Wilderness Survival

Lent 1B – Wilderness Survival

Mark 1:9-15

February 25/26, 2012


In the back yard of the house where my brother, sisters, and I grew up,

there was a place we called, “The Woods.”


Now I doubt any of you would consider it worthy of the name, “The Woods.”

If you were there, you might notice the small group of trees I’m talking about

– or you might not.


But for the four of us, that little group of trees was very special.

It was dark there.

It was mysterious.

And it was forbidden.


My mother couldn’t see the trees through the kitchen window,

so we were warned time and time again, to go outside and play,

…but “stay out of ‘The Woods.’”


If my older sisters wanted to tease my brother and I,

they would say something like, “Stop doing that, or we’ll take you to ‘The Woods.’”


It would have been a great place to hide for hide-and-seek,

but we’d rather be caught than to be out by ourselves in ‘The Woods.’”

You get the picture.


“The Woods” had great significance for us.

It was both frightening and appealing.


It was frightening because we were convinced that nothing good could come from there.

It was appealing because it was forbidden.


Isn’t that the case with many places of wilderness?

They’re both frightening and yet they’re also appealing.

We are faced with the darkest parts of ourselves in the wilderness.

We are afraid of what we might find.

But we’re also curious to know what we might find.


Every year, the first weekend in the season of Lent,

we hear the story of Jesus –

not walking out into the wilderness,

not choosing to take a pilgrimage into the wilderness,

but being cast out into the wilderness (by the Spirit no less) for 40 days

immediately after he is baptized.


There was something in the wilderness Jesus needed to experience.


When I think of Jesus and the wilderness, I think of “The Woods” of my childhood.

Trees, darkness, fear, forbidden and foreboding.


In reality, the wilderness Jesus faced was probably not a forested place at all.

More likely it was the desert wilderness.

A harsh barren desert.


For forty days in the wilderness he was alone, tested by Satan.

For forty days in the wilderness he was forced to rely on no one but God.


We hear this account on the first weekend of Lent each year,

because for forty days – the season of Lent,

we are asked to consider what it means for us

to throw ourselves into a bit of the wilderness – to go into the “Woods” and to rely on God.


Mark’s version of Jesus in the wilderness is a little different from the versions in the other gospels.

For one thing, Mark doesn’t tell us at all how Satan tested Jesus.

He doesn’t share what Satan wanted Jesus to do, what he offered him, or how Jesus responded.


For another thing, Mark includes a phrase about wild beasts and angels.

Mark says:

“ He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan;

and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”


Jesus wasn’t completely alone in the wilderness.

Satan was there.

Wild beasts were there.

And angels were there.


There was something in the wilderness Jesus needed to experience.

I think that something was the angels.


I think that no sooner had he been baptized and started his ministry,

than the Spirit cast him into the wilderness

to know that this would be the start of a pattern.


Jesus would come into conflict with Satan and the wild beasts again and again in his ministry,

but throughout his ministry there would also be angels with him –

he would always have God with him.

This afternoon I’ll be going to the Blue and Gold banquet for our church’s Cub Scout pack.

It’s a yearly celebration of scouting.

For many youth I know, the badges are a favorite part of scouting.


One of the coveted badges for Boy Scouts is the Wilderness Survival Badge.

There are a number of requirements to earn the Wilderness Survival Badge.

You have to know the first aid for and how to prevent hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, blisters, insect stings, tick bites, and snakebites.

You have to be able to make a natural shelter and then stay in it overnight.

You have to be able to build and light 3 fires using 3 methods other than matches.


But there is one wilderness survival skill which isn’t so intuitive.

“The scout is expected to describe ways to avoid panic and maintain a high level of morale when lost, and explain why this is important.”[i]

In other words – my words-  the scout is expected to learn to recognize that in the midst of the wild beasts in the wilderness, there are angels too.


Some of you have already earned merit badges in wilderness survival.

And it was from more than the imagined fears from a group of trees in your own back yard.

You learned the first aid  for the sting of a divorce.

You learned where to make shelter for yourself when others hurt you.

You learned how to keep a flicker of light burning despite the loss of a job.


But as you went through the wilderness,

I think you also learned to recognize that God was in the wilderness too.

That amid Satan and the wild beasts, there were angels – and they were ministering to you.


Some people in this world today are trying to survive the wilderness

and it’s a matter of life and death.

They are living in Syria and Afghanistan, Mexico and Los Angelos.

It’s hard to imagine that there might be some angels in and among the wild beasts they’re meeting today.

But my prayer is that they’ll find them.

They are there.  God is there.


Most of us don’t choose to go out into the wilderness.

Most of the time we are cast out there into “the woods.”

But like Jesus, there is something to experience in the wilderness.

May all of us learn to recognize that angels have come there with us.

That is the essence of wilderness survival.






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