Lent I - Endings and Beginnings
Back to chapter 1 on this the first Sunday in Lent. We have heard this same text now probably 4 or 5 times since the 1st Sunday in Advent. But each time there is something new, something unique that emerges from the text. I do believe, however, that this is the last time we will encounter this particular text in year B of the lectionary. Finally, in Lent we will move into the remainder of the Gospel, because now that we are on the road to Jerusalem; the road to the crucifixion. Jesus’ ministry has now begun. It has been a difficult beginning in many ways. The pace is so fast in this Gospel that it is easy to read past some many important details. And on this 1st Sunday in Lent the focus is on the details that are contained in verses 14 and 15:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to the Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom has come near; repent and believe in the Good News.
Now, I have made the point throughout the season of Epiphany that these two verses are a catapult for everything that follows. Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom come into our midst is the Good News! God has entered into our world and reaches out to us in Jesus! But this Good News is easy to misinterpret and so Jesus has consistently tried to get his disciples to just watch and learn. So as the catapult of Jesus’ ministry it is easy to see how these verses represent the beginning of Jesus ministry. But this is a dark beginning; a difficult beginning. Look at the context in the first 5 words – the part we usually pass over and don’t consider - Jesus’ ministry began AFTER John’s arrest.
John is the voice in the wilderness, the one who prepares to the way for Jesus. But Jesus remains in the shadows until John is removed physically from the scene. And we know the rest of the story: John is arrested and is ultimately beheaded during a very violent and perverse banquet as entertainment for the princess Salomé by Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias. And not only that, but Jesus has also just completed his own wilderness experience. After being driven into the wilderness by the dove that represents the Holy Spirit, we learn that Jesus is tested by Satan and is with the wild beasts. This is a time of struggle and of suffering for Jesus. We should not dismiss this because we know that Jesus is God’s Son. We must always remember that Jesus is also fully human, and that being in the wilderness (especially the desert wilderness of Judah) is very, very difficult.
Suffering, loneliness, testing, hate, violence – these are some words which describe this beginning for Jesus. Sometimes I think we can too easily think of the Gospel story as being a kind of special, wonderful story in a far off removed time that can seem so remote to us. Jesus is sinless, we believe; Jesus is God’s Son! So that must mean that he wasn’t phased by any of this, right? No! I don’t believe that. Jesus was fully human and lived as human life in a very volatile place during a very conflicted time of history. Jesus suffered terribly; Jesus was very lonely; Jesus was truly tested and had to confront hate and evil and violence constantly. Just like us. We too must contend with these powerful forces. They are a part of life. And that is the point. Sometimes we can feel so alone, so abandoned when we struggle if we think that we are not measuring up. If we think that Jesus is too good, then we can often feel inadequate. But Jesus’ life is one of brokenness and struggle and suffering – just like us and because of that he is joined with us in our struggles.
So, what are you experiencing - joy, sorrow, loss, loneliness, struggle, grief, confidence, discouragement? Are you feeling inadequate? Are you feeling like you don’t measure up to what God expects? Or are you feeling a combination of all of the above perhaps? This is the human condition. We all have these experiences and they can sometimes all come at the same time. The Good News is that Jesus has been there. Jesus has shared in all of the experiences we have and is there with us in the midst of whatever challenges we face. As we face various endings and new beginnings – Jesus is there. As we contend with the darkness Jesus is there, bearing the light of God’s love and grace.
One last image – another story of endings and beginnings: the Old Testament lesson for this Lent I is the story of how God sealed the covenant with Noah after the flood by sending a rainbow. Now we have probably all seen a rainbow and from ancient times it was believed to be a bow, like an archer’s bow. However, modern science has given us a new perspective. It isn’t actually a bow at all. Rainbows are actually circles. They appear to be arches (or half-circles) because their bottom half is cut off by the ground. If you want to see them in their circular glory you need to see them from high above the ground. God placed the rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant, as a sign of God’s love and commitment to God’s beloved children. Perhaps we should think of that rainbow then as the arms of God clasped together in an embrace; the arms of God embracing the beloved creation; embracing God’s beloved people; embracing you and me and filling the darkness of our human experience with color and light. Life will continue to be a struggle with endings and beginnings – but the light of God and the love shown forth through Jesus will always be there to illumine our darkness and to heal our brokenness.
A video of this sermon can be found at wartburgparish.com - click on the "media" tab and open the "media player."