'Lent reminds us that we are travelers in this world who are journeying somewhere. We need to depend upon what God gives us in order to survive the journey. And in order to take the journey at all, we need to believe the promises that God gives that the destination is worth it.
We are journeying through a wilderness – not a literal wilderness, but a metaphorical one. It is a place where we can’t survive spiritually unless we depend on God.'
The wilderness. What do you think of when you hear these words? As Americans, we think of a beautiful scene – perhaps a lot of pine trees; flowing streams; splendid vistas; fishing; hunting, camping – a place which we want to visit if we have enough money and the right equipment.
But when we hear the word ‘wilderness’ as it is mentioned in the Bible, we need to think differently. We need to think more of a desert than a forest, more hot burning sun than cool shady places, a land where there is little water rather than lots of flowing streams, without a car to get you home by night or a fancy RV at a campsite with a water and power hookup. The wilderness in the Bible is a forbidding place where you have to fight to survive.
This week’s readings is the second time we’ve heard about the wilderness in Lent. The first time was the forty-day temptation of Jesus. In today’s second reading we hear a reference to ancient Israel’s time journeying in the wilderness after the Exodus – forty years long. Forty days or years is common in the Bible. Noah’s flood – forty days. Moses’s time on the mountain, forty days. Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb – you guessed it, forty days.
What else do we know that is forty days long – Lent! Lent, if we understand it properly, is a journey – a journey towards Easter. The forty days of Lent echoes ancient Israel’s forty-year journey through the wilderness and Jesus’ forty days temptation in the wilderness. It is a time when we’re supposed to live a little differently – a time when we’re supposed to do certain things, abstain from certain things, think about certain things, because it reminds us that we have to radically depend on God in our entire lives.
At its best, Lent reminds us that we are travelers in this world who are journeying somewhere. We need to depend upon what God gives us in order to survive the journey. And in order to take the journey at all, we need to believe the promises that God gives that the destination is worth it.
We are journeying through a wilderness – not a literal wilderness, but a metaphorical one. It is a place where we can’t survive spiritually unless we depend on God. But it is not simply easy to survive.
One of the barriers to survival is to think we’ve already made it where we’re going. The people in the congregation in Corinth to whom Paul is writing in the second reading think they’ve already made it. They think that by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Spirit they have gotten somewhere. They can’t see that they’re still in the wilderness.
Paul wants to teach the Corinthians otherwise. He reminds them that even though ancient Israel had all the gifts they had – the presence of God, the call as his people, some of them, even many of them, didn’t depend on the presence and the call. Paul mentions specific events in Exodus in which many of them fell away from the journey – the idolatry of the golden calf, the testing of God that brought the serpents among them, and so on.
So many didn’t make it where they were going. They turned off the path that would lead them through the wilderness, and got lost. In short, they stopped depending on God and trusting in his promises. Paul doesn’t want the same thing to happen to the Corinthians. He wants them to make it through the wilderness.
I think he wants us to make it too. So we have to hear that the world we’re in is a place where we have to fight to survive and keep journeying towards the goal. We have to use what God gives us – the commandments, for example. We are hearing the commandments recited every Sunday in Lent for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to remind us how often we have failed to depend on God – secondly, to remind us of how we need to use our survival gear. That’s an interesting metaphor for the commandments, isn’t it? Survival gear! It’s not a perfect metaphor, but as metaphors go, it’s an okay one.
There’s another metaphor which we might think about. It’s one of a mirage. In the desert, of course, when the sun shines at a certain angle upon a certain topography, a thirsty traveler sees what looks like a shimmering pool of water in the distance. They go out of the way to find it and satisfy their thirst only to find out it’s an illusion. In the same way, we often think we’ll find satisfaction outside of the way God has appointed for us. We look off the path, and we see a mirage, which we chase after. The way may offer a momentary escape, but never true satisfaction. In the book of Isaiah, the LORD asks, ‘Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?’
So it is that the idols people worship are like mirages in the desert – promising, but never delivering. People worship whatever violence and lies promise them economic security and political victory. People embrace sexual pleasure without God’s Word and responsibility to others, and covet that which does not belong to them and cannot truly satisfy them. If we continue chasing these things, we cannot hope to make it to where we are going. We show that we believe that we have made it – and that we’ve forgotten that there’s more to life than simply living.
Lent reminds us that we are on a journey through the wilderness. In order to make the journey, we must keep moving and avoid the mirages that we see along the way. And if we remember these things, we will discover that which we need to survive has been with us all along – Christ’s own presence in Word, Baptism and Eucharist will sustain us until we reach the goal which is the promised rest of God.
HYMN 'Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer' (LBW 343)
HYMN 'Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer' (LBW 343)