This is the first Sunday of Lent and often I have preached on the passage about Jesus going into the wilderness following his Baptism. I always like preaching on that because I recognize that everyone of us knows about the wilderness and are frequently - in some aspect of our lives - in the wilderness.
So this morning as I sat with this scripture I reflected on my wilderness at this time. It is the waiting for the next chapter in my life. If you looked at my life right now you would think everything was great - and on one level it is. I write about time with grandchildren, I read books, go to movies, have opportunities with my daughters that are wonderful (like the murder mystery dinner last night with Marnie) And yet, underneath everything I sit with a question and a waiting.
This is not new for me. I remember in my twenties wondering what God wanted me to do with my life and what my "call" was to be. When I had Kacey - my first baby - that questioning was answered for a while. I really felt like it was enough to change diapers and care for this precious child. After Audrey was four the discontent and the questioning came back and eventually I ended up in seminary and then pastoral ministry. And I was not without "wilderness" but the question about purpose was answered for a while.
But now I am here and I am determined not to jump too fast and "make something happen." Because I certainly can do that. I am here for 40 days contending with the temptations of Satan and with the beasts and the angels.
I was lead this morning to a small book by Henri Nouwen called "In the Name of Jesus." It is writing about leadership and he is guided by 2 stories: the temptation of Jesus and the story of Peter's call to be shepherd. Henri Nouwen was a great spiritual writer who taught for many years at Harvard but later answered a call to work and live with mentally handicapped adults at L'Arche in Canada.
This book on leadership is about the temptations to be relevant, to be spectacular, to be leading.
And the reminder to me is that this countercultural life with God is about "wasting time" in prayer, it is about humble service that may not be seen or recognized, it is about being led instead of being in control. All of this is radical and difficult.
Here are a couple of quotes that I underlined
- "I am tellling you all this because i am deeply convinced that the christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life. "
"The secular world around us is saying in a loud voice, "We can take care of ourselves. We do not need God, the Church, or a priest. We are in control. And if we are not, then we have to work harder to get in control."
"The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Perhaps another way of putting the question would be: Do you know the incarnate God? In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cries, that reaches out and wants to heal."
He ends the book like this
"I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence as you anticipate the next century." (written in 1989!)
And so, as I sit in my wilderness place, I am grateful for those who can articulate this journey. And for the angels who are with me and nourish my spirit and give me strength in the midst of temptations.