The Reverend Dr. Seth Weeldreyer, Pastor

The Reverra2 Corinthians 5:16-6:13 (based on the NRSV, the Message, and my own translation)

From now on we regard no one from a human point of view—what they have or how they look. We looked at Christ that way and got it all wrong. We know him no longer in that way. Now we look inside, and see that anyone in Christ is a new creation. United with him we get a fresh start. Everything old has passed away. See everything has become new. All this comes from God, who reconciled us with Holy Love and gives us the ministry of reconciliation. In Christ, God reorders the world in Sacred Grace, giving the world new life by offering forgiveness of sin. God has entrusted us with this task and message. We are ambassadors for Christ, God’s representatives to persuade all people to transcend differences and share God’s work, renewing all relationships, all things in the splendor of God’s love. For our sake, by God’s will, Christ shared in our broken life, so that we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with Christ, we urge you, not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says, “At an opportune time I hear you, and on a day of salvation I help you.” See, now is the opportune time! See, now is the day of salvation! Don’t frustrate God’s work with obstacles or suspicion hanging over everything being done. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People watch us as we endure, alert, committed … in affliction, hardship, calamity; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, patient hand; in gentle kindness, holiness of Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, all in the power of God; doing our best to set things right; when we’re praised or blamed; slandered and honored; true to our word yet distrusted; ignored by the world, yet, still recognized by God; treated as dying, yet see—we are alive; punished, beaten, yet refusing to die; sorrowful yet filled with deep joy; living on handouts yet enriching many; having nothing, yet having it all. Dear Corinthians, how I long for you to share this wide-open, spacious life. Any restrictions are within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in small ways. I speak plainly and with great affection. Open wide your hearts, open up your lives to thrive expansively!

Afternoon storm clouds broke and we set up camp on the edge of Urraca Mesa, writes Belden Lane. My son and I came with our Scout Troop for ten days of wilderness hiking at Philmont Ranch in New Mexico mountains, the land of the Jicarilla Apache. Our second day on the trail—boots, teamwork, just breathing still breaking in. Urraca Mesa is shaped like a skull and by scary stories of strange lights and campers gone missing. At sunset we were laughing while walking to a ranger base campfire. But the Anasazi knew that place as a foreboding entrance to the underworld. Like dancing flames, Apache ghost stories played on our minds. When we started the desolate walk back in the dark, clouds covered the moon. Tall firs seemed mysterious, menacing, flanking the trail. Our flashlights kept failing. We returned as we’d come, but the trail seemed unfamiliar, doubling back on itself. We kept stopping to ensure all fourteen of us were still together, no one laughing anymore. When we finally reached the edge of the mesa again clouds parted, the moon appeared, and the landscape opened before us. We felt as if we’d passed a test on our journey that night, accepted by the land, moving from threat into love. You see, Belden Lane writes, here’s a hard truth desert teaches us. Often life and love become clear when it feels like it’s being lost. The desert, where God can seem to hide and life can seem ruthless, cruel, is also the place where we glean deepest intimacy and trust.[i]

Every year as we begin Lent, friends, we hear the story of the Spirit driving Jesus into desert wilderness. It’s a mystical imaginative metaphorical invitation. For 40 days he’s tested by Satan amid wild beasts and waited on by angels in an interplay of threat and support. Satan really means “the adversary.” So we begin Lent by returning to the desert with Jesus to face adversaries in our lives—things, experiences, realities that seem contrary to God’s loving will and way for us. My spiritual director recently noted: in the Bible, forty means “enough time.” Enough time for new life to emerge after a forty-day flood, a forty-year exodus … enough time for Jesus to know really who he was and then begin ministry. In forty days of Lent, we repent—we think again, we turn around, we try to discern who we really are, and go another way from menacing threats that can seem to line every step, into a light-bathed landscape of hope, assurance, determination that suddenly opens before us. Walking through Lent until Easter dawn, we stride toward wide-open spacious life in Christ that Paul urges ancient Corinthians and all of us to share.

