The Call and Challenge Of the Wilderness

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I was a very dramatic child growing up, and in fact I think that I am still probably a very dramatic person. And so, when this Mark reading was our reading for the beginning of Lent, I was always disappointed because there is no drama in this reading. In our other gospels we have Jesus arguing with John before he is baptized. We have Jesus actually being tempted by Satan and we hear what those temptations are and so there is drama in that. And here in Mark, no drama whatsoever. Jesus comes, he is baptized, he goes into the wilderness, he is tempted but we don’t know what those temptations are. But then he was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.

And I came to realize that maybe the drama was missing from this reading, but this reading offered us something else. It offered us an intimacy, an intimate view of Jesus and John, John recognizing that he needed to baptize Jesus. We have the intimacy of the voice that says, “You are my son, the beloved.” And then, we have Jesus in the wilderness and while we do not hear what he was tempted by Satan with, we do know that he was tempted. And during this temptation, God had him with the wild beasts giving us a foretaste, giving Jesus a foretaste, of God’s kingdom on earth when the lamb will lie down with the lion, when all of creation will join together in worshipping and loving our God. And the angels waited on him. The intimacy of the angel waiting on Jesus; and we are called into that intimacy. We are called to be part of that experience of a wilderness time. We are called to heed with Jesus the call by the Spirit to go into the wilderness.

And Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days recalling for him and for us the forty years of the children of Israel in the wilderness who were tempted like he was; but unlike him, actually succumbed to those temptations - that they built idols, that they complained about God, that they got angry and afraid and wondered why they had been called away from Egypt to suffer in the wilderness. But they also came to experience who God was – a God who loved them, a God who called them back time and time again, a God who fed them, a God who made water to flow from a rock for them, a God who continued in his promise for a promised land for them - even as they were tempted and turned away from God.

And so, we, as Jesus is in the wilderness, are also called into our own wilderness time. We are called by the Spirit to take the time to reflect on who we are, whose we are, how we live God’s call in our lives and how we fail to live God’s call in our lives.

So, whenever this gospel has been the one that opens Lent for us, I have taken it as an invitation by God, not to think about what I should give up for Lent but rather to think about how I can use Lent as my wilderness experience, as a time to reflect, as a time to pay attention to the ways of temptation in my life, to listen to God’s call on my life in my ministry.

And so, I invite you to take this gospel too as an invitation into the wilderness. For me, that invitation into the wilderness is about looking into my soul, looking into those places where I am tempted to forget that I am a child of God, those places where I am tempted to trust in my own power, those times and places where I am tempted by the world, by wealth, by power, by fame to not be God’s beloved child.

I invite you to think of the ways and places that you are tempted – tempted by Satan to ignore God’s love in your heart, God’s call on your life – and to recognize that God stands ready in those places of temptation to be with you. That when we are not strong enough to withstand temptation, God says, “I am here. Turn to me. Cry to me. Pray to me and I will give you the strength, the humility you need to face temptation.”

I like to think of wilderness time as fallow time, from the time when our societies were agricultural and we would leave a field after it had been harvested for a year or so to recover and leave it fallow so that it could rest, it could receive the blessing of rain and of God’s nature. And I like to think of us as fields that sometimes need that fallow time, that wilderness time.

After my father died, I came back to the U.S. and realized that, as much as I had stood out and stood up saying, “I don’t want to be recognized as simply the daughter of Desmond Tutu,” that in fact, much of my life and even much of my ministry was identified by being the daughter of Desmond Tutu. And when for the first time, somebody introduced me as daughter of the late Desmond Tutu, my heart skipped a beat, and I realized that something felt off kilter for me. And I decided that I needed wilderness, fallow time to regroup, to reassess, to recognize the new me, to recognize that this was a new chapter in my life: the daughter of the late Desmond Tutu.

And I believe that each year Lent gives us that opportunity – the opportunity to regroup, to pay attention to the places of hurt, to the places of confusion, to the places that we need to heal so that we can go out and do God’s ministry in the world. Jesus knew that before he could be fully the Messiah, fully the one he was called to be in the world, before he could go out and call disciples, before he could go out and do miracles, before he could feed thousands, before he could heal the sick, that he needed to go into the wilderness. To be able to sit quietly with himself, with God, even with Satan; to stand up to the challenges that he knew he would face; to spend time with the wild beasts so that he would recognize that his ministry was for all of creation; to spend time in silence being waited on by God’s angels, so that he could receive all the power and love that he would need to free us from our sins.

And so, when we step into our wilderness time, we are being called into a time both of rest but also of reflection. A time to give thanks for God’s love and also to pay attention to the places that we fall short of God’s love. That when we spend these forty days seeing ourselves in the wilderness, we are being called by God, who says to each of us, “You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

And may we take those words of God and use them as the guide for our lives as we come out of the wilderness. Amen.

Mother-Father God, we give you thanks for wilderness. We give you thanks for the opportunity to be with you silently in our hearts, recognizing your love for us and recognizing even where we have failed you. Bless us in this time of Lent that we might take this opportunity to be your beloved children. Amen.