Lent One – 18th February

Lent one – 18th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

Genesis 9.8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-end, Mark 1.9-15

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen

Because Mark says so little about Jesus time in the wilderness, just two verses:-

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

We have been given an insight by the powers that be that select our readings into the events immediately before and after this time of prayer and fasting, and preparation for Jesus’ active ministry of teaching and healing – proclaiming and enacting the good news of God.

Immediately before the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he is baptised by John. A significant moment accompanied by a sign from God. The reading says Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. It doesn’t indicate that everyone else who was there saw it – just that Jesus saw it. But it is hard to believe the assembled crowd didn’t hear the voice or at least a noise – sometimes prior to this – the voice of God has been heard like the noise of thunder by others witnessing it rather than the actual words.

The voice came from heaven, said ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ These words were a real affirmation of Jesus journey to this point. We recognise in our own personal experiences that someone saying to us ‘with you I am well pleased’. Is usually a pretty enjoyable and affirming experience. As is knowing we are loved – when someone genuinely tell us they love us as we are or that we are their beloved, it generally feels good.

God saying to Jesus – You are my son is also pretty significant. Mark’s gospel does not try to explain Jesus’ parentage or the technicalities of his birth. That is left to Matthew and Luke to describe (and the accounts do really differ from one another). In the run up to next Christmas 2024 may I commend reading the first 3 chapters of Luke and the first 2 of Matthew so we can see the significant differences and the continuity within them.

Getting back to the point today – In Mark this ‘You are my son’ is very direct and clear and as we continue to listen to Jesus in Mark’s gospel over the weeks ahead of us, we will find there is lots shrouded in mystery and the disciples are regularly told to keep quiet about who is is and what he is about. In a way this makes this clear statement You are my son from the voice of God quite surprising. But also this statement is likely to have been lost – as those who heard it witnessed an isolated event and would not have been significant in Jesus’ onward journey, as it was some 40 days after this that anything else happens in the public domain.

I suspect virtually everyone here has experienced baptism and has been baptised (though the vast majority here in keeping with our anglican tradition will have been baptised as infants). And therefore are unlikely to remember their own baptism. At some point in each service I generally say – Hearing and doing these things provides an opportunity to remember our own baptism and reflect on the progress made on our journey with God.

When we are baptised in its own way God is saying to us as much as he did to Jesus, You are my child, beloved, with you I am well pleased. And we stay God’s beloved children all our lives, recognising his amazing, overflowing love for us, and God’s hand in making us for his purposes on earth – and each to a unique and special blueprint is part of what our baptism is about. God loves his creation and has made us as we are reflecting the sense that with each of us God is well pleased. However what we do with how God has made us is another matter.

We have been made to fulfill his way and purposes for us, which are just ours and just what we should be doing to further God’s kingdom on earth. We have a clear choice about how we live as one of his special children – Recognised and dwelling in the heart of God as part of his family on earth. Perhaps it might all be easier if once we were baptised, the Holy Spirit just took over all the choices and decision making, and we were no longer capable of making choices for ourselves as to how we live, breathe or have our being.

That would certainly stop us making so many poor choices and straying off God’s path for us, but that would also make us mindless automatons and would deny us any ability to show God any meaningful love in return for his passionate love for us. We have discussed before the difference about how we feel about things we are compelled to do rather than things we choose to do. Clearly and thankfully the work of the Holy Spirit does not just take us over like this, and we don’t become automatons. The Spirit needs our co-operation – the spirit can work in us and through us in ways that can amaze and surprise us. I am currently being reminded of this in our Alpha material as we work through the course. But we need to be open and willing and available and with heart’s desiring God’s way for us in his kingdom  (and not whatever we think we want for ourselves in little kingdoms of our own construction).

The second half of the sentence I say at every baptism gets to the heart of the challenge. As we watch someone else being baptised we are urged to ‘reflect on the progress made on our journey with God’. How are we doing with our choices? How does our life and our lifestyle look from the outside looking in?

As we know words are one thing- but our actions so often speak louder than our words. I suspect I have discussed before the difficulties I have experienced driving in a dog collar. Where my actions are what is on display rather than my words. And I first really noticed this now nearly 20 years ago when I was first ordained. I hope this is not too trivial an example. But it makes a valid point. I suddenly found myself – realising that with my dog collar on I really needed to drive like a Christian. With a dog collar on – people give you very dirty looks if you are discourteous behind the wheel! Or cut them up! And people look very surprised if you have done some frankly dodgy or an inappropriate manoeuvre and pull away dog collar to the fore.

The truth is that I need to drive like a Christian all the time, Dog collar or not. The dog collar has brought to the forefront of my attention that I am not always doing that! And no one much likes being found out. What this means is I am not always showing the personal integrity. I would wish to demonstrate and that would best show God’s love for his world. At one level this is a trivial example – but it makes a deeper point. If we love God and recognise his power and love in our life and love him first- our lives near to bear clear witness to that in everything. In the days ahead this means we are embracing the sense that what needs to be visible in the baptised Christians which make up the church and as such represents the church itself is lives that proclaim the good news of God. That live in accordance with what Jesus taught us and where we are guided and moulded by the Spirit’s influence within us. And living the way that God has for us and that builds up his kingdom on earth.

As I have said before when I talk about lives proclaiming the good news that isn’t quite what it immediately sounds like. I am not talking the stereotypes – of Christians standing on street corners and calling everyone who passes by to repentance and faith in God – though we do at times need to stand up and be counted and be clear about our principles. Nor should we aspire to be a Christian that bring their faith into each and every conversation irrespective of how insensitive or inappropriate that might be. Or Christians that see every encounter as an opportunity to convert someone rather than to love them as they are and as God made them

Remove those stereotypes from your head – Living lives proclaiming the gospel, the good news is about living with our love God first in our hearts and visible in who we are and how we are, and our actions to speak in accordance with our words, and that our words and our actions – speak first of our love of God

Yes back on my stereotypes – We will need to stand up to be counted for what we believe sometimes and that may not always be comfortable. Also we may need to help other people on their journeys of faith

and help them recognise God’s love for them too. But neither of these things will be our default setting. Our default setting will be loving God with all our heart, mind and strength, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and in our loving our neighbours we want them to really understand how much God loves each and every one of us. And there are many many ways of showing that in our words, actions and lifestyles

Jesus after his time of prayer and reflection in the wilderness, proclaimed the good news as the teacher God made him to be would. Jesus needed to lead, preach and teach. We need to do what God has made us to do in his kingdom. God may not have made all of us to lead, teach and preach, but he has made us to do what we are uniquely suited for to further his kingdom and we all need to live thinking and adhering to Jesus example of a life lived with integrity. Jesus lived with his words being matched by his actions and his lifestyle. We need to proclaim the good news in the way only we can (whatever way that might be for each of us), but also with our words matching our actions and our lifestyles.

St Francis understood this in his own unique calling too – Preach the gospel he said – but if you must use words. Amen

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