The Rev. Kathi Johnson
B Lent 1 – 18 February 2018
Text: Mark 1:9-15
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Grand Prairie, Texas
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This past week, someone asked me what gives me joy. My mind immediately went to a moment earlier that same day – Ash Wednesday – which was, for me, a nutty day in the midst of a nutty week. So after her question, my mind went to this moment after the 1pm Ash Wednesday service was over. I was sitting in my office, trying to focus on the next thing of the day, and I found a moment of stillness.
And in that moment of stillness, a bird began to sing. Again and again, it sang its song… Then it changed its tune…The songs of the bird reminded me of my joy – even in the midst of a nutty day and a nutty week. The bird reminded me that there is joy in the activity of leading worship, just as there is joy in moments of stillness.
Out of the four gospel writers, the one I read from just a moment ago – Mark - is the most spare – he gives us the fewest words. True to form, in today’s lesson, he doesn’t give us much about the baptism of Jesus, or of the forty days that Jesus then spends in the wilderness. In today’s story, we do find a few details. The same Spirit who descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism then drives him out into the wilderness. Jesus is driven out to the wilderness, almost in the sense of being pushed.
Mark gives us very little about Jesus’ time in the wilderness: “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” And that’s it.
Time in the wilderness can be very fulfilling. It is in the wilderness where we can find moments of stillness – moments in which we can hear birds sing to remind us of our joy. Time in the wilderness can help us see the beauty around us, and we can find strength within ourselves that we didn’t even know was there.
But time in the wilderness can be draining, as well. Maybe you’ve seen the show “Mythbusters” – two men, Adam and Jamie, spend the show testing out different “myths.” In one show, they are dropped off on a deserted island with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a pallet of duct tape. They have to find food and water, build shelter, and – ultimately – find a way to escape.
They do OK at first, while their energy is fresh. But then the sun starts beating down on them, and they have to make shoes out of duct tape and sticks, so they can walk in the jungle to find water and food. Part of what they learn in their particular wilderness is that every task takes three other tasks that they have to complete first.
I don’t spend much time in actual, physical wilderness or on deserted islands, but I encounter other kinds of wilderness: times in which I feel alone, or when I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, or when I feel deeply saddened by another tragic and unnecessary loss of life (as we had this past week in Florida).
Often when someone I know is going through some kind of difficult challenge, I hear this platitude tossed around: “God never gives us more than we can handle” Respectfully, I disagree. I think that there are wilderness times when we do have more than we can handle.
But in those times in my own life, I remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Mark says that Jesus spends his wilderness time with the wild beasts and the devil – but also the angels. God’s angels are there, too, ministering to Jesus, showing him God’s care.
What that means for me is that when I have more than I can handle, that is the point where I let God in. The point where I have reached the very end of my own strength – that is the point where God shows up, giving me strength, giving me wisdom, giving me love.
So, Jesus is baptized, and then he spends forty days in the desert. When he comes out from his time in the wilderness, he begins preaching about the Kingdom of God. He begins calling people to repentance and sharing the good news of God’s love for them. He calls his disciples to follow him, and then they get to work, ministering among the people: feeding them, healing them, showing them the fullness of God’s mercy and love.
And that’s how it is with us, too. We are called in the same way – we are also called to do the work of God among the people whom God loves.
Even though we are beloved children of God, there are times of wilderness in our lives. What can we learn in those wilderness times? How can God be our strength? How is God showing his love? And, when we come out from those wilderness times, how can God use me? How can God use you?
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