(From Elma Raske to Madaline Oetting, 3-13-63, gift of Robert Oetting)
It is an ancient requirement of the church
that we enter the forty days of Lent through the dark wilderness where
Jesus confronted the devil. Here two absolute wills met. The will of
Jesus was unity, obedience, the world as God meant it, sacrifice, and
the service of God. The will of the devil was disunity, arrogance, the
world as man would have it, accommodation, and the will of man.
The church knows exactly what it is doing
when it takes us this way, into and through the wilderness. For this
episode is a general event for all men everywhere and always. This
fateful meeting in that one place and far-off time is everymanís meeting
in his place and present moment. The exterior drama of confrontation and
conflict and choice has its eternal counterpart in everymanís temptation
and torment and decision.
That this wilderness-meeting be preached
and heard by us on the First Sunday in Lent is both report and
re-enactment. It is report: for this struggle of the Servant of God to
be Godís man against himself, his world, and all devilish and alluring
possibilities actually took place. And it is re-enactment, too. For that
old wilderness is reported as Godís way and power, and promise for my
wilderness. That old story is from God for my story. It is then ó and it
is now. And we preach it and hear it and ponder it to the end that we
may re-enact it.
There may be people for whom life is not
like a wilderness. I donít know any. A wilderness is a place where one
gets lost ó where, indeed, everything helps one get lost. And in its
tangled confusion there are all kinds of seductions to comfort, to
compromise, to blot out with sleep, or hardness of heart, or sheer
preoccupation with pettiness. The devil does not always look like the
devil, and his invitation to a fat and pleasant way to go to hell is
more efficient than a wolfish face of snarling evil.
The Gospel tells us that God isnít caught
in a wilderness, that God didnít just stumble into a wilderness. We
read, rather, that ďJesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.Ē
The Spirit led Jesus to do what God wanted done. What he wanted was to
restore his children to life in himself. And if the children are to be
found, the finder must invade and penetrate and suffer the wilderness.
God the finder must become the lost where the lost are.
The season of Lent is the churchís
provision whereby every man may hear again of the wilderness-God,
re-enact within his darkest interior the steady invasion of this God
into lifeís darkling damnation, and move into Easter knowing that the
one who says ďPeaceĒ to him on that day is no unscarred shepherd of tame
lambs in a heated barn. He won his shepherd-card, as it were, in the