A Choice Lauren Wright Pittman

Excited for the Wilderness

It’s Lent, folks! And I’m excited! I’m excited because it’s a period of stillness and while stillness and excitement don’t typically go together, I am excited. The Lenten journey is one that takes us through a period of solemnity – fasting, prayer, almsgiving – as we seek a closer relationship with God. This wilderness of sorts, as harsh, arid, and lonely as it can be, is the place where we are stilled to hear God speak more clearly. And, for us hearing God more clearly, it’s the place where we are strengthened to embrace the increase that awaits us at the end.

For an example of the wilderness experience, there’s Elijah in 1 Kings 19 who, fleeing Jezebel, escaped to the wilderness.  Elijah was alerted by an angel that the Lord would pass by. The Lord did pass. The Lord passed, though, not in the powerful wind, not in the earthquake, not even in the fire. Rather, when the Lord passed, when the Lord spoke, it was in the sheer silence. Lent offers us that sheer silence. The sheer silence is where we focus, where we reduce ourselves to simplicity – removing the distractions, the excess, and tuning in more sharply to God. In this process, we empty ourselves so that we can be filled, filled to continue the work that God has earmarked for us, filled to continue on the path to purpose.

There’s also the example of Jesus who, full of the Holy Spirit, was driven into the wilderness, and who, as reported in the Gospel according to Luke, after his period in the wilderness, ‘filled with the power of the Holy Spirit’ returned to Galilee where He began His earthly ministry. The wilderness represented a period of transition and preparation that was necessary before Jesus set out on His ministry on earth (hence, his words to Mary at the wedding at Cana that His time had not yet come). For us, brothers and sisters, Lent offers us that time for our own transition and preparation so that, beyond Lent, we too, can set out on our ministry.

Friends, a lot happens in wilderness and it’s for this reason that I’m excited. If we still ourselves and put on the cloak of intentionality, there is much that we will experience in our Lenten journey. To experience this abundance, though, we must commit ourselves to obedience as we begin this journey. Is it any wonder that this is the message of the First Sunday in Lent? Our ability to make it through the wilderness is founded on our commitment to obedience to the will of God.

Salvation through Obedience

The collect for the first Sunday in Lent pleads that God, knowing our weaknesses, will come quickly to help us during this season and that we will find God mighty to save. But how does God save us? It begins with obedience, very much like Jesus’ obedience to the point of death on a cross. Returning to the story of Elijah, you will observe that God spoke only after Elijah had obeyed the instructions given to him by the angel. Similarly, Jesus was preserved in the wilderness because He had obeyed the will of His Father to come to earth and dwell among us in the first place! Now, you might argue that Jesus could have chosen not to come to earth. However, the Son, who loves the Father, is not capable of disobedience to the will of the Father. As Jesus would later tell His disciples in John 15: If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

Reconciliation through Obedience

Turning now to the readings for this Sunday, the Lesson: Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-7, the Response: Psalm 32, the Epistle: Romans 5:12-19 and the Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11, we note a unifying theme of obedience and its role in our closeness to God. Upon closer inspection, you discern that the readings reflect a journey of reconciliation to God. As such, the Lesson, the account in Genesis of the first sin, tells of the act that triggered humanity’s separation from God – the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

Not settling for a hopeless fate for humanity, and beginning the journey of reconciliation with repentance, the Psalm celebrates in verse one ‘Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!’ As one continues to reflect on the Psalm, there’s a picture of a renewed covenant between the created and the Creator as the created commits in verse 6, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord who forgave me the guilt of my sin.’ And, our God who, as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness, commits in verse nine of the Psalm, ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye.’ Continuing in verse 10 and cautioning us that His mercy and compassion are not to be taken lightly, the Creator adds, ‘Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.’ Friends, the journey to reconciliation, this Lenten journey in which we propose to hear from God, begins with repentance, closely followed by obedience.

Continuing to pave the path to reconciliation, the Epistle, Romans 5:12-19, tells of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As Paul explains in verse 15, ‘But the free gift is not like the trespass [that is, the sin of Adam]. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.’ He adds in verse 19, ‘for just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous’. Can you not hear Paul in these words saying, ‘Reconciliation, following in the way of the one who came to be the light on the path back to the Father, requires obedience’? Friends, our Lenten journey, given our repentance on Ash Wednesday, requires us now to commit to obedience, and, as God sees us following in His way, God will reveal more to us, as He did to Elijah in the silence. As God sees us following in His way, God will fill us so that, like Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to access the increase that awaits us beyond the Lenten season.

But how can we obey that with which we are not familiar? And so, as we commit to obedience, we must commit to meditating on Holy Scripture. The Gospel reading today reminds us of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus overcame that temptation because He wielded the Sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and raised the Shield of Faith to dismiss the lies of the devil. The account ends with Jesus snapping, ‘Away with you Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” At this point, the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.’ Friends, I highlight for you, obedience is a form of worship. Reflecting on Holy Scripture (the word and the will of God) is also a form of worship. And what is worship? Worship is a means to draw closer to God, but who can draw closer to God without knowing the word and will of God and obeying the will of God? Therefore, if we are to worship God and serve him only, we must commit to obedience and, to be able to commit to that obedience, we must also commit to the daily study of His Word.

Fulfilment through Obedience

At this point, I return to my initial sharing: it’s Lent, and I’m excited! I’m excited because there is much that awaits us. Let us understand, though, that we can only tap into that ‘much’ if we commit to obedience. And yes, obedience is hard, obedience is testing, but we have the power to obey, not on our own, not by our might, not by our power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. Taking you back to my earlier reference to the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus was driven into the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit. Friends, we enter the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit. Since the beginning of the Liturgical Year, since Advent, we have been being filled with the Spirit. Through the weekday and weekend readings we have been filled as we have had daily and weekly accounts of the glory of Jesus Christ. We have been very well prepared to embark on this time in the wilderness. Let us be strong and courageous, then, acting in obedience to the word of the Lord that we receive during this period of stillness. Let us be strong and courageous for mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. Let us be strong and courageous. And, for having been strong and courageous, obeying the will of God, we can be glad and rejoice in the Lord, we can shout for joy, we who are true of heart as celebrated in the Psalm.

Friends, let us commit to obedience, for it is in obedience that we experience the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the joy of the Spirit.

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