Wilderness Time: “A Time of Challenge”
2 Corinthians 4:8-11
Rev. Sandy Johnson
February 21, 2016
On May 23, 2015, 26 yr. old Cameron Zick began an all day hike of Colorado’s 14,000 ft. Mt. Sneffels. With snow predicted in the early evening he had a group six friends left early for what should have been a glorious spring hike. The hike began beautifully as they walked the trail amid spring flowers and vibrant green trees. Soon the clear trail gave way to a serious snow covering and when they got to waist-deep snow half of the group decided to turn around. They hadn’t come prepared for snow so the decision to go back short of the summit was the right one.
On the way back down the mountain Cameron and his friends passed a 5-foot-tall boulder that had a great view of the mountain and the surrounding national forest. The group climbed to the top of the boulder and took a few shots of the view. His friend, Michael decided to take a shortcut down off the boulder. He “jumped off the rock into a pile of fluffy snow, landing on his side.” Cameron thought that it looked like fun and decided to follow suit. He carefully planned his jump however as he was launching himself off the boulder, his foot slipped on a piece of ice and it sent him falling, head first. As soon as he hit, he know something was very wrong. His head was under the snow and his body was straight up in the air. Cameron couldn’t move his arms or legs and when he screamed for help his mouth filled with snow, suffocating him.
Initially his friends didn’t realize the severity of the situation and stood back laughing at Cameron’s stunt. Very quickly they realized that he was in serious trouble and came forward to help. Thankfully several of his friends, trained hikers, knew that he was severely hurt and took great care to lay him down, keeping him stable and preventing further damage. Two friends took off down the mountain in search of help. As the afternoon progressed into evening the snow that had been forecasted began falling.
The friends who had stayed with Cameron had come prepared for an emergency. They had brought survival tools and had overnight camping supplies. They moved under a nearby pine tree that would provide some protection for them. Cameron’s friends stayed with him the next five hours while waiting for the rescue team to reach him. They kept him warm and did their best to keep him calm as he lashed out, shouting obscenities into the night as the panic, that he was unable to feel his arms and legs, began to sink in.
The excitement that the rescuers had reached him was short lived when they realized that the storm would prevent a helicopter rescue. A team of ten would have to carry him down the trail by hand, another five hours journey. “At 1 a.m., they reached the trailhead and the waiting ambulance. It was a 2.5-hour drive to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado.” As soon as he arrived he was taken into surgery and in a twelve hour procedure was pieced back together.
Since the accident Cameron has worked through the challenge of his wilderness experience, pushing himself to regain the physical strength and mobility he had lost. Hour by hour and day by day, he found the strength, seizing control back from his accident and channeling it into physical therapy.” Six months after the accident he was on his feet and his recovery is expected to extend perhaps for years.
Wilderness experiences don’t all end badly but they all come with challenges. During our Lenten journey we are reminded that Jesus was tested in the wilderness and fought Satan with scripture, defending himself and enduring the challenge. Each wilderness experience that comes our way comes with its own set of struggles and difficulties. The Gospel of Mark says that Jesus was there with the wild animals. “Aren’t our own wilderness experiences complete with wild beasts as well? Fear crouches in the brush nearby, ready to pounce and strangle. Temptation slithers around waiting for the opportunity to strike. Despair circles overhead, waiting to land and devour. Wilderness times have their wild beasts! They are times of challenge. Our faith, our values, our trust in God, what we believe, are all tested in the wilderness. We call this testing temptation.”
I have a friend who received a card when he turned forty. It said, “As you grow older, don’t worry about avoiding temptations. Temptations will avoid you.” Would that it were true! We never outgrow temptation.” This week I went out to lunch with a group to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I have given up sweets for lent and when the decision was made that we would all share a piece chocolate cake for dessert, I politely declined. Then I was tempted by my dear friends and ended up agreeing with them that “God wouldn’t mind if I had a bite of birthday cake!”
