Lent: A Time of Grace

 

Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, March 5, 2006.  The text is the gospel for the day, Mark 1:9-15.

 

[Children’s Corner]                “Burying the Alleluias”

 

On the walls of the Sanctuary we have posted numerous laminated sheets with the word “alleluia” printed on them.  In this sermon we want to visually demonstrate to our children that the Season of Lent is a time of reverent reflection.  We are saving our joy and celebration until Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus.  We will ask the children to bring the “alleluias” to the front of the altar area where we have a small coffin.  We’ll place the “alleluias” in the coffin and hammer the lid shut.  It will be opened on Easter.

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Sometimes our symbols prompt a response that is unexpected.  That happened here in this Sanctuary this past week at the Ash Wednesday evening service.  The 4 folks in the drama had rehearsed their parts well and were ready.  The central character is named “Fear” and his role was written as a devil-like figure that uses a whip to represent the fear he likes to instill in mortals.  Norm Sahley was mentally prepared for his part.  But we put the ashen crosses on the foreheads of all the worshippers a few minutes before the drama.  Now Norm (as “Fear”) had to do his part in the front of the church with a cross on his forehead.  As Norm told us, he wasn’t sure he could even do the part.  One of his thoughts was to just refuse to play the part of the devil, and maybe that would have been a strong statement of faith.  All the dramatists did such a fine job.  Little did we know the internal struggles they were experiencing.

 

Today’s gospel reading tells us three things about Jesus: he was baptized in the River Jordan by John, he spent 40 days in the wilderness, and he began his earthly ministry.

 

For a moment, let’s talk about the number “40.”  In scripture the number “40” is a significant number.  It tells us that something out of the ordinary is taking place.  Do you remember:

 

·        in the time of Noah, it rained 40 days and 40 nights (the earth was

cleansed)

·        the people of Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness

(looking for the promised land)

·        Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness (in preparation for his ministry)

·        We in the church spend 40 days in Lent (contemplating the meaning of our Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection)

 

Jesus’ baptism was really his commissioning service by God the Father to now fulfill his role as Messiah and Savior.  Mark tells us what Jesus heard on that occasion.  The voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Verse 12 of today’s gospel contains a word that is interesting.  And the Spirit immediately DROVE him out into the wilderness.  The Greek word for “drove” is “ekballo.”  It means to grab sharply by the neck and throw out, like a bouncer does.  The same word is used by Mark in the exorcism stories, with the sense of being done roughly, violently, forcefully.  Perhaps Mark is reminding us all that our baptism is not done to shield us from the world.  Instead, it is done to commission us to go out into the world to fulfill our own callings from the Lord to serve him.

 

You and I need to spend these days of Lent doing much the same thing that Jesus did during his 40 days in the wilderness.  We too need some down time, some alone time to personally reflect on our relationship with the Lord, to confront some of our own demons or anything that is getting in the way of a good relationship we want and need with God.  And, we too can find that God wants desperately to be with us and give us his blessings, if we will only realize how much we need and want these blessings.

 

I end with a story that comes from the life of St. Patrick in Ireland.  Patrick was baptizing new converts in a river.  His practice was to wade out waist-deep into the river and call out for new Christians to come to him, one by one and receive the sacrament.

 

Once he baptized a mountain chieftain.  Patrick was holding a staff, called a crosier, in his hands as the new coverts made their way to the water.  Unfortunately, as he was lowering the chief down under the water three times, he pressed his staff down into the river bottom.  Afterwards the people on the riverbank noticed their chief limp back to shore.  Someone explained to Patrick that, as he pressed the wooden staff into the riverbed, he must have also bruised the foot of the chief.  Patrick went to the chief  at once and asked, “Why did you not cry out when I struck your foot?”

 

Surprised, the chief answered, “I remembered you telling us about the nails on the cross, and I thought my pain was part of my baptism.”  When I read that, I could not help but think, how many of us would have been baptized if we know pain was part of the process.

 

During this time of Lent, may each of us too feel some of the pain of Jesus, and know the price he paid for our salvation.  Amen.