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Learning to Trust God in the Wilderness: Lent I

REV. JODI L. BARON – February 22, 2015 – Epiphany 5, Year B: Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15

Last week, the disciples left the mountain, where they had, together, just witnessed the Lord transformed before their eyes and Moses & Elijah with him. Jesus ordered them to keep quiet about what they had just seen, so they did, all-the-while questioning to themselves, what this rising from the dead could mean? And that is the question we were led into Ash Wednesday with where we were taught from Matthew’s gospel about the private nature of acts of piety and the need to keep joy while doing them.

So what does rising from the dead look like for us today? We often refer to that episode in the story of Jesus as “the resurrection” where life comes from the places we thought were done, dead, gone forever. And then it happens, a shoot of grass pops through concrete, new trees sprout forth from the ashes of a forest fire, vegetation grows from the death of a seed. There is a strange beauty in death when we look at it through the light of resurrection.

Even though we have the benefit of knowing where this story goes, how Jesus conquers death, our tradition offers us an annual time of reflection to stay in the moment for a little bit longer. To stay with that question on our hearts for a few more weeks.

To truly understand resurrection, we have to go through death.

A few weeks ago, when the Parish House Garage burned down, I sat at home the following day with the girls and tried to get my head around what happened. But I couldn’t stop standing at the dining room window and looking out at the destruction. The death of this thing that we thought meant nothing.

It was a garage. It held “stuff” that we didn’t need everyday, or maybe ever.

It was practical. It stored our car out of the elements. It held our sleds in place from the wind. It hung our bikes until the snow melts.

At some point during that day, I did what I do when I can’t do what I feel like I need to do.

I grabbed my camera and went to the source of all this that we were going through.

I looked into the face of all those ashes, all that darkness, all of that danger that used to hold our things that brought us joy, and I took pictures of it.

Close up, far away, straight on and from above.

I played with the filters and cropped out all the fluff.

I prayed for God to show me the story of what we just went through, because I couldn’t seem to talk about it.

In a way, I walked through my own kind of Ash Wednesday and season of Lent.

After I took those pictures, I came inside and closed the curtains and did the dishes.

I untangled a few skeins of yarn and organized my toothbrush drawer. I did things that created space in my heart to sense God’s peace, God’s embrace, and to do something that would make my home a place of refuge from the chaos outside, even if that chaos was in my backyard.

I don’t often think of those daily things, those completely ordinary things that just keep the house moving, or so it feels, as spiritual practices. But a long time ago I was invited to do just that. To look at those things that make the world a little better for my family as acts of prayer, as practices that cultivate peace and concord among us.

You see, I think when things like this happen, big things that are WAY out of our control, we are faced with a multitude of choices of how to respond or react.

In those moments, I think, is when all that work of the daily habits we cultivate come to pay off and bring us peace in the midst of chaos.

They give us perspective and pause for reflection on the Big Picture.

Truth is, the fire we went through could’ve been a lot worse.

Truth is, we have more to be grateful for than we do to be sad about.

Truth is, we have perspective.

And perspective seems to be something our world needs a lot of these days.

Perspective is one of those things that is really difficult to maintain in the present. It’s often best understood looking back. To have perspective in the present, it seems to me, requires a bit of trust on the part of the notion that there is actually a big picture to start with.

To be able to recognize that there is a plan for your life and that it is good requires you to be attentive to the embrace of God already on your life.

And it’s one thing to “know” it and quite another to live like you believe it.

Confession time: Secret, I keep thinking that if I just turn off the news, stop reading the headlines, that maybe it will all just go away. Like when I closed the curtains in my dining room.

But I can’t. You can’t. We can’t. Because, you see, all this violence in our world, in our cities…it seems to be collective violence and terror.

It’s not just one person wreaking havoc on the world, it’s many people.

So I wonder, if violence and terror can be collective, why can’t brotherhood and peace?

My friends, the antidote to these headlines of extreme violence and terror isn’t more violence or fear or hyper-protectiveness. Our faith teaches us that the collective violence & terror require collective discipleship, engaged christianity, collective mindfulness to counter it.

