The First Sunday in Lent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Mark 1:9-15

ON THIS FIRST SUNDAY IN THE SEASON OF LENT, WE BEGIN OUR JOURNEY WITH JESUS AS HE WALKS TOWARD THE CROSS WHICH AWAITS HIM ON GOOD FRIDAY. MANY OF US GATHERED HERE LAST WEDNESDAY TO BE MARKED WITH THE SIGN OF THAT CROSS, AND TO DEDICATE OURSELVES TO FORTY DAYS OF SPIRITUAL REFLECTION. THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT IMMEDIATELY EVOKE IN OUR MINDS THE FORTY DAYS OF JESUS IN THE WILDERNESS, AS WELL AS THE FORTY YEARS OF ISRAEL IN THE DESERT. ALL OF THESE ARE A TIME OF SPIRITUAL PREPARATION AND TESTING FOR THAT WHICH WILL FOLLOW. THE FORTY DAYS ALSO EVOKE THE STORY OF THE FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS OF RAIN IN WHICH GOD CLEANSED THE EARTH AND SAVED NOAH AND HIS FAMILY.

THE STORY OF NOAH AND THE FLOOD IS ONE OF THE FOUNDATION MYTHS OF THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. IT IS NOT AN HISTORICAL ACCOUNT, ALTHOUGH MANY HAVE TRIED TO EXPLAIN THE GREAT FLOOD. BIBLICAL HISTORY STARTS WITH ABRAHAM AND EVERYTHING BEFORE ABRAHAM IS A MYTH. A MYTH IS A NON – HISTORICAL STORY WHICH IS USED TO CONVEY A BASIC UNDERLYING TRUTH. IT IS THE UNDERLYING TRUTH WHICH IS IMPORTANT, AND NOT THE DETAILS OF THE STORY.

IN OUR FIRST READING, WE PICK UP THE STORY OF NOAH AND HIS FAMILY AFTER THE FLOOD HAS SUBSIDED. GOD HAD CALLED UPON NOAH TO DO A CRAZY THING; TO BUILD AN ARK FOR HIS FAMILY AND ALL THE ANIMALS GOD WOULD SEND TO THE ARK. THE TEST FOR NOAH WAS IN WHETHER HE WOULD BELIEVE AND TRUST GOD, IN SPITE OF ALL THE MOCKERY OF THOSE WHO WATCHED HIM BUILD A GREAT BOAT ON DRY LAND. NO, I HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE, NOR DO I CARE TO. IT IS THE FAITH, THE TRUST, OF NOAH IN GOD WHICH SAVES HIM AND ALL IN THE ARK.

ULTIMATELY, THE STORY IS ABOUT GOD CREATING A NEW PEOPLE THROUGH THE TEST OF FAITH, AND IN MAKING A COVENANT WITH THAT NEW PEOPLE THAT ESTABLISHES A NEW RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOD AND HUMANKIND, AND WITH ALL CREATION. THE RAINBOW IS SEEN AS A SIGN OF THIS COVENANT, BUT IS ALSO THE SIGN OF THE FAITH AND TRUST OF NOAH.

IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, WHICH WE HEARD A FEW WEEKS AGO IN THE CELEBRATION OF THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD, WE HAVE ANOTHER TEST OF FAITH. SINCE WE COVERED THE BAPTISM EXTENSIVELY, THE ONLY THING I WILL CALL YOUR ATTENTION TO IS THAT THE SPIRIT DID NOT DESCEND UPON JESUS, BUT, RATHER, DESCENDED “INTO HIM.” ONCE THE SPIRIT DESCENDED INTO HIM, THE SPIRIT IMMEDIATELY DROVE JESUS INTO THE WILDERNESS, WHERE HE WAS NOT TEMPTED, BUT “TESTED,” BY SATAN. MARK DOES NOT GIVE US ALL THE DETAILS OF MATTHEW AND LUKE, YET, IN HIS BARE BONES ACCOUNT, GETS RIGHT TO THE MOST IMPORTANT AND ESSENTIAL DETAIL; JESUS’ TRUST IN THE WORD OF THE FATHER THAT HE WAS THE ANOINTED SON WAS TESTED. THAT HE WAS WITH THE WILD BEASTS, ECHOES THE NOAHETIC MYTH, AND THAT ANGELS MINISTERED TO HIM PROCLAIMS THAT HIS FAITH AND TRUST IN GOD WAS UNSHAKEN.

