The institutional church sometimes falls into the trap of viewing the world dualistically. We see the sacred as being limited to the geographical, religious, and cultural bounds of the local faith community and we see the outside world as a godless wilderness. This inward focus is antithetical to mission and makes it difficult for people on the outside to understand what the church is doing and why we are doing it.
I believe that God calls the church to live in the world differently and to be about a different future. Past forms of being church will not bring us where we are called to be. We mustn’t treat the wilderness as a place of danger where God cannot be found. Instead, we see the wilderness as the very place where God is calling us to be. This is precisely what it means to answer the call of God. We leave the safety of our church buildings and make a table in the wilderness.
But it is not enough to merely venture out into the wilderness. We must also invite people to meet us there and bring others with us along the way. The Bible sometimes portrays the wilderness as if it is the last place one would want to be. But there are also stories that paint the wilderness in a different and more pleasing light. Abram leaves Ur to venture into the wilderness. Moses meets God in the wilderness. The wilderness may be scary, but Biblically speaking the wilderness is where people meet God and learn to depend on God alone.
The wilderness is where we will encounter God at work. In fact, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness before being baptized. Despite being tempted, Jesus was fully human in those situations. He didn’t use some sort of superhuman power to combat the temptation that was waiting for him. Rather, Jesus learned dependence, strengthened his relationship with God, and increased both his vision and capacity to serve the world in the wilderness.
Much of Jesus’ public ministry took place outside of the Temple and synagogue. It was in the wilderness that he engaged with people as part of their daily life. He met with them, he healed them, he listened to them and he was present in their lives in a powerful and fulfilling way. Jesus entered the wilderness of everyday life, meeting and acting as neighbor to all people. To become the church that I believe we are called to be, we must follow Jesus’ lead and learn to find and serve God in the wilderness.