Monday, March 2, 2009

Sermon Thoughts, Lent 1

I don't write my sermons down. I preach them from memory. But here are the building blocks for my sermon for Lent 1 (March 1st).

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."

If this lesson sounds familiar, it is because we've heard it recently. We heard it during Advent, and we heard it again on the Sunday that Natanya was baptized. The shapers of our lectionary clearly see Jesus' baptism as a central motif - one of great importance - because they point to it again and again.

The one difference between this Sunday's reading, and the previous readings, is the bit about Jesus' 40 day journey into the wilderness. Both the number 40 and the concept of wilderness have biblical significance. 40 is a sort of biblical shorthand for a really long time. Remember that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights; the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Additionally, the wilderness is a place where people go and they meet God. There are countless examples, like Sarai's slave girl Hagar and Moses and the burning bush.

I think it's significant that we heard this particular lesson on the first Sunday in Lent. It calls us to enter our own 40 day period of being in the wilderness.

My experience of listening to people talk about Lent is that it often comes to be about "giving up" stuff. Folks can get deeply into the sacrifice, and lost track of the why of it all.

Based on the readings on Ash Wednesday, I invited folks to the observance of a Holy Lent that might (a) change the world and/or (b) be counter-cultural. This morning's lesson adds a third component. Whatever we do for Lent ought to point us to and bring us into proximity with God.

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