Choosing God’s Wilderness!

Hopeful Midwives!
December 21, 2023
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January 12, 2024
Hopeful Midwives!
December 21, 2023
Who do we trust?
January 12, 2024

I’ve been thinking about the ‘wilderness’, a word that captured my imagination as I prepared for this sermon based on Mark 1:4-12. The first reference is made as John the Baptist is introduced:

John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  (Mark 1:4)

Then the second mention refers to Jesus and comes only eight verses later, as we’re told:

And the Spirit immediately drove [him] Jesus out into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12)

following his baptism with water and Spirit in the river Jordan by John and by God.

John’s wilderness was filled with people going out from the city, towns and villages, flocking to the river Jordan for this extraordinary experience of repentance and forgiveness, the good news of God now breaking through into the world. At the river’s edge, John told them there was more to come, baptism with the Holy Spirit by One who is more powerful, for whom God tears open the heavens to affirm Jesus’ relationship with God and his purpose.   

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [him] John, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5). 

It sounds like no-one wanted to be left out as the message spread.  Yet, among the noise and excitement, was the wilderness into which John the baptiser emerged, and into which Jesus was driven. 

John’s life had been focussed on preparing for this time, this action, this completion of God’s prophecy, from before his birth, foretold and now fulfilled.  This was John’s purpose.  Baptising others in preparation for Jesus’ coming.  John’s father Zacheriah had prophesied at his birth:

And you Child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76-79).

John had come ahead, to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It was to John that Jesus went to be baptised after leaving Nazareth. Immediately as Jesus was baptised, as he came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him as God named, identified and affirmed him for all time and for all people as God’s Son, the Beloved with whom God was well pleased.  The same Holy Spirit then drove Jesus out into the wilderness. 

Like John, Jesus came from a place of difference in the world and he experienced this difference in his life and ministry.  He took nothing with him, except God.

I was recently reading a story written by a conscientious objector, who is among a number of people refusing to fight in the current Middle East war. His refusal has put him outside the norms of his culture and community and has made him an object of rejection, hatred, fear and anger. He was sent to a mental health board and was finally discharged, implying madness as the cause of the young man’s choice.   

Alongside this story, was one about a climate activist who with a friend, was jailed in the UK for their non-violent activism as they stopped the traffic on one of the UK’s busiest bridges for 40 hours over the use of fossil fuel and its dreadful impact on the world’s poorest people and on all creation.  Their actions were deemed so outrageous, inconveniencing so many people, it led to him and his companion being jailed for over two years.  The story was written because they have recently been released, still committed to their cause. 

What is remarkable about both stories is the willingness of these individuals to stand in the wilderness of rejection and not be frightened or coerced, manipulated, or feeling the need to belong to their communities in the normal ways; communities which both held so precious in their hearts they made the decision to stand against their communities’ common, shared beliefs and they dared to be different. 

Such stories make me wonder about Jesus and John and their wilderness from which they emerged and into which they stepped.  This was about belonging to God and not to anyone else.  The wilderness was hidden in plain sight.  So obvious it caused them to be killed.

I suspect many of us over the next few months and years will walk knowingly and willingly into God’s wilderness, we know as ‘God’s kingdom’ as we see with God’s eyes and heart, how we humans are knowingly breaking the world and God’s children. Our debates about peace, reconciliation and forgiveness, about climate change, its causes and our responses, about inclusion, sharing and repentance, are wildernesses humans have created.  They have not been created by God, as we want to keep things the same rather than see God’s new creation in heaven and on earth.

In this reflection I also wondered about God’s memory and our unwillingness to let go our remembering of hurt and grief, our sense of injustice and to trust and accept God’s forgiveness for others whom we have not yet forgiven. To trust God’s forgiveness of us, as we deny or downplay our own separation from God and as our own repentance wobbles and diminishes while we hold tight to grievances, refusing to let go.  Into such a complicated wondering, our willingness to walk into God’s wilderness with God and be ready for what we might find there and our willingness to stay there, depends on whether we trust God and can let go our own wilderness.

For the conscientious objectors looking to have their footsteps ‘guided into the ways of peace’ as Zechariah called it; and for the climate change activists willing to be imprisoned and to die for God’s creation, their courage is profound.  Standing against the accepted norms of your culture and society is really difficult.  John and Jesus did the same.  They stood against their community’s expectations and offered a different perspective and a new story about God which so many rejected.  As you imagine standing at the river Jordan and being baptised with water and the Holy Spirit, can you imagine what God is asking you of you today?  Are you ready to walk with God into the wilderness of God’s difference from the world and to die with God?         

The Lord be with you.  

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/dec/29/tal-mitnick-israel-soldier-military-service-society?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2024/jan/02/you-can-be-happy-in-prison-climate-protester-reflects-on-punishment#:~:text=Last%20year%2C%20Morgan%20Trowland%20was,violent%20protesters%20in%20the%20UK.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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