Creation Time, Outback/Wilderness Sunday
Theme:Outback/Wilderness Sunday, by Keith Innes
Joel 1:8-10; 17-20
A horrifying picture of the devastation caused to human society as a result of locusts (4) and drought (20).
The devastation is seen as a judgment from God – a foretaste of the ultimate judgment of the Day of the Lord (15).
The connection between natural disaster and human sin appears in a startling new light at the present time. We dare not, now, discount the idea of divine judgment in God’s government of the world.
In the Old Testament the devastating presence of God is often pictured in the symbolism of natural convulsions – earthquake, volcano and storm.
God is the God of natural forces.
A keyword here is ‘wait’.
The creation waits eagerly for the revealing of God’s children (19).
The human children of God, saved through Christ (11), as earthly creatures share the groaning of creation in its futility and corruption (22-23).
They wait for the completion of redemption, when they will have bodies fully responsive to the Spirit (23-25).
In the meantime the Spirit of God groans within us for the fulfilment of God’s purposes (26-27).
Matthew 3:13 -4:2 or Mark 1:9-13
Like Israel of old (Exodus 14-15), Jesus passed through water to the trials and blessings of the Wilderness where he was with the wild beasts and was sustained by God’s messengers (Mark 1:13 ).
Wilderness is a strangely ambiguous idea.
In the Bible it means geographically
• The area through which the Israelites journeyed from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land – a land of steep hills and barren plains and oases, crossed by trade routes.
• The Judean Wilderness or Negeb – not arid desert, but subject to meagre and fitful rainfall, with wadis that tend either to run dry or to flood; a land where flocks could be tended. This was the land of David’s military campaigns; the setting for the ministry of John the Baptist and for the Temptation of Jesus, the place where Jesus prayed and where his divine power was often revealed – think of the feeding of the multitudes, the stilling of the storm, or the Transfiguration.
• In a neutral sense, an aspect of the created world, within God’s care (Job 38:25-27). In a world overly dominated and exploited by humans, wild areas are vital for the safeguarding of natural processes and biological diversity.
Spiritually the Wilderness has both positive and negative connotations. It is
• ‘a desert land,… a howling wilderness waste’ (Deuteronomy 32:10) and at the same time
• a place where God’s glory is seen, God’s provision and guidance are experienced, God’s judgments are suffered, and God is made known as a God of holy love.
God’s saving power will transform the arid desert into a fertile and fruitful place of fountains and springs (Isaiah 41:17-20).
In the history of the Church the Wilderness idea has been applied to the deserts of Egypt , the rocky hills and valleys of Wales , and the fruitful land of America as experienced by the first European settlers. Its meaning for us will be affected by our geographical location. In general it means a place where natural processes operate relatively free of human activity.
Sometimes wilderness language is used symbolically, without any direct geographical reference. But this is a development from the primary meaning of wilderness as place.
Overgrazing, deforestation, and depleted levels of underground water, all lead to the creation and spread of deserts – including in Africa , Central Asia , the United States and Australia . In North China villages are said to have been abandoned because overgrazing, deforestation and droughts have caused desertification.
Human-induced climate change may increase desertification in some areas through forest fires and reduced rainfall.
‘In wildness is the preservation of the World’. (Henry David Thoreau, 1817-62)
• The Church and individual Christians must support the safeguarding of Wilderness – vast areas of wilderness as well as local wild places.
• We should also be concerned to resist the increase of desertification.
• We should show in our words and actions that wilderness areas are also of spiritual value as places where, in the absence of human support, God can become more real to us.