Our faith story reminds us that we have been in this wilderness of the unknown before. Even our text for today reminds us that this wilderness of becoming the people God calls us to be in part of the journey.
March 6, 2022
“Lengthening the Light For Real Change”
Hope in the Wilderness
Pastor Heather McColl
Hope in the Wilderness Luke 4:1-13
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. As you may have heard it shared in other places, the word Lent refers to lengthening light”. When I first heard this phrase, my mind immediately went to the opening of the Gospel John, that image of how light shines in the darkness, that image of how the darkness did not overcome the light, that image of how life was the light for all people.
Usually for Lent, as people of faith, we focus on negative aspects of Lent, the giving up of something, the heaviness of our brokenness when in reality, during that time, God’s creation is doing the complete opposite. It is embracing the light. It is lengthening the light. It is pushing the shadows away and inviting all to see the new life which is there in our midst.
It also struck me that this image of “lengthening the light” is what we have been trying to do as Midway Christian Church over the past year. This past fall, we began the process of becoming an anti-racist/pro-reconciling community of faithful by recognizing the shadows of racism which are a part of our history as a community of faith and within our structure as an institution. We have had conversations which pulled us from our comfort zones. We have named some harsh truths. We have realized we are not as welcoming as we hoped to be.
All of this was necessary work yet the work is not complete.
That is why for Lent, as a community of faith, we are committing ourselves to creating entry points for the light to break through, for the light to lengthen. We are being invited to move beyond the shadows so that the light of Christ which opened the tomb will open us up for real change. We are doing this by sharing stories told within the African American tradition. We are doing this by recognizing that these stories have not always been part of our mainline tradition. We are doing this by responding to their call and becoming agents of change within our community.
With this in mind, I invite everyone to hear our Scripture this morning…
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Earlier this week, I was part of a conversation with several ministers regarding year 3 of the Thriving Congregations grant program of which our community of faith is connected. At one point in the conversation as we were dreaming and visioning what we would like to work on in year 3, the facilitator asked, “What is the big problem your community of faith is facing right now?
An uncomfortable silence followed. Finally I shared that our biggest problem is that the very institution we call Church has been dismantled, that all the pieces are laying down around our feet, and we are grieving.
Again, another uncomfortable silence followed until someone shared that her community of faith is looking to her for answers in all this and she no longer has any more rabbits to pull out of the hat. In fact, she doesn’t even know where the hat is at this moment.
This colleague’s comment has stayed with me this week because it perfectly describes where we are as a community of faith, where I am in my ministry, where I think we all are in our journeys of faith…
We know that who we were in 2019 is not the same person, the same community of faith, the same world as we were in 2020. Who we were in 2020 is not the same person, the same community of faith, the same world as we were in 2021. The person we are now, the community of faith we are now, the world we are now is not even the same as it was in the beginning of 2022.
And we are wanting, we are needing for someone, anyone to give us the three easy steps out of this mess.
But the fact of the matter is no one, not politicians, not leaders in the church, not the greatest minds of our time, has got it all figured out. We find ourselves in this not that but not sure what reality.
I will be the first to admit that this not that but not sure what reality we find ourselves is a scary place and experience in which to be. Yet, this week, I have been constantly reminded that we have been here before. We have been in the wilderness of the “in between” before. Our faith story reminds us that we have been in this wilderness of the unknown before. Even our text for today reminds us that this wilderness of becoming the people God calls us to be in part of the journey. It is almost like we are going back to the beginning and figuring out who we are all over again.
And in many ways, we are…just like people of faith have done over and over again. Just like the Israelites did all those years ago. They knew they could not go back to what they were before their time in the wilderness. They were no longer slaves under the power of the Egyptian Empire. Yet they were not the people God would shape them to be.
So this time in the wilderness for the people of God became the experience through which God “shaped the people into God’s covenant people, cared for and led by God.” It was in the wilderness that they discovered who they are and whose they are as the people. It was in the wilderness that the people discovered that God would always be there to lead them, by pillar of cloud during the day and by pillar of fire at night.
Like the Israelites all those years ago, and like Jesus discovered during his time in the wilderness, that moment, that experience became a way to “stand in solidarity with others who are trapped in their own wilderness experience. It become a way to exist in the tension between desolation and burgeoning possibilities”. The wilderness became the way the people of God heard the voice of God and became to believe that God was leading them, guiding them to the promised land.
Or let me say it this way…earlier in the service, I shared an artist rendition of Harriet Tubman. We have all heard the stories of how she led her people to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad. But I’m not sure many of us know of her own wilderness experience.
She found herself in this moment of in between. She was not who she was as a former slave yet she was not who she would be come. That is until she heard the voice of God…” She shared, the Lord told me to do this. I said, Oh Lord, I can’t. Don’t ask me. Take somebody else. But God said it’s you I want. Harriet Tubman.
From that moment on, she relied entirely on the voice of God for direction. “She would listen carefully to the voice of God as she led slaves to the north, and she would only go where she felt God was leading her” Someone who worked with Tubman shared: I never met with any person… who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul.”
I’m not pretending to have all the answers but for me as a person of faith, that is a more compelling narrative of this wilderness moment than a moment of fear or worry. The idea that in this moment we are shaping the faith for years to come, we are connecting with others in new and exciting ways, that we are being called to let go of our assumptions of what we are supposed to be and are being invited to listen to the voice of God as we truly become the people God created us to be. . That is what is bringing me hope. That is what is showing me the light is lengthening, that God bringing about real change. This is what lets me know that we are on our way to the promise land. Thanks be to God.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, March 6, 2022: Hope in the Wilderness Luke 4:1-13