“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.’…Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey…”
– Matthew 3:1-2, 4, NRSV
How desperate does someone have to be to go in search of a wild-eyed prophet in the wilderness? The picture in my head of John the Baptist has always been one of a man who was more than a bit weird. He was a touch on the crazy side, too! And yet, people from all over Judea sought him out, then ended up in the Jordan River, confessing their sins and getting baptized. How desperate does someone have to be to go there? Pretty desperate!
I recently spent a couple of days on a webinar for Christian leaders titled “Leading Through Division and Disorientation.” The keynote speaker, Carolyn Moore, talked about the gift of desperation. “When we hit bottom, it moves us toward a recovery… How many of you have felt desperate in the last 11 months? Could this pandemic be our gift of desperation?… Are you desperate enough to go after the spiritual?…. Self-denial creates the conditions for spiritual [rebirth and transformation]…. Do you want freedom? Then leave what you know for what you don’t know!”
Enter John the Baptist. I am guessing he was not surprised at all the desperate people who came to seek out what he had to say. But the fact that he ate locusts was more faith-filled than it was weird. Moore pointed out a side of this strange little man I had never considered. As John stood before all the desperate people, she imagined him saying, “You know all those locusts that came and destroyed your crops? Those things that seemed to swarm out of nowhere and were impossible for you to fight? I eat those for breakfast!! Those things that overwhelm you – they are nothing to God! God is not turned away by them. And God has not forgotten you, even if you had forgotten God! There is a different way for you to live – a different way for you to be human and empowered – a way that introduces new life – and it is
John the Baptist just graduated from “weird” to “Spirit-filled hero of the Faith” for me! I have talked to many of my colleagues over the past 11 months. Desperation has birthed some major shifts in our culture, including our churches. Some shifts, like moving on-line for worship, administration, and programming, are bearing unexpected fruit. Some, like serious decreases in financial stability, have created a new level of desperation.
For those congregations who learn to eat locusts for breakfast, hope keeps them spiritually buoyant to see beyond the desperation and creatively meet the challenges this pandemic has exposed.
Ames First UMC went to the edge of the wilderness about mid-2020, after seeing a consistent drop in giving during the pandemic. The faithful work of the leadership included exploring a list of ideas to narrow the gap between expenses and giving. Sharing clergy, staff, and programs with other churches is one way to do that. But who would have thought that entering into a three-point realignment could also bear a host of ministry opportunities, discovered along the way? What could have been a disappointing surrender to the locusts has become a hope-filled breakfast of champions!
We are not alone – God is not turned away by locusts or pandemics! God is squarely in the midst of whatever happens in this world, working God’s purposes. When we come to the edge of the wilderness, we can choose to retreat in defeat, or leave what we know for what we don’t know. The wilderness holds many surprises for those who set aside themselves and keep walking through it!
What’s in your breakfast bowl?
Yours for the Journey,