Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11 and Excerpts from Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J.M. Nouwen
Sunday February 26th, 2023
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Thank you for so generously welcoming my mom here last week. We can now rest assured that even a conservative Republican feels at home here at CUCC! We can feel really good about that! Our extravagant welcome crosses big chasms!
I invite you now to take some deeper breaths as you are moved, to let yourself arrive a bit more fully, as we each hope to hear, whatever word God has for us today. And I offer this prayer from Psalm 19 to help my nerves…
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
It’s a place to get lost in all of the ways that are possible. It’s a place of renewal and restoration, a place where the soundtrack is mostly birdsongs and the drip, drip of melting snow into the stream that becomes the creek that is coming to life. It’s owl hoots and shooting stars and the crunch of the feet under the great expanse…It’s the Wilderness… A collection of majesty and a place to tune into the mystery, and here we are gifted with so many wild places, if you have one in your mind, call it out if you want… What’s your favorite wilderness spot?
As I shared last week, many of the best stories in our tradition happen outside. And I am paying more attention to that these days. It matches my own experience- I have often been most at home with the Divine, whatever name we have for it, when I have had my foot in the lapping tide or my arms wrapped around a fir, but I am realizing that much of Christianity kind dismisses the importance of the wilderness, of being outside, of tuning in beyond our human experience. And yet what if God can get to us more easily somehow when we are outside? I am not sure I agree, but I wonder. Maybe because the wilderness humbles us and quiets us. Maybe because we know it can take us down; it can win and at some point will in the end. But here’s the other thing, because of all that, the wilderness can also be the place where we hear what we need to, beyond the noise of everyday life beyond the surface, where we can clarify our purpose and see the full array of possibilities before us.
This week some of us gathered in Denver for an event called Congregations Alive where we lamented and learned about some of what is needed. We noted how much wisdom there is for us from trees and we heard sad statistics on where we are and some of what is likely ahead. And I left thinking how important it is for us to love it and be out there in it as much as we are lobbying to save it. Maybe that will give us hope too? And also I found myself wondering what God wants from us right now at this time? Like what is the most important thing for us to focus on, knowing we are all just humans participating in a huge group project that is turning out to be really hard? Doesn’t it feel like that? I always hated group projects. Figuring out how to do this, that is our only option. What does God want to say to us right now? And would we hear it?
As you know, we started the liturgical season of Lent this week and in this first story in the Gospel of Matthew we meet Jesus right there outside. In the wilderness and after a time as you heard, the voice comes and we read that Jesus is super hungry… Famished. And then the temptation is to have this power to become a bread machine! Take this stone and turn it into challah when you are super hungry. Oh wouldn’t that be useful!?
And Jesus responds by saying he will carry on with the side of love and that he can live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. In total, he has three different encounters with the Devil, presented as temptations. Richard Rohr suggests that first he is turning down the desire to look good, second he is turning down the need to think of himself as superior, third he is turning down the need for control. He says no three times. He doesn’t waiver.
And I wonder what does it take even with all of that coming at you to hear beyond the surface, to know the internal compass of what is needed? He has clarity and he sees the full array of possibilities before him. So I wonder if it was in part because he was out there, with everything stripped away, able to hear the voice of God?
And it has got me thinking about how hard it is for us in modern life to hear, beyond the noise, and even for those of us who call ourselves progressive Christians we have this big sign out there that says God is still speaking. Do we believe that? Do we live as if that is so? And then the question for us is how do we hear; are we listening?
As we heard from Henri Nouwen, “Listening is paying full attention…” I think this is true for each other and also for the Universe. Giving our full attention.
Lent can be for us a time of examination, internal exploration, an invitation from the Universe to take a holy pause, a chance to hear beyond the surface… One Colorado writer described the wilderness here as wonderful and also strange and harsh. I thought that was perfect for real wilderness and the wilderness experiences in life. That feels about right. Throughout the Bible the wilderness is a metaphor of struggle and also as we see, at the very same time, a place of clarity, purpose and possibilities.
Another Colorado writer said of the wilderness here “When the air is thinner it makes your heart bigger…” And that is probably true scientifically and spiritually. We are called to seek beyond the surface alone and together and I wonder what it would be like to have this season as a season of listening alone and together? What is needed for our ears to be open and our hearts to be expanded, ready to hear the still speaking God? What does that mean for us?
We can believe in science and also believe in a Divine one that is still revealing, still co-creating among us. Sometimes I think the answers to our problems are present, but simply ignored and unheard.
We are entering an exciting time as a faith community and as I shared next week we’ll be kicking off a chance to sign up for some smaller group dinners where one of the main points is listening, listening to each other as if God is speaking through us. Imagine that! Tuning in to that level. What if we listened beyond the surface together? What if this wilderness time of tuning in can be a gift? Because beneath the struggle is the wondrous whisper, the sacred summoning, let us listen, let us hear. Every. Word. May it be so. Amen.
©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche