B + February 18, 2018
As I read today's Gospel and think about Jesus, “the God become human,” being “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness to face the temptations of the flesh, the demons of his world, and the uncertainty of the road that lies ahead of him; As I hear this word, strangely enough, I find an incredible amount of comfort, hope, and assurance.
You see I know about the wilderness. This is a Gospel story to which I can easily relate. I may dream about vacations on “tropical islands” but all too often, I live my life in the “wilderness.” In the wilderness, where things are not easy, where I am faced with hard choices, where I am tempted to live out of fear instead of faith.
The wilderness tests us! It’s easy to be a person of faith, a person of grace, a person of charity, a person of love - inside the walls of the church. However, it’s much harder “out there,” in the wilderness of life. “Out there” we have to deal with the demons and wild beasts of this world which at times, perhaps more often than not, hold us all captive to fear. “Out there” are convictions are challenged; “out there” we are seduced to “sell out” our values; “out there” we are enticed to hang onto things instead of truth; “out there” we believe in the violence of self-preservation instead of the peace of grace; “out there” we are tempted to give up on love in exchange for “survival.” It’s not easy “out there.”
In the midst of the wilderness, (“out there”) we are quickly lost, we forget who we are, where we came from, and where we we're headed. When we look out at the “desert wilderness” we see the dark shadow of doubt and fear that a fallen humanity casts upon the world. A shadow that confirms our worst fears and affirms our worst instincts. This wilderness in which we find ourselves consume us, consumes our very souls; And we are left stressed out, confused, uncertain, empty, and anything but truly alive.
Living in this wilderness, living “out there,” I want, and I need, a God who knows about that kind of pain, that kind of struggle, that kind of emptiness, and that desire to want to return to a life that is abundant. I want a God who has literally “walked that road.” A God who has experienced the wilderness “first-hand.”
And today, as that God is revealed in the Gospel story, as I see Jesus walking into my wilderness, into my world, I begin to see and understand my salvation. Salvation comes to life! Suddenly I can reach out and grab hold of it. I love this God who is willing to walk into the wilderness, because quite frankly a God who chooses only to dwell in the "realms of glory" would be so remote that no matter how hard I could ever try I could never touch that God - let alone be touched by such a God. The broken places of my life are just too far away from the glories of heaven.
So today as Jesus finds himself in the wilderness surrounded by the darkness and confusion of this world, I am saved. And when Jesus walks out of the wilderness and begins proclaiming the emergence of the Kingdom of God I have a comfort, a hope, an assurance, and a sense of power in my life. This God knows what I'm "talking about" when I cry out, this God knows what you're "talking about" when you cry out. We are no longer lost and alone, helpless in our wilderness, God is with us. And together we will find a way out.
The story of the “Temptation of Jesus” gifts us with great words of “comfort.” Yet today these same words also come to us as a “challenge.” For God's word does not simply comfort us, it also sets us in motion.
As I get older I am beginning to learn that life is not simply a linear line. We don't simply walk into the wilderness, struggle for a time, get saved, and then enter into the promised land. No, life is a continuous cycle of events. Just as the seasons come and go, over and over again, so we too find ourselves wandering in and out of the wilderness, the pain and struggles come and go, repeating themselves on different levels and in different places. We grow in one area as we struggle in another, we are both sinner and saint, complete yet incomplete, we are always in process. This is the pattern of life, and like it or not, being a Christian does not magically save us from having to live out this life. We remain human.
This past Wednesday the church year turned to Lent. The cycle once again shifted gears. The star of Epiphany disappeared into the ashes of Lent. And now the challenge I spoke of is before us. The challenge to enter into the wilderness of our lives and prepare for Easter. Just as Jesus is “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness, now the Spirit of God challenges us “to face the wilderness,” our sin. (The pain and brokenness, our motivations and our insecurities, our fear and our loneliness, the places where we miss the mark.) It's time to prepare these areas for a baptism, to join them with the death of Christ and experience in them the new life of the resurrection, the change of repentance.
Now for some of us entering into the wilderness will be easy. In fact, some of us may already be there, struggling intensely with some "wild" “wilderness” part of our life. Some of us have no other choice but to be in the wilderness. The problems that are before us have come to a head, we can't avoid them any longer. We are Lent, we need an Easter experience.
If this is you, hear this word of good news today. God is present, ready to walk with you all the way to Easter. As you gather here and participate in the body of Christ, become active and open in God's presence, God will lead you across the waters of the Jordan, from the wilderness into Canaan, baptize your brokenness, and raise you up to a resurrection victory.
Then there are those of us who are not in the wilderness and for whom entering the wilderness will be very hard. The wilderness is very scary, and consciously and unconsciously, we have chosen to avoid it at all costs. We have ignored the struggle by pretending and wishful thinking. We have covered up the pain hoping it will go away. We live in denial of our brokenness. Yet this kind of living offers us no healing, no peace, and no victory, just deep troublesome demons that haunt and terrorize our lives. For us the challenge of Lent is "to be real," to be real about who we are, to be real about our brokenness, our wounds, to be real about our fears, and our doubts. We all have areas that need to be “opened up” to the healing power of God. This Lent God challenges us to face those things, to let go and enter into the wilderness.
And there is good news for us also. We need not do this alone. God will walk with us, in fact we will find that God is already there waiting for us. God waits for us even though we have kept those areas top secret and hidden out of fear and uncertainty. Even though the guilt and shame seem too large for anyone to surpass, (even God,) this God of the wilderness is there unconditionally in love with you ready to bring that part of you into the resurrection. There is nothing in your wilderness that can separate you from the love of God “for neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” God is calling you into the wilderness of your life so that you might experience such unconditional love where you need it the most. God is not there waiting to condemn you, but rather God is waiting there to simply love you. And there is nothing that will stand in God's way of loving you.
Today as you hear God calling you, whatever your situation, I encourage you to be bold and explore that wilderness. Take a walk on the wild side. Become involved.
Share your pain with God, share your life with the Body of Christ, and share your troubles with a friend. Be bold not because you are strong and courageous and can face anything but be bold because Christ became human and walked into the wilderness that you might not have to walk in it alone. Be bold because Christ is already there, in the midst of your wilderness, waiting for you to begin.
The challenge of Lent is before us. The wilderness awaits us. Let us not be afraid to accept the challenge, open up and participate, because nothing can separate us from God's love. Hear God's voice calling you today, it's time to become actively involved in the passion play, connect your journey to Christ. Step out with the boldness of faith knowing that the roads we choose to journey, even though they may be marked by the darkness of death, will lead to an empty tomb and the newness of life in the power of the resurrection of our Lord.
May God grant you the courage to begin a Lenten journey, and the strength to complete it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."