Sunday, February 21st, 2021 (Lent 1)
(Joanna Fisher - Liturgical Assistant)
The Baptism and Temptation of Christ
(Related Bible readings can be found here)
A moment of prayer….
Take my words and speak through them, take our ears and hear through them,
take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Amen.
I wonder if you can remember a time when you felt nudged, drawn or called by God to do something just outside your comfort zone. It may be giving a talk, like I am doing.
It may be dealing with a sensitive situation with another person, it may be coping with a family member who is unwell, it may be forgiving somebody who has hurt you.
How did you feel?
Did you question whether you really needed to do it?
Perhaps someone else could do it better. Why you? Does it really matter?
Did you think – perhaps I don’t have the skills, the time, the experience?
Thinking things through can be a bit of a battle.
But it is often necessary in order to clarify what it is we have to do, and how best to do it.
We feel, not necessarily comfortable, but ready.
In a sense, we have been called, tested and are now ready.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and in our reading from the gospel of Mark,
we hear of a similar pattern of calling/testing/readiness.
Somewhere in the Jordan River and somewhere in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, Mark presents us with a vivid and exciting picture of Jesus which moves swiftly from his baptism and temptation to readiness for mission.
There’s no messing about with Mark, it all happens in 40 days -
no wandering around the wilderness for 40 years like the ancient Israelites!
So, I’d like to explore with you these three important preparatory aspects of mission
– calling, testing, and readiness.
One can imagine that the first 30 years of Jesus’ life was in and around his hometown, Nazareth. Maybe looking after his family, helping his mother out, carrying out duties around the house
and being a bread winner. We can imagine him thinking about ‘his calling’,
learning and talking about his Father in heaven, and looking for a sign.
And that sign came with the dramatic and colourful emergence of John the Baptist
on the Jordan river, and of a very special moment, the moment of Jesus’ baptism.
Here he was, lining up with others on the banks of the Jordan, waiting for his turn.
When his turn comes along, Jesus walks into the water and as John baptises him,
three important things happen… identification, encouragement, equipping.
Imagine how reassuring that little phrase is…. in whom I am well pleased?
Can you imagine the Father saying this to you – this is my beloved son/daughter (say your name) in whom I am well pleased. Say those words to yourself now silently.
I would leave this with you to reflect on this as we move through this time of Lent, –
what is it about each one of us, God’s beloved sons and daughters, that he is pleased with.
3. It was the moment of his equipping – the Holy Spirit descended upon him. The Holy Spirit also equips us to do those things that are not always comfortable.
It is interesting to note that Jesus’ baptism is the only time in the scriptures that the Trinity appear on earth together – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, how can we not respond.
No sooner had Jesus been baptised, than the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness – no food, no drink, no companionship, no human support. For Jesus, this is the first testing time that we know about – there are many others in his short life, the cross being the last and the most agonising.
Mark doesn’t tell us much about Jesus’ time in the wilderness or his temptations, unlike Matthew and Luke who go into the details. He just comments on God’s adversary, Satan, the wild animals and the angels who helped and then he moves on.
Nevertheless, we can imagine what Jesus must have gone through. With all things stripped back and the awesome prospect of his calling ahead of him….
God was saying to him,
My Son, "Take my love to people; love them till you die for them”.
Satan was saying,
"Use your power to blast people; destroy your enemies; win the world by might and power and bloodshed."
God was saying, "Set up a reign of love."
Satan was saying, "Set up a reign of force."
Jesus had to choose at that time between the way of God and the way of Satan.
In every life there come moments of decision, and we choose whether to go forward, or walk away. This was Jesus’ moment, and he did not disappoint.
The big calamities of life can drive us, kicking and screaming to our own wilderness experiences – a serious sickness, an examination failure, a period of unemployment, the loss of a life partner,
the collapse of our faith in God. They can test faith to the limit and leave us no option but to make friends with the wild beasts, the demons that occupy our life.
The wilderness experience sounds very familiar to us at present.
Family and friends not able to see each other. Children not able to attend school. Elderly people feeling lonely and cut off. No travel. No leisure activities. No food in some cases.
Covid-19 is not a name we’re going to forget any time soon.
What a wilderness!
On the North West News a few weeks ago, the presenter interviewed a young woman about the impact of Covid, and she said,‘when everything around you is stripped away, its then that you realise what is most important to you.’
Many things have been cancelled because of Covid-19. Love is not one of them.
It is often at the times though, when we feel uncomfortable, challenged, confused, alone with our thoughts and feelings, that we can grow most in our understanding and spirituality.
The spiritual growing points in our lives often happen when we’re in the wilderness.
Jesus was not alone in the wilderness; God was with him.
And in our wilderness times, for sure, God is with us too.
In this life, it is impossible to escape the time of testing, but one thing is certain,tests are not sent to make us fall, they are sent to strengthen the nerves and sinews of our minds, hearts and souls.
William Barclay, the Scottish Theologian, illustrated this by telling a story about a young footballer who is doing really well in the 2nd team. Where should his coach place him now?
He doesn’t place him in the 3rd team because he could just walk through the game without breaking sweat; so he places him in the 1st team where he will be tested and have a chance to improve himself and grow stronger and more skilled.
So too for us, maybe not as footballers, Lent provides a time and a space to take stock of who we are, and what we are being called to do. It provides a time to reflect on what God is pleased with in us, and what things he may need to develop and refine.
It’s a time when Christians together can reflect, pray, study and examine ourselves.
It’s a testing time, not because God is vindictive, but because he loves us too much to allow us to become sluggish, distracted, or attached to materialism.
We have talked about calling and testing; we now have readiness.
Jesus was called and affirmed in his baptism and tested in the wilderness; he was now ready for mission; he was clear about what he had to do.
At the end of the testing time, we read Jesus’ words…
“The right time has come… the Kingdom of God is near.
Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!”
And then off he goes, immediately back to the Galilee to call his disciples, to heal, to teach, to inspire and transform. Ultimately to die and to rise again. Not a comfortable calling or an easy mission, but one that overwhelms and sustains us with hope and love.
What about us… are we going to be ready? Is it the right time for us?
Calling and testing are the preparatory stages for mission.
And mission is what church is about … at the end of this Lent, let’s hope that we have a greater clarity and understanding of who we are and what God is asking us to work on in ourselves as we move towards an Easter renewal and readiness for mission.
Our time, and it is the right time, has come, our calling, our testing…. let’s do all we can to be ready for the mission that God has prepared us for – remember… the Kingdom of God is near!
I’d like to finish now with this little Celtic blessing….
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with us, wherever He may send us.
May He guide us this Lent through the wilderness, protect us through the storm.
May He bring us home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown us.
May He bring us home rejoicing once again into our doors.