Live like we believe it

Text: Mark 1:9-15

I don’t know exactly why it was that the Spirit pushed Jesus out of the baptismal waters right into the wilderness to undergo temptation, but every year at this time we read this story to begin our Sundays in Lent. 

So, it seems like a hint, doesn’t it? That the Spirit of God, which we receive at our baptisms, directs us, recruits us, presses us forward and deeper into our lives with God. That the Spirit is active in our lives and is sometimes most likely to show up as disruption. 

In the Gospel of John, which has a lot more to say about the Spirit than any of the other Gospels, Jesus proclaims that it is the Spirit that will lead us, his followers, into truth, even when that truth might be at the edge of the unbearable. It is the Spirit that is with us, opening our eyes, prompting us, when we are listening for what it is that God is doing in the world and what it is that God wants us to do in the world, even when, or perhaps especially when, we are exhausted, confused, frustrated, and lost. Even and especially when we are in a wilderness time or place.

I have always loved the season of Lent, which was new to me when I became an Episcopalian thirty years or so ago. Maybe I still feel the zeal of a convert, but I love the fact that we intentionally take a season to look at the direction in which our lives are headed and to discern if this direction is actually going towards God or going away from God.

I love that to answer that question we have to also be intentional about looking for where God is, what God is up to, to tune in to how it is that the divine shows up in the world around us.

I love the imagery of Lent, the wilderness, the angels and wild beasts, even the temptation part, and understanding that this is not just long ago and far away. There are wildernesses in our lives now, and temptations too. Temptation to go along with the world’s values instead of following Jesus’s commands to love our neighbors as ourselves. Temptation to take shortcuts to expediency, to act now and think later, to let fear and anxiety fuel our actions. Temptation to look for quick answers and see everything in black and white because daily discernment and thoughtful prayerand tending to our spiritual lives feels too demanding in such a busy world as ours.

I love that when Jesus says repent and believe the good news, he isn’t just talking about saying ok to an idea. He’s saying live like you believe that good news. Live like you believe that God wants life for you. Live like you believe that no matter how hard it all gets, God, Jesus, the Spirit will be with you. Live like you believe that God wants life for everyone because everyone belongs to God. Live like you believe that God has given and will give new life even in the midst of death and that Jesus - the fact of him, and his words, and his actions - shows us how to live even in the midst of wrenching loss and grief.

I love that Lent makes clear that the Spirit is not just a comforter but also a disrupter and that wilderness time is necessary for real life, the kind of life that gushes up like a spring of water to nourish everything around it.

I love that this story begins not in the Temple, not in the courthouse, not in the halls of a king or queen, but in the wilderness, on the edges, out there in a liminal space where there are beasts and also angels, where there is temptation and also courage and clarity and time - the proverbial 40 days and 40 nights, which in the Bible means “the time it takes to complete something.” So in this story and in our own wilderness story, there is enough time to discern one’s identity, one’s mission, one’s values and purpose.

I mentioned on Ash Wednesday that during Lent this year we are definitely in the wilderness which is often how transition time is described. And I suggested that our Lenten discipline this year would be well spent in discerning that identity and mission and purpose for our parish.

I suggested we turn upside down the usual questions of “what am I doing for Lent” this year and wonder about God instead of self. What does God want us to be in the world now? Where is God calling us now? What new life is beginning  and how might we use our resources to nurture and encourage that new life?

It’s easy to get caught up in the details of giving up and taking on and let that be our focus during Lent. Avoiding chocolate or caffeine or alcohol or swearing or speeding or shopping at Target (yes, I know someone who gave that up for Lent one year) can take up a lot of our energy and time. And don’t get me wrong, Lenten practices that help us remove obstacles to deeper and more authentic life are good to do.

It’s a little harder to let ourselves be in the wilderness and to look beyond our daily activities to inhabit these big questions about divine activity and new life and  what it is that God needs us to be right now.

But whether we like it or not, the Spirit has led us into this wilderness and the Spirit will be with us in it and will tend to us as we face the temptation to rush through the season and miss the opportunity we have to deepen our relationship with God and neighbor, and to follow Jesus by living like we believe the good news that God is always in the business of new and abundant life.