“The wilderness is a dangerous place. You only go there if you have to.”
This is one of the key phrases that storytellers use in the Godly Play program. It is an introductory line to the many stories of the people of God who find themselves in the wilderness…Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, and Jesus all go out into the wilderness.
As I was thinking about our gospel lesson from Mark today, the question that I kept wrestling with was how is it that in one moment God declares that Jesus is the Son with whom God is well pleased, and in the next, the Holy Spirit pushes/forces/drives Jesus out into the wilderness? How does one go from a moment of joy to a moment of struggle in an instance?
In a lot of ways, the story of Jesus’ baptism and wilderness wandering is a metaphor for our own lives. How often have you experienced moments of great joy or happiness, only to be faced with challenge or moments of isolation shortly after?
I’ve seen it at the hospital. A new mother brings her long expected baby into the world, and within minutes, the baby is on the way to the children’s hospital in Portland because they have a heart problem. Joy and struggle in an instance.
I’ve heard stories of couples getting engaged, and then within a few days, one of their parents dies unexpectedly. Joy and struggle in a moment.
Of course, there are other stories as well that illustrate this point. And this is the life we live. We are the beloved children of God, but that doesn’t exempt us from the challenges or isolation we may feel in moments of struggle...our own wilderness wanderings.
What happened to Jesus at his baptism and subsequent wilderness wanderings was disruptive. It is this event that starts his ministry according to Mark. Disruptive isn’t always a bad thing...disruption can change us, motivate us, and force us into a new way of engaging with each other and our community. Disruption isn’t always easy or pleasant, but if we are open to the invitation that comes with it, our lives can be transformed.
Our gospel story from Mark this morning--Jesus’ baptism and wanderings-- serves as a model of discipleship. We too are God’s beloved children, and when the Spirit engages us, we are changed and pushed out into the world. Being a disciple isn’t about being safe and comfortable, it’s about being pushed into the world—the wilderness if you will—to face the challenges of life, while at the same time, doing our part in bringing about the Kingdom of God. For Jesus, he has to go into the wilderness in order to return to the ‘civilized’ world to do his ministry.
The season of Lent is about our wilderness journey. It too is 40 days. During this journey we will have to make decisions, face temptations, and from time to time, we’ll encounter wild beasts. But we won’t be alone. Like Jesus, we will be surrounded by all the company of heaven. And hopefully, when we return from the wilderness, we will be ready to go back into the world to do our ministry, knowing that we are God’s beloved.
Part of my Lenten practice this year is to spend time with new prayers and poems about our relationship with God. I want to share one of these with you as we begin our wandering in the wilderness:
God of hope, help us who struggle in our daily work.
When we lose our purpose,
When we bow to hatred,
When we despair of bliss,
When we take offense at others,
When we compromise our values,
When we cherish regrets,
When we surrender to despair,
renew our hope in you.
Hold us, and all people, in your loving care,
and may we be hope for others.
(adapted from Daily Prayer for all Seasons)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.