A Word from Our Pastor 2015 February

A Word from Our Pastor

This is one of those years when Easter arrives early: this year it will be April 5! For this special Christian day preparation begins 40 days prior, on Ash Wednesday, when the season of Lent begins, February 18, 2015.

One major theme of Lent in Christian teaching is the “wilderness” experience. Being raised in the city, I never had much experience of true wilderness. I’ve driven through the desert, but never spent much time there. As for the woods, our family wasn’t much for camping, so I mostly had day trips or stays in cabins. So I have to use my imagination a lot when thinking about the wilderness.

In the Bible, the wilderness is a hostile place: the desert. One time I was traveling through the Biblical wilderness – the Sinai – and saw someone herding a small flock of sheep. The sheep were eating plants so small that the greenery was not visible to someone driving. To see the ground cover, one had to stop, get out, and lean down near to the ground. It was difficult for me to believe that people could actually make a living in such a barren place. Certainly, it would only a very small group of people could subsist there.

One of the stories from the Bible that “frames” the wilderness theme is the Israelites’ “wandering” in the wilderness for 40 years after leaving slavery in Egypt. They are on their way to the promised land, but there are some things they need to learn about God first! Almost immediately after leaving Egypt, the people were unfaithful (remember the golden calf they worshipped right after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea?) When the people reached the border of the promised land, they refused to enter, thinking they could not defeat the local inhabitants. God was angered by their lack of faith, and said that no one of that generation would be allowed to enter: thus they wandered for 40 years.

But the 40 years was not wasted time: in the wilderness the Israelites learned to rely on God. There were many kinds of lessons for them, and lots of complaining on their part. They missed the meat, garlic and onions they had in Egypt; some wanted to turn back to Egypt and slavery because they feared the difficulties that lay ahead. Trust was the big issue of the wilderness: the people had difficulty trusting God, trusting their leader, Moses; it was hard even to trust themselves.

As we learned in a Faith Clinic series a couple of months ago, we do not need to be concerned to be sure whether the wilderness wandering is an historical fact. On another level, it is a story through which we can discover something about our faith and ourselves. I wrote earlier that I haven’t had much experience with surviving in the wilderness. But I do know something about the “wilderness” of life. By that I mean the times in life when we are going through something difficult and the future is uncertain; for example when we about to try something new: choosing a college, changing jobs; marriage, pregnancy, moving to a new location are all times when the future may be both frightening and full of promise. Other wilderness times are when changes are forced upon us (loss of job, relocation), divorce, serious illness and disability, and the deaths of people who are close to use: in these times a lot is at risk; the present may be confusing (lots of decisions to make) and overwhelming (especially when change comes suddenly) and the future very uncertain. During these wilderness times, often questions of faith become important more than ever before.

TRUST is the issue: whether it is a community wandering a barren land for a generation or it is we ourselves wandering through life. We can laugh at the Israelites for preferring slavery (with meat in the cooking pot) to liberation, but in our own lives do we also choose safety (even if it is a kind of “slavery”) over freedom? Do we stay in jobs or relationships for security rather than choosing to serve God and fulfill our dreams? Do we hang on to habits, even self- destructive ones (smoking, procrastinating, spending too much money, video games) rather than go through the effort of making our lives and ourselves more available to God? Perhaps we don’t take the risk of change because we are anxious about what may happen (the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know. . .) or because we are tired, lazy or just too comfortable with how things are. Are we really so hopeless that we can’t take the first step?

But behind all of this is TRUST. Do we trust God enough to begin to make a change? If we take the first step, do we believe that God will be with us, guiding us, helping us, encouraging us? Is there something in your life that you know God wants you to do, but you have not proceeded because of fear, or lack of faith? It’s not a complicated choice, but can be a very difficult one. The choice is to continue to live “halfway” – doing things out of habit and safety – or daring to dream and taking the first step. The promised land is there, flowing with milk and honey, and God also has promised to be with us. God has already proved God’s presence to us in so many ways (most of us have lives much more safe than many people on the planet), and now we have the choice of trusting, one more time. As you reflect upon the wilderness of your life this Lenten season, how long will you wander?
–Rev. Naomi