Today is the third Sunday in the season of creation. It is Wilderness Sunday. We have spoken of forest and the land but now we speak of wilderness. So how is that different? Let’s break down the word for a moment. Wilderness… wilder ness…to be of something wilder or more wild…. more wild than the lands we have tamed more wild than the forest trails we have hiked. It is old English actually breaks down as wild deor, Land inhabited by only wild animals.
It is interesting because we often think of the deep forest and especially the rain forest as wild untamed thing that we need to protect from human kind and yet “The first review of the global impact of humans on tropical forests in the ancient past shows that humans have been altering these environments for at least 45,000 years. This counters the view that tropical forests were pristine natural environments prior to modern agriculture and industrialization. The study, published today (August 3rd) in Nature Plants, found that humans have in fact been having a dramatic impact on such forest ecologies for tens of thousands of years, through techniques ranging from controlled burning of sections of forest to plant and animal management to clear-cutting. Although previous studies had looked at human impacts on specific tropical forest locations and ecosystems, this is the first to synthesize data from all over the world.”
This indicates there may be no place that hasn’t been touched by man but there are still places of wilder-ness. In today’s Gospel reading; Rev. Craig Condon reflects that;
“Jesus went willingly into the wilderness, but the Spirit is pictured as moving him to battle Satan’s temptations. Jesus often went into the wilderness during his ministry. It is in the wilderness where we often meet God. We don’t choose to go to wilderness places such as times of trial, temptation and struggle. They happen to us. Even when the challenges are caused by our actions, we rarely seek out or even want such hardship. Even when we face life’s challenges, the Holy Spirit will make use of us.
All of us have wilderness experiences from time to time. These experiences often force us to confront the negative experiences of our lives. They force us to strip away our pride and worldly resources and come to God in faith.
Some people believe that if you follow God’s will, you will have a life of ease. Nothing could be further from the truth. The way of God often involves circumstances where we must trust in God and draw on his truth and strength. God tests us to help us grow, to show us that we have the faith and ability to stand up to the testing, that we will trust God in difficult times and to strengthen our faith and Christian character.
After all, Jesus’ faith was strengthened by his time in the wilderness.
We are often led into the wilderness just after moments of triumph in our lives, just like Jesus was led into the wilderness after his baptism. When we are in the wilderness, our character is also tested, especially when we are tempted. Do we let faith guide us, or do we give in to worldly pleasures? Do we draw on our faith? Do we let God speak to us?
When we are in the wilderness, we don’t know how long the journey will last or what is on the other side, but it is a time of preparation.”
This concept of the wilderness as a place of trial or a place to meet God and be challenged is nothing new. John was in the wilderness before he became a voice crying out in the desert prepare ye the way. Johns appearance actual describes him as being as much of the wilderness itself as being from it.
In Mathew 3:4 it says “Now John himself wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” we often picture John with a scraggly beard mussed hair dirty after living in the desert for so long he is of the wilder-ness
Rev. Barbra Brown Taylor reminds us that;
“Only two of the four gospels give the long version of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. John leaves it out altogether and Mark's gospel covers the whole thing in two sentences: The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he was there forty days, Satan tempted him, wild beasts kept him company, and angels waited on him. That's it; that's all Mark knew--or that's all he thought we needed to know--about what happened between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness….
What I want to focus on instead is where the test took place--the wilderness--because I have an idea that every one of us has already been there. Maybe it just looked like a hospital waiting room to you, or the sheets on a cheap motel bed after you got kicked out of your house, or maybe it looked like the parking lot where you couldn't find your car on the day you lost your job. It may even have been a kind of desert in the middle of your own chest, where you begged for a word from God and heard nothing but the wheezing bellows of your own breath.
Wildernesses come in so many shapes and sizes that the only way you can really tell you are in one is to look around for what you normally count on to save your life and come up empty. No food. No earthly power. No special protection--just a Bible-quoting devil and a whole bunch of sand.”
Now let me put this forward the wilderness is a time of the unexpected, of the uncontrolled…something. It is not always a trial. It is not always something that needs to be controlled or worked through. It is not always a dry desert place, sometimes the wilderness is a mountain top. What the wilderness always is, It is always spiritual.
“Jesus performed much of his ministry in urban settings, yet many of his most transformative moments occurred in outdoor settings—bodies of water, mountaintops, and wilderness. The wilderness of the Bible is a liminal space—an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended, identity shifts, and new possibilities emerge. Through the experiences of the Israelites in exile, we learn that while the Biblical wilderness is a place of danger, temptation and chaos, it is also a place for solitude, nourishment, and revelation from God. These themes emerge again in Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, tying his identity to that of his Hebrew ancestors.”
Our saint of our wilder places John Muir, though “he would devote much of his life to the challenge of interpreting the wild to the men and women of civil society. Though few have done it so well, he found it a discouraging task. For one thing, interpreting nature took attention away from truly important work of “gaping” at the wilderness.” He would write
“instead of narrowing my attention to bookmarking out of material I have already eaten and drunken, I would rather stand in what the world would call an idle manner, literally gaping with all mouths of soul and body, demanding nothing, fearing nothing, but hoping and enjoying enormously. So, called sentimental, transcendental dreaming seems the only sensible and substantial business that one can engage in.”
