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The Art of Letting Go:
In Our Wilderness,
God Is

Fourth Sunday in Lent • March 24, 2019
Scripture Lessons: Psalms 51: 1-2, 10-12, 17; 
Mark 1: 12-13 (NRSV)
Rebecca Asedillo, guest preacher

  1. Do you have a wilderness experience?

We are in New York City, and even though we have Central Park, which is as close to having a wilderness in the midst of this urban sprawl as we can get, the nature lovers among us would oftentimes prefer to go outside the city to experience the wild, unlandscaped outdoors.

I am married to one of those people.

When our children were young, our summer vacations oftentimes meant going camping. And not just where there are campsites, but out in the wilderness, with no bathrooms, and only a small river or lake or creek close by to take our baths in. Of course this didn’t happen very often because I personally like to have a hot shower everyday. So that particular type of camping happened only occasionally.

In the summer of 2005, we did do that. With two 20lb backpacks that our two teenage daughters – both strong and athletic – were now able to carry on their backs, we went up to the Adirondacks, hiking about 4 miles into an area that was wild, green and beautiful. I also remember being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. But we persevered and stayed there for the night.

The following day, I said, it’s time to go to a proper campsite. So we took our tents down and trudged 4 miles down to where we left our car.

We never made it to that campsite, because on one of those curvy mountain roads, we collided head-on with a red truck – or maybe it was an SUV. I just remembered my husband crying out loud, “Jesus, help us!”

The ambulance came and all 4 of us were hospitalized at Glens Falls Hospital.

I cannot sing the praises of that hospital enough. With our broken ribs, lacerated spleen and kidney, and broken foot, we were tended to with loving care by the hospital staff.

But our blissful wilderness experience had turned into a nightmare. A different sort of ‘wilderness’ experience, one might say.

But through it all, we were ministered by angels.

Bethany UMC members, where my husband was assigned as pastor at the time, drove upstate in the church van to bring us back home. Members of the church took turns driving our daughter Nora from Brooklyn to Stuyvesant HS where she was studying at the time, because she wasn’t allowed by her doctor to take public transportation.  And again, the church van took our oldest daughter Lisa back to her college because our car had been completely wrecked.

 Today, almost 14 years later, we are all totally healed.  Thanks be to God!

 What is your wilderness experience like?

2. Our wilderness experiences come to us in many forms.  As it did for Jesus, and for others before him, like King David.

 In the passage from the Gospel of Mark, we read,

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan;
and he was with the wild beasts;
and the angels waited on him.

 This passage is the shortened version of the story of the temptations that Jesus experienced prior to the launching of his ministry.  Today we will not go into the specifics of those “temptations.” But we will infer from this short passage its meaning and implications for our lives.

First, we note that “the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.”  

It is a good thing if it is the Spirit that drives us to our wilderness, no matter how painful and unsettling and rockbottom miserable that driving takes us to.  Because in the end, in our simple faith, we like to believe that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” Romans 8:28.

But what if the forces that drive us to our spiritual wildernesss is not of the Spirit?

I think for example of King David, who is linked to Psalms 51 as its possible author.   What led King David to plead to God: 

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.”

The story behind this desperate plea was King David desire for Bathsheba, who was the wife of  Uriah, an honorable man who served in David’s army.  So David sent Uriah to the front line of the thickest battle that Israel was waging at the time, which killed Uriah.

 David then sent for Bathsheba who became one of his wives.  [And did Bathsheba have a choice about that? I doubt it.]

 But the prophet Nathan, who feared no earthly king, would not allow such wanton abuse of power against the poor and powerless to go unchallenged. 

So Nathan’s approach was to tell David a story about two men who lived in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he loved very much, which ate from his plate and drank from his cup, and lay in his bosom; indeed it was like a daughter to him.

Now a traveler came to visit the rich man.  Unwilling to take from one of his own flock, he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for his guest.  

David was outraged.  He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!”

So Psalms 51 is a heart-rending confession of guilt and sin and repentance, and a poignant plea for help. 

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not, do not, do not take your holy spirit from me. 

Have we at certain times in our lives ever prayed a prayer like this?

What could be such grievous acts that are so unjust, so cruel, so inhumane that we might have wittingly or unwittingly participated in through our thoughts and actions, or through our complacency and inaction - 

As a nation?
As a church?
As individuals?

And what might be the malevolent forces that are not of the Spirit that are driving us to the wilderness where we are being tested – as a nation, as a church, and as individuals?

  • A nation where in 2017, according to a study made by Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine whereas 114 police officers died in the line of duty, and about 1,000 of its active duty military were killed throughout the world, in comparison, 2,462 school children were killed by firearms. [1]

  • A nation where thousands of children have been put in cages, and separated from their parents.

  • A church that has enabled the sexual abuse of thousands of children by its own leaders.   

  • And a church that officially decided to exclude members of the LGBTQ community from ministry and from full membership in the Body of Christ?

3. In this season of Lent, as we meditate and reflect on the passion of Christ, we also meditate and reflect on the sufferings of communities that have borne the brunt of historic wrong, of structurally entrenched racism, of gender-based violence and discrimination.

  • I think, for example, of those Native American women slain or missing, for whom there has been no justice rendered, and no clear means of stopping the ‘epidemic,’ as Senator Jon Tester of Montana testified during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last month. [2]

  • I think also of the thousands of persons who have been killed in the Philippines, my country of birth, by the government’s war on drug with no recourse to due process.

  • I think of the Bathshebas of the world, who have felt powerless to say No to the abuses of patriarchy.  

As I was preparing this sermon, the song, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” came to me. 

For forty days, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.  For 40 days he was alone, with Satan who tempted him, and the wild beasts. And the angels who waited on him.

Jesus was alone, and yet he was not totally alone.  But what this song is telling us is that no one else could walk the path that he had to take.  The path that led to the cross.

And on Easter day, the resurrection.

So it is with us.  We each individually, as a nation, as a church have to walk our unique paths of suffering towards our liberation.

I dare say ‘liberation’ even when it seems it is too late to avert the catastrophe we are confronting due to our wanton disregard for the earth in which we live.

I dare say ‘liberation’ even when the greedy quest for profit, and for power, seems to overpower the forces that aim for the common good.

I dare say ‘liberation’ even when in our individual lives the night may seem so dark and the   morning is taking an eternity to come. 

I dare say to you, “through it all, stay with Jesus.  You are not truly alone.”

Just stay there.  Sit in the silence. 
The evil one will not persevere.
Love will prevail.
God is with us.
In our wilderness, God is.
Praise be to God!

BLESSING

May the blessing of the God of our ancestors, our foremothers and forefathers be with you and bring peace to your hearts this day and in the days to come.  

For the sad and the sorrowful, may you be comforted.
For the ones who are hurting, healing and the Spirit’s embrace.
For those that need forgiveness, the ability to receive forgiveness.
For those that need to offer forgiveness, the strength and grace to do so.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,… guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - (Philippians 4:7). 

 Amen.

Copyright © 2019 by Rebecca Asedillo
All rights reserved.

[1] (https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/22/health/gun-deaths-school-age-children-trnd/index.html?utm_term=link&utm_source=fbCNN&utm_content=2019-03-22T23%3A34%3A07&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR2d9nhJFnfcvIpTdNTLb1jFR9EodLeiOLICyiGuwbz9qtxZqyDXMrNDaqU)

[2] https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/07/us/native-american-women-missing-montana-trnd/index.html