JourneyAnd the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)
My beloved Wisconsin siblings in Christ, we enter again into the period of Lent through the archway of Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance, contrition, and kenosis (self-emptying and abasement). We follow the footsteps of Jesus, sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. During this Lenten period leading to Holy Week and Easter, we tend to focus on temptations by Satan and the threat and danger of the wild beasts, but this year I invite us to focus on the angels.
Most people in the United States tend to focus on destinations – places we want to go, things we want to accomplish, people we want to meet, things we want to own. Ends justify means, and we don’t give much thought to our processes of movement, preparation, saving, or planning. Process is simply not as important to many of us as outcomes and achievements. The “what” is a greater motivator than the “how”.
Thirty-five years ago, Nell Morton wrote a wonderful book called, The Journey is Home, sharing stories and reflections on the rise of women’s leadership in the Christian faith. The title of this book contains a profound truth of our walk with Jesus – the journey is home, it is exactly where God wants us to be.
Wilderness is scary to us because it is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and unknown. But the best way to get to know wilderness – to make friends with it – is to enter fully in. A few days is not enough. A couple of weeks is not enough. The gift of forty days (with all of its rich and great theological meaning) is just long enough – either we will make friends with wilderness or wilderness just might defeat us. It is both a challenge and an opportunity.
Nature provides many challenges that are neither good nor bad, but they just are – God’s creation acting with integrity. Human beings enter wilderness with risk, but also with an incredible capacity to learn, to adapt, to grow, and to improve. Survival skills allow us not only to survive, but to thrive, and it takes time to develop them.
Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness is a metaphor for our entire lives of faith – we walk through unknown and unfamiliar territory, learning as we go, hopefully improving and thriving (with God’s help). We face limitless temptations and multiple forms of “wild beasts,” but in our faith, we never face these alone. We go with God, filled by the Holy Spirit, attended by angelic forces, walking with Jesus, and in the loving grace of a community of Christian friends. This is the journey.
Too often, we seek to leap to Easter, ignoring the wilderness, the work, the sacrifice, the danger, and the challenges we encounter before we get there. But the journey is more important than the destination. God has already taken care of the ending. Our task is to make the journey of life wisely and well. We strive to become more Christ-like, mastering the survival skills to travel our road with integrity and grace. We learn to be more loving, more caring, more giving, more merciful. We become kinder, gentler, patient, and just. We forgive more, share more, and serve more. We are peace-makers, peace-builders, peace-keepers, and peace-lovers. We reject the -isms and phobias that do harm, commit violence, and seek to destroy – sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia. We send Satan fleeing by laughing in the devil’s face, choosing instead to pursue God will all our heart, mind, soul, and spirit; choosing to love every child of God on earth as we love ourselves.
The journey is our home. This home created for us by a loving and mighty God. This home decorated with all the equipment we need to live faithfully in our world. This home filled to overflowing with the energy and power of the Holy Spirit. My friends, during this Lententide, enter not a wilderness of danger and threat, but a place where you – where we all – belong. I am excited to take this journey with you. Thanks be to God.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).