Worship Service, February 21, 2021 “Trust in the Middle of the Wilderness”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik
on February 21, 2021 via YouTube
The message “Trust in the Middle of the Wilderness” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
“Trust in the Middle of the Wilderness”
Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)
The Gospel is from the book of Mark, the first chapter.
Glory to you O Lord
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
This is the Gospel of Our Lord.
Praise to You O Christ
Sometimes it takes going through struggles to grow in our faith. Perhaps this is why the Spirit drove Jesus out into wilderness—out into the barren, arid region of Palestine where there is mostly dirt and rocks and hardly a bush for shade from the scorching sun. One thing that has intrigued me about this passage of Scripture from the beginning of the book of Mark, is that just after Jesus has received the Holy Spirit at his baptism, that same spirit sends him into the dangers of the wilderness.
Just after this inspirational moment where a voice declares Jesus to be God’s son, Jesus is driven into a difficult environment where he will be both physically and mentally tested and pushed to his limit over the course of more than a month. It seems like a tough way to start his ministry, however, maybe the Spirit knows that Jesus needs to go through this time of testing in order to fully come to trust in the promise of God that he heard in his baptism. Maybe this time of testing is crucial for forming his faith that he will need to cling to when he is later facing the difficulties of accomplishing his mission.
Perhaps our professors at seminary had the Spirit in mind when they designed the curriculum for our first-year training to be a pastor. Several of my classmates joked that we were going through a theological boot camp that first month we were in class before the main session started. They used this phrase because it seemed at times the professors were getting us to read books and pushing us in discussion in order to tear down our beliefs or at least get us to really question what we thought and why. This was tough for some of the students who came in thinking they were sure in their calling and that the seminary was just going to reinforce what they already knew. Instead, we were being challenged to think new things about how God and the Spirit might work and what it meant to have faith. While our professors did challenge us, they also walked beside us, making themselves available for conversations outside of class and helping us to process what we were learning. Every week we were also grounded in worship and in the ancient liturgical practices that reminded us of both the mystery and steadfast love of God.
The challenge of those first days of seminary were not only mental and emotional, they were also physical. On the last week of the session our whole class was taken out to a wilderness camp and put through a series of group challenges by an instructor. We were driven out to this camp in southern Wisconsin where we would have to work together to accomplish a variety of difficult tasks that we could not accomplish on our own. While the tasks were designed to create a sense of fun and teamwork within our class, they were also challenging. It was at that camp that I first learned about trust falls.
A trust fall is an exercise where you allow yourself to fall backwards without looking to see if the person catching you is actually there. Instead, you simply trust that they are going to be there.
There are variety of different kinds of trust falls that you can do and each one tests a different level of faith in the person or people who are catching you. At the camp, we started out with just a couple catching us from a standing position and only just falling back a little way. Then we stood in the middle of a circle blindfolded and allowed the whole group to push and catch us as they guided our rocking bodies around the circle. These exercises were meant to build up our trust as we advanced to the more difficult fall at the end of the day where we were going to stand up on top of a picnic table and fall backward into the arms of the rest of the group.
When you look a picnic table it doesn’t seem very high, but when you are falling backwards from that height without looking behind you, the sensation is that you are falling from a much higher position. It seems more dangerous than you would think which makes it difficult to do at first.
But once everyone begins to trust the leader guiding them and realizes they can catch a person from that height while working together, the fall becomes easier. There is a temptation to look back or bend your body which can make the catch more difficult. However, if you can trust your team and stay straight, the group can catch you even from a higher position. Almost everyone in our group did the trust fall in the end and our professors must have known what they were doing as the time in the wilderness make our class a stronger community.
As Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit, he is tested mentally, spiritually and physically. The devil comes to him with temptations that perhaps raised doubts in his mind and caused him to question his faith or wonder where God was in the midst of his suffering. The Gospel of Mark does not give us many details, but we know from the book of Matthew and Luke that Satan challenges Jesus with the very words of Scripture. This may have caused an emotional and spiritual struggle within Jesus around his beliefs. Should he listen to the words of the tempter? As his body became physically weaker from being in the wilderness he may have felt a growing sense of being in a spiritual wilderness as well.
