Lent: Breaking free from the Wilderness

Sermon Preached at St. Mark’s
Lent 1B – Mark 1:9-15

“Show us your ways, O LORD and teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation.”[1] Amen.

After Jesus was baptized the Spirit drove him out to the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. Both Matthew and Luke share some detail about the nature of the temptations Jesus faced but not Mark.  Mark’s account of that wilderness experience is very sparse: “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”[2]  That’s it.  And, as I’ve said before, I really like the gospel of Mark for its lack of detail because it allows us to enter the story with our own details - in this case, details drawn from our own wilderness experiences.  Because while the specifics of the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness are important to the story of salvation and our understanding of the nature of messiah-ship, I don’t think that they preclude us from  also seeing the point that as we experience the wilderness, so too has God experienced the wilderness.  God has been and is with us in that wilderness.
Now recently I heard a colleague say that those of us living in the Great Lakes Region of the United States – and perhaps this year, we might add those living in New England – that we don’t need a season of Lent – after all, we have Winter.  For many, a wilderness period in its own right one that can begin in early November and last until late March!  Isn’t that Lent enough?  You all know how much I love winter, so that comment made very little sense to me; but, I take the point.  In our lives, we experience a LOT of wilderness – relationships that end, careers that leave us feeling empty, violence in the world, and battles with mental and physical illnesses.  Our wilderness lists could go on and on.  We know what the wilderness looks like.  So, why would we want to spend 40 days of Lent focused on the wilderness, entering more deeply into the pain and suffering of that wilderness?  If our lives – our world – is already reminiscent of that wilderness, do we really need to be even more intentional about entering the wilderness during the season of Lent?  My answer:  No!
Jesus entered the wilderness for 40 days after his baptism before he began his ministry.  But the gospel reading for this first Sunday of Lent does not end there.  It ends with Jesus arriving in Galilee, “proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”[3]  Perhaps there is in this final verse of today’s gospel reading a different direction for our Lenten observance.  Perhaps our invitation to observe a Holy Lent doesn’t need to be about going deeper into the wilderness but could instead be about becoming more intentional about participating with God in breaking free from that wilderness, in joining God’s redemptive work, of proclaiming God’s good news in our church, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, our schools, and our workplaces.  Perhaps this Lent could be a time when we, like Jesus, emerge from the wilderness, intentionally focusing on our ministries. Could Lent be a time when we arrive in our own Galilee and proclaim the good news of God?  What would that look like?  What might it look like to intentionally break-free from the wilderness with God?  Within the community of St. Mark’s I think there are several fabulous options (and you will no doubt think of others):
Perhaps you are a parent who has lost your compass amidst the joys, challenges and responsibilities that parenting brings.  When is the last time you focused on self-care as a way to keep yourself – and, as a result – your family headed in a positive direction?  Beginning next Sunday morning and for four weeks, Beth Johnson and I will be facilitating a group for parents because taking care of ourselves is a way to participate in God’s redemptive work, to break free of the wilderness of exhaustion, imbalance, and built-up resentments. 
Or perhaps you could use some time constructing or reconstructing your relationships with others – friends, co-workers, a spouse or partner, a neighbor.  Beginning Tuesday, March 3 and continuing  for four weeks, Lisa Montgomery and Andrea Nowack will be facilitating a group foranyone who wants to learn or re-learn what it means to support, love, and communicate with others in healthy ways because being in relationship is another way to participate in God’s redemptive work and to break free of the wilderness of social isolation.
Or is God calling you to participate in proclaiming the good news by joining a Tuesday evening team in making sack lunches for our homeless neighbors or joining a Wednesday mid-day team in serving those lunches? There is a sign-up sheet in the parlor to get involved or you can speak with Jacqui Zeng or myself for more information.  God’s redemptive work involves feeding the hungry, breaking free from the wilderness that divides the haves from the have nots.
Might God be calling you to add your voice to the choir for the season of Lent – or, perhaps even longer?  Michael Hawn, Director of the Master of Sacred Music program at Perkins School of Theology, rightly reminds us that “music is more than a vehicle for personal expression. . .[m]usic making becomes a way of shaping prayer.”[4] Singing in the choir is a way to support and enliven St. Mark’s worship as we remember that whenever we gather for worship we are present with worshippers across “the church of all places and all times.” Music in worship today, for example, connects us peoples from the 4th century to the present day and spans the globe from China to Italy ,England, Scotland; from Libya to the United States. Singing as part of the choir then is a way to break-free of the wilderness that puts up boundaries between peoples and nations and to participate in God’s redemptive work through praying with and for the church and the world.
Volunteering in the Sunday School, participating with the outreach and social justice ministry team, spending time each day praying intentionally for members of the St. Mark’s community, praying for the wardens and vestry leaders of St. Mark’s, praying for your clergy leaders . . . all of these are ways to break free from the wilderness and proclaim the good news of God.  Beyond the walls of the church, what might it look like to intentionally break free from the wilderness, to intentionally focus on our neighborhoods, our homes, our schools, our workplaces as areas in the world in need of the good news of God?  What might God be calling you to do? What might God be calling us to do? When we pray the words of this morning’s psalm:

“Show us your ways, O LORD and teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation.”

When we pray these words, can we leave room for God’s response, for God’s invitation to us to break free and participate in God’s redeeming work? When we make room for God’s response, what might we hear and what might we be moved to do?

[1] Psalm 25:3-4a.
[2] Mark 1:13.
[3] Mark 1:14-15.
[4] C. Michael Hawn, Gather Into One: Praying and Singing Globally,  (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 254.