Note: I was scheduled to preach at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Wednesday, March 6. Unfortunately, snow got in the way and classes were canceled. This is the sermon I had prepared for that day. I thought I would still share it with all of you. For those who were looking forward to hearing me preach, I will be preaching at BTSR on April 3. It shouldn’t snow that day. If it does, my preaching should not be the priority. 🙂
In Isaiah 55, God promised to give us what was given to David, a steadfast, sure love. God never promised that the journey would be an easy one. In order to get to the resurrection, we have to go through the wilderness. – Linda C. Moore
Are We There Yet?
Sunday started week 3 of Lent, which means we are halfway through the Lenten Journey. People have taken this time to “give up” something for Lent; chocolate, soda, Facebook, shopping. If you are like my roommate, you gave up coffee for the season. The other day she said, “I can’t wait for it to be over. How much longer?”
When I was a child, I got my first introduction to the Outer Banks when we went on vacation there. Being a construction worker, the only vehicle we had was the company truck. It had a two/three person cab and the bed of the truck. My dad and mom sat in the cab and my brother and I would sit in the bed of the truck. I know. Not the safest of places to be but it was a long time ago when children faced everything dangerous. However we had one of those camper shells that we latched on the truck with C-clamps. It covered our belongings and more importantly, it covered me. My brother and I would set up the temporary camp and either sit on a sleeping bag or one of those tri-fold lounge chairs.
Back then it was a four hour drive. Do you know how long four hours was to a pre-teen in the bed of a company construction truck? It was a long time. However I found ways to entertain myself with the battery operated boom box, singing and bothering my brother. I wonder why he only came once on these trips?
The camper shell backed up against the cab of the truck and had one of those windows with a buckle that you could slide open. And so did the back window of the cab where mom and dad were. About an hour into the trip, I made my way to that window, opened it and knock on the cab window. My dad was good enough that he could reach behind him and unlock the buckle of his window and open it, while still keeping his eyes on the road. Over top of the wind, the engine and music, I would yell out the very question that all parents hate, “Are we there yet?” In every ½ hour increments or so, I would do the same all over again. Dad anticipated the childlike call for the ETA and finally said, “When you see the bridge, you know we are almost there.”
If you’ve ever been to the Outer Banks, you know the bridge I am talking about. The 158 Bridge or the Wright Memorial Bridge that crosses over the bay. It’s the one that connects the mainland to the banks. When you cross over it, you know that Heaven is on the other side. You just have to be patient enough to get there.
I thought about that trip a lot. The anticipation of what is coming, even when we don’t know exactly what it is, when it is or where. I had this excitement that we made the journey and once we get through the bumps, falls, and sacrificial time with my brother, we got through the wilderness and the angels will be there to bring us through the traffic. The trees will clap, the seagulls will sing, and the fish will swim. When we got to our destination, we opened the truck and put our feet in the sand and fishing poles off the pier. When that happened, we knew the entire trip was worth it. The bounces, the brother, the hours, were all worth it to get to that special place I called heaven.
Like I said, we are halfway through the Lenten season and as much as we may want to stand up and say, “Are we there yet?” we aren’t. Many want to bypass Lent and go straight to the Resurrection and Easter Celebration. But we can’t. We are not done with our travels through the wilderness. This is an opportunity to check in and find out where we are. Find out how our relationship is with God and if things are still going as “planned”.
I have good news for you, for all of us. There are no midterm exams for this time in the wilderness. You are not going to be graded by your professors and professors are not going to have to grade papers. We won’t have congregation members coming to greet us to tell us how much the “loved” the sermon and we don’t have someone looking in the mirror telling us how we could have handled that conversation differently. At this moment, at this time, you are at a personal check-in between you and God and nobody else.
I am not just talking about Lent either. All of us in this room are in a wilderness of some sort, aren’t we? The ministers are in the middle of leading congregational Lenten seasons, yet are finding it hard to be completely submersed in Lent for their own souls. Professors are in the middle of conferences, interims, pastorates, and I can imagine are quite tired. Students from first year to fourth year, fifth year, further…are wondering when you will finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. The professors, the staff, Dr. Crawford, the seminary, alumni, there is a wilderness you are going through too, all of which brings uncertainty and anxiety. What is the future like for you? For all of us? The future is uncertain and in many ways, so is the present. We aren’t sure what will happen tomorrow. The burdens and uncertainty can be a heavy weight to carry all alone. All of this can pull us down, drag us along and bring us to a place of weariness and worry.
Maybe our vision of God, of our relationship with God, is a little fuzzy right now. I woke up the other morning, put on my glasses and my vision was still quite blurry. I was tired yes. But I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t focus. I wiped the lens on my glasses. I rubbed my eyes several times. I went and made some coffee, hoping that would help. Nothing worked. Until about 30 minutes later, when I realized one of the lenses had popped out of my frame. The issue was right in front of me. So are these questions. How is my relationship with God going? How am I doing with my faith and trust in God, when everything else has challenged me to the core? Have I turned away? Do I need to shake loose the beasts? Questions we need to answer at this point.
