St. Luke's Episcopal Church - Homily
Heidi Edson / 21 Feb., 2021
Mark's Gospel says this about Jesus' baptism: "And the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness." We read how the people had gathered at the river's edge where John the baptizer was baptizing. Then we read of Jesus stepping out into the rushing waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
John the baptizer then lifts a very wet and dripping Jesus out from those waters. Right away- before Jesus could plant His feet on dry ground- the Holy Spirit comes upon Him in the form of a dove. The Voice from heaven says: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." We recall these same words spoken from God at Jesus' transfiguration event on top of a mountain with three of His disciples. We read this account last week on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.
Here at the River Jordan, there is no time for Jesus to bask in His baptism and to take in His Father's loving words of encouragement. Instead Jesus is whisked away from these waters by the Spirit into a barren desert wilderness.
There in that desert wilderness, Jesus would spend forty days and nights alone with Satan and the wild beasts. Afterwards Jesus would begin His public ministry in Galilee. There, with His disciples, He would go from town to town proclaiming to everyone the Good News of God's love.
Mark's short Gospel reading for today is typical of Mark's style: short and to the point. The writer seems impatient, wanting the narrative to move along: from the baptism, to the wilderness, and then to Jesus' mission of imparting the Good News. These three things- baptism, wilderness, and ministry- describes the Lenten journey that God, our Father, has called us to embark upon.
Our Lenten journey begins with our baptism. And where there is a baptism, there is water. Yet so many waters of baptisms these days do not resemble the River Jordan with its swift running streams and gushes of water. Instead of the restless and even "turbulent" waters of John's baptism, we have fonts that contain "still waters". I suggest that baptisms today have become "tame". And though this custom in the Church works quite well for us, I wonder if, by seeking comfort, we have lessened the impact and significance of this sacred sacrament.
Noah is mentioned in two of our passages for today: in Genesis and also in I Peter. In our passage from Genesis, we read how God made a covenant with Noah by promising Noah to never destroy the earth again with a flood. The story of Noah and his family inside the ark navigating through the deadly waters symbolizes the baptism Jesus had experienced.
I Peter tells us that in Christ's baptism, Jesus was put to death in His flesh but made alive in His spirit. The same is true for our own baptisms. After baptism comes the wilderness. Here in the wilderness is where our real challenge begins. These days we find ourselves tired of doing battle with the wild beast of Covid-19 that keeps on taking away so much of what we once enjoyed.
We human beings who are largely creatures of habit (and of comfort) resent this wilderness intrusion. Yet it is in the desert wilderness of Lent where we can see God more clearly as God reveals God's Self to us. We need the wilderness! For our faith to mature, we must come to grips with the barren places in our lives and in the Church today.
But the wonderful news is that we are never alone! As God led the Israelites through their wilderness for forty years, so God will lead us. As God protected Noah and his family through forty days and nights of rain and storm, God will protect us! And as God stood with Jesus when Jesus did battle with Satan in the wilderness those forty days and nights, God will stand with us!
The COVID-19 pandemic is our modern-day wilderness. We have found ourselves in this place for about a year. And we're still in this place. Welcome to Lent that takes here into this wilderness.
Though we are anxious to leave the wilderness, we need to stay a while. We need the wilderness so that God can get our attention! We need the solitude the wilderness affords us so that God can lead us into our ministry and mission in the world. The wilderness of life is where we can, with God's help, discover once again the joy of being the beloved of God!
There's a poem I'd like to close with. Doug found it from the website "The Episcopal Cafe." Doug reads this site often and he had shared this poem with me several years back. The poem is written by Kimberly Knowle-Zeller. It's called, "A Prayer for the Beginning of Lent"
O Lord, here we are again. The Season of Lent.
That time of the year to dig deeper to reach wider to love stronger.
The season of Lent that time to embrace death
To walk towards the cross to humble ourselves
To pray, fast, and give our lives in service.
The season of Lent
A time to give up or to take on / A time to contemplate life and death
A time to face the realities of our broken world / A time to dance with the darkness.
The season of Lent. In these days be with us.
Walk with us. Inspire us. Call us. Motivate us.
In these days be with us. To serve our neighbors.
To sing in community. To wrestle with your Word.
To sit in the silence.
O Lord, here we are again. I pray for your kingdom to come.
For peace to rule the day. for wholeness to emerge.
I seek this peace for the world and pray I'll find it in me.
I know the days will seem long and the nights even longer.
But you persisted for 40 days in the wilderness. And so, too, will I persist.
As you relentlessly love, may I relentlessly seek you.
For this season of Lent and forever more. Come Lord Jesus.
I am here. Waiting. Hoping. Loving. Seeking you. Amen.