The Spirit wants to lead you into the wilderness, away from distractions, so God can speak clearly to you and strengthen you for your ministry and life as Christ.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday in Lent, year C
Text: Luke 4:1-13
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
If God wanted to speak to you, how would God get through?
Today Jesus walks away from the Jordan, wet from baptism, and the Holy Spirit leads him into the Judean wilderness, a harsh landscape. There he fasts for forty days, faces temptation, and at the end of his time in the desert, steps back into the world and begins his ministry.
If this story we hear every first Sunday in Lent is to be more than just an historical curiosity, if it’s supposed to mean anything to your life, then let’s be clear: Jesus intentionally enters the wilderness.
This isn’t a story about how life is sometimes a wilderness, how we can face threats, struggles, difficulties, and survive. This wilderness was completely avoidable. Jesus could’ve left his baptism and immediately begun teaching, walking his way back north to Galilee. But the Spirit led him another way.
Because the Son of God, needed to listen, needed to be connected into the life of the Triune God. The crowds, the noise, the world were all awaiting him. But first he needed to get away.
This was a critical time for Jesus.
We have no idea what it meant for the divine inner relationship of the Trinity to have the Son in human flesh. But we do know Jesus prayed. He spoke to the One he called Father and was filled with the One he called Spirit. Being in the wilderness, focused, listening, helped Jesus know clearly who he was, what he was meant to be, and what path he would be walking as he left the wilderness.
Every temptation, every challenge he faced in the wilderness, returned in his ministry, and most clearly in Gethsemane that night before his death. Would he take advantage of his divine power to help himself? Would he try to win the world over by force? Would he trust the Father and the Spirit to be with him even if he were threatened with death? This isn’t the last time he’d face these questions, nor the last time he’d get away to pray and listen. But from here, Jesus knew how he would answer them.
If God wanted to speak to you, how would God get through?
If Jesus, the very Son of God, needed to get away from distractions and noise to focus, listen, and be prepared and strengthened by the voice of God for the life he would live, don’t you also need that? But how will God get through the distractions?
What’s the last thing you see at night – is it the light of your phone screen? Is it the television, putting you to sleep? How quickly after you rise in the morning do you reconnect with news, music, social media? How often is your house or office or car quiet of any noise – radio, music, television?
Certainly some here don’t live by the light of a smartphone, that’s a generational thing. For some, rather than the noise of small children or the bustle of getting ready for work, the tiredness of coming home late and crashing on the couch for something mindless, for some perhaps the day is filled with too many empty hours, with too little to do. But what do you do with those hours? Do you fill them with distractions?
In our chaotic world we’ve lost any sense of still places, of going aside from the day even a few minutes, simply to listen. We don’t often speak to each other of seeking wilderness, places to listen to God’s voice for the day, or find time for it.
This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. But ask this again, “If God wanted to speak to you, how would God get through?” Would God be able to get you to put aside the latest news, turn off your favorite program, stop your rushing or sleep-walking through the day and get your attention?
And if God can’t get through, then ask this: “Whose voice am I listening to every day? Who really leads me?”
It’s complicated, because everyone might need a different wilderness.
I’ve learned more of my need as I’ve gotten older. I’ve always struggled with the traditional fifteen or thirty minute “devotions” in the morning. It’s hard for me to remember it, and I often fall asleep. But I’ve learned silence in the morning as I walk around and prepare is deeply helpful. I also read and contemplate on a daily email devotion. But I’ve recently realized how often the last minutes of my day are spent with a lighted screen in my face, and I need to consider if that’s how I want to end each day.
A number of years ago I discovered that I loved walking as an exercise. But it has also become my best wilderness. For nearly an hour almost every day I can walk in silence – no music or podcasts – and listen to the world, listen to God. The walking becomes prayer, give and take with God, listening and speaking. It’s harder to find silence walking in winter – due to the weather I do it inside, and the gym is noisy – but it’s still a wilderness walk for me.
I don’t have a prescription for each of you. But consider Jesus’ experience and look at your day with new eyes. And pray – the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness and longs to lead you as well. How might the Spirit help? Are there places you can set aside time from distractions and other things? Can you start with five minutes of simply being open to God’s voice – perhaps beginning with reading Scripture or a devotion? Two of the classic Lenten disciplines – fasting and prayer – could be especially helpful. And whatever discipline you find, seek something you’ll continue after Easter comes, not just something for these forty days.
But we don’t have to overthink this, either.
The wonderful poet Mary Oliver, who died recently, had this wisdom to share:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak. 
“A silence in which another voice may speak.” That’s what Jesus was looking for as the Spirit led him into the desert. Where can you find such a silence? As the poet says, it doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated. Just pay attention – even to weeds or small stones or piles of snow – find a space in your day where you are able to notice what is around you and learn to focus, a space where you aren’t filling it with any outside noise or internal anxiety. And listen.
We could help each other, starting with this Lent.
We could share, “here’s how I listen to God; here’s where my spirit is fed and I’m strengthened.” Certainly our worship here each week is a shared time apart, a wilderness to seek and listen for God. But the more of us that share our wisdom with each other about our daily walk, the more chances there are you’ll hear of possible paths into the wilderness that could help you hear God’s voice.
So if you have ways you’d like to share, talk to me. We could put these in the Olive Branch, either written by you for the community, or given to me to write up. And if you wonder about other people’s practices of seeking wilderness, ask them. Trust each other that we’re all desiring a faithful path, and we’re all struggling to find it. Trust that God has already planted a lot of wisdom in this community. Let’s take advantage of that to help each other in this path.
Because here’s the Good News, the great news of this story of Jesus’ temptation for you: God most definitely wants to speak to you and draw you into God’s life.
The Holy Spirit desires to take you into a wilderness, to connect with the Triune God who loves you and knows you and dreams for you. The Spirit says, “Come, find a place of silence where another voice may speak to you.”
You know you are sent into the world as Christ. But what you need, what I need, is to be as prepared as Jesus was for that sending. To be so joined into the life of the Triune God that when setbacks or temptations or suffering or frustration or boredom come, you are strong because God is in you and you can hear God, speak God into what assails you. You are clear about your purpose, and Who sent you and Who still walks with you.
So, come. Let’s help each other find wilderness. Let the Spirit lead you into a place where you can hear God’s voice and be strengthened to re-enter your life’s mission as Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 Mary Oliver, “Praying,” from Thirst, Beacon Press, 2006, p. 37.