Video of this sermon is available at our church’s YouTube Channel.

This Sacred time, this sacred space, this sacred way of being together
Where it is because of who you are and where you are on life’s journey that You are welcome here, by the grace and graciousness of our God.
I give thanks to God for another day, another opportunity to breath and to be, amidst all the beauties and challenges of this life, another opportunity to discover what it means to be Christian together, and to do Christian community together in a way that responds to the needs and the crisis of our time while staying rooted in the deep and abiding Source of our spiritual vitality and resilience.
We may have more physical distance between us these days, as we respond to protect our community from the spread of this serious pandemic. But that practice of distance is actually an expression of our togetherness, our connection and care for each other.
So this morning as we gather for worship in this new way I invite you to pause and to feel that togetherness across the physical distance.
We talk about the Body of Christ being a collective body joined through the Spirit.
So I invite us all to settle ourselves in a prayerful way
To take some deep breaths and feel settled in our body
However we’ve been feeling, whatever the buzz of thoughts building up charge,
To just let that ground out, discharge, drop away as we breath and allow ourselves to simply settle as we are, our bodies, as beings
Let ourselves settle into the deeper vastness of our beings
Knowing we are embraced by
The Eternal Spirit in which we live and move and have our being
We are embraced by the Living God, Who creates us, and sustains us, and redeems us all
The great embrace of the Body of Christ
In that embrace I invite us to allow our hearts to open
And reach out and gather our neighbors into that embrace
To expand that embrace and gather all who are worshipping with us
In this community of faith and beyond
Folks from our family, our town, and across the plains and over the mountains and across the seas
All gathered into the great embrace of the Living God incarnate through Christ.
Amen

It seems auspicious our theme for this Lent is the wilderness, the wilderness experiences in the lives of our spirit. We certainly are in wild times. As it happens, we’ve been exploring different types of wilderness stories and images from scripture, and different aspects of what that can mean for us.

This morning, the wilderness we will consider is the wildness of our soul’s desire for God.
In your heart of hearts, in the pith of your soul, what is the yearning that has drawn you to seek the Divine?
If we’re honest, there’s a wildness to that yearning, that desire for God.
One thing that can keep us distant from God, I think, is a fear or a discomfort with just how wild and undomesticated our yearning for God really is. It’s at the pith of our being, and it can feel much more animal than intellectual.
“Love God will all your mind, body, soul, heart, being. And Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s a reckless and radical challenge that Jesus gives us.
And our tradition as a matter of fact is full of wild images for the love between God and humanity.
The scripture reading for this morning is from the Song of Songs, a book of poetry in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s a love song, which makes it a unique book in the Bible. It’s also unique because it doesn’t mention God in any way, under any of the many names for God. And yet it is suffused with the Divine:

Song of Solomon 2:8-14
The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.”

Aren’t these wild and wonderful images for yearning and love?
The Song of Songs is really celebrating that the sacred can be present in our passion.
The Song of Songs is often read as giving voice to the passionate nature of humanity’s yearning for God, and God’s yearning for humanity. Passions which can have a wildness to them, and which can lead us into the wilderness in search of God.
I’m curious about the ways you have searched for God, searched for the divine.
And how have you been led to seek after God and God’s Realm?
Often times this is through a passion for goodness, or truth, or beauty, passion for justice, or for love and compassion,
Passions that lead us beyond ourselves to seek after something of the transcendent, something of the eternal.
What has that experience been like for you?

I spoke once with someone who is a master tracker, he tracks wildlife.
He shared the story of one time being hired by the parks service to track a mountain lion in Colorado (I forget the circumstances). He sets out into the mountains. He’s reading signs to lead to this mountain lion.
Tracks, scat, breaks in the vegetation, smells, even bird calls are all giving him information so he can follow the Ariadne’s thread left by the cougar.
After a few days of this out seeking in the wilderness, he realizes that all this time the mountain lion had been tracking him. He thought he had been tracking the mountain lion, but it was the other way around, she was watching.

It was shortly after I heard this story that I realized this was what was happening in my search for God. All this time I thought I had been out hunting and tracking down the Divine, but all this time it was God who was hunting me down. Such a humbling experience, an experience of surrender.
And it is not an uncommon realization.
The great Sufi master Jelaluddin Rumi wrote:
“What You Seek Is Seeking You”
Jesus taught:
“Seek ye first the Realm of God”
This is why he taught:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice”
The New Testament Letter of James says,
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
The Koran says,
“Take one step towards God and God will take two steps towards you.”

Our yearning for God itself, is a way the Divine whispers in our souls.
So, when we follow that yearning, and allow it to be as wild as it is,
allow it to lead us outside of what is safe and comfortable, out into the wilderness where we risk becoming lost,
we just may receive our truest homecoming.

“Lost” by David Wagoner
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Delivered March 15, 2020, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg