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Into the Unknown with the Known

Lent 1, Common Lectionary Year B

Mark 1: 9-15, Psalm 63

©Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

Today is a bit of a preacher’s challenge, as we have not only a “Text” to preach, but also a context, shaped today, not only by the beginning of Lent, but also by the Annual Meeting, AND by the long-awaited launch of our Caring Community Project. I’m going to attempt to let Mark’s Gospel text provide the road map through this particular wilderness.

Five weeks ago we read this same text, about the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan, but today’s lectionary takes us three tightly packed verses further on in the unfolding drama of Jesus’ ministry.

What strikes me first in the text is the Spirit of God.
She’s a tough bird, that one! For, watch her as she, innocent as a dove, descends upon Jesus, calling him
“Child! Beloved! Delight of my heart!”
and then, one word later ‘drives’ him into the Wilderness!
Not in a 4X4 with Air and reclining seats, drove.
Not gently nudged, not “Can I suggest that a nice retreat in the Laurentians would be a good way to spend a month or so.”
No, “drove” as in that deep in your gut, heart-racing, face-flushing compulsion that there is only one thing to do… go deep!
To those unknown, raw places where Jesus needs to figure out how to be “God’s Beloved, Cherished,” how to live the Dream of God.

Apparently there’s only one place to figure that out.
It’s called the Wilderness;
the place where Satan tempts,
and the creatures of earth and heaven keep company
in the quest for truth, calling, wisdom, strength, and direction.

The Holy Spirit does the same to us, too. She descends gently into our lives, dove- white and full of blessing. She whispers into our individual and collective hearts“You are beloved! God’s Children, God’s People! The delight of God’s heart!”
She baptizes our attempts to be the body of Christ, a loving community…
with the affirmations written into the very fabric of our lives…
(Slides of CPU at work and worship together)

Then, just as we’re having fun being blessed, this Spirit of God drives us into the same Wilderness!
The same Unknown, there to figure out figure out how to be “God’s Beloved, Cherished,” how to live the Dream of God.

She did that to Otto Lilly back in 1893 when she drove him to the Pointe to begin a Presbyterian summer mission. He had no clue we would be the result of his labours. He only had the words of the Spirit to guide him:
“You are God’s Beloved. Now, Go!”

She’s been saying this to every generation of this community.Perhaps sometimes, perhaps often, we balk at the Spirit’s strategy. Do we have to be driven out there into the unknown?
Can we not stay safe by those thirst-quenching streams, while we figure out our next steps in the Five Year Plan? Can we not keep our toes dipped in that baptismal water of the Jordan
and not have to go off so far into the unknown, uncharted, wilderness
to search for the faithful way for us to be a Caring Community?

Why is it hard, wilderness work to figure out how to care for self, for loved ones, neighbours, strangers, the world, in God-filled, life-affirming ways? Do we really have to risk the wilderness work of digging deep into our broken places, into the raw honesty of our hurting place in order to feel God’s healing touch, to hear God’s guiding voice, to know God’s abiding strength?

The Spirit’s answer is “Yes, we do.”
The Spirit is adamant, not suggestive. She drives us because she knows something about that Wilderness that we don’t. Mark distils it to three clipped phrases:
Wilderness is the place, or state of being where
a) testing happens – often feeling like “temptations of Satan”
b) we keep company with the creatures of God’s earth and
c) we are cared for by the Messengers of Heaven.

We may not be comfortable with the language of Satanic temptation,
but as the People of God, as the Body of Christ, we are more than familiar with the temptations, or shall we call them tough choices,
to pursue – or ignore – the Dream of God?
to choose truth – or expedience?
to engage in the hard work of inner growth,– or not?
to ask ourselves how will we make our decisions about our life, purpose, mission?
what will we let influence those decisions?
This we’re familiar with; it’s probably what makes us so reluctant, individually and as communities of faith, to respond to the Spirit’s Wilderness Driving! But, (and it’s taken me this long to notice), there’s wisdom to be gleaned from Mark’s almost throwaway line
“He was with the creatures of the wild places, and the angels took care of him.”

Wilderness is where we learn, or relearn the humility and respect needed to take our place
among the creatures of the earth, where they belong. (There’s enough there for a whole other sermon, but not today!) What stands out for me is this:
“the angels, the messengers of Heaven took care of him.”

Wilderness is not beyond God!
God, through God’s messengers, is there, taking care of us while we do the deep work of discernment, of vision-casting, or decision making about how to live the Dream of God.
God is with us, the Known in the midst of the Unknown, and we are NOT alone as we answer the Spirit’s “Now! Go!”

Our Lenten Wilderness time this year will be a time to go deep into the core of what it means to be
individuals and a community shaped by the Dream of God, into a Caring Community.There is not time today to give you the full “Why” of Caring Community,but I can end with this invitation to respond to the Spirit’s “Go” through the offerings that CD, Pastoral Care and Worship have put together for the Season of Lent:
Wednesday evening’s “Sharing Caring Practices” will be a time to explore, hands-on, in company with one another- each messengers of God’s grace –how we can care for self and others through food, music, healing and the engagement of our bodies in prayer.

Sunday Evening’s three part series, Exploring the Dark: Journeying to the Light,led by Rev. Angie Arendt will lead us deep, to those dark places where life feels less than blessed,a perfect Lenten Wilderness journey, with that Spirit-driven time for us to think, feel, wonder, explore, and discover the path toward God’s resurrection light.

For, as Jesus said,
“Look, See! the Kingdom of God is this close!”

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