Lent Is…

Scriptures: RCL – 1 Peter 3:18-22; Others referenced: John 4:1-42, Mark 10:25-29, 15:16-20.

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our Rock and Redeemer, Amen.

This last Wednesday began the season of Lent. Some marked the beginning of these 40 days with an Ash Wednesday service and the sign of the cross placed in ashes upon the head. With Lent, we begin a season of deeper reflection on the mysteries of God and what the incarnation of Christ means for us in our journeys of faith today.

The Revised Common Lectionary scriptures for today, the First Sunday in Lent, are about cataclysmic events. The Genesis passage brings us to the definitive covenant God makes with the world concerning the end of the flood. An obscure branch of archeology can conclude there were several sophisticated – possibly even scientifically advanced to within 200 years of our current technological level – civilizations in existence before the last great ice age melted and flooded most of them into obscurity. We find evidence of these civilizations around the globe in marine archeological sites still underwater to this day and in handed down stories in several ancient civilizations preserved by early writings from an even earlier oral tradition. Clearly, the Flood was a physically cataclysmic event.

The passage from the gospel of Mark shares a cataclysmic event of another kind. A cataclysmic spiritual event where Jesus sees heaven ripped open and the Spirit of God visibly descend upon him like a dove as he rises up out of the waters of his baptism. Then Mark tells us Jesus hears God speak, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Our reading from 1st Peter tries to explain for us post-resurrection the significance behind Jesus from Nazareth becoming our Christ of faith, the Messiah long sought for, the Son of God, the Son of Man. For this he was born, and for this he died and rose again. The writer of Peter says, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring [us] to God. [Jesus] was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit… [our] baptism, which [the flood] prefigured, now saves [us] — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ….”

Cataclysmic events indeed! So, how do we fit in? Is there something that looms as big for us today in our faith journey? How about this: In the moment of our baptism, Jesus becomes Savior, and somehow in the mystery of God we are made completely new.

Jesus, Savior. What, exactly, does that mean for, well, you know, these frozen chosen Presbyterians, and how can we highlight that meaning during these forty days of our Lenten season? There is a lot of repenting that happens on Ash Wednesday; and if you look carefully at our service each week, we always have a confession and pardon. Those are weekly rhythms. In Lent, we can choose to add a daily discipline or any number of other devotional activities. Typically, one Lenten discipline is to give something up for the 40 days of lent so that we might, every time we think of that one thing we want and can’t have, instead read scripture and reflect on our relationship with Christ.

Pastor Emily Miller, in the online daily devotional d365.org, writes, “More than turning away from something, repentance is about turning towards God. Jesus’ call [and I would a Jesus’ saving call] in Mark is to refocus where our faith and energy are pointed. Repentance is about making a conscious choice to seek the kingdom of God in all that we do.”

I would like to offer three pieces to reflect on. Beginning with a “Lent is…” statement, I’d like to share three selected teachings of Jesus that focus on him as Savior, then illuminate the response of faithful people at his invitation, and finally ending with questions for our own reflection, and I hope, eventual responsive action.

  1. Lent is a time of sacred reflection.  The unlocking of our souls makes space for the birthing of an idea, a concept, or a way to hold onto the life of the Spirit while still remaining riven to the earth upon which we stand. Such was the case for the woman at the well.

Jesus has a striking encounter with the woman at the Well of Jacob in the Samaritan town of Sychar. Found in John chapter 4, this dialog is the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with a single person in all of Scripture. Here, there is a clear invitation for salvation. With a little bit of Biblical history under our belts, we know this passage gives us ample evidence of the great rift that has occurred within the God-worshiping family, and how it has festered through the years. Jews and Samaritans don’t associate with each other; some say worship here on this holy hill, others say worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Furthermore, a male Rabbi, clearly learnèd, sits down and speaks openly and directly with a Samaritan woman-and a questionable one at that-in public. This is just not done. Also evident in this dialog is the consummate love of Christ that has caused him to set out and do his ministry-which is to seek out and save the lost. He speaks with her, and she listens, and this is what he says: “Salvation comes from the Jews…the hour is coming – indeed is already here…”

What was the woman’s response? She left her water jar, having been filled with the Water of Life, (that is, the teachings of Jesus) went back to the people who had ostracized her, and in broad daylight proclaimed the good news, pointing the way to the source of her salvation, her new life in Christ. Now, here comes our challenge: Whom have we ostracized? From whom do we need forgiveness? To whom do we need to turn our cheek, return to, and proclaim God’s message of salvation?

  1. Lent is like the winter of the soul; a time of preparation for the Springtime Easter that is yet to come.  It is the time of year that I remember lost dreams. I challenge myself to learn from each bright and shining dream that dissolves into mist, from each castle in the sand that I create from those same mists. Perhaps some of you can relate. Sometimes, as the mist clears and the dream is gone, we are stronger.  At other times, we must let the moment be a baptism of sorts as our tears fall down to water the tender young shoots of spring green that are the new threads of understanding, new kernels of insight given to us by God, growing within us and reaching for Light and Warmth from Above. Keep that in your mind for a moment, and listen to our next passage.

Jesus was teaching the disciples: “’It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.’ They were astounded and said to one another, ‘then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God: for God all things are possible.’”

None-the less, Peter is quick to say, “We have left everything to follow you!” For him, and for James and John and Andrew, this is quite literally true. Their livelihood was made or broken on the waters of the Sea of Galilee as fishermen. When Jesus first calls to them saying, “Come, follow me,” they immediately leave their nets and their boat and follow Jesus into an uncertain future. What will they eat? Where will they live if they do not have income from their catch at sea? But this is what they do: they follow Jesus into the unknown. They put all their trust and livelihood into his hands. They learn from him, and if you read on to the end of Mark’s Gospel, you will find out eventually they are sent out to do what Jesus did.

 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”  19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Now for the hard part: Have we done what Jesus did? Have we gone out and preached the good news to all creation? Have we driven out demons, be they common ones such as avarice, greed, and selfish pride or uncommon such as licentiousness, debauchery and evil spirits? Are we speaking a new language of love? Are we ministering to the sick, “giving of ourselves and forgetting the gift,” as the old poem says? And I don’t mean have we contributed so that others are enabled to do the work. Have we done the work ourselves?

  1. Lent is a time of sacred choice. Through Lenten reflection we are given a chance to look back at the accumulation of events of our life in the past year, and take a new step forward.

When Peter said, “Look, we have left everything to follow you,” Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “…there is a disgrace that no Christian escapes. Only Christ’s own suffering is the suffering of reconciliation. Yet because Christ did suffer for the sake of the world’s sins, because the entire burden of sin fell upon him, and because Jesus Christ bequeaths to the disciples the fruit of his suffering – because of all this, temptation and sin also fall upon the disciples…thus does the Christian come to bear sin and guilt for others.”

My friends, we are the heirs of Christ. We carry upon us sins too weighty for us as frail human beings to bear. We carry the sins of omission, the sins of anger, the sins of pride, the sins of playing the victim and the victor. Let us, with Christ, sacrifice these sins upon the cross. As Jesus would say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Let us pray: Jesus, Savior, you alone can save us, as you have done before and as you do over and over again. Change us, O Lord, and make us ever-new. Believe the good news of the Gospel, in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and made new.   Amen?   May it be so.

 

 

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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