Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lent begins - the desert awaits

The Desert awaits                                                                         
Ready for those who come
Who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading
Or who are driven
Because they will not come any other way.

Those are the opening words of a poem by Ruth Burgess. It reminds us of what the desert has come to signify in some peoples writing and thinking.

What image comes to your mind when you think of a desert?
A dry and arid place
A place of extremes heat in the day cold in the night
A harsh and hostile place
A place of death
A place to be feared and not entered into.

Jesus immediately after his baptism, marking beginning of his public ministry, is driven out into the desert by the Spirit. It seems that he may have been unwilling, hence the way Mark uses the word “driven” where as the later gospel writers use the word “led”.

One of the ways in which Christian writers have used the image of the desert, is to associate the desert with those times of life when we seem to loose our faith or hope.

The times when life seems to be come unbearable.

It has been used to symbolise the “dark night of faith” when God seems far from us and we become uncertain of what lies ahead and whether or not we have the strength to go on.  

We live in a time of great fear and darkness. The fear and terror that stalks our collective and individual consciousness continues to add unease and results in paralysis and aloneness.

As time honoured and familiar markers that give meaning and direction in the landscape of our existence are being swept away it does indeed seem that we are encountering a wilderness in our modern life, shifting sands of subjective individual feeling.

One of those familiar landmarks that has been eroded by the advances of the modern urban life is that of relationship. The relationship between ourselves and the environment, ourselves as fellow citizens and between ourselves and God.

 The season of Lent offers us the opportunity to once again take stock and re-evaluate our Christian commitment, to God and one another as we begin next Sunday evening our lent course “Everybody Welcome” by Bob Jackson.  It is a time when we will journey with our Lord into the desert. It is a time in which we will face the same temptations that he faced –
To find ways to live without reference to God our father.
To find other ways for meaning and purpose in our lives that come at the expense of our relationship with God.

As we journey with Jesus this morning into the desert
As we mark this morning the beginning of our Lentern journey
we remember those who have travelled through the desert before us.

In our first reading we were reminded of Noah who in spite of the mocking  jibes and incredulity of those around him built an ark to protect all that was good in the world and preserve it for a new and better future.

He must have known something of the desert experience as he and his family looked out over the unbroken surface of water for 40 days and nights that had swept away all the familiar landmarks of their life and experience.

The sight of the rainbow, itself only possible in the interaction/the juxtaposition between those familiar opposites of rain and sunshine, dark cloud and clear sky, brought hope and promise into the life of a man on the brink of despair and sorrow.

There was Moses who lead the children of Israel through the desert. This  was a time of change and a time of hardship, a time when all the security of life in Egypt was left behind and a future, defined only by promise, was embraced.

But more importantly it was a time for learning how to be obedient to God. It was while the Israelites wandered, apparently lost, in the vastness of the desert, that God made his presence known to them by giving them the Law, the 10 commandments, by feeding them the manna, the bread from heaven, by sticking the rock so that water flowed for the people to drink God provided and ensured their survival.

You may remember Elijah who cried out in his “dark night of faith”  “It is enough O lord take my life”.

He was alone, the last of the prophets and as a wanted man was hiding in the mountains dejected, lost and at his wits end. His cry of despair is just one of many in the pages of scripture of those who long to understand the ways of God and his purposes in their lives, as indeed we in our time long for purpose and meaning in the seemingly random and cruel world of our making.

Then there is the cry of another prophet, Ezekiel who looking out at the seeming hopelessness of life cried out to God “Can these dry bones live?”

It is this cry that those of us who dare to come and stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday will hear uttered by God in the voice of his own son at the end of the journey we begin today. “My God My God, Why have you forsaken me”.

If we are able to look upon this God forsaken man, we will be able to look into the god forsaken parts of our life and see the love of God the father and with it the possibility of new life being breathed into those dry and arid places; as he brought life and light into the broken and cold body of Jesus.

If we dare to journey into the desert, then we will find ourselves on a journey of self discovery and find that we are not alone, just as Jesus found in the desert, in the long cold nights, that he was himself in the company not just of wild beasts but angels too. 

As I look back over the events of my own life, I like so many of you see times of loneliness, brokenness, and loss. Times when it seems that all that I love most in this world slip from my grasp in a moment. It is then that
I am confronted with my own weakness, my inability to shape or control  events and this in itself is part of the test to be faithful to God and trust in his providence.

What we have to learn, what we still need to learn, is that God is never far from us. That the silence of God can be terrifying and may seem as final as death.
But far from being absent God is in the silence,
He is in the “dark night of faith.”
He is in the wilderness and deserted places of our being
And he is there bringing together all things for his glory.

May you have a blessed Lent and use the time to draw closer to God and trusting in him place your hand in his and journey into the desert within.

The desert awaits……….

And whilst we fear, and rightly
The loneliness and emptiness and harshness,
We  forget the angels,
Whom we cannot see for our blindness
But who come when God decides
That we need their help;
When we are ready
For what they can give us.

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