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Carolyn’s Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent – 2/26/12

Sermon Lent I year B

There is a great deal of action in the seven short verses of today’s gospel lesson.  In those few words, there are three major events.  Jesus is baptized.  Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan and Jesus begins his public ministry.

These three events in the life of Jesus can serve as a model for us each day of our Christian life.

The St. Mark's Chancel in Lent

The first event is the ritual of baptism.  Baptism is our entrance into the family of God.  We become Christians the day we are named and claimed in the waters of baptism.  Water plays a prominent role in the Old Testament lesson today too.  The story of Noah and the flood is a story about God’s relationship with the whole creation.   In the beginning, God proclaimed that creation was good.  By the time of Noah, humans had broken it.  God feels grief and sorrow that the creation is now full of evil.

You can understand how that feels.  Think about how you would feel like if someone smashed all your good dishes.  You had something beautiful and useful, but now it’s broken.  Doesn’t matter much if it was a thoughtless accident or done on purpose.  Everything is still broken and useless.

When things are broken beyond repair, you do what you have to do.  You pick out what you can salvage.  God picked out a righteous family and enough creatures to start over.  Then God gave the whole earth a bath.  A long, long, deep cleansing bath.

After the bath was over and the waters had cleansed the earth, God put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of commitment and love.  The rainbow was a promise from God to the whole earth and every creature and every person.  It was a sign of grace and peace.  God promised to care for them and not destroy them, no matter what.

The waters of our baptism are like the bath God gave the earth. Our lives are broken like those good dishes.  We were created good and meant to live in the image of God, but like the people in the time of Noah, we have failed miserably.  God washes away all our sin in baptism.  God is gracious to us and makes an everlasting promise to care for us and save us.  In Baptism, we begin our lives as Christians and as children of God.

Luther encouraged his congregation to remember their baptism daily.  No matter what else you do, he said to begin each day by remembering you are baptized.

The second event in today’s gospel is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Jesus spent some time alone there, being tested and preparing for what was to come next.  Wilderness is a solitary, deserted place.  That’s where Mark says the Spirit literally threw Jesus.  In the Hebrew Bible, the word wilderness means the place where God speaks.  And the number forty means a really, really long time.  So Jesus went there to be alone to listen to God for a long time.

The wilderness is not a pleasant place to be.  We all have our own places of wilderness, but  none of us really wants to go there.  It is a place of hungering and wandering.  There are wild beasts.

When I think of Jesus in wilderness with the wild beasts, I sometimes think of watching the Wizard of Oz as a very little kid and hearing Dorothy and the scarecrow saying, “lions and tigers and bears, oh my”.  I remember watching the show with my little sister and being scared of the witch and the flying monkeys.  Being in the wilderness has that kind little kid of scary feel to it.  No wonder the Spirit has to throw Jesus out there.

Taking a time apart and going into our wildernesses can be difficult.  But sometimes it is only when we can get away and take time to be alone, that we can confront the devils and demons that plague us.  We can confront all those things that tempt us and name them honestly.  You remember from the story of Adam, when you name the beasts, God gives you dominion over them.

First we remember our baptism, then we go to the wilderness to listen to God.   While we are there, we will confront our own wild beasts.  They will tempt us. They will try to keep us from paying attention to the voice of God.  But Jesus will be there with us.  He will help us tame the wild beasts and send angels to minister to us.

We can remember our baptism each morning and listen for the voice of God through prayer and scripture reading.  But we can’t stop there.

After his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began his public ministry.  He went to Galilee and proclaimed the good news of God.  He called on people to repent and believe the good news that the kingdom of God had come near.

After we are baptized and we have spent time alone listening to God, we must begin our public ministry.  Our society has come to mistakenly think that religion is a private matter.  People say, “I have my beliefs and you have yours.  And we all believe in the same God and are all going the same place so we don’t need to talk about it, right?”

That is not what Jesus does and not what he tells us to do either.  Our faith is a very public matter.  We proclaim what we believe, not only by what we say, but by the way we live.

Richard Beck, professor at Abilene Christian University challenges the contemporary idea that the goal of Christianity is to get closer to God. He says that many people go to church and pray and engage in spiritual practices to get closer to God, but don’t let that influence how they live their lives.  They engage in their so-called spiritual practices instead of trying to become a decent human being.

He says one of the single most abysmal witness for Christianity is the collective behavior of the Sunday lunch crowd who have a nationwide reputation for being rude and tipping poorly.  He suggests it would be an incredible witness if the entire restaurant industry could say, “I love the after-church crowd, they are kind, patient, and generous.”

Our public ministry proclaims the good news of Jesus, crucified and risen –

  • When we live our lives as people who know we have been forgiven.
  • When we show kindness to our neighbors, even the ones we don’t like.
  • When we share a friendly greeting and listen to the concerns of others.
  • When we welcome strangers and treat them as friends.
  • When we give people the benefit of the doubt, instead of being quick to judge.

We can remember our baptism daily.  We can spend time each day listening to God in private prayer and scripture reading.  We can live our lives as a public proclamation of the good news that Jesus Christ has saved us.

May God’s holy angels be with us so that the wicked foe may have no power over us.  Amen.

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