Holy Spirit, Wilderness Guide of Love #PENTECOST

An excerpt from an essay I wrote as my integrative faith statement at Palmer Theological Seminary. It’s written as a letter to my daughter, Isla, and uses an extended metaphor of faith as “walking through the wilderness” to describe who God is and who God call us to be.

Love is our Trailblazer, but Love is also our wilderness Guide. We know this Guide as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guided Jesus throughout his entire life in the way of Love and led him all the way through death and into new life. When Jesus left the wilderness, he said the Guide would come to invite all people to become like Jesus as they follow the way of Jesus as a caravan of Love.

Just like Jesus, the wilderness Guide is God. But unlike Jesus, the Guide was not born as a human being. The Guide is unseen. She is like our breath – we have no life apart from her. She walks within our caravan to give us power to love ourselves and others the way Jesus does. She brings us together in friendship with people who are different from us. She comforts and encourages our caravan when the trail gets tough. The Guide gives us special gifts to keep our caravan strong. She leads us back to the way of Love when we walk in sin. In fact, She’s always leading us, but we need to practice the spiritual disciplines so that we can hear her voice more clearly.

But the Spirit of Love is also working in the wilderness beyond our caravan. She gives life to the entire wilderness and protects the wilderness from harm. She is present with all who are lost and alone in the wilderness trying to show them the way of Love. She gives strength to all who must journey over hard terrain and purifies the polluted air that causes us to walk in sin. As we walk with the Guide, we join in this greater work of making the wilderness a place for all people to find a home.

I’ve experienced the Guide all throughout my wilderness journey. I felt her comforting, guiding presence when I was in the middle of a jungle in Bolivia. Even in the most remote part of the wilderness, the Guide was with me. I also felt the special presence of the Spirit when you were born, Isla. I was in awe as your mom gave birth to you and I still remember that first time I held you in my arms. It’s the Spirit who has given me the power to love you as your dad. I have also seen the Spirit at work healing hurt people and bringing very different people together as friends. I feel the Guide when I work in the garden or play at the park. The wilderness is alive with the Spirit of Love!

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Pentecost: We’re All Prophets Now

Moses heard the people crying throughout their clans, each at his tent’s entrance. The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that you promised their ancestors? Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying before me and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men from Israel’s elders, whom you know as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the meeting tent, and let them stand there with you. Then I’ll descend and speak with you there. I’ll take some of the spirit that is on you and place it on them. Then they will carry the burden of the people with you so that you won’t bear it alone. To the people you will say, ‘Make yourselves holy for tomorrow; then you will eat meat, for you’ve cried in the Lord’s hearing, “Who will give us meat to eat? It was better for us in Egypt.” The Lord will give you meat, and you will eat. You won’t eat for just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month until it comes out of your nostrils and nauseates you. You’ve rejected the Lord who’s been with you and you have cried before him, saying, “Why did we leave Egypt?” ’”

Moses said, “The people I’m with are six hundred thousand on foot and you’re saying, ‘I will give them meat, and they will eat for a month.’ Can flocks and herds be found and slaughtered for them? Or can all the fish in the sea be found and caught for them?”

The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power too weak? Now you will see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

So Moses went out and told the people the Lord’s words. He assembled seventy men from the people’s elders and placed them around the tent. The Lord descended in a cloud, spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and placed it on the seventy elders. When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but only this once. Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the second named Medad, and the spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they hadn’t gone out to the tent, so they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua, Nun’s son and Moses’ assistant since his youth, responded, “My master Moses, stop them!”

Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his spirit on them!

Numbers 11:10-29

The Fast Jesus Chooses

***UPDATE***

I’ve come across some other blog posts/videos on Lent and fasting that are superb supplements to what I was trying to say in this post. Thought I would share those so you can enjoy them as well.

  1. Chris Smith on “Fasting Toward the Common Good”
  2. Jarod McKenna speaks about following Jesus on his desert walkabout (shown below)

[APPEARED ORIGINALLY ON THE SIX:EIGHT COMMUNITY CHURCH BLOG]

Today is Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent – when we begin our journey of self-examination and repentance as we prepare to follow Jesus to the cross. Here on the blog, we’ll be reflecting each week on a moment from the life of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Luke. We hope you’ll join us as we read and meditate on Jesus’ life. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s get started.

