September 20, 2020, Spirituality of the Wilderness, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Romans 8: 18-27 (NRSV) 18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Let’s take a moment in silence to sense God’s presence - right in this moment. Breathe deeply, breathing in God spirit and breathing out any worries or tensions you have, giving them to God. May we be present in this way to hear what God is saying to us as God’s people.
September 20, 2020 Spirituality of the Wilderness St. Luke
God is with us in our wilderness. The Spirit is present with us no matter what current wildness or craziness we are facing. Christ will help us move through the wilderness, no matter how lost or hopeless we feel. And because we know it is true that God is with us in the wilderness, we can feel safe to explore it. I’d like to explore the wilderness a little bit with you this morning. The Spirit tells us that we are safe and can look around.
What comes to mind when you think about wilderness? One of my first thoughts is mosquitoes. I hope you have better associations with the wilderness than that…. Maybe you’d like to write in the chat some of what you think about when we talk about wilderness. Some of my connections with the wilderness are negative. It’s a little scary thinking about getting lost, or being far from home comforts, worried about not being in charge of what’s going to happen. I also think about living more simply, closer to the earth, but having to think more carefully about food and shelter, about safety and how to get around.
Go ahead if you want and write some of your connections to the idea of wilderness in the chat section. This is our third week, as you know, of celebrating God as Creator of all things. Last week we talked about wildfires in the west and also a little about hurricanes. UMCOR sent me a message this week, and said there’s something worse than losing your house to fire or hurricane. They said there’s something more dangerous than losing everything you have to one of these disasters. You had to click on and go to UMCOR to find out what the worst thing to lose is. So at the end of this sermon I’ll tell you what I found out when I clicked on UMCOR, what I found out is more dangerous than losing everything you have.
Anyway I notice that some of the impressions we have about wilderness are on the scary end, and some are more positive, or even romantic or wistful. We enjoy hiking in the woods or roughing it now and then. We like to think about the great outdoors and national parks and all.
The Bible tends to portray the wilderness as a place of testing and trial, of struggling to survive, but also as a place of spiritual renewal. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness on the way to the promised land, and that time in the wild was grueling for the people of Israel, but they came out of it ready to be the people of God in a new land.
John the Baptist baptized people in the wilderness, including Jesus, and called them to repentance and dedication to a godly life. Jesus faced temptation as he fasted 40 days in the wilderness and came out strengthened and focused to take on his ministry. So the Biblical version of wilderness is not going into Yellowstone National Park in a Winnebago. It’s more like traveling into the desert on foot with one canteen and finding a way to survive.
When I think about the challenge of the wilderness, I think not just about mosquitoes, but about bears and blisters and backpacking. I remember being a Boy Scout and hiking in the mountains of New Mexico at Philmont Scout ranch. I must have been about 15 years old when I hiked for those 10 days in the mountains. It was a challenge. I remember taking a wrong turn on the trail one afternoon and having to hike an extra zillion miles with a 200 lb. pack to get to the camp in the dark that night. That’s when I learned how big a blister can be. I think we decided not to hike the next day.
But you know it was beautiful out there in the mountains. And I think all the time about the guy who made the fire for me the morning it was my turn, so I didn/t have to get out of my warm sleeping bag. The year before my mother died she told me that she remembered sending a little boy off to that camping experience and being amazed at how much I’d grown when I got back. That’s what being in a wilderness can be for us.
We celebrate this month God the Creator of all that is. That includes and sometimes starts with the wilderness - in all its complicated wildness, beauty, and possibility. We are called to take care of this creation - both our parts of it and also being conscious of those wild places that feed our imagination, our atmosphere, and our future.
Our passage from Paul this morning doesn’t mention wilderness at all, but it talks about our present sufferings. We are in a difficult time that we could call a wilderness time. We all experience this wilderness time in different ways. Paul acknowledges the suffering of the present, but he says there is a better time coming. He says it is like a pregnancy, a child waiting to be born - and there is pain and groaning in this time, but there is a new time coming.
When I clicked on the UMCOR site to find out what is the worst thing to lose in a wildfire or hurricane, more dangerous and painful than losing a house or books or even the pictures of family. Seems like pictures would be one of the worst things to lose. But UMCOR’s answer to the worst thing to lose is hope. The worst thing you can lose in the midst of suffering, difficulty and wilderness, is hope. And Paul agrees with that in our reading today from Romans.
He writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
We hope for what we do not see. We hope for a time that is coming, a time for which we are strengthening our hope muscles, strengthening our faith muscles, strengthening our love muscles. We hope for a world that cares for all of creation - the wild parts as well as the known parts. We pray for an earth that is healthy and vibrant and alive. We love all this beautiful creation in all its wounded-ness and cracked-ness, and resolve that we will listen to God’s voice, our Creator’s call to hope, present with us in our own wilderness, assuring us that a new time is coming in Christ. Even in this time of suffering and pain, God says, there is something being born. Do not be afraid. I am with you. Love the earth, your mother. Do not neglect her, love and protect her. There is something new being born even in a time of fire, and worry, and chaos and pain. Be strong. I will be with you now and always.
Responsive hymn 2059 I Am Your Mother