Sermon – First Sunday in Lent 2021

First Sunday in Lent 2021                                                             Kay Williams

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. The Gospel of Mark 1:9-13

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may we have eyes to see our blessings, ears to hear God’s words and the humbleness to praise and honor Christ our Lord, AMEN

It is great to be back at Grace. With the completion of AIMS, I now wait for meetings on March 18th with the Commission of Ministry and Bishop G for their decision on my next steps towards ordination.  

 Lent like Advent is liturgically set with scriptures marked with spiritually important events to ponder as we move forward towards the death and then resurrection of our Savior. Just has the scriptures guide us through Advent and the expectation of Christmas and Christ’s return, Lent reminds us, in fact calls us to be still, quiet and reflective on our lives in relationship to our risen Lord. Just as Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirt into the wilderness into soul searching isolation and spiritual battles; we to are called by the Holy Spirit to look inward at our own heart, to search our soul and reexamine our relationship with God.  

Our first reading today picks up with Noah and his family stepping out of the ark after surviving a worldwide flood. Not only does God bring them and all living creatures on the ark through a yearlong devastating flood, he also takes the time to reassure them that no matter how long and hard it rains or how fierce the winds blow there will never be another planet cleansing flood. After being locked up in the ark listening to the storm and being tossed about not knowing what would happen next, where they would land or when they  could leave the ark Noah and his family needed more than just a  few words of reassurance. They needed something concrete. Something they could point to, physically see and be reassured when the storms raged around them they did not have to fear for their lives and run back into the ark.  God gave them that reassurance, he marked his promise with a rainbow for all to see who look up. 

Did you notice God’s compassion to Noah and his family? The creator of the universe did not give Noah a list to correct in his life or his family’s, instead he provided mental and emotional comfort to their weary minds and souls. When the storms came they could look up and be reminded God was in control. The rainbow was a physical reminder of God’s covenant to never flood the earth again. As Children of God although many generations down from Noah and his sons, we in today’s downpours, howling winds and chaotic storms can look up and see a rainbow. We to have a physical reminder God remains faithful to his promises. We like Noah can look up at a rainbow and know God is still in the promise keeping, hope providing business.  

The writer of today’s Palms has been through some life storms and appears battered and weary but is able to look up. The palmist reminds us although we fail often and we don’t always trust or follow God’s ways close enough, we are still loved, guided and nurtured by God in all his marvelous, and sometimes subtle ways. Like a rainbow that quietly appears and gives those who look upon it a moment of surprise, awe and hope. 

In first Corinthians’ Paul reminds the new church that just as God waited patiently during the days of Noah, both during the building of the ark, and the year and seventeen days during the flood, God kept all those in the ark safe. God’s grace saved Noah and his family and brought them through the flood of water. Paul compares it to a baptism, in that when Noah and his family came out of the ark they began living in a new world washed clean just as our baptism washes our souls clean before God and the church. Just as the old world was washed way and Noah began building a new life, we as baptized believers turn from our old  ways and we build our new lives on the hope and promises of Christ our Savior.

The Gospel today in just six sentences takes us back to the baptism of Jesus along with God and the Holy Spirit’s reactions to Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus rose from the water, God spoke of his love for him. God claimed him, and reassured him just before the Holy Spirt whisked Jesus off into the wilderness. When I looked up wilderness, I found words such as, uninhabited, neglected area, the wastelands, a desert. Within a breath’s moment, Jesus went from hearing God’s words of assurance to total loneliness. Just as many prophets endured hardships and times of isolation before they received and delivered God’s messages, Jesus also struggled alone in the wilderness against Satan’s attacks. Although Jesus was being obedient he had to face his personal spiritual battles and temptations with Satan. After his lonely but intense victories over Satan, Jesus began to find his way in God’s plan like the prophets before him did and we as believers are called to do during Lent. As Mother Robyn stated in her Ash Wednesday homely, “During Lent we strive to speak and act with intention, to be present. I would add to be present with God.

The pandemic has left many of us in much lonelier places with many questions, few social events and many hours at home.  Although we are around less people we are never out of God’s sight. The Good News John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed is still alive, active and with us. Let us during the forty days of Lent use the alone time the pandemic has given us to refocus our minds and hearts on the Good News that the kingdom of God is here. Let us open our hearts to God, repent, believe, and look up. We can trust the Holy Spirit to guide us through personal days of soul searching and the world’s uncertainties even if at times they appear dark and feel fearful.  

So how do we let God open our eyes and hearts once again to the refreshing soul cleansing light of Jesus and the Good News of Christ’s resurrection? First we stop and take a deep breath. Exhale slowly and look up. Take a few moments even minutes to look up and view the vastness of the blue sky or maybe the twinkling stars on a dark night. Begin to listen to the sounds of nature. If you are inside gaze out a window or upon a favorite item close by. Where ever you are, let yourself relax, smile, breathe deeply and let the truth of God’s promise that he loves you and is with you no matter what wash over your mind and heart. Next spend a few minutes reading today’s scriptures or pondering a Bible verse that floats through your mind. We could turn off the radio, TV, and phone for a minute and quietly sit breathing deeply while we remember our baptism or the baptism of a loved one. We can sit quietly and read the Bible not as chore or like it is a newspaper but prayerfully with an open mind to whatever the Holy Spirit may show us. This Lentin season we can try to daily be purposely quiet focused on God and open to whatever the Holy Spirit reveals to us. For some it will be a new discipline, for others an old practice but to all it can be a Lentin observance we can try for forty days as time carries us through this Lentin season during the pandemic. 

Brothers and sisters just as God was with Noah and Jesus as they came up out of the water, he is surely with us. Each rainbow we see in the sky proclaims God has kept his physical and spiritual promises. Jesus has won the battles, God’s kingdom is near and Jesus is the Good News. Lent is our time to refocus on our baptism, clear our hearts of the world’s clutter and be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus prepared his heart, the church has set time aside for us to prepare our hearts and lives for our risen Savior Easter morning. Let us begin Lent with open hearts towards God.