I like to think of our spiritual practices as Christians in terms of engaged Christianity.

Mindful living.

They aren’t there to provide a mechanism to escape but rather engage.

So when our faith suggests that we can dare to have hope amidst the news of ISIS and domestic violence, addiction, child abuse, famine, war, and any other evil you can think of, he is inviting us to take up the practices Jesus is showing us through this 40 day season of Lent.

In this morning’s Gospel, we see Jesus have an intense spiritual experience that no one else present got to know about. And then he went to the wilderness. A place notorious for it’s danger from the elements and wild creatures waiting to devour us. But the lesson we learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is not a posture of fear and disengagement, but one of deep and profound Trust in God’s plan, in God’s voice. By trusting God Jesus was able to live with the wild things and not be afraid of their power to hurt and maim him. Jesus took that time to live in God’s embrace.

Instead he was able to see God in the woods and feel his care by the angels waiting on him, serving him. That was an important time for his because he learned, intensely, how to trust God. What God’s voice sounded like. What God’s big plan was and maybe even what the next right thing was for Jesus to do. He was practicing things that filled him with God’s presence so that he could empty that presence into the world around him. That’s why he continually had to return to the quiet places, the practices of prayer and fasting, to give him God’s strength to pour himself out for the good of others.

So maybe this Lent, we can adopt Engaged Christianity. Take seriously what discipleship of Jesus really means, costs, and can do in the everyday messes of life.

Maybe we can, this Lent, search out ways we can walk through our day with our eyes and hearts wide open, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the invitation is pain, each sorrow, each tragedy, each heart-break, to experience the Holy One.

That maybe our job as Christians, indeed humans, isn’t to fix all these broken things, that pretty much everyone has said from the beginning won’t be fixed, but to learn how to be better humans through them.

This community, called the Body of Christ, is here to be hope in the world. We are here to show the world God’s hands and feet. And when our community knows the practice of Peace and Brotherhood then we can become the refuge for many others who come to us and profit from the practice of peace and brotherhood.

Lent is about turning inward for a time and listening to the stories of our faith, to hear how God has been present with pain and suffering throughout the ages. It’s about gaining faith to see how God’s incarnation through his son Jesus was the perfect plan.

On Wednesday the Church received her Invitation, once again, to observe a Holy Lent. Lent is about gaining that “big picture perspective”. It’s the time when we, as Christians, scale back on some things we’ve become a little indulgent with, lost our perspective on their place in the scheme of things, and learn how to trust God like Jesus did in the wilderness.

And that “thing” is different for each of us.

Lent is about picking up practices that fill you with God’s presence and teach you how to put one foot in front of the other until pretty soon, you’re walking.

Lent is about de-cluttering your mind so that you can hear God’s voice tell you, “You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

At Grace we have lots of things to take note of to help you feel equipped to cultivate such practices in your life so you can create the space in your hearts to hear and receive God’s delight in you. We offer Eucharist four times throughout the week.

Maybe committing to finding a Eucharist service to go to once more during the week can be your “thing.”

If getting out one more time isn’t possible for you, maybe committing to doing Morning Prayer every day during Lent can be your “thing”.

If doing something every day isn’t possible, maybe cutting something out, like sweets, t.v. or talking negative, can be your “thing”.

If cutting something out feels too heavy, maybe picking up a practice that will cultivate gratitude, like writing a thank you note everyday can be your “thing”.

The point isn’t to punish yourself, it’s to free yourself so you can connect more authentically with yourself, God, and other humans in your life.

And you can try different things throughout the season.

The point is to do these things or this thing so you can engage this faith you’ve been entrusted with more whole-heartedly and live into what God is molding you to become.

May this time not be wasted.

Spend this time to engage your world and ask God to reveal how you can be an agent of transformation, or resurrection.

Spend time practicing peace and brotherhood.

Welcome the invitation to be a place of refuge for the pain and suffering in the world.

We can’t fix or even stop the pain and suffering that happens in the world.

But we can point our brothers and sisters experiencing it to a God that is in it with them, holding them, and us, as he whispers… “You are my child, with you I am well pleased.”

Amen.