Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lent 3C Sermon - 7 March 2010 - "Beyond the wilderness"

Lent 3C Sermon
7 March 2010
The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, VA
Exodus 3: 1-15; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Hindsight is 20/20 they say.  Looking back at history can sometimes make us think that quite remarkable events were not so remarkable.  Looking back at history demands a sense of clearing the decks before entering into the world that came before.  To enter the world of Lewis and Clark, for instance, would demand that we look carefully at the assumptions that they held, the experiences that they had, and the abilities and temperament that they had as they began their journey to the West.  As Lewis and Clark headed West, they probably had no real sense about just how treacherous the journey would be.  They probably had no real sense about how just how high and forbidding the Rocky Mountains would be.  Having climbed the Blue Ridge Mountains and having learned the skills they needed for the wilderness put them in a good position as they headed into the wilderness.  However, their Voyage of Discovery would land them not just in the wilderness, but beyond it. 

Going into the wilderness, into uncharted territory, demands courage, stamina, and a kind of fearlessness that we may not really think we possess.  But, we each have entered wilderness from time to time in our lives. 

The wilderness of loneliness. 
The wilderness of joblessness. 
The wilderness of the necessary losses that come with living. 
The wilderness of experiencing the death of loved ones. 
The wilderness of unrealized dreams. 
The wilderness of facing our own mortality. 

We each have entered the wilderness.  And we each have also gone beyond the wilderness.  When we enter the wilderness of our lives, we may find the urge to return by the same way.  We may look to follow the bread crumbs that we left as we entered the dark cave.  However, for most of us, the only way out is the way through and beyond.  The path “back” takes us through and beyond.  Like the Magi after they visited the infant Jesus, we often “go home by a different way.”  To go into the wilderness demands courage, stamina, and a kind of fearlessness that we may not really think we possess.  And yet, somehow, we do. 

Some things happen to us when we move into, and beyond the wilderness.  In the midst of it, we may feel that we cannot see how we can even go on into the way ahead.  At times, in the midst of it, we may not really feel God’s grace blessing us and supporting us and empowering us.  But God is there, whether or not we turn aside and are able to sense God’s presence makes no difference.  God is there, embracing us, supporting us, enfolding us always, even as we make our way through and beyond the wilderness.

Going beyond the wilderness is sometimes, in retrospect, where we see that God’s hand was upon us.  I know in my own life.  When I look now to at a time when I found myself far from home, feeling alone after a significant relationship ended, I see that God was working to open me up to experience more of the Spirit, to experience greater things than my paltry imagination could dream up on its best day.  When I look now to that time of mourning for the life that I thought I would have, I see that in the midst of that sadness, depression, and loneliness, God was bringing me beyond the wilderness.  Though excruciatingly difficult, it was a soulful time.  The modern writer, Thomas Moore (not “a man for all seasons”) has written several books on the soul.  In “Care of the Soul,” he writes of the surprising gifts that can be given to us even in these difficult times, and the ways that the life of the soul may be deepened as we move beyond the wilderness.  Of course, it helps to have the 20/20 vision of hindsight.  If I were now talking to myself then , my then self would tell my now self to get lost, in far more colorful language. 

This movement to a holy place beyond the wilderness is the movement that Moses was making while he herded his father-in-law’s flock. 

“He led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.  Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight. . . God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses.’ . . ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’”

So, we hear the story of God calling Moses to be the catalyst for the next great chapter in the history of God’s people.  There, beyond the wilderness, God appears to Moses.  The life story of Moses to this point included being rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, and then as an adult, Moses killed one of the Egyptians who was beating a Hebrew slave and Moses was on the run.  He had made a life for himself, joining the family of his wife, Zipporah, having a child and working for his father-in-law.  We know the rest of the story, so we forget that Moses had already pretty much settled down.  We know the rest of the story, so we forget that Moses was adamant that he was not gifted in speech, and argued with God about whether he should lead his people.  We know the rest of the story, so we forget just how terrifying it must have been for Moses to return to Pharaoh. 

Hindsight being 20/20, we look at Moses as a prophet, liberator, and gigantic figure, leading his people to freedom and then leading them in the wilderness for 40 years.  However, in today’s story, Moses encountered God beyond the wilderness, and was being called out of the vision and plan that he had for his life.  Out there, beyond the wilderness, Moses’ imagination was broadened, and he encountered the living God, who assured Moses that “I will be with you.”  Out there beyond the wilderness, Moses found a new chapter in his life that he would not have ever imagined.  Out there beyond the wilderness, there may be a new chapter for us as well.  Hindsight being 20/20, we may be able to see that our own times in the wilderness caused us to go beyond the wilderness, to a place that was, “holy ground.”  And so, we continue our journey through life, knowing that there will be times in the wilderness, they come whether we long for them or not.  We continue on our journey through life and we can have some comfort in the fact that not only is God there with us in the wilderness, “thy rod and thy staff they protect me,” and that we are enfolded in God’s loving embrace.  We can also have comfort that as we move beyond the wilderness, there is holy ground for us, there is a place where God has made a home for us, where we will turn aside, remove our sandals, and be empowered and given strength for the journey ahead.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"

1 comment:

  1. If your readers are interested in Thomas Moore's writings, I invite them to visit a blog dedicated to his work called Barque, at It links to a free forum where they can share their own 20/20 hindsight interpretations.