John is teaching us a spiritual and physical lesson about the wilder-ness. The true wilderness is a place to stop “Gaping with all mouths of soul and body” and breathe in what is a round you. Physically or spiritually the wilderness is a place of awe and demands pause. This is why Jesus so often went out to the wilderness. This is why John the Baptiser was in the wilderness and of the wilderness. This is why Moses went up to a mountain top place where no-one ever dared to tread before and what did he find once he got there? A place where he was so awestruck he fell to his knees and Listened and heard the voice of God.
If we look around us and pay attention there are places of wilderness around us though man has tried to “manage” it. Usually in one way or another mother nature will burst force and show her wilder side.
One place I can think of is the desert. I lived in Palm springs and I loved going up to Joshua tree. I was amazed by its dry vastness. I loved the Joshua trees and the ocotillo that grew there. They always appeared quite tame…from a distance but up close they all had their sharp edges.
Many people believe the desert to be dry and hot and the heat is its danger but I have seen Habib’s, a wall of wind and dust come down and fill everything with dust and sand. I have seen rainstorms that send torrents of water down hillsides where it is dry and not raining. This is the wilderness…this is the unmanageable part of nature.
We have seen the effects of Global warming by the warming of the oceans waters thus resulting larger more powerful storms. As a result of human nature, the wilder-ness of nature steps forward. If we do not take time for and pay attention to what we do to our environment. Better yet if we refuse to take steps to make our planet healthy again I am afraid we will see more evidence of wilder-ness. We as a species may not survive, but the planet will.
Now I am sure I do not need to tell you what that means for us here. I have said it before this area we live in, most of us are the ones who do our part. We keep the thermostats low. We try to use appliances later in the day when the demand for electricity is low. Those of us who can, use alternative energy.
I was really happy to know that I had a choice where my energy came from here. I signed up for evergreen which means 100% of the electricity we use at home “is made up of 100% geothermal energy. And best of all, geothermal is a baseload resource, which means it produces clean energy 24/7 – so it is truly renewable both day and night!”
as I was researching Wilderness and our spiritual connection to the wilder places I discovered John Lionberger who works on;
“going into the wilderness to experience the presence of God. John Lionberger is a former atheist who had a profound religious experience on a wilderness trip. Now an ordained United Church of Christ minister, Lionberger leads others looking for their own experience of the holy. Lionberger is the author of “Renewal in the Wilderness.” He lives in Evanston, Illinois.” When asked what happens to people when he takes them to the wilderness Rev. John says; “What they encounter in the wilderness is getting away from all of the things in society that we call “trappings” that are meant to be good things, but that keep them away from a more authentic and deeper relationship with God…. I think what happens for them is they get to the transcendent through the physical—the act of canoeing, the act of setting up camp. I like to say it strips them of the barnacles that they accrue throughout their lives and society, and they begin to realize how little they need to be profoundly happy. They are able to simplify, and in that simplification they get a sense of something holy about what surrounds them, a sense of wellbeing and a sense of being cared for and a sense of profound peace, and it’s kind of a hackneyed phrase—“Be in the moment”—but there is something so powerful about it, because that is the moment, in the very present is when God comes to us. It is much easier, I think, for God to get through our defenses when we’re in a wilderness.”
In this interview John was asked “to recall the conversion experience he had when he was alone on skis on a frozen lake in winter.”
Rev. John recalls; “It was getting dark, and the trees were etched against the skyline in kind of blackness while the skyline was turning purple. I just looked up at the sky and put my arms out like this, with the poles dangling from my wrists, and arched my back, and at that moment I felt like I was in the midst of a warm stream of water that felt so pure and so refreshing and so cleansing and so friendly and so loving, and then it kept coming into my mind, slowly at first, and very dimly at first, but it said, “It’s God.”
Sometimes there are those wonderful explosive moments of experiencing God, but most of the time it’s very, very subtle. It’s just the small things that people ignore that being out in an environment like that brings them to an awareness of. It reminds us of who we are, who we are not, and who God is.”
John goes on to suggest Just what I have been saying all along, get out in your local park or wilder-ness area and “have an open heart and a willingness to be surprised, and they do it very consciously. It is part of being here now. It’s part of what the wilderness teaches you.”
It is funny that during this interview John was asked has any one ever come back saying they experienced Nothing?
“In the eight years I’ve been doing this, and maybe the 400 people that I’ve taken to the wilderness, I only know of one man who was not really touched by his experience in some way, who said at the end, “I had a good time, but I got no spiritual insight, no spiritual awakenings, nothing like that.” And that is not a bad batting average, one out of 400. I’ll take that.”
So in the end I would challenge each of us to take time to find our wilder areas and step into the wilder-ness listen for the voice of God and in return offer to find ways to be better stewards of God’s creation and especially the wilder places. Amen.
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 Richard Cartwright Austin, Environmental Theology (Originally published as Atlanta, Ga..J. Knox Press, Abingdon, Va: Creekside Press, 1987–c1990), 44.
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 Bob Abernanthy, “Wilderness Spirituality,” Relifgion and ethics newsweekly, December 10, 2009, accessed September 16, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2009/12/10/december-11-2009-wilderness-spirituality/5194/.