Sunday, February 26, 2012

we will, with God's help

Year B RCL First Sunday in Lent

Here are the readings for today. I preached on Mark 1:9-15.

In those days, a wild man began preaching in the desert, calling for people to repent and turn to God, announcing the coming of one who was greater.

In those days, a man of humble beginnings came to where the wild man was preaching. Maybe he waited at the edge of the crowd for a while, listening to the words and the pleading behind them. Compelled, he then began to walk slowly but purposefully toward the wild man. “I want to be baptized,” he said, looking intently into the wild man’s eyes. The wild man nodded and wordlessly led him to the water. Without pausing, without hesitation, they stepped together into the Jordan River. The wild man took the other man by the shoulders and pushed him beneath the flowing water.

In those days, as Jesus came up out of the water, the sky was ripped open, the Spirit came down, a voice rang out an affirmation, and everything changed. Up until that point, Jesus had probably been living a pretty typical Jewish life, studying Scripture and learning a trade in his country village. But as soon as he stepped out of that water he was chased into the desert, cast out like an unclean spirit by the Spirit. The same Spirit that moved over the waters of creation shed its dove-like appearance to reveal the hawk underneath.

In those days, Jesus was tested and tempted in the same desert where his ancestors, the Israelites, had wandered. He was surrounded by wild beasts much more frightening than the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are. The days, mostly filled with silence, seemed to stretch into eternity, and thoughts, normally drowned out by busyness, refused to be ignored. These thoughts raced around, increasing in pitch and tempo and intensity until they were finally resolved.

In these days, we look back on Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and are reminded of our own struggles and temptations during this Lenten season. Whether we have given something up or have taken something on, or haven’t yet found a discipline, there are always those nagging thoughts or little temptations calling our name, tugging on our sleeves, distracting us from our relationship with God. It’s so easy to throw in the towel once we have messed up on our Lenten discipline. For example, you are halfway through a brownie when you remember that you gave up sweets, and so you decide that since you’ve already messed up, you might as well eat the piece of pie in the fridge. Or you climb into bed exhausted after a long day and remember that you haven’t been reading a chapter of the Bible each day, like you had planned, and now you are three days behind. “There’s no way I’ll catch up at this rate!” you think to yourself. You turn the light off, feeling guilty and disheartened. But the thing is, these disciplines are not about how well you do them. Taking up a spiritual discipline is meant to be difficult. In fact, the whole point is that we realize that we can’t do these things on our own.

This realization, that we can’t do it on our own, can often lead to a greater sense of clarity, of purpose. As we see in the Gospel reading, Jesus endures temptation and comes out of it with a strengthened resolve and a firm sense of calling. He emerges from the desert ready to begin his ministry, ready to “proclaim the good news of God.” 

In these 40 days of Lent, we are reminded that Jesus never promises that following in his path will be easy. John’s arrest foreshadows Jesus’ own future arrest. Mark doesn’t let us get past even the first chapter of his Gospel before pointing us to the cross. But this is the ministry that we have been baptized into. When we are baptized, we are adopted into God’s family, into the Church, into the Body of Christ. Our sins are forgiven as we enter into a new, Spirit-filled life. Once baptized, we are to be reconcilers, Christ-bearers, spreading the Good News just as the first disciples did. It’s not an easy task—in fact, it’s huge, and impossible to do on our own! But what Christ reveals to us in this passage is that God knows what it feels like to be tested and tempted. God has been there, done that.
And we also know that during his time in the desert, Jesus was not alone. In the midst of his suffering, he was in the company of angels. God was with him the whole time!

And God is there with us when we struggle—with our Lenten disciplines, but also with life in general. When the kids are running around screaming and you are at your wits’ end, stop for a moment and say a silent prayer for strength. When you and your loved one are in a major argument, stop and say a prayer for reconciliation. When it’s two in the morning and you are exhausted, but still not finished with your take home exam, stop and say a prayer for wisdom. When your doctor calls to give you bad news, stop and say a prayer for guidance. Whatever it is, ask God to help you through it. Prayers are not incantations—they won’t make the situation go away. But, somehow, you will be able to get through it. God will be with us, and with that knowledge, we can look at whatever comes our way and say, “we will, with God’s help.”

Just for fun...

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