The wilderness can take many shapes. Maybe it’s the challenges of home, family and work. Or perhaps it’s illness, be it physical or mental, our own or those we love.
Or perhaps it’s the wilderness that arrived for people in Alabama, with the loss of home and life from recent storms that like so many others, have been made more extreme by climate change.
Or there’s the wilderness being faced by the people of Western Congo as they fight not only the Ebola outbreak that began in August, but the violence that has interrupted the work of healthcare folks who have otherwise successfully beaten back previous Ebola outbreaks.
The wilderness, in these and so many other forms, can bow our shoulders and foil, get in the way of our efforts to practice joy in life.
So it might seem counterintuitive to spend the forty days of Lent contemplating the wilderness. Won’t focusing on the broken things of the world and our lives make them seem worse and just make us sad?
Yet the truth is that facing reality won’t make things worse, and when we avoid thinking about and dealing with these things we run the risk of them cropping up in other ways – we find ourselves eating too much, drinking too much, binge watching Netflix, getting ourselves lost in social media.
Instead, we need, with God’s help in Christ to head for the deeper places. We need, like the Israelites we heard discussed in our first lesson, to put God first, remembering that God has been and will always be faithful, whether we can see it or not. And putting God first, in our thoughts and words and deeds makes it harder to get lost in the weeds of personal and worldly struggles.
Most of all, we want to lift our eyes and hearts to face the reality of the wilderness in which we journey because when we do, we will find that Jesus is right here in the wilderness with us. Jesus became human himself and journeyed in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, and then at what should have been his weakest moment as God-also-human; Jesus remained firm in the face of Satan’s temptations. And then continued his earthly journey all the way to the cross, suffering and dying so that we, too, might have the gift of Jesus’ strength to be poured into our lives and journeys, all the way unto eternity.
Jesus is the Rock upon which we are invited to build our lives; the Source of all grace and forgiveness and strength needed t make this possible. This is what we are invited to mediate upon through this Lenten journey.
And more; God gives us the gift of community.
Though it can be messy and sometimes frustrating, it is through community that God in Christ offers particular gifts for strengthening and helping us on the journey of life - we see this in amazing community support groups such as AA and Alanon. We see this in communities such as Redeemer, where, over time, as we get to know each other, we share more than just “Hi, h=ow are you? Fine.” We share the struggles and the triumphs, the temptations and the loss; all of this grounded in God’s word – the same word Jesus used to refute the temptations of Satan.
And amazingly as we share ever more boldly and deeply of our struggles we find that God in Christ is transforming and resurrecting us personally and collectively, individually and communally. Our struggles while we walk this earth may never be done, but we will find ourselves being changed by the grace of God that makes it possible to once again practice joy, even as we labor and struggle on.
For Christ has and always will be faithfully journeying here with us in the wilderness. Amen.