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Season of Creation: Wilderness Sunday – September 21, 2014 – by Bev Jedynak

Wilderness …the word bring images of an uncultivated and uninhabited region, an area that is dry, desolate, deserted.  Or it may be lush with greenery such as wild flowers and greenery or an unexplored forest. Both are wild and uninhabited – in these areas one is alone.

Wilderness of Judea

So why, during the Season of Creation, in the midst of land, forest and river are we confronted with, of all things, wilderness? It seems so jarring – after all we can understand land; we can understand forests and we can understand rivers.  But wilderness?  How does that fit? It’s hard for us city dwellers, where just about every inch of land is taken up with development and physical aloneness is almost impossible (particularly on a city L train during rush hour!), to completely grasp the understanding of creation’s wilderness.

It’s easy to recognize how we destroy and harm forests, land and rivers.   But if the wilderness is uninhabited and desolate why is it in this group? How can it be destroyed or crying out if there is nothing but the wilderness? Why did God create it?

There is something about the wilderness that is woven throughout all of salvation history – in the Old Testament we hear frequently about the wilderness (wandering through the wilderness; tending sheep in the wilderness; journeying through the wilderness to get from one place to another; being thrown into the wilderness….).

And it’s no different in the New Testament – particularly the Gospels. John the Baptist is the one who cries in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord”…Jesus is baptized and then driven by the Spirit into the wilderness where he faces temptation.

This is something that never occurred to me before – the driving by the Spirit into the wilderness. What wildernesses in our lives does the Spirit drive us into? Are we driven into a wilderness of want…a wilderness of waste…a wilderness of woe?  What are our wildernesses?

Whatever our own experience of wilderness, whether being in an earthly place of a real physical wilderness or in a spiritual place of wilderness where it feels as if there is nothing there, we can take strength in knowing and believing God’s promise that he will be with us – in any wilderness.  It’s during these wilderness wanderings that like all creation we groan and cry out for help and redemption. And just as Jesus experienced this wilderness and all of its demons so do we. As the angels ministered to him afterwards, we know that God ministers to us – through Christ’s presence in each of us as we experience it through each other.

Every Sunday during this season of creation as we gather together we respond in this call to worship: “Christ, we come into your presence to worship in this sanctuary called Earth, a planet pulsating with your presence, a presence quivering in the forests, a presence vibrating in the land, a presence pulsating in the wilderness, a presence shimmering in the rivers. “ We then ask God to “reveal yourself to us in this place and show your face in all creation.”

God’s revelation and promise comes to us in the wilderness.  One of my favorite hymns is by contemporary hymn-writer Susan Palo Cherwien, “Rich in Promise”. The first two verses of this hymn are perhaps the most applicable to the theme of wilderness:

“Rich in promise, rich in present,

Dry as dust and desert sand,

Buried in the potent land,

Deep and dark the grain lies dormant:

Behold, God does a new thing.

Through death God brings new life.

Running river in the desert,

Water meets the wilderness,

Transformation, more from less,

Swollen seeds send newness skyward,

Behold, God does a new thing.

Through death God brings new life.

The wilderness itself – and all of us when we are in our wildernesses – continue to cry out to God for redemption.  And God’s promise is there – strong and sure – that through the death of Jesus Christ God does bring new life – to the wilderness of the earth as well as the wilderness of our own lives and the lives of others.  Soli Deo Gloria!

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