Sunday, February 26, 2012
(A sermon based on Genesis 9:8-17 & Mark 1:9-15 for the First Sunday in Lent)
We have arrived once again at the First Sunday in Lent; we are at the beginning of our journey with Jesus toward the Cross and then to the Empty Tomb. We have an excellent opportunity to focus on the journey that our Savior made in his adult life as he embraced and pursued the call that had been placed on his life.
Given that our Lord told us that if we are to be his followers we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow him, we also have an excellent opportunity to focus on the journey that we are making in our lives as we embrace and pursue the call that is on our life.
Let’s think of this opportunity as a pilgrimage through the world and as a journey into the unknown.
Imagine Noah and his family stumbling off the ark after all those months, trying to get their land legs back after so many days on the sea that used to be land. The animals lope and crawl and slither and stomp and stagger off with them. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and the streams are full. The day holds all the promise inherent in newness as well as all the threat inherent in recent catastrophe.
We know what it’s like.
You wake up on the morning after the day when your spouse found out about the affair. You wake up on the morning after the day when you buried your father. You wake up on the morning after the day that you were laid off from your job. You wake up on the morning after the day that the bank foreclosed on your house. You wake up on the morning after the day that your child was diagnosed with the dread disease. You wake up on the morning after you realize that the web of lies and frauds you have perpetuated on the job is about to trap you.
You thank God you’re alive. You wonder how you’re going to go on living.
To Noah God said, “Never again” and as proof God hung God’s unstrung bow of war in the sky, pointing away from the earth. “Never again will I destroy the earth by water,” God promised.
We know, as Noah must have known, two things simultaneously that are both true: (1) the threat of chaos never really goes away and (2) God’s grace, love, mercy, and promise always go with us.
The question is: in the light of which truth will we choose to live? Which truth will we judge to be the greater truth? Which truth will be the dominant truth in our Lenten journey toward the Cross? In which truth will we believe more?
Will we believe in the power of the threat of chaos or will we believe in the power of God to go with us and to deliver us from, in, and even through the chaos?
Let’s think of this opportunity as a journey into the wilderness.
Imagine Jesus coming up out of the baptismal waters, hearing the voice of his Father, and having the Spirit of God descend upon him. (What a Trinitarian moment!) It had to be a tremendously affirming and inspiring moment for Jesus.
Remember, though, that it is the “kick-off” of Jesus’s public ministry; it is the beginning of his journey toward the Cross. So where will the Spirit lead him? To preach to thousands? To heal hundreds? To receive acclaim and adulation?
No…the Spirit drives him into the wilderness where he will be for forty days, tested by Satan, surrounded by wild beasts, and ministered to by angels.
The experience was, in a very real way, a microcosm of Jesus’ life—always journeying through the wilderness, always following the Father’s will and the Spirit’s lead, always being tried and tested, and always knowing the nurture and love of God in his life.
Do we know what that’s like? You experience God in a powerful and wonderful way. You sense the affirmation that you are God’s beloved child. You sense the presence of the Spirit in your life. Being who you are—who we all are—you expect for the Spirit to lead you into great and glorious times, to one mountain-top experience after another, but instead the Spirit wants to drive you into the wilderness, where life is dry and barren and dangerous and tempting.
You don’t want to go. But what if you don’t go?
Evidently Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, needed the experience as preparation for what he would face in the rest of his life as he journeyed toward the Cross. Why would we think we don’t need the experience, too, as risky and dangerous as it might feel—and as it might in fact be?
Pastor Phyllis Kersten has posed the important questions in an interesting way.
Like the cell phone technician in the TV ad who keeps going into remote and secluded areas to test reception, God kept asking Jesus, "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me say that you are my beloved son now, when you see that this struggle with Satan isn't a one-time event, but of long duration? … Can you hear me in the angels I send to wait on you? Can you see and hear in them the assurance that I will sustain you?"
"Can you hear me now?" God also asks us. Can we hear that the one who was with Jesus is also with us for the long haul, even when we're in the wilderness? Can we recognize the "angels" God sends to "wait table" for us? Can we hear God's call to us to be the angels who accompany others in their lonely and desolate places, including illegal immigrants who are afraid they'll be arrested, children dying from famine in Africa or homeless families living in their cars in our towns?
(Phyllis Kersten, “Living by the Word,” Christian Century, February 22, 2012, p. 20)
We have to journey into the wilderness to learn to hear God, to learn to rely on the comfort of God, and to learn to trust in the grace of God in all the seasons and in all the circumstances of life.
Let’s think of this opportunity as a journey in partnership with Jesus.
As we go into the world and into the wilderness, we do not journey alone. Jesus always goes with us. We are joined to him and he to us. Wherever we go, he is there. Whatever the test, he is there. Whatever the trial, he is there. Whatever the struggle, he is there. Whatever the deprivation, he is there.
As Noah began his post-flood pilgrimage in the world, he began not having or needing luck—luck had nothing to do with it—but having the presence, the grace, and the promises of God with him.
As Jesus began his post-baptism pilgrimage in the wilderness and in the world, he began not having or needing luck—luck had nothing to do with it—but having the presence, the grace, the promises, and the Spirit of God with him.
As we begin our Lenten journey, as we begin our journey toward the Cross, we go with…