1 Lent – February 21, 2015
Genesis 9:12-13 and Mark 1:9-15
The first Sunday in Lent is always Jesus’ temptation. Always. The story is also in Matthew and Luke. But when was the last time you noticed just how brief Mark’s temptation story is? It’s virtually non-existent. It’s really a summary. To the point. No details really. Just that it happened.
I could bring in the details from Matthew and Luke, but that is Matthew and Luke. What if we take Mark seriously. Why so short, Mark? What should we be paying attention to?
What about Jesus’ temptation matters to Mark? Well, it begins with Jesus’ baptism. God rips apart the heavens. The Spirit descends. The Spirit enters into Jesus. It seems that no resistance of temptation is successful without the presence of God. And therein lies our promise. Not necessarily that we have the power to defend and deflect temptation. Not that we are capable of taking on Satan in the wilderness, or at least, I know I am not. Not so much that baptism is our guarantee that will shore up the walls to keep out that which seeks to threaten our belief, our trust, our relationship with God.
It’s that now, all battles with evil, with that which tempts us, that game is changed because God is present. We are not asked to do this out on our own. God tears away our every attempt to say, “While I appreciate your help, God, I’ve got this. I can figure it out.” We don’t want help. We don’t want to ask for help. Help is a sign of insecurity, exposes weakness, but more so, when it comes to issues of faith, intimates our inability to thwart sin. It seems we are even good at pretense before God.
But that’s where Jesus’ temptation in Mark should shatter our carefully constructed faith worlds, or at least the ones we create for the eyes of others only. Jesus goes into the wilderness, not with the conviction of success but only because he knows that God has chosen to rip to shreds any boundary, any structure, any ecclesiology, any denomination, any doctrine that would separate him from God. He enters the wilderness only with the promise of God’s presence. Not with fighting skills, not with self-help strategies, not with techniques for passing the tests, but only his personal knowledge because of God’s direct words to him alone that God will be there.
Mark is calling to our attention our greatest temptation — the temptation to think that God is not present. We are tempted to believe that God is absent. God has given up. Withdrawn. We are tempted to believe this when we are in our own wilderness experiences. When God is silent.
We also heard the story of the rainbow from Genesis this morning. “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” The story of God, Noah and the rainbow is one of the stories that has gotten deep down inside of us. The story is full of grace. God says, “I choose you to be my partners. Will you choose me?” With this first, remarkable covenant, God chooses to ally himself with his cantankerous creation, whatever the cost. If there is to be pain the world, then God will share it. God’s promise is life, not death. Of course, bad things continue to happen to us, but this covenant is our assurance that none of them is rooted in God’s ill will toward us. God is our ally, not our enemy. God’s will for us is life, not death.
Just because there are no conditions in Noah’s covenant does not make us merely recipients of it. We are creatures made in the image of our creator, after all, which makes us partners in God’s plan. We too are allies of creation. We too are lovers of life, which means that we too are wounded by the brokenness we see around us, the brokenness in which we ourselves participate. We are both the breakers and the healers, set into relationship with a God whose covenant calls us to shift the balance from death to life whenever and wherever we can.
It’s still raining, you see. We continue to have struggles and trials – wilderness time abounds in our lives. And I wonder if we can look at the struggles around us in light of these stories and ask, “Even though I did not wish for this, how might God be at work through this difficult period. What can I get out of this? How might God use me to help someone else?” These kinds of questions aren’t meant so much to redeem struggle and suffering – as if that’s our job! – but they are meant to remind us of God’s presence during those wilderness times that leave us feeling stretched beyond our abilities. Because, you know what? The same Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus at Baptism and drove Jesus out into the wilderness also accompanied him during that time and brought him back again. And that goes for us as well – God will not abandon us during our sojourns in the wilderness.
Jesus goes with us into the wilderness of our lives. He has met the enemy and won. He won’t let us down. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.