This Sunday, we begin our worship theme for Lent: Again and Again - a Lenten Refrain. We begin the journey by looking once again at Jesus' baptism and time in the wilderness. It feels like we have come close to this story several times so far during the new Christian year. We danced around it with John the Baptizer during Advent. We read it on Jesus' Baptism Sunday. We recalled it with Jesus' calling of the disciples. Here it is again. You'd think that we would have gotten the message by now, right? Let's move on to another chapter in Mark! And yet, I've wondered if this repetition of Jesus' baptism is something we need to hear over and over again. I wonder if we need to keep dancing around it.
Mark's gospel describes Jesus' baptism as the heavens being "torn apart." You can imagine the ripping of the firmament and God's kingdom coming down to earth. God's vision for the world falls on the shoulders of Jesus and he hears the divine blessing, "You are my son, the beloved." Beautiful words that claim Jesus and promise he is loved. God meets Jesus where he is. What wonderful news!
But to be clear, this meeting is not merely comforting news for a difficult day or two. It is strength for a difficult path. As soon as Jesus hears these words, he is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. That's right Jesus is driven into the wilderness by God! This can be jarring and confusing to us. Why did God drive Jesus into such difficult terrain, such barren desert?
The truth is I don't know, but maybe that doesn't matter. What I do know is that the wilderness could have been a description of Jesus' entire ministry. Think about it. Jesus' path toward resurrection was not easy. He was lonely, he made enemies, he spoke hard truths, he gave until he was exhausted, his friends abandoned him, he put himself in danger, he championed lost causes, he questioned God, and ultimately was put to death. Wilderness might sum it up.
And the hardest thing about his journey, is that he called us to follow him on the same path.
The heavens are still torn apart. God's vision for the world falls on our shoulders, and walking the path to make that vision a reality is not easy. If it is, then maybe we are doing it wrong. We, too, are driven into wilderness places where hard lessons are learned and difficult actions are required. We are called to speak hard truths even it means loss of power or relationships, to give fully of what we have and who we are, to risk our comfort and very lives for the sake of the gospel. Christians don't advertise this very much when we try to invite people to the church. But, friends, there is just no escaping it. If you follow Jesus, he will eventually lead you to a cross.
But time and time again, God meets us on the path!
Just as God's vision lands on our shoulders, God's blessing lands on us too. "You are my child, my beloved." God doesn't stay in the heavens. God meets us, time and time again, in the wilderness places. What better way to begin Lent than to claim this truth! What better encouragement for the difficult path of discipleship than this blessing!
I'll leave you with a poem by Sarah Are as a way of remembering God promise to meet us. May it strengthen you for the journey.
God never begins letters with the words,
“I hope this finds you well,”
For those words imply distance.
Instead, God begins God’s letters to you with the words,
Remember when we dipped our toes into the water?
Remember when we dove right in?
Remember when the ice cream dripped down our hands
And the cicadas sang their song,
And the seasons changed,
And the days were long?
Remember when we fell in love and the world was new?
Remember when our heart was broken?
Remember the tears?
Remember the long nights?
Remember when we laughed again and the sound surprised us?
Remember when we marched in the street?
Remember when we cast our vote?
Remember when we believed in hope?
Remember when? I do.
That’s what God’s letters say.
So on this day, and every day to come,
Remember: God is meeting you.
If you look back, you might remember when.
*Art work: "I Delight in You" by Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity
A Sanctified Art LLC sanctifiedart.org