First Sunday of Lent 18th February 2018
Introduction and Call to Worship
As God’s beloved children, brothers and sisters of Christ, let us embark on our Lenten journey, strengthened by the Spirit.
First Reading Genesis 9:8-17
God tells Noah he is establishing a covenant with him, his sons and their descendants. He sets his bow in the sky as a sign.
Second Reading 1 Peter 3:18-end
Baptism, an appeal to God for a good conscience, saves us through Christ’s resurrection. It was prefigured by the saving of Noah’s family in the water of the flood.
Gospel Mark 1:9-15
Jesus is baptised by John and receives God’s approval. He is immediately driven out into the wilderness, where he is tempted by Satan. John is arrested and Jesus begins his Galilean ministry.
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
If you throw an apple on the floor, not hard enough to make any visible damage, then cut into it, you will find some of the flesh has gone brown. It is the same with people. If you mistreat them, it causes damage, even if nothing shows on the outside. But if you give people praise, especially your children, they learn to value themselves.
In the first century the desert was an ever-present wilderness only a few steps from the safety of the city. Here, in the vast expanse of nothingness, the individual seemed insignificant. Jesus receives the baptism of John just as he is about to go into this desert and face temptation. Mark’s Gospel tells us that the Spirit drove him there – the same Spirit that had just descended on him like a dove, the symbol of peace.
There is more than one way of looking at this juxtaposition of events. Perhaps, having announced Jesus as a beloved Son, God wants to make sure he doesn’t believe he is therefore in for a privileged life. He has a job to do; it will be tough. He is not to be the pampered prince. And surely this is the very temptation the devil presents to him in those forty days.
Or perhaps God knows that Jesus cannot face these present temptations and the trials that are to come, without the knowledge that God is pleased with him. Like a newly adult child leaving the parental home, his chances of success in all life brings are greater with the self-confidence that comes from knowing he is deeply loved.
Perhaps the truth is both, or somewhere in between. Healthy balance is a tightrope we all walk, and the Holy Spirit is not something to be pinned down to our own views.
As all parents know, bringing up a well-balanced child is not easy. Parents hope that their child will be confident, but not arrogant; ambitious, but realistic about his or her abilities.
Like a parent, God knows how much we need praise and reassurance. Embarking on any new venture is so much harder if we have suffered abuse or neglect instead of encouragement. If we believe ourselves unworthy, dragged down by sin and on the edge of failure, how can we be strong when confronted with temptation, or confident to do God’s will? Like the apple thrown to the ground, we will be damaged, with a stain that pervades our whole being.
God does not protect us from the tough tasks we face, but we can be sure that we are loved and cherished. If we watch carefully, we will recognise messages of love and approval. They come in the words of the Bible, in the blessings of the world around us and in the encouragement of other people. At the same time, the Spirit drives us into the desert, to grow and to gain new understanding of ourselves and God’s will for us. Sometimes, too, we must go there to do the hard tasks that are needed to further God’s kingdom. Standing up for justice can sometimes seem like a never-ending desert where we walk alone. But for those who know themselves to be God’s beloved children, even the desert has its own sense of peace, despite the danger and isolation.
We live ever on the edge, between Jerusalem and the wilderness, liable to slip over from one to the other at any moment as the Spirit wills. Today, as we embark on our Lenten journey, we deliberately turn towards the desert, relinquishing the comforts of Jerusalem to strike out into the unknown. We embrace that part of God that forces us to face our own insignificance. But we do not go without comfort. We go as beloved children, safe in the knowledge that if we rely on that very Spirit that drives us, we shall return to Jerusalem in just a few weeks as changed people, rejoicing in Christ’s triumph over death and the desert.
1. If you throw an apple on the floor, the flesh on the inside begins to turn brown. The same is true of people we are negative towards.
2. After hearing God’s words of encouragement, Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. There he faces temptation and the challenges of his ministry, knowing that he is approved of by God.
3. God loves and encourages us, but at the same time drives us into the desert where we will grow.
4. At the beginning of Lent we go into the wilderness of our own will, knowing we are God’s beloved children and that we shall return with joy at Christ’s triumph over death.
Original text: ‘Living Word’ for Common Worship, Redemptorist Publications 2018.