Wilderness: Change in Circumstances

imageLent 1a – Wilderness: Change in Circumstances

Matthew 4:1-11

March 8, 2014

“When she was 22 years old,
Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything.

In the wake of her mother’s death,
her family scattered, and her own marriage was soon destroyed.

Four years later, with nothing more to lose,
she made the most impulsive decision of her life.

With no experience or training…
she would hike more than a thousand miles
of the Pacific Crest Trail,
from the Mohave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State –
and she would do it alone.”

This is the the publisher’s description of her book…
the book is called Wild.

Today we begin a sermon series for Lent about change.
We’ll hear stories from the Bible of encounters with Jesus,
And either the changes in people that result from those meetings,
or the changes that lead to those meetings.

When Cheryl Strayed set out on her trek along the pacific coast Trail,
she had experienced a series of circumstances that profoundly changed her life,
and for reasons she didn’t quite understand
and couldn’t quite explain,
they led her into the wild – into the wilderness.
Her publisher continues
“Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail.. Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.”

Cheryl’s story tells how changes in circumstances
losses, disappointments, fears,
can lead us into a literal wilderness –
They can lead us to go off by ourselves to hike a trail in the mountains or woods,
or walk a beach along a shore,
or outside to sit and gaze at the stars.

But Cheryl’s story is also a metaphorical one.
changes in circumstances can also
make us go into that wilderness place within ourselves,
Where we doubt and dispute and debate within ourselves
things like the goodness of God,
the love of God,
or the meaning of faith.

In the midst of her struggles, Cheryl eventually
found meaning in her trip into the wilderness.

We hope when we are led into wilderness times,
that we might find meaning in them too.

Of course, the difficulty is that
we are always looking at the wilderness from the inside out;
we are looking at the wild without knowing the ending.

There are so many changes of circumstances in life that lead to wilderness:
the loss of a job;
the separation in a relationship.
We get stuck in the middle of a forest of trees and the light is just not breaking through;
the rattlesnakes and bears are easy to see;
Those angels Matthew talks about?
Not so much.

Jesus must have been on an emotional high;
he had been cleansed with the waters of baptism.
As he came up out of the water,
he heard the voice of his father, saying to him,
“you are my beloved son.”

And then.. Just then…circumstances change drastically,
and Jesus is led into the wilderness,
the desert wilderness,
where there is no water,
and the only voice is that of satan, testing him, tempting him
at a time when he is most vulnerable –

Satan has waited until he has endured the wilderness for forty days,
until Jesus is already weakened by hunger and thirst,
and it is then, when he is put to the test.

Temptation is always the strongest when we are most vulnerable.
Our demons are the most powerful when we feel the most weak.

Of course Jesus hasn’t read the New Testament.
He doesn’t know that his ordeal will be over after 40 days.
for all he knows this could go on for another 40 days,
or 400 days, or 4000 days.

What got him through it?
Well we know that Scripture helped…
He hadn’t read the New Testament,
but he certainly knew the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament
well enough to recite them back to Satan.

But I also think something else got him through –
he remembered his baptism.
He remembered that he was loved,
he remembered that he was called and claimed at his baptism,
and so he knew that there would be a future day,
there would be a time to look back,
there would be light again somehow.

And that promise of love and light,
no matter how distant it seemed at the moment,
was what got him through.

Some of us are sitting in the midst of our own wilderness time right now.
You are not alone.
There are others sitting there with you in this space,
….and also many others around the world.

There are families missing loved ones from a Malaysian airliner
who are in wilderness now.
There are Ukrainians and Crimeans who are frightened
and afraid of bears right now.

But also right now around you in this space,
and around the world are those who have made it through
their 40 days or 400 days or 4000 days.

They are looking back over their wilderness from the outside now,
they have survived the trail,
and once again they have found that there is light
and sometimes they have even discovered meaning in their suffering.

For those of us on this side of the wilderness,
it is our job to share the story.
we need to tell others so that they see the hope which is in us.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day
and I attended an event sponsored by Empowered Women International
at Christ church.
Empowered Women International is a business support and education
program for creative women entrepreneurs.

We heard a lot of wilderness stories yesterday,
of women struggling to get their ideas heard,
of moving to a new country and having difficulty with the language,
of domestic violence,
of the hopeless feeling of having a dream choked off.

And then we heard stories from the other side of the wilderness.
women who learned business skills and had started their own studios.
women who had websites and Facebook pages
women who were smiling and laughing and hugging because a light had finally broken through.

Changes in circumstances can bring us into wilderness…
but it is not forever.

At the end of the gospel reading,
Jesus proclaims, “Away with you Satan!”
and the angels come to minister to him.

May we wait with courage for the angels.
They are coming.




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