Into the Wilderness We Go
(Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/cRr5ogNRDYg)
1Jesus, 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. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Earlier this week we set out on our Lenten journey of reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and the sin that drove him to the cross. In six weeks we will retell the story of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. It is a tragic story of love, of God’s deep for us in spite of our sin. God loves us so much that He was willing to die for us. Jesus didn’t deserve to die. Jesus didn’t want to die. But Jesus understood he had to die. Jesus understood how broken our world is and how much we need God to help us. In fact, Jesus understands a lot of things about our world. He understands that in many ways Satan has a stronghold in this world. The ways of sin and evil are strong in this world and we need the love of God to protect us from them. But we will reflect more on the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice as we get nearer to Easter. The journey has just begun and our readings assigned for this week have us reflect on what it is we’re journeying into—the wilderness.
Our Lenten journey is a journey into the wilderness…into an unknown place filled with fear and anxiety and uncertainty. We don’t know what we might reveal in ourselves when we do the hard work of acknowledging our sins and asking God for forgiveness. We don’t know what effect Jesus’ sacrifice will have on our lives when we explore the nature of it. Yes, it was one man who died. Many people throughout the world die every day, every hour, every minute, and every second! What’s the big deal about one man dying that we’re still talking about it nearly 2000 years ago?! Perhaps it is the sheer injustice of Jesus’ death that fixates us. Perhaps it is because of the power of his words and actions and how they were taken away from us so quickly that infuriates us and leaves us forever tormented in wondering what could have been said or done if given more time. Perhaps it is what Jesus revealed about us and God that speaks truer to us than any other words. We know God better because of Jesus and we’re torn between being thankful for what he gave and being greedy for more. We’re content and yet unsatisfied with Jesus. These are just a few of the things that are revealed as we forage through the wilderness of this season.
Because we are heading out into a wilderness, I thought it might be handy to equip us with some good tips for survival. The website, www.theclymb.com, gives 10 useful tips for surviving in the wilderness that I think might be helpful in lifting up. There’s no priority of one tip over the other…they’re all pretty useful! So, if you ever find yourself unexpectedly in the wilderness, first remember that communication is key. The wilderness doesn’t just descend upon you…you started out in civilization before you went into the wilderness. Take advantage of civilization and communicate. Always remember to stay as calm and collected as possible. You are your worst enemy in the wilderness. If you want to get out and constantly work towards that goal, you will likely reach it. Next, keep an inventory of everything you have no matter how small or trivial it may seem. Indeed, it is often the small and trivial things that find a way of being the most useful. Then there are the basic things you must always keep in mind. You need shelter. You need water. You need food. You need fire. We’ve needed these things since the beginning so don’t think you’re exempt just because you’re in an unexpected situation. Though not as basic for survival, it is always handy to have a tool of some sort to help meet the basic needs, possibly a pocket knife or multi-tool. Even though you’re trying to survive in the wilderness, you’re also trying to get out of the wilderness. You need to come up with a way to get the attention of others, whether through smoke signals, stones, or shiny objects. Finally, orient yourself with your surroundings and build an exit path accordingly. Don’t just wander around but navigate yourself out of the wilderness.
Keep in mind there are different types of wildernesses in this world. There are geographical wildernesses like forests and deserts and prairies and tundra and oceans. Take these physical wildernesses a step further. How about the wilderness associated with a new home? A new job? New family members? New health diagnoses? New marriage situation? The physical changes of each of these situations are just as disorienting and stressful as being deep in the woods or wandering desert. What about mental wildernesses? Don’t the mental demands of a new class or a new job feel akin to a wilderness? How about spiritual wildernesses? Communicating with those of a different faith or belief can be just as foreign and alienating as any physical wilderness. So there are many types of wildernesses in this world and like it or not we all find ourselves in at least one wilderness in our lives. If we knew what every second of every day consisted of for us, would we be living life or simply going through the motions? Well, we’d be going through the motions of course. In a sense, all of life is one big wilderness. We’re all traveling through the wildernesses of our lives. Our survival in these wildernesses depends on tips like the ones I just mentioned.
In our readings, we learned even more tips for survival in this wilderness we call life. God spoke to the newly freed slaves of Israel in our passage from Deuteronomy and advised them not to forget their exodus. He told them to gather the first fruits of the labor and offer them to Him in gratitude. They are to say, “So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord have given me.” God blessed the Israelites with freedom and God expected them to show gratitude for their blessing. How about us? Does God bless you and me? Of course He does…abundantly! We, too, are to show God our deep gratitude and appreciation for all that He does for us each and every day of our lives. We need God and God’s mighty ways to guide and protect us in this world. Showing gratitude is a small but important gesture and helps keep a loving relationship alive with God. A loving relationship with God is a true blessing. Just ask the psalmist! We heard in today’s psalm, “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling-place, no evil will befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.” To honor God and to show God our gratitude comes back to us tenfold as David sings. These words of advice are truly a blessing!
Even Jesus found himself in the wilderness and confronted by the one who thrives in the wilderness, Satan himself. The wilderness is a place of uncertainty, a perfect breeding ground for fear and anxiety. Satan loves fear and anxiety. Satan loves to “bless” us with fear and anxiety! And Satan tried to instill fear and anxiety in Jesus. But Jesus clung to his righteousness. Jesus wasn’t persuaded to give in to fear and anxiety and boldly defied Satan’s temptations. Jesus cried out, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!” Again, we are advised to carry God’s righteousness through the wildernesses of our lives. Satan and his powers of fear and doubt whither before God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness saves and protects us in the wilderness.
As we go forth on our Lenten journey, let us use the words of advice we receive in Scripture and other sources. We all travel through one type or another of wilderness. God doesn’t want us to succumb to the wildernesses. God advises us. God strengthens us. God upholds us. Let us not give in to the fear and doubt that accompany the uncertainty of wildernesses. Let us be fearless…into the wilderness we go!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.