Monday, September 22, 2014

Wilderness Sunday

Wilderness Sunday
September 21, 2014
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
HEBREW SCRIPTURE Deuteronomy 32:10-14
GOSPEL LESSON        Mark 1:9-12

Whenever I am in a state park or even a wayside rest, I say a prayer of thanks to the people who had the foresight to set aside a little bit of land for my enjoyment.
This Summer we took the Project Go kids to Chester Woods for a canoe outing. It was the first time some of the kids had been in a canoe.
As we paddled out the middle of the lake they were amazed at the partially submerged trees and somewhat freaked out by them.

It is a bit eerie to be in the middle of a constructed lake and see the things that are left behind beneath the water’s surface.

I took the opportunity to explain to the children that the lake was made for their recreational enjoyment. That it had once been farm land and that I even knew one of the people who used to farm the land.

But somewhere along the way someone had the vision to take that land out of production and create a near urban park. So that generations of children could have experiences of “Learning life-long lessons in natural places.” The vision statement of Chester Woods.

Or think of Oxbow Park, another park close to an urban setting. Think of what that land would be worth to upper end home owners in the ever expanding landscape of Rochester?
Yet, someone saw the potential in 1967 for a beautiful, free park, zoo, and nature center.  1967. Not so long ago.

Do you realize how amazing this is? In the midst of a housing boom, over 450 acres of land was set aside for a park.
This is what gives me hope for the human race. Particularly in America. Our country was founded on the principle of expansion at any cost. The initial push westward, the industrial revolution, the silicon explosion. We are not a country to let acres of land lay fallow. What a waste. Yet, we require that communities plan green space into housing developments, restore wetlands that get drained, and visit national parks at ever increasing numbers.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the wilderness act. I wonder how many of you heard the MPR report about the impact of this legislation on the town of Ely? It is hard to fathom now, but the wilderness act that protected more than 100 million acres of wilderness in the US, was not very popular in Ely 50 years ago.
According the reports on MPR, Sig Olson, a proponent of the Wilderness Act feared for his life because of his views.

It is hard to imagine that now. 50 years later, what would our life be like with out the 100 million acres of protected wilderness we enjoy in the US?

Wilderness areas allow ecological forces like forest succession and natural disturbances like fire to continue without being manipulated by humankind. Wilderness allows even the stuff of evolution itself to continue undisturbed. But wilderness also provides a special sanctuary for the human spirit, where we can re-discover the wonder and humility and restraint so often lacking in our frenzied “civilized” lives. Kevin Proescholdt

Even if you don’t like being out of doors. Even if bugs are your worst nightmare. Even if your idea of camping is a room in a super 8. Wilderness areas, even if only a visit to Chester Woods, Oxbow Park or Paisley Bridge provide a spiritual moment in our lives that we can’t get anywhere else. Even if all you do is sit in your car and look at them or even watch specials about them on TV. I believe that just knowing that there are wild un managed places, places so out of the ordinary of our civilized lives, so untamed that we might be a little fearful about encountering them, just knowing that these places are in the world can be enough for our spirits.

Of course, I also believe that encountering these places can be life changing. Because it is in these unmanaged places that we find our potential to be more than we ever thought we could be.
It is in these places that God can come and feed our spirit and souls in ways beyond what we experience anywhere else.

I will never forget the ways young people’s lives changed when they encountered both the challenge and joy of a BWCA trip. One young girl with muscular dystrophy went on a BWCA trip with me. Later in her senior year of high school she had a devastating stroke. During her recovery she reminded us that she had been able to ‘do the Boundary Waters’, so surely she will be able to recover from her stroke. And she did.
Or the young lady who had never been in a canoe and was ready to jump out because she couldn’t get the art of paddling. We went in circles for the better part of an hour before she was able to figure out the j and c stroke.
The next time I encountered her was at an outfitting store selling canoes and recommending adventures to others.
Wilderness experiences can be challenging, even scary but they can also point us toward that person that God is creating us to be.

I love the description of the Hebrew people’s encounter with God in the passage today. God ‘found’ Israel in the wilderness. It gives the impression that God was walking around the wilderness one day and stumbled on this people, discovered them in the howling desert. Ragged, worn from their travels, desperate, hungry, thirsty. And God fed them, took care of them.

Like an eagle protecting her nest, God gathered Israel under her wings.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Or in the case of Jesus who was driven into the wilderness after his baptism. There God ministered to him and fed him by divine messengers. Even Jesus needed a wilderness experience at the beginning of his ministry. He needed to feel what it was like to depend entirely on God.

You see this is why we need wilderness places in our lives. Maybe not literal wilderness places maybe just those places that seem unmanageable, untamed, uncivilized.

Like a time when nothing is going right. When the carefully scripted life plan you developed gets shredded. When you feel as if you are wandering hopelessly lost without proper direction. When you are hungry for encouraging words. Thirsty for good news.
The joy and surprise and delight is that God finds us in the howling places. In the deserts, in those wilderness places and treats us in the same way an eagle cares for her young.

There is a song that is often sung at funerals that I don’t think I will ever tire of.
And while I think it is very good to sing this hymn at a funeral I believe the living have more need of it and more to relate to it.

The song comes from a verse of scripture in Exodus. God is speaking to Moses and reminds him that God rescued the people from the land of Egypt: You saw what I did to the Egyptians, and how I lifted you up on eagles’ wings and brought you to me.

And the words of the hymn: You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life, say to the Lord: "My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!"
And God will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.


In all the wilderness places of our lives, God is magnificently revealed as the one who inhabits the wild places. Who gives the howling places their beauty and mystery. And God is the one who walks along side providing aid and strength. And  who even more, allows those who venture into the challenging wild places of life to soar. As if on Eagle’s Wings.

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