Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lent 1 Bread in the wilderness

When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open,the Spirit descended like a dove,
and the voice of God cried out,
“You are my son the beloved – with you I am well pleased”
An amazing moment...An affirmation of his calling, in preparation for all that was to come.
A snap shot, too, of the life of the Trinity...Father, Son and Spirit, Love, Beloved and Lover...Jesus dripping from the water, immersed in heavenly Love and overflowing with the Holy Spirit.
A moment to treasure.
When I am baptising, I often use this reading and point out to the congregation that this is the first time Jesus appears on the scene in Mark’s gospel...He has DONE nothing extraordinary and yet, God looks at him and loves him because of who he is.
And I remind them that it is exactly the same for us.
There is nothing in the world that we can do to make God love us – and more or any less. God loves us because of who GOD is...and that is the best beginning that any of us could have.

For Jesus though, that moment of affirmation is short-lived.
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness”
That gentle dove transformed into an irresistible force, sending Jesus out beyond the bounds of civilisation, into the most hostile landscape imaginable.
Sunbeams scorching all the day, chilly dewdrops nightly shed
Not an inviting prospect
Nobody goes into the wilderness unless they have to.
You can die there, or, almost worse, you can lose yourself, your sense of who you are...
So why does the Spirit drive Jesus to spend time there, in that place where everything is stripped away, where the voice of affirmation gives way to the whispers of doubt?

Mark gives us none of the temptation stories we find elsewhere – just that brief summary
He was tempted by Satan...
But in those 5 words we find hope for our own wilderness times....for the place is surely not unfamiliar to us.
We may not know how we arrive there but inevitably at some point in our lives we will find ourselves there, - perhaps repeatedly.
And by God's grace we will not just survive but grow in those experiences.
You see, the wilderness is a place where everything external is stripped away, where we have nothing but ourselves and God rely on, where we have to confront the reality of who we are – and come to terms with it.
That won't be an easy process....but we know that in our wilderness we are not alone...Jesus has been here, as he has been through every other experience of human life.

Our collect today emphasises that it was here that Jesus was tempted, as we are...and of course that matters hugely.
But we need to reflect too on the pattern of moving from spiritual highs, from the joyous security of knowing ourselves beloved of God, to the times of isolation, the times when we feel that we have been DESERT ed...cast into the desert.
Perhaps if we remember that Jesus has been HERE before us too, it may give us strength to survive our own times of isolation, confusion and doubt.
Jesus was in training, whether he knew it or training for the time when, though he was drawing all people to himself he would cry out “Eloi, eloi lama sabacthani”...believing himself to be abandoned by God.
And his time of trial sets a pattern for our own...for wherever we walk in the wilderness, it will not be untrodden ground for us.
Jesus has been here first......has explored the depths of his being....perhaps has even wondered, for an instant, if the Love he experienced at the Jordan was but a transient illusion...
but Jesus has kept faith with himself, and in so doing has kept faith with his heavenly Father.
And so, even as he faced temptation, help was at hand
Angels ministered to him”
There will always be wilderness experiences...and we will not always be able to embrace them....for it's human to prefer the way of green pastures and still waters.
But during Lent we can model wilderness, can choose to strip away distractions, choose to go deep into ourselves to explore who we are, and who God is in our lives.
And if we dare that inner journey, then we will find that God is the one who makes the desert blossom like the rose, that it is in the wilderness that we find grace, and the heavenly manna that will feed us til we are safely home.

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