On Servants' Wings
A gynandromorph butterfly with the transgender pride flag for the front wing and the rainbow pride flag on the rear wing On Servants Wings
Resources and Reflections by Ari Leigh


Life in the Wilderness


Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent shared with All Saints' Episcopal Church in South Hadley, MA on Feb. 22, 2015

Print Version


Text: Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15


"May God grant us the courage, the wisdom and the strength to seek always after the truth, come whence it may and cost what it will."

As a librarian I've nurtured an abiding love of questions.

My favorites are the ones that sound simple,

but end up with extremely complex answers

For example, what is Lent?

This was the first question I asked

shortly after I joined the Episcopal Church.


Most of us are familiar with the initial answers I was given.

Lent is a season that prepares us for Easter,

a form of " spiritual spring cleaning"

where we make space for God to wipe out the bad things

so we can be ready to better appreciate God's blessings.


Yet this simplistic overview fails to explain why Lent is my favorite season.

It lacks the nuance of how this penitential season,

with its austere decoration and challenging prayers

has repeatedly taken my faith to an entirely different dimension.

I think a part of what draws me back to Lent,

year after year,

is that each time I come to it differently,

and after partaking in its rhythms

I have yet to join the Easter festival unchanged.


This year my meditations on Lent have driven me into the wilderness.


Not just the wilderness I pictured as a child,

An endless sea of sand and heat

With a tumbleweed rolling in the distance

A drastic shift from our current artic existence.


But rather I find myself drawn to the barren wastelands

that we recognize within our souls.


When I speak of the wilderness

I find myself on the border

looking both outward and within.


As I look outward over the physical world,

I cannot help but be touched by the overwhelming disregard for life

That is so prevalent within our world

Poverty and unemployment, racism and incarceration,

The frequent murders of human beings

only because they are different.

All of these create a bleak landscape.


Looking within, I find a similar setting

The view tarnished by grief and fear,

The air heavy with an oppressive smog of doubt and regret.


We are all touched by the wilderness in some way.

Whether we are surrounded by the desolation in our world,

Or trapped by the bleakness of our minds

In this very moment we are in the wilderness.


And that is where the richness of Lent shines forth.


Lent is a time when we can gather as a community to name the truths

That we often prefer to stay buried.

From the pressing reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday

To the painful acknowledgement of our failures

The times we've lost sight of God's love in ourselves

and Their light in those around us

This is a season where we are freed

to confront the darkest parts of our existence

and to be reminded that we are not in the wilderness alone.


This week our readings provide us with two different responses to this wilderness.

The first is the temptation to confront the wilderness head on

To obliterate every obstacle,

To kill off everything that makes the wilderness, what it is.


This is the solution that we are confronted with

when we ponder the flood that rocked Noah's ark.


A college friend once asked me, what type of world could be so bad

that would justify that total destruction?

What wilderness was so horrible that God would

"blot out every living thing from the ground" in order to conquer it.

I didn't have an answer for hir. For, uncomfortable as it is,

the description of Noah's world

"that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth"

feels a bit closer to a modern news report, than an ancient problem.

Yet our reading today doesn't focus on the flood,

but what happens afterwards.

Our attention is drawn not to destruction, but a promise.

"The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh"


Upon seeing the total destruction wrought by the flood

God promises to never respond to the wilderness in that way again

Total devastation is not a solution to the wilderness we face.


So that leaves us with the second option,

Rather than following our tendency to remove problems

God chooses to embrace them.

Rather than destroying the wilderness

God chooses to enter it.


We see this come to life in the earth-shattering miracle of the incarnation

God in flesh among us

In our world

Sharing our joy

& Feeling our grief


Millennia after the flood,

Human beings had yet again created a wilderness

Shaped by wickedness and despair

Empires had arisen, poverty thrived, and hope was all but lost


Yet God did not abandon the promise.

To the wilderness we created there was no threat of destruction,

But rather an infant's cry.


God joined us here.

Not to destroy the wilderness of our souls

But to redeem it.

In the person of Christ

God showed us there was another way of responding to the wilderness.


The Gospel of Mark makes it clear that it is in the wilderness

that Jesus's ministry began.


"And the Spirit immediately drove him to the wilderness"

Immediately!

Can you feel the urgency?


What was so important in the wilderness?

And what would the one who was in the beginning with God

Make of the wilderness that became his home for 40 days

And the trembling world that became his life thereafter?


What would the one who had once brought forth life from lifeless dust

Make of a place others believed barren?


It was from this reflection,

that I received the inspiration for this week's W(Holy) Queer.

W(Holy) Queer is just one of the ways we are trying to

connect with students where they are.

Each week I bring a question to a place where students gather

to invite conversation and reflection

about the places faith and religion

are crossing boundaries in their lives.


This week I asked the communities at Mount Holyoke and Hampshire

"Where do you find life in the wilderness"

Some focused on physical features

Sunlight, blizzards, and sparkling snow

The mountains, and the sound that nature makes

Others zoomed in on the creatures that share our existence

Bunnies, and spiders and animals

Still more found life in the intangible things

The transience of the self

Reading Psalms

And in a child's heart.


It was from their answers that I was reminded that Jesus

Looking out over the barren wasteland,

Most likely saw life, vibrant and thriving,

Within the heart of the wilderness.


And so he left that place,

The inner silence where he was surrounded by the wild beasts

And returned to Galilee


He brought back his discovery, the truth that he had seen.

The wilderness, like a book, cannot be judged by its cover

For within the vast expanse of emptiness, life is swarming within.


From the wilderness of the desert region Jesus returned to our wilderness

To proclaim the Good News

That even within the wilderness,

Of the desert, of our souls and even

Within a broken and battered world

God's love is thriving and alive.


The phrase "Repent and believe the Good News"

Is not a threat, a command to take a certain action or perish,

But rather a brilliant invitation

To turn and see the life that is thriving around you

And to remember the light that is within you.


The practices we are invited to within this Holy Lent

Self-examination and repentance

Prayer, fasting and self-denial

Reading and meditating on God's holy word


Have been crafted through the centuries

To allow us to be driven into the wilderness

And to remind us of the life we are called to nurture there.


In this time where the name of Christ is so often being used as a weapon

To destroy those certain people consider "undesirable"

We are called to remember God's response to that path

To recall how God turned back from the flood

To embrace the wilderness

Making it Holy and teeming with life.


Nowhere have I found our place in the wilderness more clearly defined than in this quote found in the Compline service of

Common Prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.


This was the book that we were given at the start of this

Lawrence House year to help us shape our community of prayer.


This is what we are about: we plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not of our own.


In this season of Lent I would like to invite to join me in reflecting

on your response to the wilderness.

Where do you find life

In a news cycle that is obsessed with death?


Where do you find stillness,

To hear that you are loved

Just as you are, in this exact moment?


Finally, in the next 36 days

Where will you bring the news of the Gods transforming life & love?

The need is,

after all,

immediate.


Amen.



Copyright © Ari Leigh 2019