This is our midway point to check to see how we are doing. In Isaiah, God had already given this covenant to David and now the invitation has been extended to the Israelites and to all of us. There is a bounty of abundance for those who are hungry. Those who are thirsty and the only thing we need to bring is ourselves, the precious child that God called us to be. God called us by name so long ago, some longer than others, but we were called in the very beginning to start this journey into the unknown.
I told you the good news early, about God’s invitation to the table to partake in this covenant of steadfast love and everlasting peace, but here is the bad news. Yes, God promised us steadfast love, but if you notice, there is no promise that the journey will be easy. God doesn’t make a covenant that there will be no suffering, no pain, no loss, and no grief. In fact, we aren’t even told what happens in the middle. We read what happens in the beginning, we will go out in joy, and be led back in peace, the mountains will burst into song, and all the trees will clap their hands. We don’t know what happens in-between the beginning and the end.
That reminds me of Jesus’ Wilderness journey in the Gospel of Mark. Mark doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what happens in the middle either. We know the spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. We know that Satan tempts Jesus and there are wild beasts. Then the spirit drives him out. Mark doesn’t tell us how he is tempted, how he is brought down, how he is brought to a point of exhaustion, hurt, worry – but what we do know is that the Spirit was with him the entire time. We know that God was right there, watching over his precious child.
I am going to be honest with you. There is a part of me that wishes the whole dark wilderness adventures were done. I want so much to yell out, “are we there yet?” Don’t you feel that way sometimes? I’m sure David felt that way. Certainly the Israelites did. Moses didn’t even want to accept his call, coming up with every excuse possible. And I can’t help but wonder if Jesus ever felt that way. But he did. He wept. He went off to be alone with his heavenly father and pray. He cried in the Garden of Gethsemane and asked God to take this cup from him. He knows what it feels like in ways we can never imagine.
The invitation is there for us, to take a break from the wilderness and partake in this feast for we are hungry, we are thirsty and we are in need. God calls us to seek him out, listen, and incline our ears and come. Come to this table. Take this covenant and make it yours. Fill your hunger. Quench your thirst. Bring your weary souls to me and allow me to give you rest. Turn around and return to me. Let go of the wicked. Run from the evil. Free yourself from the wild beasts. Drop all that holds you back and come to me, my precious child. Let go of the search for understanding because my thoughts are not yours. My ways are higher and the storms must come in order to fulfill the earth and fulfill you.
Remember my trip to the Outerbanks? Fast-forward a few years to 2001. I was laid off from my corporate training job in March. About six months into the layoff, I was angry,
frustrated, lost, and confused. Interviews every week and I couldn’t figure out why no job offers were coming through. I found myself mad at God and everyone around. I thought that God was not providing; that God took my job away and that God was not answering my prayers. I was lost and could not find my way out of the wilderness.
Thanks to a generous gift, I found myself at the beach for a long weekend, to get away from it all. It was Nags Head, my heaven away from heaven. I was a giddy schoolgirl when I got closer to that bridge, smiling ear-to-ear and clapping with excitement. I knew what was coming. At least I thought I did. On one particular night, there was an electrical storm. Power lines were down. No electricity at the hotel. Rain shot across like needles and the wind was howling. I got in my car and started driving. I drove through this dark storm and thick fog. I drove several miles down the road and decided to stop. The rain began to settle down a bit and i got out of the car. Looking in one direction, i saw the beach and could hear the ocean off in the distance. I turned around and found the trees standing behind me, clapping from the wind. Then I saw this glimpse of light. I looked up and saw where i was. There above the trees was the Beacon of Currituck Lighthouse – the light, resonated through the clouds and the fog, and through the rain. I realized I was never alone. God had been with me the whole time, through supportive friends, a giving church, through prayer and scripture, through the pain and the tears, and even through the self-pity, the anger and the most challenging of situations. God had been with me the entire journey.
We are halfway through the journey, but in many ways, we are just beginning. If you were to check in and see where you are at this very moment, what would you find out? Are you happy? Content? Are the plans going well? Are you pulling away from God? Are you in the darkest place you have ever been and can’t seem to find that light of comfort and hope? Have you turned away from God and are ashamed of what you’ve done? Afraid to return? Are you worried that you won’t make it out of the wilderness because you are so burdened with all that is happening, you can’t even reach out and grab a hold of to the cloak that is in front of you?
Are we there yet? No, we are not. We still have a long way to go and it’s not going to be easy. The good news is, God has made a covenant with us and extended the invitation to come to the table and partake in what he has to offer. We are hungry. We are thirsty and what is on the table is there for the taking.
Come, and have a seat.
– Linda C. Moore © 2013