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Wandering and Wondering in the wilderness of Lent

This homily was shared by Pastor Will Rose on March 13th, 2024 at our Midweek Lenten worship service.


Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 

This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” ’

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

 

Four years ago this week, the world changed.

Four years ago, we entered into for many of us… “unprecedented times”

…as a two-week shutdown to “flatten the curve” expanded and grew into the whole season of Lent, and then into Easter and then over all of spring AND summer…

And then my question, “surely we can get back to normal by Christmas, right?”

was answered with a, “nah… and… things won’t really ever go back to normal.”

 

We all have been through a lot over the last four years.

We all have learned a lot over the last four years.

And while we have entered into a “new normal”… our wandering and wondering through the wilderness of the last four years has not been easy and in many ways a wake up call.


In many ways it was a grand revealing, a reckoning... around issues of health care, race and racism, and the politics around how we do common life together.

 

And while things have been uneasy and unpredictable and unprecedented…

Part of this wake up call was to not take things for granted and to wake up to a new understanding and trust that we are in the loving hands of God…. that God IS the Alpha and Omega…

God loves us ALL from A to Z

From the beginning to the end

 

In our wanderings and wonderings this evening we shift our focus to the… Hand of God/Alpha and Omega panel…



 

I not only see the Hand of God, open and inviting for us, but also in that hand’s fingertips I see interconnected circles of relationships, inviting us to reflect and learn anew what we learned over COVID-tide…

That we are all connected and entangled with one another, from the largest of spinning galaxies, to the smallest of particles and quirks… to our families, neighborhoods, and communities of faith.

 

I love this idea that we are a part of a biodiversity of spirituality, family trees and a family of trees in a collective forest entwined and entangled with one another…

We are a part of an ecosystem and tapestry where we all effect and have an impact on one another.

 

We also see the Greek letters Alpha and Omega.

The Cosmic Christ in the book of Revelation shares, “I AM, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

 

And this occurred to me this week when I was reflecting on this...

When Jesus says the “the first will be last and the last will be first”... 

If Christ is the Alpha and Omega…

then Christ is there and present at both ends of the line.

 

At the reflection and action table under this art panel… we placed finger labyrinths to express that we are all on a journey… and as with labyrinths, so too, on this journey there are no traps or dead ends… only an invitation to be intentional and to go deeper.

 

Over COVID-tide, as we journeyed through that wilderness, needed prophets and poets, shepherds and healers, scientists and researchers, cool heads and righteous anger.

 

And it was in that time that local churches in our community came together to be in solidarity with one another, to support one another, and to discern and listen to collective voices within our spiritual and physical ecosystems.

 

It was in that time that I first met Pastor Cousin at St. Paul AME.

And it was that relationship that led to us exploring the formation of the Church Families Connect Coalition between us and St. Paul AME… leading to the retreat we will experience together this weekend.

 

As we continue to stand in solidarity with one another in this “new normal” we will continue to need… scientists and researchers, cool heads and righteous anger, shepherds and healers, prophets and poets.

 And as at this point in the season of Lent, at this stage in our wandering and wondering… here comes a prophet in John the Baptist.

 

We normally hear him lift his voice in the season of Advent getting us ready for Christmas… but I like it that we are hearing his voice now as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter. There is a kinship between Advent and Lent.

 

As he does in Advent… he does now… He lifts his voice.

He calls for us to wake up and to prepare and to get ready for what God is about to do.

He doesn’t hold back, he calls people (take note, towards those the most religious) snakes, he talks of fire and fruit, and he questions our motivations…

It’s all a little jarring and it makes us uncomfortable…

But I believe that is the point…


Rarely do we grow when we are comfortable.

 

And yet notice John the Baptizer didn’t say… “Repent SO the Kingdom of heaven can come near." No, rather he says, “Repent… for the Kingdom of heaven HAS come near.”

It’s already here now, therefore “repent”…respond to it… change direction… turn and face the God who moved toward us first.

 

And so as we wander and wonder…

Which direction is God calling you to go?

Perhaps God’s hand is leading and guiding and holding, and luring you in all of the twists and turns.

 

Each week we have been singing as our Hymn of Light,

“Love Divine, all Loves Excelling”, the second verse sings…

 

Breathe, oh, breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast;

Let us all in thee inherit; let us find thy promised rest.

Take away the loving of sinning…

Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning,

set our hearts at liberty.”

 

The God we place our trust and faith in, the hand that guides and leads us...

Is a God of liberation.

The wilderness and season of Lent leads us again to this reality, in the story of the Passover, in the story of the cross, in the story of an empty tomb.


There is one coming, and who is already here, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

 

Let us go now to wander and wonder…

 


 

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