Wilderness Time: “A Time of New Beginnings”
2 Corinthians 5:14-19
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 13, 2016
My parents were newlywed when my grandmother gave my mother her old Kirby vacuum. She had bought a new, top of the line Kirby vacuum and she no longer needed her old one. My mother was overjoyed to receive a vacuum, just what she needed in their home with all wood floors. So, my mother convinced my dad that what they needed was to carpet their home, covering the wood floors. So they did.
The carpet they installed was gorgeous, so soft and luxurious under their feet. But the furniture didn’t look right. It was old and looked shabby next the new carpeting. So my parents had all of their livingroom furniture recovered to match with this beautiful new carpeting. Several weeks later when the furniture was returned, brand, spanking new, they noticed not only the dreary walls but the drapes would simply not go with the new furniture and carpeting. So they painted the walls and replaced the drapes. Good as new, the living room was a showpiece. Something they could really be proud of and they would enjoy many hours of entertainment with family and friends.
A month later, someone knocked on the door. My mother answered and there stood a Kirby salesman. She invited him in and showed him her Kirby vacuum. “Oh that will never do,” he said to her. “Not with his new carpeting.” So he convinced her that her old Kirby just wouldn’t keep her new carpeting clean enough and sold her a brand new one.
I think we all experience excitement at new things, whether it’s new carpeting, furniture and drapes, or a new lease on life, a new relationships or job; there is hope and joy in newness. This morning we celebrate the time of new beginnings that we experience at the conclusion of our time in the wilderness.
Forty days in the wilderness is a long time. We’ve only made it to day thirty-four and we are already weary of the wilderness talk. It’s time to look ahead and see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time to be filled with hope and the assurance that the wilderness is not all there is, God assures us there is more.
I heard about a retired pastor who related that “one of his favorite phrases in scripture is found more than four hundred fifty times in the King James Version of the Bible: “It came to pass.” That can be very good news, if you’re contemplating wilderness time. “It came to pass.” Wilderness times come. But, they don’t stay. They are not permanent. They pass. Wilderness time always comes to an end and is always followed by a new beginning. According to Dante, written over the gates of hell are the words, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!” Sometimes we imagine that those words are written over the gate to the wilderness and we are tempted to abandon hope. The good news of our Christian faith, however, is that the wilderness is never the final destination and hope is alive even in the desolate territory.
“Wilderness times generally mark the end of one phase and the beginning of a new phase of our lives. Jesus’ difficult and lonely time of testing in the Judean wilderness gave way to a new beginning – the beginning of his public ministry. It prepared him and strengthened him, in a way that perhaps nothing else could. New beginnings stand at the heart of the gospel message. No matter who we are or what we’ve done, no matter if the wilderness is of our own making, God is present in the wilderness of sin, guilt, and separation from God and from others, there is a way out of the wilderness and a new beginning awaits.
“God provides that way through Christ. The apostle Paul was an expert in new beginnings. He knew well the spiritual territory we call “the wilderness” because he spent a great deal of time there! Paul also knew the power of being made new and set free from the wilderness of a broken relationship with God and with others.”
Do you remember Paul’s story? We read many of his letters and are likely very familiar with his teachings, but do you remember who he was before? Before he met Christ? Before his name was changed? His name was Saul and he was a Pharisee, a religious zealot who was persecuting the followers of “The Way.” He was threatening and murdering Christians. He had even gone to the high priest and asked for a letter that would give him permission to bring Christians back to Jerusalem, bound as prisoners for prosecution. He was an enemy of the early church. He set out on his murderous mission but was struck blind on the road approaching Damascus. A light flashed from heaven. Paul fell to the ground, stunned and speechless. And then he heard the Lord’s voice, loud and clear, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul didn’t know who was addressing him and when he asked, the voice responded, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Then Jesus told him to get up and go into the city and await further instructions. Still blind he was led into Damascus and was without sight for three days as he fasted and prayed.
