Beloved in Jesus Christ:
For at least the last fifteen months I have been reflecting on the role the wilderness plays in our lives. Here at the start of Lent I am in apparently good company. Every year the Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent (drawn from either Matthew, Mark or Luke) is on Jesus in the wilderness. According to these writers and depending on the version one is reading Jesus is lead, forced or driven into the wilderness following his baptism. This year Mark is the narrator (see 1:9-15).
I assume that in the main most of us don’t go out of our way to traverse wilderness seasons. That does not mean that we don’t seek the refuge and solitariness of alone time. What I mean is that to the extent that wilderness is a place holder for lonely, dry, barren, tough, rough and inhospitable we don’t especially seek it out. At least I don’t. According to the first three Gospels we don’t have the sense that Jesus sought his “forty days” in the wilderness with the wild beasts. Though we do have signs that he “stole away” to isolated places to pray now and again.
But that the wilderness however perceived, defined or experienced clearly played a critical role in his ministry and in the shaping of Israel is not in dispute. In fact it has been said that more than half of the Torah takes place in the wilderness. So there are clear indicators in our scriptures that God is at work in the wilderness. God speaks in the wilderness. God continues to be God in the wilderness. To what end? God knows that the subject cannot be exhausted here. But let me venture a couple of roles that time in the wilderness can play in our lives individually and communally. In the wilderness with Israel and Jesus we can:
- Get clear about identity and purpose
- Hear the Word that addresses us about new futures with God
- Grow our capacity to really depend on God
To be sure we will have wilderness seasons. I think wilderness is an apt metaphor for where our church and nation are right now. However we got into this wilderness will be debated by many. What I want to be about is naming the reality of wilderness with courage and asking missional questions with hope in God. Questions like:
- How will we use this season well?
- Can we let go of the idolatry that has bound us?"
- "Who Do We Chose to Be?” (thanks, Margaret Wheatley)
So, welcome to Lent. Welcome to the wilderness. Let’s redeem this time and opportunity to the glory of God and for the sake of the world. I am always,
Yours in Christ Jesus,
+Bishop Gregory V. Palmer
(Join me on Facebook each Wednesday in Lent at 12:15 PM for Prayer & Praise)