“Saint Anthony spoke the truth when he said, “Expect temptation with your last breath.” Temptation is a very real part of life and it is especially challenging in wilderness times – those times of spiritual dryness, loneliness, despair, fear, disappointment, low self-esteem, and bitterness. In those times, we are more susceptible to the power of temptation. Each temptation in the wilderness presents us with a corresponding challenge. In the wilderness, the temptation is to stray from the values we hold dear – the challenge is to hold fast to them and live by them. In the wilderness, the temptation is to take shortcuts, to avoid struggle, to find the easy way through – the challenge is to move through the struggle and take the hard way. The right way, the way to life, is often the hard and narrow way.”
We learn that from Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14 where we learn about the wide and narrow gate. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
We also are taught this lesson by Robert Frost in his poem “The Road Not Taken.” The last stanza reads, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Our hikers in our story this morning did many things correct that day. Many had prepared for the day by packing supplies they might need. They had educated themselves in emergency wilderness survival and were prepared when the trip took a sudden and critical turn for the worse. Their smart decisions not only saved Cameron’s life but also have given him the opportunity to walk again.
“The challenge is to persevere and move through the struggle – to take the hard way. In the wilderness, the temptation is to listen to the voices that would lead us away from God – the challenge is to listen to our loving and life-giving God. Radio, television, and the Internet fill our ears with thousands of voices representing many understandings of what is ultimately important, what gives meaning and purpose to life, and what principles guide life. With all the voices, it is increasingly difficult – especially for children and young people – to discern the good from the evil. So often the evil that tempts us and leads us to give allegiance to someone or something other than God is portrayed as ugly with a scary voice. In reality, the evil that presents itself in our lives doesn’t come with pointy tails, horns, cloven hooves, or a menacing scowl.
“That would be repulsive. Rather, evil generally presents itself as something good and is generally the twisting of something good and life–giving into something evil and destructive of life. Money, power, influence, sex, security winning, fame – all are good and yet all can be twisted to become evil and destructive. In the wilderness, the temptation is to substitute “stuff” in the place of God to make us feel better – the challenge is to live knowing that God is sufficient. One of the great temptations we face is the temptation always to have more. Happiness is just around the corner if only we have more things, or more wealth, or the finer things of life. In the wilderness, the temptation is to give up – the challenge is to persevere.
“The life-giving way is to rise to meet the challenges head-on and persevere in doing what’s right, in being faithful to God, in trusting God, in listening to God, and in loving others as God loves us. The good news is that God strengthens us to meet the challenges. Perseverance is so often the key to meeting the challenges of the wilderness. Meeting the challenge of the wilderness each time helps us prepare for meeting the challenge the next time. We struggle with our temptations in the wilderness and out of that struggle comes character.
“James 1:2-4 tells readers, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” In the stories of the Desert Fathers there is one story concerning Abbot John the Dwarf, Abbot John prayed to the Lord that all passion be taken from him. His prayer was granted. He became impassible. In this condition he went to one of the elders and said: “You see before you a man who is completely at rest and has no more temptations.” The elder surprised him. Instead of praising him, the elder said: “Go and pray to the Lord to command some struggle to be stirred up in you, for the soul is matured only in battles.” Abbot John did this, and when the temptations started up again, he did not pray that the struggle be taken away from him. Instead, he prayed: “Lord, give me strength to get through the fight.”
“Whereas temptation seems to be only a trip that leads to difficulties and even devastating tragedy, there is another side to temptation. If we pay attention, it presents us with the opportunity to learn about ourselves as we imagine the consequences of yielding to the temptation. We mentally work through the consequences without having to live through them. The benefit is obvious – only if we act on the temptation do we create negative consequences for ourselves and others.
“We learn from Jesus that we meet the challenges of the wilderness by meeting God daily. Jesus, the Son, was ready to meet the challenges in the wilderness because Jesus had met daily with God, the Father. Jesus was thoroughly versed in the will and way of God for his life. When we meet God daily before the wilderness time comes our way, then we are more prepared for the challenges of the wilderness.”
Let us pray: Gracious God, thank you for traveling through the wilderness with us. Thank you for being there to challenge us and to give us the ability to move through temptation and to live through the challenges and gain maturity as a result. As we grow and learn we become more like Jesus and for that we thank you. Amen.
 http://www.backpacker.com/survival/survival-stories/out-alive-paralyzed/ Accessed February 19, 2016.
 Worship in a Flash for Lent & Easter. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN
 Worship in a Flash for Lent & Easter. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN