The Rev. Peter M. Carey
1 Lent 2012 Sermon
26 February 2012
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
In today’s readings we heard of the Spirit driving Jesus out into the wilderness, where he lived for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was driven out of the normal patterns of life into a place of wild things, the wild beasts. And, so, we too have been led to this place at this time.
We have been led to this church, this haven from the normal patterns of life, and we have been led to this time, this Lenten season. Traditionally, in Lent, those preparing for baptism would spend 40 days learning, reflecting, praying, and probably being tempted as well. These days were days of preparing, but also days of penitence, of taking on practices of faith, which would aid self-reflection and honest confrontation of the self.
Jesus was driven to the wilderness, or as our Collect says, “was led by the Spirit.” He was baptized, and then led or driven to the wilderness. Immediately after his baptism he was driven to the desert. …. Isn’t it true that we are sometimes thrown for a loop after a significant event in our lives, and we need some time to process what has happened. We may need some time alone. We may need some time away. And so too, perhaps, Jesus needed some time to begin to integrate what had just happened. He probably could not go back the same way, so Mark reminds us: The Spirit led him to the wilderness, or drove him to the wilderness. In my imagination, he went willingly, Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan and just as he was coming out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him, or into him. A voice rang out, “you are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased!” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
He couldn’t go back to the same way of being, he had a new calling; a new path was laid out for him; a new way was laid for him. He had encountered the living God and the living God had proclaimed that he, he himself, was God’s son, the Beloved, and that God was well-pleased with him. No wonder he needed a few weeks to himself!
It reminds me of those characters we read about just several weeks ago; those characters who “went home by another way.” Remember them? They had gone West to search for a king, and had been led not by the Spirit, but by a star, and once they encountered this living God in the form of a child, they could not go back “by the same way” they could not go back to the “same old” “same old.” Those magi, or wise men, truly became wise once they encountered Jesus. They became wise beyond any book learning or stargazing that they had ever encountered. They became so wise that these astrologers had to chart out a different way for themselves, and in so doing, they became some of the first witnesses of Jesus, the Son of God. They themselves had to leave by another road. Perhaps they went through that same wilderness where Jesus spent time with the wild beasts and the angels. Perhaps they were able to discuss with one another what they had seen. Perhaps they could dream and plan a new life, a life lived after the experience of seeing the living God in their midst. What was their life like after their journey? How were their lives changed? We don’t know, sadly. What we do know is that they quite literally had to go home by another way, and that they had the courage to go home, but to go home by another route. They were able to reflect on their experience on those days and weeks they traveled home.
And so too, Jesus was driven out of the normalcy of his life thus far. We know he was baptized, and we know that this experience was a profound one, one in which God speaks in a way that God had never spoken before. And we know that Jesus, too, would not be returning home by the same way.
He was driven into the wilderness, which provided temptation, but also gift. He was driven into the wilderness where he found wild beasts, but also angels. He was driven into the wilderness expecting nothing, but being waited on by the angels.
It was, perhaps, his training ground, it was, perhaps his walkabout, it was, perhaps his true embrace of his call, of his acceptance of his job description, of his radical obedience to his Father, and radical love for his Father and for the world. A strange place to begin one’s work of falling in love with the world, perhaps. But, his journey into the wilderness led him beyond the wilderness, to a place where temptations had no sway over him. His journey brought him to a place of radical love and compassion for all. His journey into the wilderness brought him to a radical sense of himself as love incarnate, of God become manifest, of God becoming “one of us.”
And so, too, we are offered a chance to be led into the wilderness of Lent. What kind of a journey will you be open to this Lent? What kind of space will you open so that the Spirit will guide you, lead you, and perhaps also drive you? Are you able to make time this Lent so that it will be a place of some wildness, of some strangeness, of some temptation, and perhaps also a place where the angels themselves will wait on you? I pray that we each are able to live a holy Lent, not one of guilt and turmoil and petty “giving up” of things, but a time of deep reflection. I pray that we might live a holy Lent in which we have the courage to open up ourselves to the wildness of God, which resides most often in the wilderness of our lives. For it is there, in the wilderness, that we will peel away the hardness surrounding our hearts, and it is there, in the wilderness where we will encounter ourselves most truly, and most honestly. Our true self is the self that God truly loves – down to our very bones. It is that self that we may need the wilderness to reveal, so that we can embrace God most fully, and likely, we ourselves will need to return by another way.