Going into the Wilderness
First Sunday of Lent Mark 1 9-15
At some point we nearly all leave home. Leaving is something we do throughout our lives. We’ve all done it. We leave home physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We leave those places that are familiar, comfortable, and predictable. Sometimes we can’t wait to leave. We’re ready to go. Other times we would rather not leave. Sometimes we choose to leave. Other times the circumstances of life push us out of the door. Regardless of how or why it happens, leaving home is a part of life. It happens in lots of different ways and times.
For children it might be the first day of school or going to scout camp. Young adults move out of their parent’s home to start university. The significant milestones of life involve some kind of leaving: a marriage, a divorce, the death of a loved one, a new job, retirement and ill health to name a few.
Leaving home can be exciting, difficult, frightening, and sometimes risky. It is an invitation to change and opens us up to new discoveries about the world and ourselves. It challenges our feelings of security.
There is a lot about leaving in the Bible. Adam and Eve left the garden. Noah left the dry land. God told Abram to leave, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Jacob ran away from home fearing for his life. Moses and the Israelites fled from their homes in Egypt and in today’s gospel Jesus is leaving home.
As Mark writes, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” to the Jordan River. He left his home and now stands with his cousin John in the river Jordan, which is the border between his home and the wilderness. Mark doesn’t waste ink and cuts to the chase. Jesus is baptized. The heavens are torn apart, the Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” From there “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” in Mark’s account there is no hanging about, Baptism may happen in the river but the baptismal life begins in the wilderness.
This story is not, however, just about Jesus. It is our story too. The Father’s words to Jesus at his baptism are personal and affirming but they also apply to each one of us. By the grace of God, we have become heirs, joint heirs with Jesus which means we are God’s beloved daughters and sons as well. If leaving home, getting baptized, and going to the wilderness is the way God chose for Jesus, then it is our way too. When we believe, declare ourselves to be Christian we leave behind our old identity, we are claimed by God as his children, and we go to the wilderness.
That’s what this holy season of Lent is about. It is no coincidence that on Wednesday we were marked with ash to remind us of the dust of our creation, and today the gospel takes us to the wilderness. The two cannot be separated. Wednesday’s ashes lead us to wilderness soil. Lent is about leaving home and leaving home, in Lent takes us to the wilderness.
The wilderness is an in between place. We have left behind what was and what will be is not yet clear. The wilderness experience is a lonely place, where we come face to face with the things done and left undone, our fears, our hopes and dreams, our sorrows and losses, as well as the unknown. These facts of our life are the source of our temptations.
It is important to understand that temptations are from within us, not from around us. Temptations are not about our behaviour, breaking rules, or being bad. God does not tempt us to see if we will pass or fail. During Lent we should set aside time to be alone with God, to have a spiritual spring clean, to get back on track again, to realise again that we are a beloved child of God and our only real home is with God.
The wilderness can be a scary place but we do not go alone, the way has already been prepared by Jesus. This is not a one off experience, but one we need to do every year. If we are to grow and get closer to God, like Jesus, we must go through it. It has nothing to do with giving up chocolate or even taking on something extra. Those things are probably good for our bodies but will do little for our souls! We do however need to take time out to do a stock take, to ask the hard questions, to face up to the wild beast. The thing that has haunted us but we have put it to one side during the year. Lent is a time to put things right with each other and with God. A good Lent will make us stronger. Jesus had a hard time in the wilderness but he wasn’t alone. The angels that ministered to Him will be there for us. “Remember who you are,” is their message. “You are a beloved son of God. You are a beloved daughter of God. You are one with whom he is well pleased.” Over and over they remind, encourage and reassure us.
With each remembrance of who we are the demons are banished. With each remembrance of who we are we overcome temptations. With each remembrance of who we are we take another step closer to God and the fear takes a step back. That is not just the way to navigate this Lent; that is the way through the wildernesses of life. Remembrance after remembrance. Step after step. “I am a beloved child of God.” Let that become our wilderness mantra. Let those words fill our minds, cross our lips, and occupy our hearts. The truth of those words is the way home.