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Shelter Us, Lord…

March 4, 2017

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Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. Then he was tempted by the Devil. Yes, this is the first Sunday in Lent and another Lenten journey has begun. A few weeks ago, Denise and I went for a short drive into the Rocky Mountain National Park. I had a new lens that I wanted to try out. In addition, we had been looking at our beloved Rocky for some time now and not had an opportunity to visit.

I took the above picture on the road looking towards Moraine Park while playing a bit with my wide angle lens and the black and white settings. The setting was indeed a bit stark. We didn’t see any Rocky Mountain Elk or any other creatures wandering about and with the clouds and rain/snow falling it was a bit bleak. As I looked over the vista, I thought of Jesus heading out into the wilderness after his baptism.

Talk about going from a high point directly into the frying pan and then fire… with the sound of “This is my Son, the Beloved,* with whom I am well pleased.”still ringing in his ears, he was sent into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. Wow!

The wilderness can be a scary place. There is so much that is unknown out there. There is so much that can threaten to undo you. Enemies can seem to lurk behind every stone and bush. It was this sort of wilderness which the Psalmist spoke of in Psalm 32. The first time I heard an in-depth discussion of this psalm was when I was stationed in Texas in 1990.

John Michael Talbot, a Christian musician and the founder of a new Franciscan style order (The Brothers and Sisters of Charity out of Eureka Springs, Arkansas) had been on the music and contemporary Franciscan scene for quite some time. However, when he decided to ask for a special dispensation from the local Bishop in order to marry, his world erupted. Those who had been strong supporters of him when he was a celibate musical monk were all of a sudden furious with him.

His album, “Hiding Place” came out of a period of deep doubt and struggle for him. The song, “The Hiding Place” (The Hiding Place by John Michael Talbot) came out of this period. John Michael felt overwhelmed and attacked from all sides. He retreated into the monastic setting and even became a hermit for a while as he wondered how to live in this new monastic expression with the whirlwind around him. Psalm 32:7 was his focal point as he continued to discern: “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”

I can’t tell you how many times, dear reader, that I have felt a similar longing and tugging in this current atmosphere of hatred, bigotry, violence, misogyny, and religious intolerance. Perhaps that is a reason that Rocky seems to call me to come to the quiet… to come to the Hiding Place… to simply be still and know God’s presence. I have directly and indirectly weathered some attacks recently that make me want to go to that hiding place and simply be. So, I guess it is ironic that I would enter this Lenten season wondering just what God has in store for me in this wilderness season.

The psalm opens with these two verses: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2) What a joyous gift God gives to us! This is the promise of the Lenten season and our journey of faith in Christ. Transgressions forgiven! Sins covered! Forgiven! Renewed! Restored!

Out of the depths of sin, restoration happens. I can tell you from a myriad of personal experiences as well as from experiences walking with people as a pastor, chaplain, and counselor that this is indeed an occasion of overwhelming joy and gladness! To be in the wilderness or storm of your own making and suddenly be lifted out of that storm is overwhelming (in a good way).

When I first began examining the readings for tomorrow, I was struck by the cry from my own heart: “Preserve Us From Trouble, Lord!” Yet as the week has progressed, I have seen this passage as more of a cry of: “Shelter me, O Lord… Shelter and sustain me in order that I may faithfully serve you in the wilderness.”

Dear reader, these are challenging times. We may be tempted to hide away and ride out the storm. Yet I keep thinking about Jesus saying we must be the light… not hidden under a bushel (or in a secret hiding place) but on a stand where all can see it’s glow. Jesus went into the wilderness for a time of fasting and prayer. At the end of it, the Devil sought to bring him down. Yet, despite what must have been a famished and weakened physical, spiritual, and emotional state, Jesus stood up to the Devil! For every temptation and twist of Scripture the Devil offered, Jesus countered with Scripture and the ultimate… it isn’t about me or my ego, it is about loving and serving God selflessly!

Tomorrow at Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado where I serve as pastor, we will gather around the Lord’s Table to celebrate Communion. We will break bread together with our Savior. In those holy moments around the Lord’s table, I find comfort and peace. The Table is, in a very real sense, my hiding place where I am surrounded by Jesus’ promised presence and strength.

Dear reader, we are not called to hide away and thus avoid the storm. We are called, instead, to seek shelter in the Lord’s presence in order that we might go back out into the storm to share the love of God with others. We are called to seek shelter in order that we might be strengthened and renewed in our efforts to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world of darkness and fear.

Will you join with me in seeking this shelter, not for selfish purposes, but rather so that we can share the love of Christ in such a time as this? The closing verses of Psalm 32 speak to my heart of this calling. “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11) May we be glad in the Lord, rejoice, and share the Lord’s light and love with a world in such desperate need of such light and love!

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