A scene from Pixar’s film UP played in my mind over and over again after reading today’s text.
A young boy named Russell is in his scouting uniform. He’s about 8 or 9yrs old. He makes his way up a few stairs to the porch of an older gentleman named Mr. Carl Fredericksen. Russell knocks at the door and begrudgingly, Mr. Fredericksen opens it. The scene proceeds in this way…
Russell holds up a book that must have a short script written inside and says
“Good afternoon. My name is Russell. And I am a wilderness explorer in tribe 54, Sweat lodge 12. Are you in need of any assistance today, sir?
CARL: No. RUSSELL: I could help you cross the street
CARL: No. RUSSELL: I can help you cross your yard.
CARL: No. RUSSELL: I could help you cross your porch.
CARL: No. RUSSELL: Well, I gotta help you cross something.
CARL: No, I'm doing fine.
Mr. Fredericksen slams the door shut, waits a moment thinking Russell would leave, and then opens the door to find Russell again ready to recite his script from the very start. ‘good afternoon, my name is russel’. Mr. Fredericksen rolls his eyes.
At first this movie came to mind at first because Russel is a wilderness explorer, and this week’s text has a wilderness explorer of its own – Jesus when he is driven into the wilderness by God’s Spirit. Connection! I thought. But that’s pretty much where I thought the connection would end. However, the more I thought about the movie and the personality of the characters, the more it fit today’s text and our start to the Lenten season.
The message today is not one where I invite you to take on the eager, enthusiastic persona of Russell and trudge straight forward into the wilderness. Nope. These pandemic days have felt all too much like the wilderness for much longer than 40 days.
But maybe that’s where we do resonate with another character in the movie. Mr. Carl Fredericksen. Mr. Fredericksen’s demeanor is not one of hospitality or excitement. Rather, he is impatient. And Irritable. As a widower, Mr. Fredericksen is isolated and just generally sad. There’s not much that brings him joy. There’s not much that he looks forward to.
I think we identify more with Mr. Fredericksen’s point of view. We’re struggling with grief and loss. We’re struggling with loneliness. We’re struggling to find the silver lining. If someone asks us to do something hard or uncomfortable or even tries to offer a kind gesture – we want to respond NO, I’m fine. And slam the door.
Maybe we’d rather not start this Lenten season that often feels solemn & dwells on wilderness wanderings. We’ve kind of been there, done that.
So its actually fitting that Mark’s telling of this story that appears now as the start to our season. We’re not eager to spend any more time in the wilderness, and Mark isn’t too keen on shedding many details of Jesus’ wilderness wanderings anyway. In fact, if you blink your eyes while reading this passage – you might just miss the part of the story where Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness with wild beasts and angels as his company.
In a span of just 6 verses, Mark manages to cover three threshold moments of Jesus’s life - Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus’ stint in the wilderness with temptations from Satan, and also the start of Jesus’s ministry in Galilee. Mark seems to stick to the events that occur without adding much fluff. He moves through these events with a sense of urgency, moving quickly from one pivotal experience to the next. We do not get a sense of anyone’s emotions as it relates to these events. We are left without many details of how or why things are happening in this way, so we – the interpreters – are left to decipher the details on our own. The one strand that is constant in the passage is the presence of God’s spirit. The same spirit that descended upon Jesus in his baptism drove him into the wilderness and filled his ministry in Galilee.
So what do we, the resistant and grumbling Mr. Fredericksens of our moment, do now? Maybe we can hear Russel’s question of “can I help you with anything today” more so as a question of “can I accompany you on one of life’s moments today? Can I help you cross this threshold so you don’t cross it alone?”
As we begin this journey of Lent, we too hear the knock at our door. The knock at our door is an invitation from God’s spirit, beckoning us to journey alongside one another and alongside Jesus. The knock at our door is reassurance that we need not move through life’s threshold moments alone.
The Good News today is not a burdensome invitation into the wilderness of Lent, but rather the Good news today is an invitation to journeying with the divine through all of life’s moments. The highs and the lows. The loss and the gains. The joys and the sorrows. The baptisms and the funerals. The wilderness and the mountaintop. The beginnings and the endings.
Yes, the same spirit that journeyed with Jesus journeys with us, too. May we respond to God’s knock at the door with an openness to journeying forward with Jesus.