“Lessons from the Wilderness”

Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent, 21 February 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 13.


Against the backdrop of Lent and our preparation for Easter, we are still wrestling with the issue of the climate and whether or not it is changing and whether or not we can reverse any change that might be occurring. There are some who will tell you quite emphatically that there is no change or the change that is occurring is cyclical in nature. Yes, the climate of this planet does have a cyclical nature but we should be cooling off, not warming up. And we are warming up. The pack ice around the Arctic is melting; this planet’s weather is becoming more and more extreme. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is now at 387 ppm (for an explanation of what a ppm is, see “What is a part per million?) and is rising (see http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ for data at one location). And while we may laugh while the East Coast of the United States gets blasted by successive snow storms while the Winter Olympics have to truck in snow for the skiing events, these events are examples of the extreme changes in weather that accompany climate change.

But I think it is more than just the climate change that we need to be worried about at this time. It is that we have forgotten how we got here and what we should be doing. The forty days of Lent are to be a reminder of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to the beginning of his ministry; they are also supposed to symbolize the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness before being allowed to enter into the Promised Land.

But whereas Jesus resisted the temptations put before Him, we as a people and knowingly or unknowingly as individuals, have not done such a good job. We want the good food, the power, and the glory that Jesus put aside. We have been given a good place to live and we have trashed it and we have turned neighbor against neighbor, nation against nation.

It isn’t just the extreme rich who seem to grab for all they can get and then find some way to keep it; it is those who profess anger at the extreme rich and then wander why they can’t have the same things. I would agree with many who have been involved in the political protests that have marked the past year or so if it weren’t for the fact that I see in these protests a certain amount of selfishness and greed.

There are definitely things wrong with the ways things are done in this country today but the answer is not found in political protests that basically say “give me what you got!” There is a call by some to take our money out of the big mega-banks (the ones that are too big to fail) but I wonder where those who are making the call keep their money (some have moved to community banks but I have to wonder if they all have and, by the way, we have moved from a BIG bank to a smaller community bank). If these protests (both left and right) were more about the people instead of the individual, I might find some credibility in them. But the anger and resentment directed at politicians is just that, anger and resentment, and in the end, nothing will change and the lot of the people will not have changed.

But perhaps because so much of this is happening now, at the beginning of Lent, there is a chance and a hope that we can change the world around us.

From the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, we are reminded that we are here because of God’s grace. The first fruits that we have need to be returned to God. So we stop keeping the good stuff for ourselves. My home church, like so many churches in this area, is faced with many financial challenges and I proposed one solution to the problem that was pretty quickly shot down. I basically proposed that we set aside 10% of each Sunday’s offerings for our apportionments in order to resolve the problem about paying the apportionments. And I said that by doing this, we would begin to see a resolution of the other financial problems. I know that this approach works but it only works if you see apportionments as the tip of the mission of the church instead of a bill that must be paid (see “What is a church? Is it the building or the people inside it?”).

What would happen if we were to view each person in our home communities, in our nation, and on this planet as equal to ourselves? What would happen if we were to echo Paul’s words to the Romans that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek or, as he told the Galatians, no male or female, free or slave as well. We are all the same in God’s eyes. Yes, I know that he put this in the context of those who had accepted Jesus as their Savior. But I also know that there are many who make that acceptance mandatory and without thought. If I say to you that you are doomed because you do not believe the way that I believe, am I really living the life the way I am supposed to be living? Or am I seeking the power and the glory that was offered Christ during the 40 days?

These forty days, meant to remember the time in the wilderness, can be the most important forty days of our lives. When we leave this wilderness, will we have cast aside our old ways, our destructive and selfish ways? Or will we keep them, seeking only for ourselves? Will we use these forty days to cleanse our soul and find deep within us who we truly are? Will we use this time to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our soul for the betterment of the world through Christ?

We know that these forty days can change us. And if they can change us, we can change the world. There are lessons in these forty days; are you prepared to learn the lessons from the wilderness?

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