I entered the Philmont wilderness at age 16. We survived all the miles hiked and mountains climbed, with no creature comforts (long before internet and cell phones). Feeding hunger and thirst, made secure by only what we carried on our backs. Blisters, beautiful vistas, purified water, bear watch in the last shift before morning light glowed on the horizon—I faced limits in my adolescent self. Who I was. What I could do. Then went beyond all I knew. Horizons of heart and mind, expanded in confidence and courage. Many people affirm how wilderness adventure gives perspective in life, resets the heart, roots our spirits. I wonder what places / experiences arise in our memory. A couple of years before Philmont, we hiked across South Manitou Island, very different sandy wilderness, inclining gradually, until we arrived atop a great sand dune gazing over Lake Michigan toward where the little sleeping bear cub had come from in Anishinaabe legend. It was so steep we couldn’t see the shoreline below, Marshall Rutz said: you’ll remember this moment when you’re sitting in class again in a few weeks. That was about forty years ago! We ran, jumped, slid down the dune. And then trudged the long circled, sandy shoreline all the way back to camp, past a shipwreck jutting above waves, awed at Marshall hiking shirt off with black flies all over his back, while we all swatted at the incessant buzzing in our suffering!

Friends, in the modern landscape of our lives, we enter something like desert. Times that linger in our hearts when we’ve felt vulnerable, threatened, even abandoned in what seems like fierce, lifeless terrain. Where amid insecurity or basic survival we see and assess life differently. We seek life more full and vital than simply oxygen and calories going in. We yearn for meaning and purpose amid mundane routines. Sometimes we choose to enter this kind of wilderness; other times it’s forced upon us, unwanted. We face it with personal health concerns, loss, unsettled spirits, restless hearts. We face it as a society amid social issues that threaten life physically and our shared identity. We face it as a church called to serve beyond mere self-preservation—in a culture where we’re no longer at the center, often lacking normal metrics of success, yet ever trying to live faithful Holy Love in a way that helps others and all creation flourish.

Sometimes atop gorgeous dune vistas we can’t see how far down we really have to go, yet we descend leaping and sliding to trudge through buzzing suffering past shipwrecks in our lives. We walk into a dark night of the soul, a skull-shaped place haunted by stories of the past, making our way through menacing perceptions of the surrounding world. Until clouds break, light pierces darkness and expansive landscapes of possibility open before us. You see, friends, to get to a wide-open life, often we need to journey into circumstances that threaten life as we know it, experiences that constrict our hearts, confine our hands. We trust in God, open our hearts to be led by Holy Love.

Yes, many people laud wilderness experiences—how we’re touched, inspired, find peace. How we meet a challenge, achieve a feat, or bask in beauty. There’s much good in that—much I enjoy. And in the Bible, it’s different, deeper, more disturbing. Beyond self-actualization it’s about self-emptying. Reaching human limits we turn toward the Divine. To you, God, I lift up my soul; in you I trust. In Psalm 25, Hebrews imagined people’s yearning on the Exodus journey. Help me know your ways, God. It’s a humble plea. Teach me your truth. It’s prayerful openness. Lead me, for you are my salvation; and for your steadfast love from of old, I wait. It’s committed confidence. It’s a change in one’s self, orientation, reaction to life more than altering circumstances themselves. Seeking a way that seems hard to find it in the moment. Who am I? What should I do? What will truly bring life?

Maybe Paul prayed this psalm as he wrote to the ancient Corinthians. Sounds like he and his companions were in the wilderness—slandered, distrusted, beaten, robbed, jailed, various afflictions, working hard and late, utterly poor, having nothing … yet having it all, he says. It’s mystical, counter-cultural more than self-help books promising “so-many steps to practical success.” You see, this endurance he urges isn’t really “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Through these desert experiences, Paul asserts, we open to God who brings new life. We give up personal control and individual effort alone. We accept we can’t determine outcomes, and however well intended we cannot prevent hurt from happening. There, in those moments, we know anew what it means to trust in Holy Love more than our human limits.

You see, friends, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert wilderness for forty days, enough time for his heart, mind, will, and strength to be shaped by Divine Love. Concern for everything but God’s grace stripped away. Then fully centered in God, Mark tells us the rest of the gospel story—how Jesus kept walking in the wilderness of ordinary people’s everyday lives, proclaiming the reign of Holy Love. Declaring now is the day of salvation—healing, forgiving, standing up for the least and lost, sitting down to eat with outcasts, so committed to God’s way in the world it got him stripped, strung up, hung from a cross.

