Through Wilderness Times: Someone to Come Home To

Luke 4:1-13
I officiated at a funeral last Saturday.
I was not acquainted with the one who had died, except later through the family’s stories, but they were in need of a pastor, and as I have said in this space before, when asked I always do my best to step in. 
I confess I was tired when the call came on Thursday.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, it had just been a long week already. Even so, I picked up the phone to arrange for a time to meet and I made the call. I wasn’t sorry.
A little while later, I pulled into the driveway at the same time the family was gathering and they let me in through the garage.  We sat down around the kitchen table where I was greeted with “treasure” itself.  For they pushed across to me a pile of letters now seventy years old.  “POW Letters” is what the box had been labeled.  His daughters thought they were ‘personal’ — between their mother and their dad and so they had never read them before that January afternoon.
They also spread out the scrapbook their mother put together which their dad had kept nearby since her death a few years ago.  Those now faded pages hold every piece of official correspondence she received from the moment his plane went down over Italy until he finally came home.
Spike flew with the Royal Air Force for he was a Canadian citizen first.  When his plane was shot down, he and his cohorts survived.  They hid out for a while before they were captured, but part of the wonder of his story is that this young man refused to stay imprisoned … For in fact, Spike  was captured not once, but three times, escaping twice, every time doing all he could to make his way to the Allied front line. Trying to make his way towards home.  The story goes that he slept in a cornfield during the day, navigating his way through unfamiliar countryside by night.  They were tended by an Italian woman who made sure they didn’t starve. No, he didn’t make it home until the war ended — they were captured once more — but through it all, he kept trying. For as his grandson said to me, “He had someone to come home to.”
So as I have sat with this remarkable story and now as I turn to the first Sunday in Lent, I am struck by the truth that Spike experienced something of ‘wilderness’ that I have only ever encountered on purpose or for relatively short periods of time.  Oh there are times of ‘wilderness’  which life thrusts us into without our choosing, but at least for me, even those very dark, or very despairing or even very painful times have not been especially life threatening.  At least not yet. I know this is not true for all who read these words today.  Please know that I honor your journey and yearn to hear how Jesus’ experience in the wilderness resonates with you now.
Still, as I heard this one story last week I found myself thinking of how it is that we get through such times.  And I wonder if it isn’t always by remembering that we have something, we have Someone to come home to.  And I wonder if that wasn’t exactly what sustained Jesus during his sojourn into the wilderness… particularly as he faced down the three temptations which confronted him as he ended those forty days. 
For the “Home” Jesus had in God was one where the ‘bread’ which sustains is so much more than that with which we nourish our physical bodies. And the “Home” which Jesus had was one where the values didn’t rest on strength or power, but on servant-hood. And the “Home” that Jesus called his own was not one where the relationship should ever be ‘tested,’ but was one that was already long proven —  one grounded in and shaped by love. To ‘test it,’ as the devil urges Jesus to do today, would have been downright insulting.To be sure, it is hard to imagine a genuine love where one would dream to ask the other to ‘prove’ that love when over time and space that love has, in fact, already been borne out over and over again. 

And so I wonder now how it is that you and I take this story as gift for our own times in the  wilderness.  Perhaps it is so that we also simply keep our eyes, our minds, our hearts, on “Home” and on the “Someone” who is there:   that precious place with God where our needs are satisfied, where we kneel before the hopes and hurts of a broken world, seeking to bring healing and to bear witness to God’s promises — and where we have somehow learned to trust in God’s amazing love which will not ultimately, finally, let us be broken.  Which promises life.
I buried a veteran on Saturday who survived the sort of wilderness most of us cannot begin to imagine.  He kept his heart and mind on ‘home’ and and on the one waiting for him there.  Finally, he came home.  Perhaps it is simply ours to do the same.
  1. Every year on the First Sunday in Lent it is ours to ponder the story of Jesus’ Temptation or Testing in the wilderness.  What do you hear in Luke’s account that may be different from the others?  What strikes you on this reading?
  2. What might it mean for us to keep our minds and hearts fixed on ‘Home’ and/or the ‘Someone’ who is there, in times of struggle in the wilderness? How does one do this?
  3. Can you think of ‘wilderness’ times in your own life — bidden or not — where you have managed not to succumb to despair or to the sorts of temptations which Jesus withstood?  What made this possible?

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