Into the Wilderness

Mark 1:9-15

Before I begin my sermon today, I would like to spend some time talking about Lent.

What is Lent?

-Lent is the forty-day period before Easter

-It is a time to deepen your relationship with God

-It is based on the 40-days Jesus spent in the desert after he was baptized

-Also the 40 years the Israelites spent  wantering in the wilderness

This link between the forty days of Lent and the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness brings us to today’s text.

Today’s text introduces us the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is baptized and Jesus steps out of the Jordan River, his feet sinking down on the soft sand and the water dripping down his face and clothing. I wonder what he feels. I wonder if he thinks: “Okay what now?”

I wonder if his mind begins to scan over his infinitely long to do list.

A to-do list that included: chat with the local fishermen, heal the sick, change the world.

Yet, right at the moment that Jesus is thinking these things, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. To me, this is not a coincidence. Just as things are starting to possibly seem a bit overwhelming for Jesus, the Spirit drives Jesus to the wilderness.

The wilderness is an in-between place that is set apart from the rest of his life where Jesus might have some clarity and peace. It is a place where he does not yet have to work on his to-do list and where a place where he can connect to the Holy One.

What I want to know is: How do we find a place like that?

It seems like in today’s day and age, carving out a space of peace and tranquility and clarity might just be an impossible task.

Where do we even start?

I love the way that theologian, Wendy Farley, answers this question.

Farley notes that we are busy people and it might not be possible for us to rest from every part of our lives. So she suggests that we might think of ourselves as a house in which different things are going on in different rooms at the same time. In the kitchen, we might be working away, banging pots, cooking, washing dishes, answering the phone and writing checks. We are hard at work because there is a lot to do. In the kitchen, we are distracted from our confusion but sometimes at night in the bedroom, when everyone is asleep, we have the chance to feel the heartache that dogs us throughout the day. In the living room and the dining room, we meet with people, seek their advice, their comfort, feed them and feed ourselves. We consider where we are and what we should do, both practically and spiritually.

These things are going on and many more besides. Yet, Farley reminds us of another room in our house that we rarely visit. In a small corner of our house is a nook, a small sun room where we can be alone. She encourages us tofind our way there as often as we can, or, better, to send some part of ourselves to stay, while other parts of us are “busy with many things”.

In Farley’s words, quote,

“While darkness storms around us, this part of ourselves curls up like Jesus in the boat and goes to sleep, as safe in the fiercest storm as we were when we were held to our mother’s breast. In this room, deeper within us than choice or decision, we find the courage to trust. In one sense, we do nothing at all. We rest, we sleep, we stop fretting about what will be or what was or what we should do. In another sense, we exercise the power of our spirit to the fullest extent possible because it is only when we do so that we find it possible to rest in [stillness]. In this room we are more passive and still than we are [sleeping], and [yet] we are more energized than we are in all of our busyness. We are like Jesus asleep in the boat, both deep in rest and at the same time filled with power.

Finding this room does not mean we are not at the same time hard at work in the kitchen, figuring things out in the living room, crying out our grief and rage in our beds. But when we find this room we release a perfume of peace that circulates throughout the house.”

I love this imagery of a room – this nook – where we can visit, where can stay and find the sustenance we need to get through the day.

Do you have a space like that in your life?

Do you have a nook or small, sun room that all or part of you can go to when the seas of life get rough?

It seems to me that this is why the Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness so that Jesus could spend time away, time in the sunny nook, filling up peace and love and strength for the journey.

Because God knew he needed it.

Actually, more precisely for this passage, the Spirit knew he needed it.

Now, the Scripture goes on to tell us that Jesus encountered temptation and Satan and wild beast. We don’t know when in the forty days that Jesus encountered these things but I imagine that when all these things were going on for Jesus that it was his ability to find that sunny nook, to rest in God, that gave him the sustenance and clarity to navigate these trying moments.

And finding this nook, finding this time and space away, is not something Jesus does once but over and over again.

In the Gospel of Mark, we read that, after Jesus comes out of the wilderness, he heals a man plagued by a demon; he heals Peter’s mother-in-law who is very ill …. And then, what does he do? Jesus presumably goes to sleep and then, the Gospel says:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

In other words, Jesus went out and found that sacred space once again.

Because he needed it. Just like we do.

And so I wonder, how do we create this space in our own lives?

I think creating this space has to do not only with connecting with God but also connecting with God’s love. God’s love swirls and flows like water, between us, among us and throughout all of creation. Yet, it so hard to take in. It is hard to sit and really let ourselves feel that, to have that. And, sometimes, it is only when we are deprived of the ability of doing anything at all, that we can truly feel the depth of Christ’s love for us.

Spending time in this sacred space is a way for us to rest in the sustaining river of God’s love. Because it is from this rest, from this river, that all our life and good works flow.

Lent invites us to find our footing in this river, to find that sunny nook in our house, to find that space where we can connect to the Holy One who sustains us.

So what might we do in order to nurture this connection? In order to know that we are loved by Christ in this incredible and radical way? In order to rest in the peace and power of God?

Perhaps for some of us, this might look like journaling, or sitting in front of a fire, or drinking a cup of tea in quiet each morning. It could look like visiting the Mercy Center by the Sea, or setting up a sacred space where we live. It could look like have regular meditative walks or getting up early to pray.

Whatever practice we choose, the purpose is for us to cultivate a space where we can find ourselves connected, sustained, rested and energized.

I invite you each to choose a practice this Lent. After all, Lent is 40 days and it only takes 40 days to form a habit.

This is a call for us not only to think about as individuals but also as a church. As a community, how do we connect to that Center which sustains? How do we cultivate places of stillness and power? And, in turn, how do those practice energize and feed all that we do and live and embody?

My friends, our Lenten invitation is this. In the words of a hymn, our invitation is to: Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed: clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be. Amen.

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