Across town, a man named Ananias also heard from the Lord. He was sent to look up the man Saul of Tarsus and lay hands on him to give him his sight back. Ananias knew about Saul, everyone knew about Saul and at first refused. Jesus reassured him that Saul would become a huge instrument in bringing the Good News of Christ to the world outside of Jerusalem, he would bring the news of Christ to the Gentiles as well as kings and the people if Israel. Ananias set out to complete the mission and restored Saul’s sight, baptized him and witnessed him preaching the Good News to the same crowds he persecuted just months before. A new beginning, a transformation, a new creation in Christ.
Based on his own conversion story, Paul wrote in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” The good news of Christ is that no matter who you are or what you have done there is always held out to you the chance for a new beginning. In Christ, we are new creations: “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
There are other biblical stories about new beginnings. We don’t have time this morning to cover them all but I would direct you to the story of Moses, from prince to fugitive; shepherd to leader. What about Gideon? He was the youngest in his family, least likely to be called upon for a great mission. He was called to be their leader and in doing so a new day dawned. Esther spent her own time in the wilderness. She was orphaned, and living a humble life when she was chosen to be Queen. She then defended her people and was instrumental in sparing the life of the Jews. A new beginning not only for Esther but for the Israelites also.
“Jesus told the story of a man who had two sons. One day the younger of the two went to his father and said, in so many words, “I wish you were dead.” He asked for his inheritance – not at all appropriate, since his father was very much alive! The father gave his younger son his share of the inheritance and the son ran away to a distant country, where he squandered it all. All that money his father had worked hard to earn and set aside for his son was just thrown away satisfying the son’s every whim and desire. It was awful! What a waste.
“It didn’t take him long to blow his inheritance and he found himself homeless and hungry. This young man found himself doing the unthinkable. He wound up feeding pigs and he was so hungry he even wanted to eat the pig slop. He was in the wilderness of his own making! When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” So he decided to go home and beg his father for forgiveness. As he was approaching the familiar place that once had been his home, his father saw him. His father was so overjoyed and excited that he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Jesus taught us that God is like that loving father. If you’re in the wilderness, feeling separated from God – and perhaps you even ran into that wilderness yourself – it may be difficult to believe, but God is like that father and will run to meet you and welcome you home with open arms, ready to give you a new beginning.
“Ultimately, the wilderness never has the last word! But, what about the greatest wilderness? What about death? The good news of our faith is that even the wilderness of death comes to pass. In Christ, Paul observed, “death has been swallowed up in victory.” The good news of our faith is that even out of the wilderness of suffering and death, and even out of the wilderness of the death of someone we love, there is a new beginning. Death is swallowed up in victory through Jesus Christ. Death never has the final word.”
I heard of a “couple who had lost their daughter in a tragic car accident. Out of that experience, they founded an organization to help parents who are grieving the loss of a child. Out of that terrible wilderness came a new beginning for that family and for many other families suffering the pain of losing a child in death. The good news of our faith is that the wilderness never has the last word. When Jesus was on the cross, he was in the darkest wilderness of his life. Jesus was nailed to that cross to die as a criminal by that cruel Roman means of execution. As Jesus hung there, the life draining from him, he experienced the rejection, the anguish, and the loneliness of the dark wilderness. Jesus cried out, quoting Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But, we know that the cross was not the end. We, who walk the wilderness way with Christ through this Holy Week of services, know that we celebrate next Sunday. We know that death will never have the final word. We know that the wilderness “comes to pass.”
Let us pray: When we have lost all hope Lord God, remind us of the new beginnings that are waiting for us at the end of our wilderness times. Prepare us for the week to come and allow us the full range of emotions from today’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the shock of the crucifixion. Prepare us for Easter morning. Amen.
 Worship in a Flash for Lent & Easter. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN
 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
 2 Corinthians 5:17
 Luke 15:17
 1 Corinthians 15:54
 Worship in a Flash for Lent & Easter. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN