This past week I have been reflecting a lot of the movement into the wilderness. We all know those wilderness times, when we feel alone and abandoned and we can’t even say for sure that we know that God is with us.
It certainly happened for Jesus, out in the wilderness following his baptism–hungry, thirsty and weak, and being tempted by the offer of food, great riches and ultimate power. The temptations of those wilderness times for us are not any different. We are also tempted by what the world has to offer and the quick fix to our problems. But it seems to me that what the wilderness time is really all about is an opportunity to stop and look around and see that God is there with us. The key in the account of the temptation of Jesus are the words: “following his baptism Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Clearly the Spirit of God brought him there and the Spirit of God was with him there.
That caused me to start pondering other wilderness experiences. There is a lot of Biblical material there…from Abraham to Joseph to Moses and even the disciples. And for each of them, the opportunity to see that God was there.
Abraham always wandering, childless in spite of the promise of God for a homeland and a multitude of children, often found God in the journey. God was with him.
Moses, alone on the mountain found God in a burning bush, and even when guiding a lot of frightened people on the journey through the wilderness to freedom found moments in which he discovered that God was always with him.
Paul, in jail and when shipwrecked noticed that God was with him and those experiences served to strengthen his faith.
No matter what we are going through God is with us.
For the most part this week, however I reflected on the rabbinical tale I was told by a Rabbi in a summer school course. It is about Joseph, and to the best of my recollection this is how it went.
And Joseph was put in a cistern, which was completely empty except for a scorpion and a snake.
As we were invited to reflect on that statement it started being clear that the cistern was not completely empty. Yes none of us would willingly choose to share a space with a scorpion and a snake, it’s risky and dangerous. But the truth is nothing is devoid of the presence of God. The cistern was empty, except for a scorpion and a snake, parts of God’s creation. And where God’s creation is, God is. And where God is, God’s blessing, strength, and power is. There is no place that we can go and be separated from the presence of God.
So, for me, it is important to try to remember in the wilderness to look for the signs of God’s presence and his grace. They are there. All I have to do is to take my eyes off of myself and my own problems long enough to see the ways in which God is with me.
Today in worship I was reminded once again of that truth. The psalm for the day was Psalm 27, which speaks of seeking God in the midst of hardship and for me the verse that jumped out was the confidence of the psalmist who said that the important thing was to be in God’s presence and God’s service.
The psalm begins with these words (MESSAGE)
Light, space, zest—
So, with him on my side I’m fearless,
afraid of no one and nothing.
2 When vandal hordes ride down
ready to eat me alive,
Those bullies and toughs
fall flat on their faces.
3 When besieged,
I’m calm as a baby.
When all hell breaks loose,
I’m collected and cool.
4 I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.
When we live with God, love God, contemplate the beauty he has given us and stop to learn from him and to pray with him, then we do have all that we need, regardless of what goes on around us.
Today’s prayer: Wilderness Grace
Wilderness is all that I see, and unease is what I feel
I confess that I am tempted to seek a way out, to struggle in my own strength
Looking to find the easy solution to the trouble of this day
Denying your presence with me
Eternal grace however is greater than my fear, doubt and despair
Resting in you gives me the strength I need for the journey
Not once have I been alone, for you have been with me
Evey moment your goodness has surrounded me
Search my heart, know that I love you
Stretch my understanding of your presence
Grant me eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to love
Reach into the depths of my being with the assurance of your peace
Announce your presence in my life
Create within me a receptive spirit
Eternal is your grace and eternal is my love. Amen
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