I have to be honest with you: I don't know much about this whole "wilderness" thing. I'm not a big outdoors guy. I don't like to go camping. I don't get mesmerized by trees and open fields. The closest I ever got to any kind of wilderness was while serving as a camp counselor for a few summers during college. But before anyone gets even the slightest bit impressed, even if it was in the middle of hundreds of acres of woods, we still had electricity. We could set up big box fans to keep us cool at night. We had recently-updated shower-houses. We had this rather substantial lodge where we would go for meals that would fill us up and then some. We had a basketball court and a soccer field and a swimming pool. So, let's just say we didn't exactly "rough it."
But there was another part of camp that a select group got to go every week, if they signed up for it: it was called Homestead. Now this was a little more intense: no electricity, water had to be retrieved from the pump in the middle of the open field, food had to prepped and cooked over an open fire, and an outhouse for the necessary. Nevertheless, we still wouldn't call it a wilderness. It's not like they had to worry about lions, tigers, or bears; perhaps the occasional mouse once or twice an entire summer, bees from time to time, but nothing overly fierce. However, what made each week into a wilderness for a group of teenagers was no electricity, no running water, no bathroom, not to mention no cell phone usage, none of your friends bunking with you, no popularity going in, no familiarity with your surroundings, no connection with the outside world whatsoever. That is a wilderness for anyone in junior high or high school.
But time and time again we would witness a bunch of young boys and girls go through the initial curiosity and excitement to shortly thereafter complaining non-stop, and soon enough into building relationships as they worked together to make the food and build fires and collect water, not to mention the campfires at night and the games during the day. The wilderness...wasn't so much, because they had people going through the same struggles. They didn't have to endure it alone.
All of us have what we consider to be wilderness times of our life: when the surroundings don't seem so familiar anymore, when things and people are taken away from us, when we aren't so ready to trust new people initially, just to name a few. Now it's obviously not quite the same as what Jesus endured. The story goes he didn't eat a thing for forty days. He faced temptations by the Devil himself face-to-face. If He caved in the rest of the story completely changes. He would be far too human, far too much like us, far too incapable of placing humanity before Himself to the point of death on a cross. No circumstance, no beast we ever have to go up against in terms of job or finances or addiction will ever include that kind of pressure. The world is never resting on our shoulders like it did for our Lord, Jesus Christ those forty days.
That isn't to minimize our struggles. This life is filled with them, and it's not a test to see if we can perform just as well as Jesus did. It's just...life. It's just the world and the sin that continues to show up far too often. I like to think that the temptation of Jesus was important enough to add into the Scriptures not to make us impressed by how well He handled the Devil, or to somehow convince us to live up to such perfectionist standards, or to entice us into fasting during this season of Lent. I think it's to show no matter what kind of wilderness we endure in this life, our Lord is going to be there, right alongside us, the One who knows the terrain just as well as we do, and, most important of all, knows the way out.
The best part of those weeks at Homestead without the electricity or the running water was towards the end of our time when everyone had finally let their guard down and over the campfire we would share what we call faith stories, when we would recount the times in our life when we had to endure some kind of wilderness and end up realizing all the more the immense grace of this God. For some it was bullying: they were told they weren't cool enough, they didn't belong to the group of friends they grew up with for years, some even considered suicide in the past. For others it was the loss of a grandparent that, in reality, was the one who raised them.
But time and time again, God would find a way, sometimes as mysterious as the night sky over those campfires. Nevertheless, God found a way to get right up beside them in their wilderness of teenage guilt and shame, and make them realize their struggle is just as important, and each one of them was just as much worth dying for as any adult. Those very nights they would be reminded God had their back: and never could that promise be taken away from them, and it never will for any of us. And so for the One Who endured and overcame even death itself for all of us, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon