Summary: A SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT 2009. We accompany Jesus into the wilderness and an encounter with the Tempter
Journeying with Jesus through Lent #1: ‘Into the Wilderness’
Sermon Series: Lent 2009
Both our stories from the Bible have common themes for us today, as last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) we began our Lenten preparations, and as the global economic crisis seems to cast its dark shadow over the lives of so many people.
Our first theme is that of ‘Wilderness’ – the wilderness Jesus experienced, and our ‘wilderness’ experiences.
Our second theme is the ‘Bringer of New Life’ – in the person of Jesus, and in us as we follow his example.
The third theme is ‘New Beginnings in a New Relationship with God’ – surely what we all strive for, as Christian people, through our Lenten reflections and prayer as we look towards the wonder, the deep joy, of Easter.
But first, I suppose we all know the story of Noah? We can see these three themes clearly in this story. It’s a story I grew up with, and remember from early childhood. In a nutshell, God decides that the only way to ‘redeem’ the world is to begin again. To begin again with a small family – Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives. God decided to begin again with creation: Noah is entrusted to collect and care for seven pairs each of ‘clean’ animals and birds, and one pair each of ‘unclean’ animals (there seems to be a place for the ‘imperfect’ even in God’s new creation!). God’s will seems to be to ‘destroy evil’ and replace with ‘good’. Also in the Noah story are the forty days and nights in what we might call the ‘wilderness’ of the flood – then the messenger of New Life comes in the form of a dove returning with a freshly-plucked olive leaf. Then the glorious sign of New Relationship with God – the rainbow: the sign of a New Covenant Promise that God will never again destroy the earth with water.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism begins with water, of course, and again we see the dove (the Holy Spirit) as the bringer of New Life – a life lived with God’s pleasure affirmed and blessing bestowed upon Jesus. God decided that the only way to ‘redeem’ the world is by entering into the world in a very personal, intimate way – in the person of Jesus. God decides to enter the world and be alongside those who suffer, who are lost, and who are the victims of the evil of the world. God decides to enter the world in Jesus, who is to proclaim the possibility of a new relationship with God, and the nearness of God’s kingdom. But first, before Jesus’ public ministry begins, a time of preparation – a time in the wilderness for forty days and nights. A time of focusing on his dependence on God (his need of God over and above everything else in – and of – the world). And it is also a time of temptation (the temptation to depend upon the power and influence of the world – to let the ways of the ‘world’ take precedence over God’s ways).
Let’s concentrate upon Jesus’ wilderness experience for a while – and upon the trials he battled with. For even though Mark does not mention the Tempter’s challenges specifically (as do Matthew 4:1ff and Luke 4:1ff) perhaps they are especially relevant to us as we begin our forty days and night journey through Lent – and as the greater part of the world is plunged into the effects of economic recession.