Wandering with Jesus, March 10

Wandering with Jesus

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Quarryville and Catskill United Methodist Churches; March 10, 2019

 

Wandering is not a foreign concept for me.  I don’t like the Google map person to tell me where I’m supposed to turn when I’m driving, because I don’t like anyone telling me what to do.  So I glance at the map on my phone, then I put it down and think, ‘oh, sure, I get it.  I’ll head over there and turn.’  And I get lost and I wander.  I did it twice yesterday in fact, once in Hudson and once in Albany. But my wanderings have a general sense of where I started and where I’m going; I have a half tank of gas and a car with a working heater, and I can pull over and check the map again.  I guess I could even turn on the talking person to take me back home if I really got lost.  I haven’t gotten that lost yet.  If I wander for more than 20 or 25 minutes, I do usually pause and figure out where I am. If I spent 40 minutes wandering in a city, I’d start to be worried.

 

In contrast to my wandering, Jesus wandered in the desert, not for forty minutes, but for forty days.  Biblical scholars suggest that it’s very possible that forty days is shorthand or slang for a very long time.  I get that.  But whether Jesus was in the wilderness for precisely five weeks and five days, or whether he was there simply for a very long time, his time there was difficult.  The Spirit that led him into the wilderness may well have known where Jesus was going, but I see no reason to think that Jesus knew where he was headed.  He simply went. And wandered.  And thought and prayed.    He came from a good history of wandering.  Many years before, God and Moses had led the people out of slavery in Egypt and into freedom.  They spent the first few decades of their new-found freedom wandering in the wilderness, not quite sure where they were headed.  Today’s reading from Deuteronomy references that trek of the people.  The ritual of thanksgiving in the temple described in that reading began with approaching the priest with a grain or other farm produce offering and saying, A wandering Aramean was my father.  That is, “I may be settled now, but it is only by the grace of God.  My ancestors lived in slavery and then wandered in the desert, surviving only by the care of the hand of the God who saved them.” 

 

Jesus knows this history of the wandering people; it is his story, his history, his people.  As he heads to the wilderness, the desert, he knows he is placing himself in the hands of the Almighty, hoping for the same mercy and grace for survival that they enjoyed.  Knowing, too, that the blessing of wandering is precisely to have to trust in God’s provision.  Jesus has, in fact, just heard a voice from heaven proclaim that he is beloved, God’s son, and that God is pleased with what’s he’s up to. 

 

What is he up to?  Well, I believe he’s there to figure that out.  The narration of the temptations by Satan are in fact, quite tempting.  He knows he wants to make a difference in the world; he may well know he’s in the world to save the world – Luke isn’t as explicit about that as John seems to be, but we can trust his mama told him about his wondrous birth and all that the shepherd related about the angel’s song that night.  He certainly knows that much is expected of him in this world. In the process of figuring out what he is supposed to do, he rejects Satan’s ideas.  Jesus chooses very clearly that simply feeding the crowds with magic or forcing their hearts to accept God because of the powers of angels is not at the heart of his work.  And he chooses very clearly, too, that God is at the heart of whatever it is he will do; Jesus won’t take on anything that doesn’t have God at its center.  

 

Wandering in wilderness is a situation most of us have encountered at one point or another.  There is benefit to it, especially if it is a planned wandering, an opportunity for retreat and getting away from the stress of our daily lives.  But I think Luke is pushing us to remember the unplanned wanderings of our lives.  The days, or weeks, or months when we felt lost and without purpose or understanding.  Some people hit a time like this early in their lives, asking themselves what really matters in life, struggling with the complexity of the real world coming up against the ideal that we had imagined until then, emerging out of it with a vision of where they want to go and what they want to do with the rest of their lives.  Others come upon a wilderness time when they hit what feels like 'middle age,' when their youth is spent but they have years ahead of them and they worry whether they're on the right track after all.  Some people sail through life for decades and come into a wilderness experience when they retire and feel unnecessary and tossed aside.  Many people wander through grief, a time we are rarely prepared for which brings emptiness and struggle and much pain.  Some people end up in the wilderness more than once over the course of life, often with similar tumbleweeds and caves, but rarely with a similar or straight path out of it.   No-one finds time in the wilderness easy, and often it is only once we are safely beyond it that can we look back and appreciate its capacity for teaching us wisdom.  Often there is wisdom in the struggle, strength gained from perseverance, courage discovered in facing fear, hope unearthed in the midst of surviving the long days.  Sometimes there is only the basic reality of getting through.  Living in the wilderness may feel impossible.  The wisdom of those who have struggled before keeps you going – one day at a time. 

 

Sometimes the experience of wilderness is holy.  Prayer and ongoing connection with God can help get you through.  Often the desert feels like even God is far, far away.  The news that Jesus walked the same road may be of solace.  The depth of difficulty doesn't diminish, but there is assurance that this isn't all there is, that Jesus himself, love incarnate, light of the world, knew this same feeling of lostness and loneliness.  For some in the wilderness there are angels who will minister to you.  They don't bring you out of the wilderness, but they care for you while you are there.  There are phone calls or a door held open, there are squares of Gouda offered at the grocery store, there are poems that speak to your heart from the pages of a magazine. 

 

If you've been through the wilderness, you remember.  Keep an eye out and a heart open for those who are wandering today. 

If you are struggling through the wilderness now, know that you are not alone. 

If you have only stepped a foot into the wilderness now and then, count yourself blessed, but know that others have struggled hard, and be compassionate to them.  Hear their cries if they cry; listen to their wisdom gained from their struggles. 

 

Perhaps this Lent feels like wilderness to you this year.  Both the nation and the United Methodist Church are unsettled, with deep opposition that is obvious, front and center, and people living in fear of what will happen next.  Perhaps your wilderness is closer to home, a family upset or difficulties at work.  Remember that Jesus is with us. Even in the wilderness, even in our wanderings when we don’t know where we’ll end up, we aren’t in this alone.

 

We are beloved, we are precious and called and useful to God's purpose, even when we can't see the way ahead.  May that good news sustain you throughout these forty days of Lent.  Amen.

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

26When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, (UMH 810)

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord,  “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the adder,

     the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

When they call to me, I will answer them;

I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.

With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Romans 10:8b-13

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Luke 4:1-13

4Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.