The First Sunday in Lent

“Into the Wilderness”

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

Mark tells us this morning of the heavens being torn apart at Jesus’ baptism “and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Next sentence… “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

The other Gospel accounts of Jesus in the wilderness have much more detail and description. Mark does not mince words. He gets right to it without taking a breath and in many ways this is how wilderness places come about. We don’t get a calendar alert a month in advance: “season of wilderness” March 15, 2020.  Wilderness places tend to come out of the blue.

We are the beloved one moment and the next moment we are thrust into the wilderness place.

Reading Mark’s account, I get this baptismal image of a river, green grass along the banks, light flooding the scene, little chickadees chirping, butterflies passing by, a peaceful, uplifting moment then all of the sudden, we are kicked into this dark, lenten foreboding barren land with a dark red sky and black crows cawing overhead.

And as insane as it sounds being in this dark, barren, wilderness place is what is so important, so sacred, so life changing about Lent. Lent is a season when we get to dig into these wilderness places. It is a season in our church calendar when we allow ourselves to gaze at and walk through and spend time sitting in the wilderness…  which is especially important in our era and culture that actively tries to avoid, erase, ignore, and deny suffering.

We know that no matter how much we try to deny, avoid or erase it, suffering is still a part of life. Wilderness is still a part of life. Covid is now still a part of life. And many of us are talking now about “getting back to normal,” getting back to the “before times.” But… I wonder do we really want to just “get back to normal”? Was there wilderness in your life before covid hit that you might actually not want to “get back to?”

There was an incredible documentary made before covid hit that epitomizes our kids’ culture called “race to nowhere.” It was about how kids were constantly engaged in activities before and after school, expectations and pressure to perform was increasing so rapidly that kids were experiencing higher and higher rates of depression and anxiety. Is that the normal we want to “get back to”?

And whether it was a fast paced, packed life or unhealthy behaviors you hid from the world or broken relationships you wanted to repair… Many of us had wilderness places in our lives before covid kicked us into quarantine. So as the vaccines come out and covid rates decrease, are we really sure we want “get back to that normal”?

It is true that quarantine has been a wilderness place for all of us in different ways and we certainly want to emerge from it, but the question today is how do we want to emerge? Because let’s face it, even in quarantine we can find ways to escape the wilderness places in our lives. We can scroll, drink, eat, or rush our way over the wilderness places in our lives.  And emerge from this pandemic exactly as we were before it ever arrived.

But Lent asks something different of us. Lent asks us not to avoid or ignore the wilderness. Lent asks us to lean into the wilderness. Lent asks that we sit in the dark places of our lives and take a long hard look. And I know this might seem depressing or scary. I know this is something we want to avoid. But here’s the thing… Jesus does not want us to avoid the darkness in our lives.  Jesus came into the bright shiny baptismal places in our lives, but he also came into the dark foreboding lenten places in our lives.

Jesus came down from heaven to experience life as fully God and fully human. Jesus came down to experience all that comes with life. He came to experience the breathtaking joy of a mother and father at our birth, the resilience and courage of a parents’ love, the expectation that comes with growing up, the love and fellowship of dear friends, the purpose and meaning of living out our call. Jesus also came to experience the wilderness places of life… the suffering in life. Jesus came to experience physical pain, to experience the pain of abandonment, anger, and despair, to experience the need for sleep, to experience hunger, interpersonal conflict, loneliness, and being misunderstood. Jesus came to experience the temptation for power and control when he was at his weakest. Jesus came to live life as fully God and fully human and all the goodness and suffering that comes with life.

Jesus does not want us to avoid the hard places in our lives. And when we have Jesus in our lives, we do not need to run away from the pain of our wilderness places because Jesus went before us to these places. Jesus is already there in your darkness. Jesus is with you to take your hand and walk with you into that dark, barren, foreboding land. Jesus is with you to walk into those the places you want to avoid.

And not only that. And Jesus is not just “with you” in the wilderness. Jesus’ presence in the wilderness with us does not just make us less alone, less scared, more capable of facing our wilderness.  Jesus’ presence in the wilderness actually restores, heals, and redeems the wilderness places in our lives.

Peter tells us in his letter this morning. “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” Jesus, fully God, fully human, came to suffer once for all. Jesus suffered once and for all to free us from suffering, to heal these wounds we want to avoid, to find new patterns of life that do not stress out our kids, to change unhealthy behavior, to mend broken relationships. Jesus came to be with us in the wilderness and to redeem and restore it.

One of my favorite verses this year has been Galatians 5:1 “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

You no longer have to avoid those wilderness places in your life. You no longer have to be bound and held down by unhealthy patterns and ways of living. Jesus came to live all of life, to walk with you into those scary places and to set you free from them, to set you free from anything that is tying you down or holding you back from living life to the fullest.

Even in the midst of quarantine it is possible to avoid our wilderness places, but in this season of Lent  take Jesus’ hand and walk further into the wilderness places of your life. Now more than ever, take this Lent 2021 to really examine your life. Take stock of your behaviors, your relationships, your lifestyle. Ask Jesus to help you see the wilderness places in your life. Ask Jesus to show you the places that need healing. Then go boldly and without fear into those places knowing that Jesus is by your side and ask Jesus for his healing, his redemption and restoration, and then listen and follow where Jesus leads you.

You can say this simple prayer:

Jesus where do I need your restoration?

Please Jesus, restore me.

This Lent, let’s actually not try to get back to normal. Let’s thrust ourselves into the wilderness holding Jesus’ hand and let’s not get our lives back to normal, let’s get our lives to the restoration that comes with living life fully in God’s hands.