Gospel Text, Mark 1:9-15
Our Lenten journey begins where Jesus began his march to the cross.
In the wilderness where the Spirit drove him immediately after his baptism, a place of isolation, loneliness and danger.
A season when we descend into the valley of the shadow of death to walk with Jesus to Golgotha, the place where he will be crucified.
A time when the Spirit also drives us into the wilderness areas of our lives to encounter “wild beasts” and the demonic powers of this world that seek to separate us from the love of God and one another.
A time when we reclaim the promises of our baptismal covenant by renouncing the forces of this world that oppose God,
when we lay our hearts bare before God.
When we cry out, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10)
The wilderness can be a very scary place.
It’s a place busy and preoccupied people try to avoid.
Yet, perhaps each of us can recall a time when we found ourselves in the wilderness — alone, helpless, and frightened.
My own wilderness adventure happened some 15 years ago as I was making a cross-country trip across a beautiful stretch of interstate running through West Virginia.
As dusk approached I realized that I would not make it through the Appalachian Mountains before nightfall. I needed to find a place to stay for the night.
To make matters worse, I set out on my cross-country trip without advance reservations. Not a wise move during Memorial Day weekend.
As you might imagine, the state park that I had hoped to spend the night in was full. Sensing my frustration, or perhaps realizing that the naïve “city-slicker” with a tent wasn’t going to find any place to stay for the night, the park ranger stopped me as I headed for the door and pointed at a dirt road at the far end of the campground and said:
“See that road over there. That’s the access road to Daniel Boone National Forest. It’s federal land and I can’t stop you from camping there for the night. Just drive in a ways, pull over, and pitch your tent for the night. It’ll be okay.” I was out of options.
Heading into an unknown wilderness and pitching my tent for the night wouldn’t be so bad. Would it?
Honestly, the wilderness can be a scary place.
Alone with my thoughts and my fears, the darkened and mysterious forest
came alive that night in a way I could not have imagined.
Every cracked twig, every sound of rustling leaves, and every distant howl
conjured up images of wild beasts making a beeline to my tent.
Hungry beasts that I imagined wanted to claim me as their nighttime snack.
And, as imaginations tend to do, mine ran wild that night visualizing one horrific
scenario after another that could happen to me in such an isolated and
The wilderness is a place many of us fear.
To be alone with only our thoughts, fears, and personal demons is terrifying.
Yet, like it or not, each one of us gathered here today has entered into the
wilderness of Lent. Answering Jesus’ invitation to “Follow me.”
Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ wilderness journey is a time of testing.
He is tempted by Satan.
He encounters wild beasts.
And he is ministered to by Angels.
We, too, are tested during the Wilderness of Lent.
A time of soul-searching, prayer, and confronting demons we try to avoid.
The “wild beasts” that we pretend don’t exist.
The inner demons we wish would just leave us alone.
On Ash Wednesday the Spirit drove us into the valley of death.
To dwell there, like Jesus before us, for 40 days in prayer and conversation
with God. Where Jesus beckons:
Take up your cross,
and follow me (MT 16:24).
An invitation to discipleship.
To journey with Jesus into the wilderness areas of our lives.
To confront the “wild beasts” and inner demons that lurk within.
To name and claim the pain of loneliness, self-loathing, broken
relationships and sin that afflicts us.
Demons of addiction, greed, jealousy.
Inflated egos, finger-pointing, and me-first thinking that belittles,
criticizes, and judges others instead of doing the hard work of naming and claiming the sin in our own lives.
Although we hesitate to follow Jesus into the wilderness areas of our lives,
the good news is that God is gracious and merciful.
It is precisely because Jesus became human, was baptized, and was tested in the wilderness, that God understands our sin, our brokenness, and the inner demons that deceive and torment us.
Jesus loves you enough to meet you in the wilderness areas of your life.
To leave the safety and security of the river bank and to wade out into the watery chaos of the Jordan to be baptized.
To claim you as God’s beloved child.
To be in relationship with you.
To enter into your reality so that you may be united with
Christ’s death in a baptism like his.
To suffer and die for you.
Abandoned, mocked, and executed on a tree of shame.
For the forgiveness of your sins.
The One who loves you enough to die for you, comes to you now in the wilderness areas of your life.
In the Word of promise proclaimed.
At the table where sinners and saints alike gather to receive the body of Christ given for you and the blood of Christ shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
Where the personal demons and wild beasts that torment you are
rendered powerless before God.
Where the crucified God embraces you with outstretched arms from the cross,in the midst of your pain, suffering, and brokenness,
enfolding you in his loving embrace, whispering:
“I tell you now, your sins are forgiven.”
Take up your cross.
And follow me… to the cross.