The First Sunday in Lent 2012
Let us Pray – Lord God, Creator and Maker of us all, speak in the calming of our minds and in the longings of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.
“And immediately God’s Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. He was there for forty days while Satan tested him. And wild beasts were all about him, but angels took care of him.” (Mark 1:12)
What are we to make of this? We who pray each day, as Jesus taught us, “lead us not into temptation“? We who are used to such soft language about the Holy Spirit – What are we to make of the fact that the Spirit ‘drove’ Jesus into wilderness? That the Spirit compelled Jesus to go – alone – to where the wild beasts prowled and where the forces of evil tested his every resolve and purpose? Don’t forget that this “driving into the wilderness” comes just moments behind another event involving the same Spirit – a high moment where, during the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit has descended upon him like a dove – and God has spoken directly to Jesus and said: “You are my own dear son, with whom I am well pleased.” It really catches my attention that after that high moment of the Spirit, that moment of approval – of affirmation from God above – that we find another dimension of Spirit, a dimension that seems less satisfying or, perhaps, more challenging. Think of it for a minute: The Spirit descends with blessings – and the same Spirit drives the one blessed out into the wilderness -into the barren place – the dangerous place and allows him to be tested – to be tempted – to be placed at risk.
I suspect that a lot of us divide the world of the Spirit: – that we see the high moments, the good moments, as God given, God filled, moments like that at Christ’s baptism or like that of the transfiguration – and that we see the wilderness experiences, those time when we are alone, those times we are surrounded by dangers and assaulted by the temptation to take the easy way out – as moments that are bad, as moments which are not God given or God filled. Today’s gospel reading reminds us that such a division is unwarranted – that wilderness experience is, or can be, just as much a part of God’s plan for our lives as other, more obviously blessed experiences.
In our lives we all experience time of Wilderness – aloneness, temptation, feeling abandoned by life and perhaps by God. This may be caused by sickness, unemployment, bereavement. No doubt you will all have heard about the murder of Rev’d John Suddards the other week in Thornbury. Before he moved to Glouscestershire John was my parents-in-law vicar for 10 years and we had lots of mutual friends in the clergy. I met one of them last Sunday who was John’s training incumbent when John was a curate in Essex and you could see that he felt like he had lost a child. That death has caused many people I know well to travel into the wilderness this lent.
But the challenge of today’s gospel is for us to remember that no matter how hard the wilderness seems that God is not absent. It is a place yes, where we can be tested – but it is also a place where we can grow into the maturity that we require so that we can indeed face the world, in both good times and in bad, and do there those things there that God would have us do. Jesus matures in the wilderness. He listens to his inner voice, he connects the blessings of the past with his need to rely upon God and God alone for the day at hand and for the days to come He finally understands who God has called him to be and what it requires of him. Only when Jesus has gone through all this – then he is able to move back out into the world and be fully ready to serve. In the loneliness of the wilderness Jesus discovers in his own experience that he is not really alone – that God goes with him – that the angels care for him – with the aid of God’s word, he can survive – and in fact prosper – no matter what the situation.
The reality is that we, like Jesus, are tested whenever we try to truly serve God or simply to follow God. Despite appearances to the contrary, when the testing comes, it is a blessing if we let it be so, if we let the angels minister to us – as they ministered to Jesus (never forgetting that we may entertain Angels unawares in many areas of our life), if we hold onto the faith that we profess and exercise it in the circumstances that come to us, as did he.
Let us close in Prayer:
Lord God, there are many among us who face barren times – wilderness times in their lives. Help us to minister your loving presence to them in those times so that they may come through the wilderness and enter the promised land. Help us to bring food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless, courage to those who faint, and hope to those who are tempted to despair. And may they do the same for us. We ask these things through Jesus, our Saviour, and our Lord. Amen.