Paul says we’re ambassadors for Jesus in the work of reconciliation. More than just being nice and getting along, it’s about restoration to our truest identity and intended purpose, renewed for who we’re truly created to be. Only then can we all truly flourish together. In Christ, Paul says we’re led back from all sin that deforms, separates us from the Divine, to a fullness of Holy Love and Sacred Life. Christ embodies fully creative Divine purpose. To be in Christ is to feel that presence and power fill us, to give ourselves to his Way. To surrender all delusions of individual achievement, any need to prove how good we are, to win accolades, to even ensure our own survival. We no longer look at ourselves or anyone else in that way.In Christ, we give it all up, for a deeper unity with the Eternity that is Love. We sing: Take, O take me as I am. Beyond boundaries we humans conceive and barriers we erect, we receive the beauty of joy beyond worry, peace beyond conflict. We are reconciled with God, reconnected with the Loving Source of All Life. And we pursue such communion in community with others. We quit hubris to connect with wider humanity. We strip away illusions to get to what’s real. Shedding whatever stuff or stress in a circumstance, we can walk into a wide-open life, expansive in loving service beyond self. We are a new creation in Christ!

Friends, I know this may be hard stuff to get our minds around, our hearts into, our words and hands to live. When we were at Ghost Ranch together almost a year ago, I was moved profoundly to lay life bare, as barren as the landscape around. Hard authentic work. Makes me hunger and thirst in ways I’ve maybe never really known before. In the tradition of desert Christians over all the ages, to tend what really matters; and to see, accept, name what doesn’t and practice divine indifference to that … don’t let our hearts be gripped by that anymore.

Rather to give our hearts to Christ—to his priorities, trusting the power of grace he embodied—we unite with his life. We enter the desert with him. We face our adversaries of circumstance around and inside us all. Like Belden Lane accepted by the land, we share unity with the suffering, the desert. So far beyond passive acquiescence to harm. We enter into the wilderness, the threat, conflict, loss, hurtful memory, fearful future, horrific injustice, gripping addiction, all of it. And there, in that moment, not fighting it, not defensively guarding ourselves, trying to conquer all threat, vanquish all adversaries, we give up attempts to control, to figure out our own solution, make our own way. Utterly vulnerable, we start to see how the Spirit leads. How Grace guides us into a Promised Land of new life. More than some future daydream, every now can become a glimpse of eternity, a day / moment of salvation! As we’ve joined with Jesus, driven by God’s Spirit into the desert, we return to follow Jesus, we go out into the world in peace, walking roads of ministry among people who feel lost, life-threatened, forgotten, even abandoned by society. We get the suffering of Jesus whose integrity and trust propelled him toward the cross, knowing he shares our struggles and fears. We trust the Risen Christ whom a barren, stone cold, deserted tomb could not contain.

The desert is uncharted terrain, writes Belden Lane, beyond edges of our secure and structured world, where the surface of life begins to crack, where brokenness and disorientation overtake us. And friends in Christ, here’s the promise. In that desert wilderness, we discover we’re no longer alone. We meet other wizened souls who have weathered sun and heat, all of them healed of similar wounds. We are what God summons the church to be—a community of broken people, painfully honest, undomesticated, rid of any pretense and suffocating niceness. We love, inexplicably and unflinchingly, because of we’ve been so loved ourselves.[ii]

O God, in you I trust, teach me your paths, we yearn with the Psalmist. We are in Christ, Paul assures us. I know that in Philmont nearly forty years ago, we made it as a crew, helped by many others we met along the way. I know that at Ghost Ranch just over forty weeks ago, the Spirit moved me through our companions on that journey. Nourishment from those times continues to help me flourish today. I pray, dear friends, that it may be so for all of us, in this season of Lent and every day beyond that can be an opportune day of salvation. In that Spirit, come to this table with all the desert hunger and thirst we feel. Come to feast on fruits of Spirit: grace, forgiveness, mercy, gratitude, generosity, friendship. Come, in Christ, to be waited on by angels.


Thanks be to God. Amen.




[i] Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 177-178.

[ii] Ibid., 195.