On Ash Wednesday the church began its journey toward baptismal immersion in the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, the Sundays in Lent lead us to focus on five covenants God makes in the Hebrew scriptures and to use them as lenses through which to view baptism. First Peter connects the way God saved Noah’s family in the flood with the way God saves us through the water of baptism. The baptismal covenant is made with us individually, but the new life we are given in baptism is for the sake of the whole world.
Did you identify with Mark today? I suspect that we do. In today’s gospel he tells us that no one is exempt from the trials and tribulations of life. I think all of us would give an Amen to that. We have all had difficult, challenging times. Each of us have our own stories we can tell.
When those times come, do we wonder where God is? Do we wonder if He is nearby or if He has left us to deal with this difficulty on our own? Scripture reminds us the adversary of God comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He comes to create doubt, fear and chaos in us. Is he the one by my side in those times? Is he the one creating doubt and fear in my heart and mind? Is he the one looking over my shoulder, lurking behind anything good seeking to destroy its goodness? Is he the one that causes me to doubt there is a God and He is as near as the soul within me?
Even if we are not personally, directly involved an act of violence, we are touched and burdened by the stories of others. We cannot avoid hearing stories of violence and death like the school shooting in Florida and ever so many others. We are saddened. We are burdened. We are at a loss to understand how this could have happened. We want to know the why?
Are these the ashes of death to come? We may wonder if God is nearby or if He has left us to deal with this difficulty on our own? When we put all the stories of violence together we may wonder if God has left this world, left mankind on its own.
Scripture reminds us the adversary of God is the one who comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He comes to create doubt, fear and chaos in us. Is he the one creating doubt and fear in my heart and mind? Is he the one looking over my shoulder, lurking behind anything good seeking to destroy its goodness? Is he the one that causes me to doubt there is a God and that He is as near as the soul within me?
We are sorely, deeply tempted to doubt, to fear. It is easy to give up, to give in to such temptations. We hear the words of our liturgy, hymns and prayers. Is that what they say to us? We hear the words of scripture. Is that what they say to our heart, mind and spirit? I would dare say – no. I would dare say – emphatically no!
We may feel as if we are in a wilderness, lost and alone, tempted in our faith to say God is not here, he is not with me. The times of wilderness will continue to be with us and we will continue to be attacked by the minions of evil to doubt, and to fear. And when we are – we need to remember what today’s psalm advises: we must put our trust in God.
When we do that we look at the ashes with which we began lent and see not the end of things but the hope of new life, one in the arms of God. We remember, by the grace of God we have been marked with the cross forever. We have been touched by the waters of our baptism and given new life. The word of God in those waters tell us – I adopt you. You are now my child forever. I promise to love and care for you always. I will grant you my grace and forgiveness. From the moment of our baptism we are different for we are marked with the cross of Christ, forever.
Jesus was tempted in the wilderness but from that dark and lonely time He came back to where people were and He began His ministry of teaching, preaching and healing. We to are called from dark and lonely times to come back to where life is and minister to the needs of people who are suffering. Today we may not know what to do for all those crying in Florida. It might just be to pray for them. It might mean more. Be open to the times and places God might be calling you to.
Remember, in all of it—His baptism, temptation, and ministry—God was at work remaking the world. We are now a part of it. Our baptism sets us against the prevailing culture of the world and makes us walk a different path. Our life after baptism is a continual struggle against the ways of our old enemy. But in these struggles we are not left alone. As Jesus in the wilderness was ministered to by angels, so the unseen but powerful armies of God surround God’s people still. We rejoice in the strength of our faith that believes in the presence of angels to minister to us as they did Jesus. We rejoice in the presence of God in our worship, in our baptism, in the bread and wine of communion providing, guarding and protecting us on our journey through the wilderness. We are not alone. Christ is with us and in us. We are surrounded by the legions of angels to guard and protect us, and provide for us our spiritual needs. Powerful forces, the whole army of God, surround us to strengthen our resolve and clarify our vision.
Today’s lessons are a word from God that is an answer for us in troubled times. That word is: This is my Son. Through Him we have been adopted into God’s family. Just sit for a moment with that thought. Let its power slowly sink in for a moment. Feel the relentless compassion, unconditional love that comes as God wraps His arms around you and you know out of death came life. God has brought you into His family. Be wrapped up in that. It is faith speaking. It is our hope. It is powerful.
Happy Birthday to Charles Berger, born on February 20th, Wilbur and Janette Heier and Richard Sturgeon.