Again & Again, God Meets Us

Sunday, February 18, 2024
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Mark 1:9-15

This morning, we begin our Lenten journey by cruising through the start of Jesus’ ministry in the book of Mark. We’ve been in Mark for a handful of weeks here and so it should not be too surprising to us that this quintessential passage moves at a breakneck pace. Mark is known for doing everything quickly and he doesn’t pause for many details today. In just these few short verses, we hear of three major events in Jesus’ life:

  1. his baptism, where God claims him and calls him Beloved
  2. his forty days and nights in the wilderness, where angels attend to him as he is tested by Satan
  3. his very early ministry, where he first proclaims God’s kingdom has come near

Mark’s quickness does one thing for us: it helps us focus. Having stripped down the story to the bare bones, Mark calls us to focus on Jesus and trust in God’s presence; a fitting stance as we enter Lent.

So, focused on Jesus and these milestone moments of his, I’m particularly struck this morning by verses 13-14, which tell us that, in the wake of his baptism in the Jordan River, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” He was there forty days, tested by the devil, among the wild beasts, and the angels of God waited on him.

Again, Mark doesn’t elaborate on the details of this wilderness experience, but this place was not for the faint of heart. The wilderness is scary and unpredictable. The “wild beasts” might be literal, terrifying animals that lurk around corners, or they might be understood to be spiritual forces, things that harm human bodies and oppress God’s people. Regardless, this is a dangerous place.

But to be honest, I’m less interested in the details of that wilderness and the things that meet him there, as I am struck by the verb that gets him there. The Holy Spirit is the initiator; we read in the Greek that the Spirit ekballo – the word for drove out ­– Jesus, forcibly compelling him right into this wilderness scene. This is the same word Mark later uses, when Jesus exorcises unclean spirits, driving them out. This isn’t peaceful or gentle.

And so he goes, but he doesn’t go alone. We read that the angels waited on him. But more than that, he heads into the wilderness with two things:

  1. God’s goodness refrain echoing in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
  2. The waters of the Jordan, the waters of his baptism, still clinging to him as he journeys.

How else is Jesus to cross into this wilderness, where he would have no food, no comforts, no community, and where he would wrestle with the devil? How else, but to do so knowing he was loved and with the waters of his baptism still wet.

This, friends, is where we see ourselves reflected in this story. We are not Jesus, but we enter this season of Lent – these forty days and forty nights of wilderness time – also assured this morning of two things:

  1. We are God’s beloved
  2. The waters of our baptism have led us here

What does it look like to live with belovedness as our essential core and identity? How does this change the way we think and live and act to know that we are loved? I think it lets us be honest.

Because it turns out the waters of baptism don’t only cool and calm and cleanse us, they wash us into some pretty dicey places. Drenched in our baptism, we too are called into wilderness. Not suffering – God doesn’t cause our suffering or depravation; we’ve sometimes whittled Lent down into a time to “give us chocolate”, for example. But that our baptism call us to honesty and integrity; to face the awful parts of our humanity with truth, compassion, and yet still stand in hope. When our health or our families fall apart; when we doom scroll on our phones; the images and the videos that break our hearts; we are called to the opposite of apathy – to stand right in it, trusting that God has called us beloved and accompanies us on every single step.

And so we enter Lent together – this season that calls us to repentance and honesty and dwelling in the muck and reality of it all – we do so from the place of our baptism. We do so with God close by. And we do so with our own name – Beloved – echoing in our ears.

As we cross with Christ into the landscape of Lent and into the mystery that lies ahead of us, I offer you this blessing by Jan Richardson. You might place your feet on the floor, take a deep breath, and close your eyes as I read.

Beloved Is Where We Begin

If you would enter

into the wilderness,

do not begin

without a blessing.

Do not leave

without hearing

who you are:

Beloved,

named by the One

who has traveled this path

before you.

Do not go

without letting it echo

in your ears,

and if you find

it is hard

to let it into your heart,

do not despair.

That is what

this journey is for.

I cannot promise

this blessing will free you

from danger,

from fear,

from hunger

or thirst,

from the scorching

of sun

or the fall

of the night.

But I can tell you

that on this path

there will be help.

I can tell you

that on this way

there will be rest.

I can tell you

that you will know

the strange graces

that come to our aid

only on a road

such as this,

that fly to meet us

bearing comfort

and strength,

that come alongside us

for no other cause

than to lean themselves

toward our ear

and with their

curious insistence

whisper our name:

Beloved.

Beloved.

Beloved.

—Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace

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