Summary: God calls us into the wilderness on adventures in faith — but he goes with us.
December 7, 1997 • Advent 2 (c)
The word of God came to John — in the wilderness.
What image does the word “wilderness” conjure up in your mind? [wait for responses] Barren wastelands? Deep, untouched forests? Absence of civilization? Wild beasts? The beauty of nature? Danger? The unknown? The unexpected? Adventure?
Ah! That’s it for me: ADVENTURE! A wilderness adventure!
Some of my best adventures came thanks to the Boy Scouts. I was a member of two different troops. One in Hickory. Another in Charlotte.
The scoutmaster of the Hickory troop was Mr. Gill. He worked for Duke Power and had access to Duke’s property around the lakes and rivers. He was also a kind of fat fellow — sorta shaped like Santa Claus — who’d rather ride than walk. So we were a canoeing troop. With Mr. Gill I went on amazing 200–mile adventures down the Catawba and Yadkin Rivers and the lakes those rivers feed.
The scoutmaster of the Charlotte troop was Mr. Anderson — we called him Mr. “A.” Our adventures took place on the hiking trails in the state and national forests of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. As part of that troop I earned four “50 Miler” awards on the Appalachian Trail — that’s the Scouting award given to those who go on a hike of at least 50 miles. What adventures those trips were!
I’ll never forget, for instance, when a big black bear approached our campsite one morning, and Freddie Parker threw a bar of soap at him; the bear ate the soap! Or the time at Table Rock when Mr. A shot a rattlesnake with his .22 pistol and we barbecued it — tasted like smokey white rubber! Then there was the time up near Clingman’s Dome, when we got soaked in the rain and I decided to hike in my underwear while my pants were drying on the back of my pack. I was just gettin’ it on down the trail, ahead of the whole troop, when around the corner came a bunch of Girl Scouts! I had to run for the bushes!
What adventures! Every boy should be a Boy Scout!
But adventure is not reserved for the young! It’s never too late to be an adventurer! Since 1952, Jean Feldman, of Chapel Hill, had wanted to walk the full length of the Appalachian Trail — 2,158 miles from Maine to Georgia.
Finally, in 1988 she began the trip — at age 69! That year, 1988, she walked from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., roughly half the trail, before she got sick and had to stop. Each year afterwards she spent part of every summer trying to finish the trail, each year sidelined by everything from broken ankles to bronchitis. In 1992 she managed only 22 miles, but every summer she has made progress. She hiked with different partners, meeting her husband at road crossings and hotels.
On August 25, 1995, at the age of 76, Jean climbed Mount Katahdin in Maine, finishing the Trail. How did she celebrate? “I sat up there and ate pie, if you want to know. A friend of mine hiked with me up there, and she had carried part of a pie, if you can imagine. I guess some people take champagne, but she took pie. We sat up there in the wind and the fog and ate pie."
Thirty–six years in anticipation! Seven years to complete! What an adventure! Makes me want to get out my backpack!
We’re in the season of Advent. The word “advent” itself comes from the same root as “adventure.” But “advent” is a churchy word. It smells of piety, of musty robes, dusty wreaths, solemn hymns, boring sermons, and fidgety children. Say “advent” and eyes glaze over; it’s hard to keep from yawning.
But say “adventure” — and folks are on the edges of their seats! When you hear the word “adventure” what do you think of? [wait for responses] Indiana Jones, Swiss Family Robinson, and Jules Verne! Coumbus sailing on the high seas in search of new worlds! Neil Armstrong stepping out onto the moon! Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise “bravely going where no man has gone before!”
Adventure is a wake–up call to life.
Adventure is a shot of caffeine!
Adventure is a fire–cracker under the seat of laziness!
You can forget all about the church’s Season of Advent and still live a good life. But if you forget that you were born to be an adventurer, then you may spend your life on hold... in the waiting room.
That’s right! You were born to be an adventurer! And we, God’s people, are created for adventure. Indeed, according to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, this is fundamental to our mission: