Fact: It is Lent. Four days of Lent have passed. Sundays are not in Lent: Lent consists of forty weekdays. We are one-tenth of the way through Lent.
Question: Are we one-tenth of the way into Lent?
Opinion: Mark 1:9-15 gets the story of Christ in the wilderness just right: Two sentences. No indication of how many temptations there were. Jesus was in the wilderness forty days with Satan, wild beasts and angels. No recorded conversations. Just the bare facts.
Fact: The Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness. He did not choose to go there.
Question: If this is how God’s Spirit treats God’s Beloved with whom God is well pleased, what is in store for those with whom God is displeased?
Opinion: Some people have suggested that Lent is a time for us to “go to” the wilderness ourselves, or that through fasting we might “create our own wilderness.” I think not on both counts.
Fact: The Bible calls those who follow Jesus “people of the way.” (Acts 9:2)
Opinion: I understand this to mean we are to follow him in his way to God the Father.
Fact: Jesus says, “I am the way …” (John 14:6)
Opinion: We limit this claim of his by thinking of one way among a thousand. Whoever follows the longing of the human heart, whoever is seeking to be with God, is on the way; are people of The Way. It matters little what label we give to that way.
Fact: Holding on to a sign post does not mean “being on the way” to anywhere, even if that sign has the right name on it. What matters is walking in the way.
Opinion: All those who move forward are walking on and in the way. This means finding one’s way by leaving the way behind with every step forward. The raft is not the shore.
Fact: Jesus does not choose to go into the wilderness. He does not create the wilderness through fasting or anything else. He is driven there by the Spirit.
Opinion: So being on the way means letting ourselves be driven by or led by the Spirit. That is, letting go of control, i.e. not taking control.
Fact: Jesus says the Spirit blows where it wills. No one knows from whence it comes or where it goes. You cannot fit the Spirit into a flow chart!
Opinion: “No One” means no one: not even Jesus. This is why Lent is not a time to go to or create a wilderness. Rather, it is a time to let the Spirit blow us where it wills us to go; where it wills us to be.
Fact: We need to create a little space in our lives to let the Spirit move us to a new place.
Opinion: The wilderness can be said to be nowhere.
Fact: Put a little space in the word “nowhere” and you get the words “now here.”
Opinion: So, the Wilderness, or Nowhere, is closer than we think! It is now here!
Fact: We have already created our own wilderness now here: Any place a child, a teenager, or even adult, can purchase or access a semi-automatic weapon and commit the murder of seventeen other people is already the wilderness.
Opinion: Exile is another word for wilderness.
Question: How much mass murder, guns, drugs, opioid overdoses, domestic violence, sexual harassment, millionaire sports-felons, starving masses of people, murderous dictatorships, racism, sexism, homophobia, neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements do there have to be before a society admits that it is already in exile?
Opinion: So, to get ourselves to the wilderness or exile we do not have to go very far. Now here is already a wilderness and exile of sin and alienation.
Question: So, Lent is not about how to get ourselves into the wilderness, but rather, How do we get out? How do we withdraw from the wilderness? How do we come home from exile? How do we turn away from sin and alienation?
Fact: Jesus withdraws from the organized religion of his day and even John’s revival meeting by going as far away from Jerusalem, the center of political and religious life, as you can get: Galilee.
Opinion: Jesus is returning to the forty-year wilderness and exile sojourns of his ancestors: that place where they learned radical dependence upon the God of the Exodus, and God alone.
Question: If he is in the tradition of withdrawal, from what do we need to withdraw?
Opinion: We need to withdraw from the wilderness of Sin and Alienation.
Fact: Sin is related to the word “asunder.” Sin tears asunder the wholeness in which all belongs together.
Fact: Alienation suggests uprootedness from one’s true self, from others, and from God. And all of this with just one word!
Opinion: Sin alienates. Without alienation there is no sin. An action is sinful to the degree to which it causes alienation. Drawing the consequences from this understanding leads us away from a preoccupation with private perfection toward social responsibility.
Fact: “Working out our salvation” means overcoming alienation in all forms. Not some, not many, but all forms.
Opinion: We cannot work this out ourselves. We need God AND we need each other.
Fact: Belonging is the basic fact of life. All other facts rest on belonging.
Opinion: The path from Sin to Salvation is the way from alienation to belonging.
Fact: Belonging is the basic gift of life and being human.
Opinion: This highlights our need to withdraw from nowhere and now here where we feel alienated and allow the Spirit to move us back to belonging.
Fact: On Ash Wednesday Jesus commends three spiritual disciplines in this order: Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting. [Matthew 6:1-6,16-21]
Question: Why do modern day Christians tend to only focus on the third, fasting, in Lent? And not the other two? How might our journey out of the wilderness be facilitated by focusing on Almsgiving and Prayer?
Fact: We talk a lot about giving up certain foods, deserts, alcohol, TV, smoking, Facebook, Twitter, our addiction to “screens,” etc etc etc in Lent.
Question: Are we doing this to free ourselves for the Spirit to drive us somewhere new? Or, for reasons of personal perfection?
Fact: Almsgiving and Prayer can lead us out of our alienation from God and others, and therefore toward belonging and social responsibility.
Opinion: The way out of nowhere and now here is not through taking control of our lives, but by giving up all control and allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit. By letting go of all those things that keep us bound up in sin and alienation.
Fact: Such letting go is what it means to repent, to return, to come home to God. For God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk! It is we who have lost our way.
Question: Lent is already one-tenth gone. When are we going to let go and let the Spirit begin our journey out of exile, wilderness and alienation with Jesus? Amen.