Sermon on 18th February 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

18 February 2018 YB       Lent 1

Revd Andrea Price

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our Lord and Saviour. Amen

 

Today’s gospel reading is quite short but action packed: the baptism of Jesus at one end and his first preaching the good news in Galilee at the other frame his 40 days in the wilderness.

“12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

 

Matthew and Luke have much longer accounts of Jesus’ wilderness experience. For them this event was mainly about the temptations Jesus suffered – like us in this matter; but unlike us, Jesus held firm to the way of God, as Peter emphasises in his letter.

So what is the wilderness for Mark?

Once I had the chance at a conference to take part in the acting out of this passage. Not the elaborate stories but Mark’s short two verses. One among us was encouraged to take the role of Jesus – he turned out to be a future moderator, John Christie.

The rest of the group was asked to be the wild animals or angels. Was someone Satan? I cannot remember, but I do remember us walking around imagining ourselves with Jesus either as one of the wild beasts or waiting on Jesus as angels.

Does this sound ridiculous to you or can you imagine the intense atmosphere, which “Jesus” later said was very moving, supportive and uplifting?

 

Wilderness – what springs to mind for you, when you hear the word?

Do you think of a desert or savanna, some wild land, where only the occasional animal passes?

Do you think of it as a place of privation, no shelter, food or water and place of danger to life?

Jesus, who had just been called by God after his baptism as God’s beloved is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Mark uses the same word to describe this driving out as he uses later to describe the violent driving out of the unclean spirits in Jesus’ healings. Jesus did not choose to have a break. Jesus was compelled to go into the wilderness with some force.

So there was no triumphal start of Jesus’ work but Wilderness with its animal and physical dangers.

Like John the Baptist, the voice in the wilderness, Jesus is in the desert preparing to be the Messiah.

 

Wilderness – What springs to mind for you when hearing the word?

Do you think of a place of destruction, brown field sites of urban neglect or war shredded images of conflict and destruction?

Do you think of bleached coral reefs or images of slash and burn forest clearing, leaving little behind other than monocultures industrialising nature and its ways.

Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days, the number of days the flood lasted, when God decided to make a new start of his creation bent on violence, a new start with Noah, his family and the animals in the ark.

The rainbow is the sign God made for himself and the promise to us that he will never again destroy the whole earth in anger. The rainbow is not just a pretty picture or natural phenomenon but in biblical terms the visible sign that God unilaterally disarms himself by hanging up his weapon of choice.

The people of Israel wander for 40 years in the wilderness trying to find their way and trying to hold fast to their choice of following God. But temptation gets the better of them time and again.

We too struggle with temptations. Are you holding fast to whatever you decided to give up for Lent?

 

Wilderness – What springs to mind for you when hearing the word?

Do you think of walks in forest or among mountains, wild, rugged , looking for elusive animals , bird watching? Do you think of safaris or whale watching?

Jesus was with the wild beasts….the son of the creator joins his creatures. Incarnation and in among creation.

And the angels waited on him.

 

Wilderness in Mark’s gospel is not all bad but

  1. a place of revelation: Moses received the commandments in the wilderness; John was in the wilderness to prepare the way; Jesus is in the wilderness to prepare himself for his ministry
  2. Wilderness is a place of danger. For there are choices to be made for life or against it, for God’s way or the common, animal, human animal way. Jesus, though with the animals, is served by the angels and overcomes the danger of turning away from God and the task before him.
  3. Wilderness is a place of retreat, a place to refresh the Spirit and clear the mind. From now on Jesus retreats frequently into wilderness for prayer, for time to be mindful, strengthened and refreshed from the demands placed on him.

 

Today is the first Sunday of Lent and the next weeks will see us travelling with Jesus towards his suffering and death on the cross.

Before we can celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and attempt to fathom what resurrection means for us, we need to make this journey with Jesus into the wilderness.

For God wants to reveal himself to us, God wants us to make a choice for life in his way. God wants to help us make space in our hearts and minds for what is important for living.

 

Richard Rohr wrote:  (Wondrous Encounters)

“There are two moments that matter. One is when you know that your one and only life is absolutely valuable and alive.

The other is when you know your life, as presently lived, is entirely pointless and empty.

Lent is about both.

The first such moment gives you energy and joy by connecting you with your ultimate Source and Ground.

The second gives you limits and boundaries, and a proper humility, so you keep seeking the Source and Ground and not just your small self.”
When Jesus came out of the wilderness and John was arrested Jesus began to preach the good news that the Kingdom of God is near. Turn and trust, he calls to his listeners, or as we read it : repent and believe in the good news.

 

Will we do it or just think about it and forget it as soon as we leave church?

Will we admit we have made a mistake and say sorry?

Will we get in touch with friends from whom we have not heard for a long time?

Will we say when something has annoyed us, clear the air and not harbour grudges?

Will we say what we think and act on it even if it leads us to unconventional or uncomfortable choices?

Will we go and comfort the grieving or avoid meeting them?

Will we love God and love our neighbour as ourselves?

 

Let us journey together this Lent, make it God’s spring time:

To help we offer prayers and silence before each Sunday service during Lent in the LSC.

There are study groups to help, either on a Wednesday with the Women’s Fellowship or on a Tuesday evening (details in the Order of Service).

There are books for you to buy at the bookstall for your own reflection.

 

Ann Lewin:

Lent

 

Lent is a time to learn to travel

Light, to clear the clutter

From our crowded lives, and

Find a space, a desert.

Deserts are bleak: no creature

Comforts, only a vast expanse of

Stillness, sharpening awareness of

Ourselves and God.

 

Uncomfortable places, deserts.

 

Most of the time we’re tempted to

Avoid them, finding good reason to

Live lives of ease; cushioned by

Noise from self-discovery,

Clutching at world’s success

To stave off fear.

But if we dare to trust the silence

To strip away our false security,

God can begin to grow his wholeness in us,

Fill up our emptiness, destroy our fears,

Give us new vision, courage for the journey,

And make our desert blossom like a rose.

 

Make this time of Lent a special time of study and reflection to go deeper, searching for God, who has found you where you are already.

Amen