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As Lent Begins
by Joseph Sittler

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(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 wilderness.




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