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"Finding Joy in the Wilderness" Third Sunday in Lent - March 20, 2022

In the name of God, who is love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wilderness—we hear a lot about it during the Season of Lent, don’t we? The Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. They were moving from oppression toward the Promised Land and had a lot of lessons to learn along the way. Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. He was preparing for his ministry and the opposition he would face.

And here we are, nearly halfway through the 40 days of Lent. We’ve been encouraged to slow down. Maybe by giving something up. Maybe by taking on a spiritual practice. Maybe both. It’s a pretty common experience that in this process, people become more aware of wilderness. I wonder what wilderness looks like for you.

Of course, I don’t necessarily mean a physical wilderness like Psalm 63 describes: “a barren and dry land where there is no water.” Though, you must admit, that’s the Texas Panhandle most of the time! There’s a reason European settlers came here so much later than, say, to the Hill Country!

No, I’m thinking of a wilderness that feels barren emotionally and spiritually. Maybe we feel isolated. Maybe surviving from one day to the next takes great effort and sometimes seems impossible. Maybe it’s hard to imagine life getting better because this desolation seems to go on forever. Wilderness may envelope us because of oppression, conflict, addiction, grief, overwork, confusion, illness, and the list goes on.

Lent is honest about this grim side of life. We sin, people around us sin, the whole world seems devoid of caring and full of power struggles, and life, in general, can be really hard. But despair isn’t the end of the story: God’s grace and love enter into our wilderness. God offers protection and provision to get us through the wilderness and even find joy along the way.

Psalm 63 is a wonderful prayer to help us in our wilderness. It sees the hardships of life—a barren land, a need for help, opposition from others. But those hardships aren’t where the Psalmist gazes most intently. No, the Psalmist gazes intently on God. What can we see when we gaze on God? Can we see power, glory, and loving-kindness? Can we be content in our souls with the goodness God has extended to us? Can we recognize how God has protected us? Like a bird protects her nestlings by shielding them from the blazing sun with her outstretched wings. Like a parent holds his child safely by the hand in a jostling crowd.

Each of us experience wilderness differently, but we can learn something from each other’s experience. The wilderness I’ve come to know best over the past several years is the end-of-life wilderness. Not sudden death so much, but the kind you can see co