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The Joyous Call to Join Jesus in the Wilderness

March 1, 2012

In my sermon on March 4, I shared a recollection by a person from New York named Keri particularly touched on the website www.myfavoritecampingstore.com that touched my heart:

When I was around 10 years old, I had the most memorable camping trip I’ve had to date. After setting up our camper and tents, My father and I went for a little hike and came upon a pond. Just the sounds alone, I can still hear now as if I was still there … the frogs, the water, nature and wildlife looming all around us. As my Father and I were looking around in the pond, I noticed a little baby frog sitting on a rock. It was too far for me to reach, so my Dad picked me up and stretched me across the pond so that I could pick it up.

Just then I heard a loud frog ribbiting. It was the Parent of the baby frog I was still holding. I looked down and the Parent frog was looking me in the eyes, as if to say, “Please give me my baby back.” My Dad then said, “Ok Keri, it’s time to set it back down gently to be with its loved ones.” And I did, and I remember the Parent and the Baby frog sitting next to each other, then leaping together onto another rock and just sitting there with each other.

Like me and my Dad… No different, just 2 creatures who love each other unconditionally. I will never forget that moment till the day I die. It was one of many numerous times and moments I had with my Father, until his untimely death at age 55 of cancer. I was only 16 when he died. I camp at least 25 times a year or more, and always…always…think of my Dad with the fondest memories of all of us camping.

I believe that we all yearn for – and are invited to – time in intimate fellowship with God this Lenten Season as we join Jesus in the wilderness.

In Mark’s Gospel, these words are written about Jesus: “Just as he was coming up out of the water [of his baptism], he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness (1:10-12).

It says that “the heavens” were “torn apart” and then words of intimacy and delight were spoken to the Son by the Father:  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Isaiah 64:1, the prophet calls out: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” In so doing, he expresses the yearning for intimacy I believe is present at the very core of every human heart. We long for the heavens to be torn apart and hear the words that were spoken to Jesus be spoken to us.

But note the next words in the Gospel passage: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

We tend, I think, to view the wilderness in a negative way. But in Holy Scripture, whether it’s Abraham, Moses and the people ofIsrael, Elijah, or many others besides, the wilderness is always a place of intimacy with God.

In other words, the wilderness offers us what camping offers Keri from New Yorkand Keri’s family. The wilderness is where families can know unprecedented togetherness, as they experience simplicity together. Traditionally in a camping experience, they enter a place where there are no TV, phones, computers, or a myriad of other distractions. They are alone together – really being together.

So it should come as no surprise that Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be alone with God, to face the deepest questions about who he is and what his ministry is to be about. I would like to suggest that if we share his yearning, and the yearning of Isaiah, for intimacy with God, that this Lent we join him there.

He is inviting us, you know!

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” needs to be combined with the Ash Wednesday reading from Joel, which is like God’s response: “Rend your heart and not your garments.” Make space in your heart – crack, tear open a hole for God to enter.

That is to say, it’s a two-way yearning. What parent doesn’t delight in spending time with their children – or their children delighting to spend time with them? Who doesn’t feel this way about being with their beloved?

On Ash Wednesday, I shared the following quote from Richard Foster’s excellent book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home:

God has graciously allowed me to catch a glimpse into his heart, and I want to share with you what I have seen. Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.

And he is inviting you – and me – to come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created. His arms are stretched out wide to receive us. His heart is enlarged to take us in.

God’s yearning for us is far, far greater than our yearning for God!

Lent is all about responding to God’s invitation to go deeper – to allow your roots to lengthen, going deeper into God – and God’s roots to lengthen, going deeper in us.

It’s, if you like, about “going camping” with God – joining Jesus in the wilderness, to spend time with him, learn from him, commune with him, and enjoy being alone together.  

Richard Foster shares the following story:

One day a friend of mine was walking through a shopping mall with his two-year-old son. The child was in a particularly cantankerous mood, fussing and fuming. The frustrated father tried everything to quiet his son, but nothing seemed to help. The child simply would not obey. Then, under some special inspiration, the father scooped up the son and, holding him close to his chest, began singing an impromptu love song. None of the words rhymed. He sang off key. And yet, as best he could, this father began sharing his heart. “I love you,” he sang. “I’m so glad you’re my boy. You make me happy. I like the way you laugh.” On they went from one store to the next. Quietly the father continued singing off key and making up words that did not rhyme. The child relaxed and became still, listening to this strange and wonderful song. Finally, they finished shopping and went to the car. As the father opened the door and prepared to buckle his son into the carseat, the child lifted his head and said simply, “Sing it to me again, Daddy! Sing it to me again!”

[Spending time alone with God] is a little like that. With simplicity of heart we allow ourselves to be gathered up into the arms of the Father and let him sing his love song over us.

May all of us experience a Lent of such joyous intimacy with God as we camp out in the wilderness together.

(This is adapted from my February 26 sermon and March Living Waters message. The painting at the top of this posting is a depiction of John 21:9-12 entitled “By the Fire,” by artist Rik Berry.)

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