Forty days is a long time to be without much food or water. Even just a few days are very hard to get through when it is difficult to get food or water. Millions of people across our country have been experiencing this last week as places from Portland Oregon to Austin and Houston Texas have been hit with unusually cold temperatures and an unusual amount of ice and snow.
As people suddenly tried to use more gas and electricity to keep warm, the infrastructure for distributing such energy either crashed or had to be shut down before it crashed, which left millions without the power we have come to rely on for our everyday lives. People have recorded freezing temperatures within their homes as they have desperately taped blankets to windows and have had to use all kinds of creative ways to conjure up some heat from gas stoves to barbeques.
With perseverance and ingenuity people are getting through this crisis, but they are not going to be able to get through all of this alone. They are going to need the support of the greater community around them to provide resources for them, especially those in the most vulnerable populations.
One of those groups helping with those in need in Texas is St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in downtown Austin. St. Martin’s is an ELCA church that began as a German Lutheran congregation in 1883 and still has a vibrant ministry today. When the storm hit last weekend, church members opened up a shelter on Sunday and have been sheltering and feeding more than 20 homeless folks during the cold weather.
Many other organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army are also operating shelters across the state. If you received this worship link in your all-church email you can look to that email for a list of organizations that are helping in the storm and receiving donations. It will take trust in the community and ultimately trust in the many workers and officials struggling to get the power on for folks impacted by the storms to make it through this time where they might be feeling as if they are lost in the midst of a wilderness of cold and snow.
I think a sense of trust is what ultimately got Jesus through his time in the wilderness after his baptism. At the end of the Gospel reading today we hear that Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The word for “believe” in this passage in the original Greek language of the New Testament is pisteuo (pist-you-oh). A more literal way to translate this is to “have faith in” or to “trust in.” I think this captures better what Jesus is about as in proclaims the good news. The word “believe” implies more of an action that we have to take, like believing in the right doctrine. It has the sense of working towards an intellectual agreement with a certain set of traditions, rules, or way of interpreting Scripture. It can have the negative impact of causing people to think they have to believe a certain way in order to be considered a “true” Christian.
Trust, on the other hand, allows for a greater sense of mystery and openness. It acknowledges that we might not fully understand something, but we are willing to have faith that it is working. Trust is not so much about having the right knowledge as it is about having the right relationship. This is what I think Jesus is getting at as he spreads his word across Galilee. He wants people to trust in the good news that God loves and forgives them and wants to be in relationship with them.
Jesus has also learned first-hand about the value of that trust as he struggled with his time in the wilderness. Jesus trusted in that voice from heaven that called him a beloved son. He trusted that the Spirit had come down upon him and would be with him even as it drove him into a space of uncertainty and unknown where he is tempted to trust in something other than God, as Satan tests his faith. It had to have been a scary time for Jesus, but in the end when the angels come to minister to him he realizes that God was with him all along.
I don’t know how historically accurate it is, but there is legend of how the Cherokee tribe would perform a rite of passage for boys before they were considered men. To become a man, the boy would be led into the woods of the wilderness at night.
His father would sit him on a stump, blindfold him and then leave him. He was told that he had to sit there all night, but he couldn’t make a sound. When he saw the sun rays coming through the blindfold, he could take it off and find his way back to camp.
This was not an easy thing for a young boy to do, but they went with their father trusting that there was a reason for this test and they would come out stronger in the end. It was tough to sit there silently. With their eyes covered, their sense of hearing was enhanced.
They heard every twig break as an animal stepped on it. They could hear the sounds of all the creatures in the forest that were out at night. Fear around the uncertain and the unknown would begin to creep in. The young boy could hear the sound of his own heartbeat as he wondered whether he would be attacked by some wild animal or human enemy.
In the morning, however, when the young boy removed his blindfold, he saw that his father had been sitting near him the whole night, watching over him. His father had been with him all along.
As we enter this season of Lent during the next forty days we remember that there are times in life that feel like the wilderness. There are times when we are going through difficulty or uncertainty that can challenge our faith and tempt us to doubt. There are times it can be hard to recognize or feel God’s presence with us. It can seem as if we are alone. But in the midst of such times, we can also trust that God is still there beside us, watching over us, and when we look back we might realize that God was there all along.
-Pastor Erik Goehner