February 26, 2012 “ 1 Lent
Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
I have some friends who have been living in the wilderness for about a year now. Last February a routine exam showed some abnormalities and within a week it was confirmed that there was some very serious cancer. While their lives had been going on normally a few days earlier, with no real symptoms or discomfort, suddenly they were thrown on the conveyor belt of cancer treatments, tests, and evaluations. For a year now much of their life has revolved around that disease and its treatment. Things were pretty normal, then boom, things were rocky and scary. Like most cancer patients, they report a number of frightening times, times when it seemed like some evil power was wreaking havoc. But, at most every juncture, they have experienced subtle and not-so-subtle signs of grace and healing. Repeatedly they have received good news. A year later, the treatments are on-going and life is still much different than it was a year ago. But it seems like angels have been taking care of them along the way.
Actually I could probably stand up here and randomly pick out faces and recount wilderness experiences that you have faced and shared with me. That’s one advantage of being your priest and hanging around for a long time: I watch you get thrown out into the wilderness and see satan tearing at you; but I also get to watch the angels wait on you and take care of you. Life throws all of us, from time to time, into the wilderness. We think it’s going to be the end of everything we love. And then something presents itself and a mysterious healing evolves. We start by feeling totally out of control. And then, over time, we experience God reaching out and putting his hands on the situation and molding into something good. We’re hit with things we cannot fix and then we see something way beyond us not only fixing it but making it good. We’re flustered by the horrible realization that things in this world are tenuous. And then we’re upheld by the realization that something eternal isn’t destroyed “ it even becomes more real to us.
After his baptism, Jesus is led by the spirit into the wilderness where he is tempted by satan and meets angels who wait on him and minister to him. His wilderness experience is perhaps more similar to ours than we may first think. Sometimes we think of Jesus more like Superman than the Incarnate Son of God. We may look at his time in the wilderness more as a place where he proves his metal by beating back the devil. It’s probably more of a time where Jesus experiences his Father proving himself to him than it is a time where Jesus proves himself to his Father. He enters the wilderness and is threatened yet finds the grace of his Father sufficient, superior to the adversary, stronger than the worldly forces. Here Jesus touches grace in such a way that he is able to carry grace forward. It’s probably important to remember that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness rather than him just going out there all by himself. The Spirit takes him there so that he can know grace more fully and be equipped for all he is to do in his ministry. The wilderness helps prepare him for the cross. Here Jesus meets the very same power that will sustain him in his last hours. I certainly don’t think this is the first time Jesus trusts his Father but here he plumbs the depth of trust.
The basic good news offered to us on the first Sunday of Lent is that whenever we are thrust into a wilderness experience, God’s grace is bigger than anything that threatens us. The world wins some of the little battles but ultimately God’s grace wins out. We are sustained in the wilderness. That doesn’t mean that everything turns out like we want it to. It means, in our weaker times, we find a power greater than ourselves. We learn how to suffer. We find humility. We learn to live with life as our plans break down. We see that our plan isn’t all that important, that the real meaning of life is found when our plan does break down. There we find a savior. We don’t even want to admit we need a savior but life eventually shows us we do and then leads us forward. We learn to follow grace as it is offered to us.
The first Sunday of Lent also invites us to engage the wilderness in some intentional ways. We don’t exactly know where this wilderness is that Jesus enters. It seems pretty clear that he is far removed from the safety of the city. At the time towns and cities had walls built around them for protection. Most anything outside the city walls was considered to be the wilderness. Sometimes life throws us deep into the wilderness and we are in a life or death sort of struggle. Lent offers us the opportunity to engage the wilderness in a little safer way. Just stepping a little ways outside our own walls for a while is helpful. Finding a way to reflect and look at things from a little different perspective helps us see things better. Just pausing for thirty minutes each day to reflect on what you did the day before and how it affected you can lead to remarkable new insights. What is it you are feeling? What do you want out of life? What is missing right now? What is going well? It’s actually kind of embarrassing how easily we get wrapped up within our little walls and don’t see things too clearly. Just getting outside those walls a little and looking back in may help us see some things better. It’s not a real hard thing to do but it does take a little effort.
Life inevitably throws us deep into the wilderness from time to time. But learning to get out into the wilderness a little bit at a time helps us learn to trust. Then when life falls apart and the wild beasts are going for our throats, we have something to fall back on. Lent is just starting. Take a little time each day and step outside your walls. Reflect. Write down some things you are seeing. Engage the wilderness in small ways each day. See what happens.
For the next six weeks we walk the pilgrim’s way of Lent. We will learn of the faithfulness of our Lord and Savior. It’s a time for us to increase our own faithfulness. God does all the heavy lifting in faith matters but the more we participate the more we see what God is doing. Enter the wilderness on your own and seek to grow. And remember when the wilderness overtakes you, God is there to carry you. Christ has gone before us in this life and awaits us wherever we go.