Dear Friends in Christ:
Only a few weeks ago - March 1, to be exact - we sat together in worship and began the liturgical season of Lent. Our scripture that day was the story of Jesus forty-days in the wilderness following his baptism in the Jordan River (Matthew 4:1-11). Little did any of us know that the wilderness of Lent would soon take on new meaning.
The sermon that day essentially tried to say two things. First,
the wilderness is a hard place to be
. Whether it is grief, cancer, joblessness, divorce, or a worldwide pandemic - being cast into life's wilderness places is not exactly something we enjoy or seek out for ourselves on a regular basis.
And yet it is only by going into the wilderness that we are able to arrive at the second point, which is
the wilderness may be where God does God's most important work.
I shared a quote that morning from Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and author, who wonders if perhaps it is Jesus’ time in the wilderness that
him to fully trust God:
“After forty days in the wilderness, Jesus had not only learned to manage his appetites,” Taylor writes, “He had also learned to trust the Spirit that had led him there to lead him out again, with the kind of clarity and grit he could not have found anywhere else.”
Friends, this is a wilderness that I wish we were not in. I wish that so many people were not getting sick. I wish so many of us - and so many of our friends and neighbors - were not having to worry about our livelihoods and businesses. I wish doctors and nurses and public health workers around the globe were not having to put their own lives on the line to save others. I wish we were worshipping together shoulder-to-shoulder in the social hall this morning instead of reading this note at home.
But at the same time, I cannot help but wonder if God might be doing important work in the midst of this wilderness moment. Maybe this is a moment (
moment?) where the church of our time is being invited to truly be and become the church. Maybe the days and weeks that are still ahead are the moment when we can put into practice the faith that we spend so much time talking about. Maybe this is our opportunity to do a kind act for no reason, to go out of our way to safely serve others, to share from our abundance rather than hoard from our fear, to choose calm over panic.
Maybe this is our time to remember, trust, and be
by the good news that the same Spirit that walked with Jesus into the wilderness also led him out again.
I have no doubt that Jesus' forty-days in the wilderness felt like an eternity to him. Similarly, weeks more of physical distancing will likely feel like an eternity to us. Let us hold fast then to the knowledge that even in these long days when the world appears so upside-down, God is at work. God walks with us in it all, and God
lead us out again.
Your co-traveler in the wilderness,