Sermon for Lent I, Year B

Based on Mk. 1:9-15

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

"Wilderness Journeys"

We are now in the season of Lent. The season of focussing on our Lord's suffering and death on the cross. A time when we discover what Christ's suffering and death have accomplished for us; how this has an impact on our lives today. A time for us to consider the deep riches and mystery of our salvation.

As we begin our Lenten journey this year, Mark sets the stage for us by taking us out into the wilderness; out to the Jordan, where John baptizes Jesus. Of course, Jesus didn't need to be baptized because he was without sin. But he gets baptized anyway to show everyone that he is in solidarity with us. He shares our common humanity.

Notice that "immediately" after the voice from heaven speaks to him, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. Immediately after God confirms his identity, he is driven out into the wilderness forty days to be tempted by Satan.

It is remarkable how many of God's prophets have come to us after spending time in the wilderness. Moses spent forty years as a shepherd in the Sinai. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The Apostle Paul spent fourteen years in Arabia, Tarsus and points in between. John the Baptizer likely spent a significant portion of his ministry in the wilderness. For all of them, it seems to have been a testing time, of maturing in their faith, of being still and knowing the Lord is God.

The wilderness can be a rather desolate, foreboding, scary place ~ especially if you've never been there before and don't know much about it or how to survive in it. It is a testing place ~ no doubt about it. The wilderness can make us better, more wise, mature and understanding people. It has the capacity to bring out the best in us by testing our endurance, tolerance, courage, judgement, and so on. It can also make us more humble, loving, caring people because we learn to depend more on our God for providing us with what we need in life.

On the other hand, the wilderness has the capacity to bring out the worst in us too. We might feel so despairing and hopeless that we give up on learning how to live in the wilderness. We might become selfish or hard-hearted ~ thinking that the only way we can survive in the wilderness is by looking after ourselves and giving up on everyone else. We may turn away from God instead of toward God ~ blaming God for not looking after us the way we think or feel is best for us. This attitude towards the wilderness may lead to our ultimate defeat and death.

In our lives, we face many wilderness experiences. They are times of temptation or testing for us. We, like Jesus, are tempted or tested in our many wilderness experiences. As individuals and as the church we face many wilderness experiences.

There is the physical wilderness. When we're young, this physical wilderness can be a dangerous place. We are tempted to believe that we are invulnerable; that we can defy the laws of nature without consequences; that we have no limits or boundaries; that we can do almost anything and nothing will happen to us.

Another sort of physical wilderness that could come to us at any age is that of illness, disease or handicap of some kind. We might feel tempted to give up on everyone and everything because no one seems to care or understand what we're going through.

Yet another physical wilderness is growing older, slowing down, and becoming less capable of doing what we used to. We may be tempted to deny rather than accept this aging process working in our lives. On the other hand, each of these physical wildernesses in each of the different stages of life may also teach us many things that we'd never learn otherwise. Indeed, they may make us better, more loving, kind and caring people.

There is the mental and emotional wilderness. In today's world, we are bombarded with all kinds of things by the mass-media. The advertising industry has a tremendous influence on people's minds and emotions. Most advertising is an insult to our intelligence and emotions. It appeals to our selfish, sinful instincts. It makes greed and immediate gratification into blessed virtues.

Also, many of the television programs and movies these days glamorize and glorify violence. This communicates the message that violence is acceptable. It often fails to look at the tragic consequences of violence. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of mass-media productions attempt to dehumanize people by telling them not to think or feel.

Another form of mental wilderness today is the information age explosion. The amount of knowledge in almost every area of life today is increasing so fast that most people cannot keep up with it ~ let alone absorb or integrate it into our daily living! This creates a tremendous amount of stress for teachers and students especially, but also for the average person.

Yet another mental and emotional wilderness today is depression and grief. A lot of people become depressed about their own situation or the state of the world in general. They forget that God loves them and the world; that God is with them and calls them to work in the world and spread the Good News of God's love. Or, they may be grieving over the loss of: a family member, a friend, a job, their health, and so on. This grief may not be dealt with for several years because people would rather deny it, hoping it will go away ~ rather than confront it and try to work it out.

On the other hand, as Christians, we can deal with these mental and emotional wildernesses. We can be selective in our choosing of television programs and movies. We can phone, write, fax or e-mail the networks, the companies, the producers and directors of the mass-media ~ expressing our concerns to them. We can also be discerning about the information-age explosion; asking the Holy Spirit to help and guide us in our learning, as we sort through what knowledge is good or helpful for us. If we know someone is depressed or grieving; or if we are depressed or grieving; we can be a caring brother or sister to that person; or we can seek out help from others ~ especially our Saviour and Brother Jesus.

There is yet anther kind of wilderness that we journey through: namely, the spiritual wilderness. This is a big one today. According to many theologians today, we're now living in a post-Christian era. By post-Christian, they mean, among other things, that the Christian Church is no longer the dominating influence in society. Christians in society today are fast becoming a minority group. Shall we Christians adopt the non-Christian values of this world around us completely ~ or shall we be able to remain true to Jesus Christ and his way of the cross?

The post-Christian world is skeptical about God, and if there's no God, then anything is permitted ~ or it makes gods out of greed and materialism, individualism, immediate gratification, and so on. The post-Christian world wants nothing to do with Jesus Christ as the Suffering Saviour, who, out of sheer love for all the sinners of the world, made the necessary sacrifice of dying on the cross. The way of the cross is often strange and foreign to this post-Christian world.

However, with Christ promising to dwell among us, we shall be able to face any and all of this world's wilderness experiences. In this post-Christian era, we are called to remain faithful; called to endure hardships and yes, even persecution; in short, called to follow Jesus by bearing our crosses ~ whatever form those crosses may be for us.

During this Lenten season, we're given the reassurance that Jesus is with us in our wilderness journeys. He too had his wilderness journey. The wilderness tempted and tested him. He endured those temptations and tests. In fact, they strengthened him and prepared him for his ministry. They also prepared him for his ultimate wilderness, his sacrificial suffering and death on the cross for us all.

So, too, our wilderness journeys tempt and test us. So, too, they provide us with opportunities to be strengthened and prepared for the ministry God has given each of us, if we remain faithful to our God and Saviour. So, too, the wilderness leads us to follow Jesus to our suffering and cross. In so doing, God is able to work through us and reach sometimes even the most hostile members of this post-Christian world. So, dear brothers and sisters, journey on!

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