We begin with a passage that you’re probably familiar with: the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Take a moment to read Luke 4:1-13, whether you’ve heard it or not, before you continue…

Here we find Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days. The text says he fasted or “ate nothing.” This period of fasting is actually where the whole idea for Lent originates. During his wilderness fast, Jesus is visited by “the devil” and faced with temptations to satisfy his hunger, to assume power over all the “kingdoms of the world”, and to test God’s promises. He resists all three with a word from Scripture: man lives by the Word of God, who alone is King, worthy of all our worship, which leaves no room for our attempts to manipulate or control God. Before Jesus begins his ministry, he takes the time to confront the temptations of the human heart. Jesus faced these temptations boldly and with full confidence in God. He was successful in resisting them, in loving God with his whole being. We, on the other hand, have not had the same experience.

Fasting has a way of facilitating a confrontation with our own temptations. As we let go of things we “need” – food or otherwise – and wrestle with our urges to fulfill these needs, we get a clearer sense of what is really driving us, deep in the core of who we are. In the light of God’s gracious, loving presence we can examine these compulsions that propel us in all the wrong directions. We find that we are a rebellious people. As God sheds light on our darkness, we are given grace to confess our great need for God, who is our only hope and the fulfillment of all our longings. This will look different for all of us, but we all, in our own ways, are called to repent, to believe the Gospel: that Jesus the Christ is Lord. Fasting informs our repentance.

But there’s an even bigger picture for us to consider because our lives are connected to each other and to the life of our world. If we look back a few verses in Luke 3, we hear John the Baptist proclaiming in the wilderness: if you have two tunics, share with the one who has none; do the same for food; be fair to each other; don’t wield unjust authority over others; be content; practice everyday justice! John is fulfilling his calling from Luke 1:12 “to making ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Love one another; Jesus is on his way.

If we look ahead a few verses in Luke 4, we hear Jesus proclaiming the words of the prophet Isaiah as his own “mission statement”: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Wow, what a mission! Jesus has come to restore all things, to liberate all people from the oppression of sin and all the destruction it causes both personally and socially, to say once and for all that God is Love.

On both sides of Jesus’ wilderness fasting and temptations, we hear a message proclaiming justice, freedom, peace, care, service, and love. When this context is considered, I think we can make a good guess of what was on Jesus’ mind as he was led into the wilderness to fast.  My guess is Isaiah 58:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Jesus knew that fasting is not an end in and of itself. He wasn’t fasting just to check off some box for being the Messiah. Yes, fasting is good because it humbles us in the light of our sin and God’s mercy, but we have seriously missed the point if all we do is sit around and think about how holy we are for “giving something up for God.” The point is transformation, new creation, first repentance and then rebirth. We fast so that we can be in touch with all the ways we strap the bonds of injustice on ourselves and on others, with the ways we are both oppressed and oppressor, and with how the ways we fulfill our own needs lead to hunger, homelessness, and nakedness for others. As we read in Isaiah 58, the fast God has chosen leads to real healing, and justice, and salvation when God arrives and shouts “HERE I AM!”

I think Jesus knew the vast and far-reaching consequences of the seemingly small, insignificant temptations he was facing in the desert. Do we? Have we faced our own temptations to satisfy our every need? Are we aware of our temptations to seek power over others and make ourselves into idols? Do we recognize the ways we are tempted to test and manipulate God in service of our own ambition? This is the fast God chooses.

In the sermon two Sunday’s ago, we were reminded by Koheleth in Ecclesiastes 4 of the injustice and oppression still so present in our world. Billions, us included, live in alienation and loneliness as a result of the sin that is so tempting. This past Sunday we listened again to Koheleth, hoping for a way forward. His solution was profoundly simple, and yet so true: friendship. Justice begins in friendship and continues until all people feel the embrace of God’s love. If the fast God chooses leads us to justice, then it should lead us to friendship. After all, Jesus began his all-creation-renewing mission with 12 friends.

As we begin the journey of Lent, maybe we need to step back and consider our friendships. Who are the ones we call our friends? Have we loved them? Have we been a friend to them? Maybe this a time to pray for our friends. Maybe this is a time to consider how we’ve been tempted to ignore our friends. We are made for community, for friendships. May the God who is perfect friendship, perfect communion, perfect love, guide us as we walk the way of Jesus.

[APPEARED ORIGINALLY ON THE SIX:EIGHT COMMUNITY CHURCH BLOG]