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The Wilderness Transformed

A Service for Outdoor Worship

The days are getting longer; the sun is stronger; and we are beginning to make summer plans. For many of us those plans will include one or more Sundays away from our place of worship. We may be able to join another community in worship, which is a great opportunity to get outside our comfort zone and learn from our brothers and sisters from other denominations.

But there may also be times when we are asked to lead a group in worship when there is no local congregation nearby. If that is your situation, especially if the worship takes place outdoors, consider using the following service. It was originally written for worship at Heartland Forest. A sermon or meditation could be included at almost any point, if you wish. You could also take an offering for a local ministry near the end of the service.

—JB

Call to Worship
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
God calls to us in the midst of our busy lives:
“Be still and know that I am God.”

Opening Song: “As the Deer”CH 548, WR 471

Prayer

Invitation
As we worship in the midst of nature, consider how the theme of the Wilderness is used in various parts of the Bible.
Teach us, Lord, how you want us to meet you today, here in your creation, as we study your Word together.

I. Moses Leads God’s People into the Wilderness

Scripture Reading: Exodus 5:1-3

Response:
He brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness.
He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies. (Ps. 78:52, 53)
During the forty years that God led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.
God did this so that you might know that he is the Lord your God. (Deut. 29:5-6)

Song: “Amazing Grace”CH 343, PH 280, PsH 462, SFL 209, SWM 186 (arr.), TH 460, WR 422

II. Elijah in the Wilderness

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-18 (selected verses)

Response:
When Elijah feared for his life, he ran into the wilderness to hide.
But God met him there and provided for his needs.
God appeared to Elijah, not in the great and powerful forces of nature,
but in the gentle whisper that speaks to our hearts.
May we also seek God in our times of great need, and experience his gracious provision for our lives.
Lord, help us to hear your gentle whisper in our hearts and minds when we seek you. Remind us that you are the God who preserves his faithful followers.

Song: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” SWM 26

III. Preparation in the Wilderness for the Coming Messiah

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-9

Response:
John the Baptist testified concerning Jesus: “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Finally the people asked John,
“Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Then John gave this testimony:
“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” (based on John 1:15-32)

Song: “Freely, Freely” CH 436

IV. Jesus in the Wilderness

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:9-13

Response:
When Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, he responded with Scripture:
“It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’” (Deut. 8:3)
Again, Satan tempted our Lord to throw himself from the highest point of the temple, and Jesus answered from Scripture:
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Deut. 6:16)
Finally the Devil offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would worship Satan, but again Jesus quoted God’s Holy Word:
“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Fear the Lord your God, serve him only.’” (Deut. 6:13)

Song: “This Is My Father’s World” CH 143, PH 293, PsH 436, SFL 95, SWM 62, TH 111, WR 21

V. The Wilderness Transformed

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-5

Response:
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
Never again will there be in it infants who live but a few days, or older people who do not live out their years; those who die at a hundred will be thought mere youths. . . .
They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit . . . for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25, selected verses)

Prayer

Closing Song: “Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet” PsH 569, SFL 32

Sending and Parting Blessing
We have come to give praise and thanks to God, who seeks and saves those who are lost. We depart now to honor and serve the one who now seeks through us.

All join hands: Take these hands, O Lord, and use them to reach out this week to all who need your love. Amen.