St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene Episcopal Church—affectionately nicknamed "Two Saints"—is a diverse, joyful, and progressive congregation in the heart of Rochester, New York. We are an inclusive community of people, a family in faith who want to hear God’s word and follow Jesus in our daily lives. We feel strengthened by our diversity and by our unity in the breaking of the bread. Together we strive to be loving and forgiving towards ourselves and others. We try to honor all of God’s creation and not to be the instrument of our own or another’s oppression. We reach across our differences to embrace and support each other in nurturing corporate faith life. Together we use our talents in ministry to the urban community that encircles us, with God's guiding hand and blessing.
Text – Mark 1:12
February 18, 2018
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” [Mark 1:12]
The spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. It is odd that I never focused as much on this phrase in the gospel assigned for the first Sunday in Lent. This is the same spirit that was present at Jesus’ baptism, the same spirit that carried God’s seal of approval. The baptism of Jesus, being marked as God’s own, just as we are marked as God’s own in baptism, was part of being ready to deal with all the not so nice stuff the world was going to throw at Jesus.
Why is the wilderness experience necessary? Was Jesus’ being in the desert part of some rite of passage? Perhaps. The intent of the experience is not stated directly. Maybe because Mark thought future audiences would have to ponder what a wilderness experience would be for them.
I was beginning my sermon prep Saturday evening, and a funny thing occurred to me. I was thinking I did not have one of those “wilderness” tales to tell to illustrate what Jesus must have gone through in the wilderness. I did not get stuck in the desert with only a bottle of water and no foresight to check the day’s weather to see that it might be 120 degrees in the shade and maybe not take that desert hike in the first place! The closest I may have gotten to a wilderness experience was in my college days driving home for the Christmas break through the Adirondacks in a Volkswagen Beetle with no heat on the coldest and snowiest night on record. I remember there were four of us and we were the only car on the road – sensible people closed their restaurants and gas stations and stayed inside. I remember scraping ice off the windshield – inside the car! All I could think of was a warm bed and food. That was the closest I ever got to a wilderness experience.
But I did have a wilderness experience. I realized this while reading Mark’s account of Jesus in the wilderness. My wilderness was spent in the “wilderness” of Rensselaer, NY after graduating from seminary in 2008. During this time, I was starting over a process for ordination in the Episcopal Church in the diocese of Vermont. From June 2008 until January 18, 2014 was a period of uncertainty. Most of my seminary cohorts were ordained shortly after graduation and were working in parishes. I had no guarantee that ordination would happen, and I simply had to trust the discernment process one day at a time. Two years into my wilderness experience I had become comfortable with the waiting and was viewing the time as preparation for the demanding work of ministry. To become what God intended me to be I had to go to a place I had never been.
It is only today that I can look at the period between seminary and ordained ministry as a wilderness experience. If I had my “druthers,” I would have preferred to skip this period of spiritual struggle. We don’t volunteer to travel in the wilderness places of this world because they are scary. We as a people want things easy. We want our faith but without the generous helping of trial, temptation, and struggle (1). Oftentimes in our faith journey, we don’t get the luxury of picking and choosing spiritual challenges. Sometimes they are of our making other times these challenges pick us.
It is important to state that God is not the source of struggle or wants to teach us some divine moral lesson. But when the times of struggle find us, and they will, we need to be open to how God is still present for us and in the experience of wilderness.
When we find ourselves in a wilderness experience, there might be some questions to ask: “Even though I did not wish for this, how might God be at work through this difficult period? What can I get out of this? How might God use me to help someone else? (2) These questions arise so that we might pay attention to the presence of God amid trying times when we don’t have enough strength and courage to meet the challenge. Though not stated in today’s gospel, we need to know that the Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness did not abandon him but was with Jesus and brought Jesus out of the wilderness. The same is true for us.
So here we are at the border of the wilderness of Lent. We are not alone in our struggles, God is with us and will carry us through them. The spirit of God just might want us to take a trip into the wilderness to discover something about ourselves. God might want us to be in that wilderness because at some point you or I will be the one of the angels that attends to someone suffering a wilderness experience. “God is in the business of taking that which seems only to cause death and wring from it resurrection life.” (3)
Your homework for the first week in Lent is to think of those wilderness experiences you have gone through. Ask yourself how God was with you and brought you out of that wilderness experience. Then share that story with someone.
1 - David J. Lose, “Wilderness Faith” from the blog …in the Meantime, www.davidlose.net
2 - Ibid.
3 - Ibid.
CANCELLATION NOTICE: Due to the weather conditions, all activities at The Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene are cancelled today, including the Jazz Vespers previously scheduled for this evening. Our next Jazz Vespers will be held on Friday, April 6.