AFTER HIS FORTY DAYS IN THE WILDERNESS AND AFTER JOHN WAS ARRESTED, JESUS WENT TO GALILEE, PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD, AND CALLING TOGETHER A NEW PEOPLE ONCE MORE. THE CALLING OF THE DISCIPLES, AND THE EVENTUAL GATHERING OF THE CHURCH, IS, AS IN THE DAYS OF NOAH, THE ACT OF GOD CREATING A NEW PEOPLE WHO, UNLIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD, TRUST IN THE WORD AND THE PROMISE OF GOD. AS PETER WROTE IN HIS LETTER, THE SALVATION OF NOAH AND HIS FAMILY BY WATER PREFIGURES THE SALVATION BY JESUS WHICH COMES THROUGH BAPTISM. AS THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS AFTER A RAIN IS THE SIGN OF THE COVENANT GOD MADE WITH NOAH, SO TOO THE NEW PEOPLE OF GOD HAVE A SIGN OF THE COVENANT GOD HAS MADE WITH US; THE SIGN OF THE CROSS ON OUR FOREHEADS.

WHILE THE SIGN OF THE CROSS ON OUR FOREHEADS AT OUR BAPTISM IS THE PROCLAMATION THAT GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT HAS DESCENDED INTO US, AND THAT WE ARE TRULY A MEMBER OF THE NEW PEOPLE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS, THE SIGN OF THE CROSS MADE WITH ASHES AT THE START OF LENT REMINDS US THAT WE ARE INDEED A MORTAL BEING, TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON OUR GOD AND CREATOR, AND THAT OUR LIFE IS FULFILLED ONLY THOUGH OUR FAITH AND TRUST IN OUR GOD IN CHRIST JESUS. THAT FAITH AND TRUST WILL BE TESTED, NOT BY GOD, BUT BY WHAT SATAN PUTS IN OUR PATH AND BY THE NORMAL COURSE OF LIVING IN A FALLEN WORLD AMONG THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW THE PROMISE OF GOD. THERE ARE WILD BEASTS OUT THERE, AND THERE ARE WILD BEASTS WITHIN US. WE MAY SUFFER THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE, WE MAY STRUGGLE WITH AN ADDICTION, WE WILL FACE THE DECLINE OF OUR PHYSICAL STRENGTH AND HEALTH, BUT THE ONLY WAY TO TRIUMPH OVER ALL THE TESTS OF THIS LIFE IS TO MAINTAIN OUR FAITH AND TRUST IN OUR GOD WHO HAS CALLED US TO BE HIS OWN. IN SO DOING, UNSEEN ANGELS WILL MINISTER TO US EVEN IN THE MIDST OF THE GREATEST TESTS OF OUR FAITH.

LET US DEDICATE OURSELVES ANEW THIS LENTEN SEASON TO OUR FAITH AND TRUST IN OUR GOD THOUGH OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS THE CHRIST. IN PERSONAL PRAYER, IN THE STUDY OF GOD’S WORD, IN THE GATHERING FOR WORSHIP, IN THE COMPANY OF THOSE WHO TRUST IN THE LORD IS THE SOURCE OF STRENGTH AND COURAGE TO FACE ALL THE TESTS OF THIS LIFE. MARKED WITH THE CROSS OF CHRIST, EVEN AS WE FOLLOW HIM TO THE CROSS WHICH WE KNOW AWAITS HIM, WE CAN SEE BEYOND IT TO THE GLORIOUS DAY OF THE RESURRECTION TO COME. WE ARE THE NEW PEOPLE OF GOD, AND IN SPITE OF WHATEVER CROSS WE MUST CARRY IN THIS LIFE, IN HIS RESURRECTION IS THE CERTAIN PROMISE OF OUR OWN.

THE SIGN OF GOD’S PROMISE STILL SHINES GLORIOUSLY AFTER THE STORM, AND THE PROMISE OF GOD WILL SHINE FOREVER ON OUR FOREHEADS AND IN OUR HEARTS AS WE PUT ALL OUR FAITH AND TRUST IN HIM ALONE.
AMEN.

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