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Duration:29 mins

The season of Lent is a forty-day period, not counting Sundays, of preparation for Easter. This year, as I shared a bit earlier in the welcome, our theme for these Wednesday night Lenten services is “In the Wilderness.” We will be slowly walking through the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness as we encounter it in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, verses 1-13.

Tonight, we begin with just the first verse, verse 1, as it sets the stage for all that is to come. Let us hear this Word of God.

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I do not often watch the television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, but somehow I managed to catch this past week’s episode. It was a challenging episode as the doctors sought to treat over 50 people, mostly teenagers, hospitalized with opioid overdoses due to bad drugs obtained in a park near the hospital. However, in the midst of that there was one doctor, Dr. Avery, who was trying to get his girlfriend, Dr. Pierce, to go camping with him. Needless to say, she is not enthused.

Dr. Pierce is in the midst of treating a man from the park. But this man, named Ralph, was not a drug addict. In fact, he was a hero in that he brought the child of an addict to the hospital after the boy had been abandoned in the park. But while there, the doctors discovered Ralph’s feet were covered with sores and lesions. Dr. Pierce has been carefully and gently cleaning and bandaging Ralph’s feet when Dr. Avery comes in the room to consult and to make one more case for the camping trip. He says,
“Babe, see, the thing is you think you can't go camping this weekend, okay? But once we get out there, you're gonna find it breathtaking.

“And you will realize all the things we don't need in life, just how much we don't need, okay? When you're sitting there by a fire crackling, one bowl, one spoon, you realize we don't need three pairs of ski boots.

“And don't tell me that you don't ski. I know you don't ski, because it's outdoors, but that's probably because your parents didn't take you outdoors, but when I do, you will see.”

He then turns to Ralph and says,

“Okay, so, we're almost finished here. I'll get you bandaged up. It's important that you keep this clean and dry, okay?”

Dr. Pierce says, “That'll be tricky. Ralph lives in the park. He brought in a little missing boy today.”

Dr. Avery is shocked into silence until he says, “Oh. The park. Okay, I hadn't realized that.”

Ralph replies, “It's okay. Makes you realize all the things you don't need.”

I share that short episode with you as we begin our Lenten journey with Jesus “In the Wilderness” because it illustrates the paradox of the wilderness for us. Popular social scientist Brené Brown puts it this way,

Theologians, writers, poets, and musicians have always used the wilderness as a metaphor, to represent everything from a vast and dangerous environment where we are forced to navigate difficult trials to a refuge of nature and beauty where we see space for contemplation. What all wilderness metaphors have in common are the notions of solitude, vulnerability, and an emotional, spiritual, or physical quest.

We see the second metaphor with Dr. Avery, right? He wants to get away and into the great outdoors, stripping off all the extra stuff of his life in the midst of the beauty and wonder of sitting around a campfire. In the wilderness there is time to think and explore - it sounds ideal, right? Especially for many of us who live in big houses filled with lots of stuff. Perhaps this season of Lent in the wilderness will be a time for you and for me to simplify, get back to our roots, and discern what is truly important in faith and in life.

On the other hand, in Ralph, who lives in the park, the outdoors, the wilderness, we see the danger and the difficulty. How is he going to keep his newly bandaged feet clean and dry? The temptations in the park are numerous: drugs, violence, weather, finding enough to eat. Ralph must navigate all these things alone. We read of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by the devil, and we know how hard the wilderness can be and not just because we are separated from our creature comforts like Wi-Fi and good cell service. Even if we are not in a literal wilderness during this season of Lent, I suspect that many of us can identify with the idea of be displaced from what is familiar; facing questions about who we really are and what the future holds; struggling to navigate all the demands of this day much less tomorrow.

Yes, my friends, this season of Lent we are going to be in the wilderness, in all its glory and all its challenges. And today, I want to make a big ask of you so that together we might truly enter this time and space. I want to ask you to be honest with yourself and God. Allow the questions of the wilderness to really speak to you.

Where are you in your life?

How is your faith?

What is the state of your most important relationships?

Who is God calling you to be?

As we enter the wilderness, can we together risk being truly open and vulnerable before God?

We begin this journey with ashes because I believe we can open ourselves to God and to the wilderness questions. Ashes - the glory of last year's palm branches burned into dust. A sign of repentance, vulnerability, and death. And yet we receive those ashes in the shape of a cross. For in the wilderness, we, like Jesus, are never alone. Filled with the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit in the wilderness, God invites us to come and meet him there.

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