Wilderness Life

January 18, 2015 Matthew 4:1-17

P8090238Last week Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River and wouldn’t you know, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus right out of the water into the wilderness. Make no mistake, when we are baptized into Christ, we too are called to enter the wilderness. But we enter it as baptized children of God. People who God has claimed once and for all. We are equipped for wilderness living.

This is not “God won’t give you more than you can handle” Sunday. I don’t believe God gives us cancer or ungrateful children to teach us a lesson or to make us stronger. I do believe God is with us in the painful and awful and beautiful stuff that is our daily life.

Today we stumble off into the wilderness with Jesus. In scripture, when wilderness is mentioned, this is what the hearers of that word in the 1st century would have heard:

Wilderness is a place where God is not. Because God only lived in the temple.

Wilderness is a place inhospitable to life. It is not a place where life flourishes but where people and creation eek out a way of life. Scratch out a way of life.

And yet, it is the first place where Jesus goes after he is baptized, after God’s voice rings down from heaven crying out, “this is my beloved son!” Now that he knows his identity as Son of God, well then, this is a pretty significant field trip as a newly baptized and named Jesus. To head to the exact place where people swore God couldn’t possibly be. That’s right where Jesus is sent. Into the wilderness.

Today, Josiah and Jim Nelson are going to tell us their wilderness story – being both physically and spiritually in the wilderness.

Wilderness Stories: Josiah and Jim Nelson tell the story of a wilderness they shared when Josiah was lost in the Wisconsin woods for 6 hours and his dad, Jim, was along as a chaperone on the trip.  Sorry there is nothing to print here, but just know this: they were in the wilderness in the most real way. Like most of us have experienced.

All our pre-conceived notions about God and about faith and about being a Christian are challenged when the rubber hits the road, aren’t they? I imagine we all have stories of great anger at God where we are ready to chuck God under the bus until things have righted. When things are good because surely God is there. This is a life of faith.

Jesus was tempted to abandon his humanity 3 times. 3 times he was tempted to wave the magic God wand to avoid suffering, to simply rely on his divinity, his “God man” status. You don’t need to suffer, Jesus. Yet this is the same Jesus who doesn’t hire a fancy defense lawyer and offers no defense of himself and ends up on the cross. And in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ last words from the cross are those of great doubt and utter despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus cried out in doubt and betrayal, just as we do.

Jesus questioned God, just as we do.
Jesus finds himself in the wilderness, just as we do 

Do you remember an adult kneeling down to look you right in the face to comfort you, talk to you, look you full in the face on your level? What a powerful gesture it is to acknowledge another person’s reality, isn’t it?

This is what Jesus does. He had every opportunity to avoid the suffering, to play the God card. But instead, Jesus comes to us, into the wilderness of our lives. Jesus kneels down to look us full in the face, and that’s what got him nailed to a cross.

Not everybody comes out of the wilderness like Josiah did or like Jim did. Had this story gone another way, like so many other stories do, well, Jesus is still in the midst of wilderness stories that don’t end with a joyful homecoming.

I don’t know what your wilderness is right now. Maybe it’s the crumbling of your family relationships. Or maybe the daily struggle to stay sober. Or  the unending heartache that comes with grief. The feelings of helplessness in the face of your friend’s illness. Or maybe you aren’t in a wilderness time, but you wait for when it will come again.

This is what I do know: you are not alone. God is with you. And sometimes we can even squeak out thanks be to God.