Lent 1 - from the desert to somewhere new.

Mark 1:9-15 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. ‘And 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. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Sermon – Lent 1 – 21st February 2021

Mark is the shortest gospel, yet utterly jam packed with action, message, and theology. In fact, it’s possible to read it in just 2 hours. Perhaps this Lent, that could be one of your challenges? It can have a real impact on your faith and understanding of the gospel. And as you sit and read the whole story of Jesus’ life in one go, with Mark’s enthusiastic, immediate, punchy style, you discover a profound sense of the urgency of the gospel he has to proclaim.

This passage today also has an urgency. The narrative arc is that the temptation in the desert is for a purpose. Having affirmed his identity in baptism, the purpose of Jesus’ time in the wilderness is to prepare him for his ministry and his mission. And likewise, this is the importance of Lent. It is important season, involving important work, but it is work for another work, a greater work. It is utterly essential, in that it is about foundation laying, putting down strong roots, habits, ways of being, understanding, self-knowledge, but its ultimate purpose is for the work of God that lies ahead, which is to follow our calling, which is to glorify God and share God’s extraordinary love, forgiveness and mercy, with all people.

So, what do we learn about how Jesus does his preparation? It’s just one sentence but it says a lot. The setting out of the sentence, if you look in your bible or at the service sheet, is balanced, using parallelism. It says the same thing twice, you see, in two different ways. The second version both echoes in structures but also amplifies the meaning. It’s AB, AC: He was in the wilderness forty days, Tempted by Satan; And he was with the wild beasts, And the angels waited on him.

His location, his context is the wilderness, the desert. This is a place whose meaning has deep resonance for the Jewish people. The wilderness or desert is not just a place but a time. It is an experience and place of being where temptation, difficulty, testing takes place. It is also a location of uncertainty, of lack of structure, of desolation and loss. It is almost on the edge of chaos. Certainly, the wild beasts and Satan, the accuser, indicate a temptation to be lured into either mental or physical, even existential danger, risk of destruction, even loss of God and the good. The wilderness is a place of dislocation, of lack of structure, it’s a place with no signposts. Out in the desert there is little to hold onto, no signs or markings from which to get our bearings. And yet this is the place where Jesus is compelled to go, by the Spirit, to sort himself out, to prepare his heart and mind for his ministry.

This then is the place where he has to find his internal bearings In the misty uncertainty of the uncivilized, unconstructed deserted wilderness, Jesus discovers within his Spirit and his strength, his certainty and understanding, that empower him to fight off the demons, to brush off the temptations and snares of the Accuser, the distractor, the disconcerter, and to defeat and overthrow the ravages and pains the wild beasts would inflict. And in so doing, he also discovers the angels wait on him. In discovering himself, in setting his foundations in God and his identity, he experiences the ministry, the service, the care of angels, of good messengers sent by God to serve and be alongside him. This support, this nurture and nourishment, enables him to go out and head straight into his ministry and mission of proclaiming the gospel. Strengthened and prepared, he now embarks on preaching the good news.

How then does it speak to us? Friends, I know this has been a tough time. We have had almost a year of strangeness and uncertainty. Our markers, our signposts, our familiar landmarks by which we navigate this world have been uprooted, discarded, and thrown away by circumstances and situations and systems over which we have no control, and which in some ways we know are for our good, and yet we hate it. We hate it and are fearful of it and are unhappy and feel abandoned. We are tired and scared and lonely and in despair. Friends, God knows we are in pain. God knows, and in Jesus experiences that broken, painful world.

But this Lent we have an opportunity and a sign. I’m not going to pretend that by Easter everything will be sorted. Yes, the vaccine is being rolled out but it won’t be straight forward. But there is hope, and there is change, and gradually the world will return to some kind of normality, even if it does look slightly different. But what we have to do, is we have to be ready. We have a mission and a ministry to proclaim. We have a task God has set before us which is our purpose and identity to fulfil. We are the people of God, and the body of Christ. Our task is to share the gospel and God’s love with the world. Our task is to be the good news and share God’s compassion with our neighbours. And in order to do that we have a challenge and a job to experience in this current wilderness.

This Lent is our time in the desert, preparing to move into hope. This Lent, is an opportunity to face our demons, lay our foundations, discover God’s Spirit within us, and prepare to proclaim the good news of and on Easter Day. You may want to join the Lent group – 2pm or 7.30pm on Wednesdays. You may want to start watching the morning office, if you don’t already, online by 10am every morning. You may want to read the bible more: do ask us clergy for recommendations of books if you don’t know where to start. You may want to start attending the Eucharist in person. We have strict COVID secure protocols and work hard to keep you safe.

My question to you today is how can you prepare? My question for St Mary’s is how can we be the community we are called to be? How can we this Lent work together to encourage one another, to be angels ministering to one another, in encouraging and developing our faith, so that we really can be the Easter people, whose name we bear. This Lent, my encouragement to you is to come out of the desert, into hope. My encouragement is to reassure, come alongside and reinvigorate our community with the hope that we have, the faith that we share, the good news we have to proclaim. Mother Jo Winn-Smith, February 2021.

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