SCRIPTURE   Mark 1:12-15  And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 COMMUNION MESSAGE       “Wild Beasts”

I love preaching.  I love opening the Bible to read incredible stories of love and truth in action.  I love learning more about Jesus Christ.  I love delving into familiar words to discover new insights about faith and life.  The best outcome of my preaching is that I hope all of you get excited about the Bible message, too, and want to learn more about it.

The Season of Lent is a time to dig deeper, to ponder more fully, to see more clearly where we are headed, not just as an exercise in wishful thinking or naïve imagining, but to find a greater resolve to join with Jesus, not just watching from the sidelines but to be in communion with him in action, to engage with his purpose, to welcome his leading, to open ourselves to a new future, not based on what we are, but upon what we are becoming.  The Bible is a treasure trove of possibilities that will enrich your life, enrich the lives of your friends, and through you transform entire communities.

It brings tears to me eye as I recall a long history of “God moments” in my life, inspired by Biblical faith, where I found myself on a new path, a path that I never would have expected, leading to new friendships, new allies, new studies, new jobs, and new engagement.

But let me testify that the Bible is also a very dangerous book.  It can plant ideas in you that are at odds with what others think.  People who read this book can lose friends, be ostracized by their communities and even their families, lose their homes and property, be exiled, end up in jail, and face torture and death.

I know that Jesus was aware of the dangers in his message.  He was aware of the danger to himself and his followers.  He constantly warned them about it, reminding them many times that his followers would have to take up their own crosses, too.   And everyone in those days would have known exactly what a cross represented.

I was thinking about these things as I prepared for preaching today.  I saw in the text from Mark’s Gospel a phrase I had never spent much time thinking about.  “Wild Beasts”. “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.”  I knew that Jesus had gone off into the desert to pray.  I knew that he prayed for 40 days.  I knew that he faced a series of temptations from the devil.  But I hadn’t really given attention to the Wild Beasts.  In fact, no attention at all.

Wild Beasts, no mention of which animals these were.  So I began thinking about the animals that would frighten me if I was all alone in the desert by myself.  Tigers, wolves, lions, bears!  The closest I ever came to any of them outside of a zoo was in a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park.  As I was headed up the mountain all by myself every hiker coming down the trail warned me about hungry bears in the campsites at night looking for food.  They advised that I find something to bang on if I heard  them sniffing around my tent, because you don’t want a bear to rip a hole in your tent and come in.  And do not wear clothes to sleep in that smell like your dinner!  I was lucky, no bears appeared that night!  But imagine trying to sleep even five minutes in a place like that!

Studying the Bible usually takes me through different levels of understanding.  The first, second and third times reading this I didn’t even see the part about Wild Beasts.  But then the eighth or tenth time through I finally notice it and come up with my own memory of facing the bears in Yellowstone.  It sends chills up and down my spine remembering that dark night in the mountains.  Maybe you have your own stories of wild animals getting too close to you?  Most of my other stories are not about wolves, lions or tigers, but I have more than a few about angry dogs trying to take a chunk out of my leg while delivering newspapers or riding my bike through the countryside.

But the seventeenth or twentieth time through the story I begin to think of Wild Beasts of a different sort.  Where the Wild Beasts represent my deepest worries and fears about our world.  This is my list, maybe it’s completely different from yours, maybe there’s some overlap.  The Wild Beasts I worry about include growing poverty, nuclear threats, climate change, and this week especially the easy availability of guns and frightened school children.  I’m not saying my list of Wild Beasts should be your list.  I am sure you have your own, a list that might include worries about your job, bullies, troubled relatives, criminals, opioids, money, and more.

Our lists may be different but we have something in common as we read this story from Mark’s Gospel:  Jesus faced those Wild Beasts, he named them for what they were and the fears they engendered, and he did not retreat.  The Wild Beasts had been tamed.

Facing any of the Wild Beasts may be too much for you by yourself, so we do our best to form circles of friends in our church to face them together.  That night in the tent on the mountain waiting for the hungry bears to appear would have been a lot easier if I hadn’t been there by myself.  When I had a terrible accident 8 years ago, I was not along, my circle of friends in this church helped me through it.

Participating in Communion reminds us that we belong to a circle of faithful friends with Jesus at the center.   Communion may not appear to solve all of your challenges, but it’s always a good place to start, finding ourselves in a circle of care and love.

The Bible is filled with great treasures, but it is also dangerous to read.  It will get you thinking in ways you never dreamed of before.  But it will show you again and again how God’s love and hope continue to intersect with your life.