1st Sunday in Lent
1 Peter 3:18-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who has been through the wilderness Amen.
Welcome to Lent,
the season in the church year
when we confront the truth
that life is not always easy,
that hardships, trials and death will come our way
we once again experience the presence of God throughout,
God who goes with us
and in the end has the last say,
and the last word is “life”.
Now the first part is not too difficult for us,
we know very well the times of suffering life brings our way,
but the second part,
having faith in the resurrection work of God
is more difficult,
the good news is that it is something we can learn to do
with the help of God and practice
we see this in our psalm for this morning
where the psalmist proclaims great trust in God
and asks for forgiveness and teaching in the ways of the Lord:
Show me your ways, O Lord and teach me your paths
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
You are gracious and upright, O Lord; therefore you teach sinners in your way.
Faith, trust in God, can grow with practice,
and our training ground is the church calendar,
more than just a way of marking time
it is also a training regime for life,
designed to work out our faith in all situations,
so that we are prepared when we face them in the course of our life.
in Advent we practice waiting,
in the time after epiphany we practice looking for God revealed,
in Lent we practice wilderness times,
in Easter we practice celebrating new life,
at Pentecost we pause to notice what the Holy Spirit is doing
and then spend a long time practicing living out the call of the spirit as disciples of Christ,
and then the whole thing starts over.
As we enter Lent
we recognize that this year lent is not a drill,
we are in the midst of a wilderness journey,
one that started about a year ago with reports of a new virus,
that soon drove us away from the comfort of familiarity
on a long twisting journey through many hardships and unknowns,
it’s path we’re tired of taking
and one we have no choice but to follow through to the otherside,
so more than ever this year
we are ready to hear the good news of lent,
we long for the wisdom for wilderness journeys lent has to offer,
show us your ways O Lord and teach us your paths.
Today the path takes us to the promises of God,
promises that God makes and marks with a sign
promises we are to hold on to
because no matter what happens or what it may feel like,
God keeps the promises God makes.
Our promise for today
is that we are beloved by God,
and the sign is water,
that most common and necessary of elements
that has the power to give and destroy life,
this promise and sign are combined together in baptism,
a promise and sign that will carry us through wilderness times,
which we see with Jesus in our gospel for today.
Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river
and just as he comes up out of the water
the heavens are torn open
and he hears the voice of God say
“You are my Son; the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
That’s quite an experience and proclamation,
but it seems like Jesus doesn’t have much time to savor it
because Mark tells us that “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
Mark is a writer of few words
but there’s a lot packed into these two sentences.
First the spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness,
Jesus did not decide that he could use a nice long spiritual retreat,
no, forces beyond himself push him
and he finds himself in the wilderness.
In the Bible and in our lives
most wilderness experiences start this way
where one moment we’re loved and affirmed
and in the very next the bottom seems to have dropped out
and we find ourselves in strange, unfamiliar and unfriendly territory,
whether it’s a global pandemic,
the end of a relationship, facing illness or unemployment
all of a sudden we look around and our world has changed and not for the better.
Jesus has this experience
And Mark tells us that “He was in the wilderness forty days”
forty in the Bible is shorthand for a long time,
a time so long that it seems that it will never end
even through God promises that it will end,
But there’s more,
if it were just a long time it would be tiresome but perhaps not so bad,
but not only is Jesus in the wilderness for forty days,
during that time he is tempted by Satan; the accuser,
the one whose job it is to call into question the promises of God.
“So God called you Son, huh?
Are you sure you heard that right?
If you’re the Son of God, then how did you end up here?
If God is so pleased with you, then what are you doing in the wilderness?
Are you sure you’re beloved? Maybe you should test God just to make sure, just a little test, that way you’ll know for sure…”
The endless string of doubts and questions
that run through your head in the midst of a wilderness time?
That is the temptation of Satan
Jesus is out in the wilderness for a long time,
satan is tempting him,
and there’s more,
there are wild beasts out there too,
more than the temptation of satan there is real danger in wilderness times
A reality the must be dealt with in addition to everything else
and if this seems like a whole lot,
Maybe too much,
it is, but Mark has one more detail to add,
“and the angels waited on him”
angels are in the wilderness as well,
messengers of God’s love and care,
even if we don’t notice them,
there are always angels in our wilderness times
God is always present,
working through these times
That have a way of defining us,
in fact they almost seem necessary for growth,
now to be clear I don’t think God desires extreme wilderness times for us,
God doesn’t want to hurt us,
but it also seems to be a fact of life
that we will experience wilderness times
and God doesn’t let those times go to waste,
God uses them to shape and mold us into more of the beloved children
that God has created us to be.
Jesus makes it through the wilderness,
he’s confronted Satan, and doubts,
he’s affirmed his identity as beloved child of God
and now he is ready to begin his ministry.
When John is arrested
sending his followers into their own wilderness,
it is time for Jesus to step up and proclaim the good news of God
and begin his next journey,
the one to the cross,
the journey through death into new life.
In our baptisms,
named by God as beloved,
we are joined to Jesus’ journey through death to new life,
and in this joining
God promises that whatever we face in life
we face with Jesus who has already traveled the path
and that the last world will be God’s
and it will always be life.
This is the promise onto which we hold
Proclaiming with the psalmist
“To you O Lord I lift up my soul
My God, I put my trust in you.”
Thanks to Debbie Thomas
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.