We are all on our way to someplace…Even when we are sitting still, the earth keeps spinning, time keeps passing, and our journey forward continues. If you are the active, adventurous type this concept may seem a little boring…Who really wants to sit around waiting for the earth to rotate in order to get someplace?
This morning I am inviting you to join me on a Lenten Pilgrimage…Over the next few weeks we are going to explore what it means to follow the way Christ went and what it means to allow God to lead us on our way. In many respects I believe that we begin our pilgrimage from a place in the wilderness…We may even be lost in this wilderness, seeking a way back to a place with true meaning. This theme of “The Wandering Way” calls us back to a time when the ancient Hebrews, freed from slavery in Egypt, are led to wander in the wilderness for forty years…Notice the word “led”…They did not choose to wander in the desert; they were led by God…What seemed to them as an unjust punishment was really a pilgrimage of self-discovery. Even though they didn’t realize it, they were guided on their way by God’s Holy Spirit. Ultimately, they found redemption and their way to the Promised Land.
Luke’s gospel very specifically says that Jesus, “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” He has just been baptized, his public ministry is about to begin, and the Spirit leads him on a pilgrimage of preparation in the wilderness. During those forty days Jesus is hungry, thirsty, and tired…Then, along comes the devil…He throws temptations at Jesus that actually don’t seem so bad…Turning stones into bread would not only satisfy Jesus’ hunger, but it would set the stage for a ministry that could satisfy hungry people across the world. Replacing Rome’s tyranny with Jesus as world ruler would certainly be an improvement…but at what price? Proving the absolute power of God by literally taking a leap of faith could change the world…But it’s not our job to test God.
Temptation is usually dressed up in something that makes it look appealing; it may even seem to be the right thing to do at the time. Maybe that’s part of the wandering way…trying to see thru the shiny cover into the substance. That’s why I believe that we are starting this journey wandering through a world that threatens to overwhelm us with distractions and noise…All the stuff that comes at us every day seeks to take our attention away from what’s really important in our lives. And the harder we try to stay on track, the more stuff gets thrown at us.
Somebody once said that the devil doesn’t go to work in bars or gangs or prisons…He doesn’t need to…The devil does his best work in the midst of church people. The devil spent a lot of time trying to tempt God’s Son in the wilderness…Smart money says that was a waste of time. But the devil had big ambitions and he might as well try to bring down the best man around. It’s the same today – the devil still has big ambitions and his best bet is to go after the folks that really have something to lose. The Wandering Way on which we find ourselves may be a scary place, but it can also lead us to a deeper understanding of who we are and whose we are.
The idea of “pilgrimage” is common among people who want to dig into their humanity and see into the depths of their soul…Pilgrimage is a time to examine ourselves and try to see what God sees in us. Wandering through the wilderness offers us the chance to encounter God in a very personal way and emerge with new trust in God.
As we wander, however, the wilderness experience hits us with:
- unemployment and financial disaster;
- catastrophic illness and painful recovery;
- addiction and challenging recovery;
- suspicion and the long road to trusting again;
- loss, grief, and learning to redefine “normal”
It’s not enough to simply identify the things that our personal wilderness contains…We must faithfully ask where we may have seen God leading us in this wilderness. When you look around at the circumstances you face, do you feel God’s faithfulness in the middle of it? Be honest. Do you really think that God would abandon you at the moment when you need God the most? Really?
Into these questions walks Jesus. Jesus rejects the temptations and distractions that are thrown at him in the wilderness…Instead he trusts God’s word alone. But, when we compare our wilderness to Jesus’, do we think that we are being tested beyond our ability to resist? Jesus was God after all – how can we hope to follow his example?
Therein lies the Good News…The one who was tempted by the devil is also the one who was crucified and resurrected…Through him God’s new life becomes available to us who certainly cannot, through our own resources, withstand the temptations and trials coming at us from every direction in our wilderness…That is the point – the one who was tempted and resisted is the same one who gives us the strength to survive…This is the Spirit that leads us out.
The Wandering Way is not a dead-end. Wandering is not being lost; it is seeking to be found. “Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring. It is in our wandering that we finally find our true selves and God. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.