February 21st 2021 – Lent I and Vestry Gen 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15
The Road trip into the wilderness
So, Jesus and the Spirit went on a road trip together. They had just met at this party which John had organized; a kind of pool party where everyone took a dip in the river Jordan. The Spirit was always around when there was something happening with water: Creation, when God organized the chaos of the waters which were covering what wasn’t yet recognizable as the earth, then the Spirit was there; when God got angry with creation and covered it all again in a huge flood and the Spirit, in form of a dove, was bringing signs of hopes to Noah. And, of course, the Spirit couldn’t miss that party when people went into the river Jordan for a dip after renouncing their sins and promising repentance.
There, they met. It must have been love on first sight; maybe it felt like a déja-vu. Jesus came out of the water and the Spirit came down like a dove. That was it, the covenant was sealed. They went on a journey together right away, as it says, And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness (Mk 1:12).
When I think of all those pilgrims who try to walk the path Jesus might have taken into the wilderness… They would just need to read properly and could remain seated in their busses with AC and drive out into the wilderness.
It is Lent. Interestingly, in the account of Mark we do not get the words we would expect: Jesus is not fasting, the word repentance is missing here and only temptation is one of these words from the Lenten vocabulary box. While these words are missing, Mark found it important enough, despite the brevity, to mention the wild beasts, or animals, who were with Jesus, as well as the angels who served him.
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him (Mk 1:13).
What do the wild animals have to do with this? Why are they important when Jesus prepares the beginning of his ministry?
Lent is a journey into the wilderness. We set out onto this journey this week and we don’t know where the Spirit will lead us, or drive us as it were. To embrace Lent as a time of preparation, of Spiritual renewal, as an exercise of being open for God in new ways, is to embrace chaos, it is to embrace wilderness and there will be wild beasts and angels waiting for us on that path. Temptation, in religious tradition, has often been symbolized as wild animals. Is that why we have the animals in this account?
Temptation, o, I know this voice in my head that says things which I don’t want to hear, don’t want to think even. Do you know that voice? It is that voice that accuses us, that finds us unworthy, it is also that voice that judges others unfairly, it is that voice that, if listened to, becomes sin, becomes that word that hurts others, becomes real as an act of racism or hatred. Even Jesus knew that voice.
Here we are in Lent. As believers we need to remember our two pockets now. We always need them and the Church, in its tradition, focuses sometimes more on the one and sometimes more on the other. It is a rabbinic wisdom that says you need them both simultaneously. In one of these pockets, you keep the wisdom which we were reminded of last Wednesday: Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return. In other words, don’t take yourself too seriously. You are dust, formed into what you are by God. Don’t live on the cost of others, but remember that they are equals: Dust as yourself. And, above all, live your life in the knowledge that it has an end. Who remembers this, walks this earth humbly, aware of the needs of others, of our role as guests on this planet together with the animals and the angels. However, who only knows this pocket, is likely to fall into depression.
That is why the second pocket is important. In this second pocket we have the wonderful promise of God that God has made us according to God’s own image. It is the miracle before which the writer of psalm 8 stands in awe and asks God how it can be that: you have made humans a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor (Ps 8:5). It is the mystery that the almighty God became human in Jesus and walked this earth and even got to know temptation.
It is the promise of God’s Covenant of which we hear in the Hebrew Bible reading this morning. God makes a Covenant with all creation, with humans and every living creature, the covenant which has been sealed with a bow in the skies. Jesus was reminded of this covenant between God and all creation, humans, angels and animals, when he was in the wilderness before starting his ministry.
Lent is not a time to bow your head and to put ash on your head, lamenting how many mistakes you might have done in life or where you have failed. It is a time to find back into the balance between the two pockets. It is easy to fall out of that balance and to dip to one side, especially these days when we have so little social interaction and feedback from others that helps us to adjust the compass regularly.
Lent is ahead of us. A journey into the wilderness. Make sure you take enough water, then the Spirit won’t be far and might even give you a drive. Be prepared for surprises, for roads that end unexpectedly, diversions, be prepared for temptations that want to bring you off course. And above all, remember your two pockets. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return and remember that you, as you are, are God’s beloved child and God cares about you individually as much as about Creation as a whole. Enjoy your road trip but beware, the Spirit has a dynamic driving style.