In recent weeks in worship we have been reading the story of the Hebrew people freed from slavery in Egypt wandering the desert in the hope of eventually finding the promised land. In the desert wilderness, some of them rely on God, but many become frustrated and fearful and rely on their own ways. When Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days to prepare for his ministry, his life is reduced to very simple struggles between the voices of angels and wilderness creatures which offer hope and comfort and the voices of evil which call him to take control, find easy answers, care for personal needs and let the world go. Jesus, we know, took the more difficult road of living through the wilderness without easy answers, with no power, and making his personal needs secondary to a life of love for others.
We are in our own wilderness these days. Between pandemic, racial tensions, political and economic upheaval and whatever else you might personally be dealing with, there are plenty of things to bring us as individuals and as a church body to that simple place where we live out of very basic beliefs and needs. The priorities that we choose to live by in these days say everything about the kind of people we are. Just as the way Jesus lived in the desert was his foundation for the rest of his ministry.
What have you let go of in this wilderness? What have you realized to be a major priority perhaps that had been lost in the shuffle of your previous ways of living? This wilderness time is a gift to explore who we really are, and how we will come out of this wilderness as people of God – or not.
The wilderness is beautiful, but it is not without its dangers. The Hebrews get tired of waiting and build their own God, a golden calf, to do what they want God to do rather than what God is already doing. They complain to Moses and decide he is to blame. It is a role of strong leadership to listen carefully to the people and face being the lightening rod for frustrations and angers without taking the blame for things beyond anyone’s control. I know a few of you are frustrated and angry with our bishops, with me, and with your vestry. There is certainly plenty to be frustrated and angry about. And I can vouch for the fact that your leaders, including yours truly, are one-hundred-percent human and capable of mistakes. But I can also vouch for our bishops and our vestry to be leaders of such faith and deep concern and compassion that they are people for whom I give thanks in this wilderness. I could not do my work without any of them. They are the angels in my wilderness and perhaps also in yours, certainly angels helping our Kingston Parish to live faithfully in these days and flourish.
There are hints that this wilderness is going to go on for quite some time (much more than Jesus’ 40 days but not nearly as long as the Hebrews’ 40 years), but there are also hints of the light at the end of the tunnel. May we strive to get there, but not just to get by until then. For it is how we live today that will be the foundation for our life in the years to come – as individuals and as a church. May we rejoice in the gifts God gives us today. May we look not for devils that will give us easy answers to deal with today’s challenges, but may we live as angels for others in the wilderness.
When Paul finds that the church family he helped give birth to in the far off city of Philippi is struggling in the wilderness, and he is in his own wilderness in prison in Rome, he writes these words: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). We are in the wilderness, but there is so much good in us, at Kingston, in our Episcopal Church, and in all God’s gifts to us. Let us not only think about these things, but celebrate them, cultivate them, and share them with the world with God’s generous love.
The Very Rev. Gary Barker