Message Feb. 18, 2018

I wrote this message while trying to keep myself from fretting about what the coaches would do in terms of choosing which athletes would be going to the NAIA National Indoor Track and Field meet. Rumor had it that my daughter, who qualified first by the way, would be one of those left at home because she was only a thrower, and not a runner or a jumper. No one had the courage to ask. No one made the “A” standard on the last day of regular competition. We were in suspense. The issue is that God knew. God had a plan that I was too stubborn to wait patiently for. Two of the five qualifiers were in the top 16 so that put them out of the choice and left only three to fill the three spots. All stress was avoided. The choice was not given to the coach, it was determined by a higher power. Trust in the Lord is what I need to get into my head. So, this is what I told my congregation on Sunday morning while I was waiting, not so patiently.

The scriptures we heard were: Genesis 9: 8-17, I Peter 3: 18-22 and Mark 1: 9-15. The title was “God’s Loving Paths.” The songs we sang were: “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” “Great is thy Faithfulness,” and “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound.”

Our scriptures today are tied together by the number 40, and we have already discussed that at length on Wednesday night. The three particular issues of 40 include: the 40 days of rain and flood experienced by Noah and those in the ark, the 40 years when the Israelites wandered around the wilderness, and the 40 days when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.

For some reason I am fascinated by the gospel accounts of Jesus facing the temptations in the wilderness. The idea that he was alone in some desolate place trying to figure out what was to come next in his life, what he was supposed to do and how he was to do it, and then he gets harassed by Satan and has to make some hard decisions. My big question for all of us this Lenten season is: “What temptations do we face in our wilderness moments?”

I suppose the list in the poem would be a good start on the many things that tempt us, or maybe another easier to understand word might be distract us. As in distract us away from following God’s path or plan for our lives. What sort of things keep us distracted enough that we don’t do the things we really should be doing like finishing our message, reaching out to others, visiting or calling on those who can’t get out and about, and the list goes on. I see these things as tasks that I don’t find the time to do because I am distracted, led astray, tempted away from doing what I need to do.

And this morning, I was all prepared to say that in the past few weeks I have been distracted, tempted away from doing what I should be doing because James and I have been out and about following after Paulina’s track meets. But after we got home late last night I came to realize that is not the truth at all. Attending those meets have not been the distraction and the temptation for me. In fact if the truth be told, being with her and her fellow throwers and other team members has been a wonderful opportunity to witness by example to a great group of young people.

The distraction, the temptation to feel anger and have thoughts not worthy of a Christian attitude has come with my fussing and fretting and worrying about why she isn’t hitting better marks or meeting certain standards, and it has been gnawing me to a sick stomach and shaking hands, and it is ridiculous. I have been in such a snit about why she isn’t able to have more success that I have prevented myself and those around me from enjoying the success she has been having. I have missed the friends she has made and the fun they have together. I have missed what is important because of my focus on marks and competition and points. I need to realize that it is just a sport for goodness sakes.

Friday afternoon as we were sitting in the hotel room in Brookings waiting for the team bus (that wasn’t coming because it broke down at the truck stop in Summit for four hours), we heard an ESPN commentator ask why is it that during the Olympics the news media in our country is so stuck on counting medals that we can’t just celebrate the good efforts of the athletes no matter where they are from? That sort of competitiveness can turn into the temptation to feel jealousy, envy, anger, bitterness, disappointment, all those sins that bring us down and make us feel unworthy of anything, especially Christ’s love.

If we didn’t hear it clearly enough on Ash Wednesday, let’s be reminded today that Christ was/Christ is the only person born of a human birth who came into this world without sin. We are all born into sin, but Christ who had no sin died in our place. The sinless Christ died for us sinners. Vs. 18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God…” Peter goes on to let us know that the experience of Noah and his family in the flood corresponds to baptism which is not about removal of sins like a shower removes the dirt of the day from our bodies, but it is an appeal to God that we are willing and wanting to be part of his family, and follow in his ways, and that we are reaching for and accepting that great love that he is offering through Christ.

So, with all of that in our heads, let us look at the words we find in Mark this morning and how it connects into the ending of the story of Noah and that great flood. First off Mark is pretty cryptic, pretty concise or I guess the better term is brief in what we read today. He has packed quite a bit of information into a short amount of space, and yet it might be that he is telling more in what he is not telling, if that makes sense.

Let’s go part by part. What we read in Mark divides into three segments. In the first one we have a very brief telling of the baptism of Jesus. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. We don’t know who is witness to this event, but we hear that when it happened the heavens were torn apart. Interestingly, the author uses the same Greek verb for torn in this story as is used in the telling of when the temple cloth was torn when Jesus is crucified, which is for some experts is a way of linking his baptism to his crucifixion. In this act of baptism which the sinless Christ technically should not need to participate in, we see his acceptance of his path. We see the love he has for humankind and his acceptance of what he is being asked to do.

In this story we also have the spirit of God descending in the form of a dove, which connects to the story of Noah when he releases the dove to see if the waters have receded. In Mark the spirit then sends Jesus to the wilderness to face the temptations from Satan.

Although we learn what those were specifically in other parts of the Bible, Mark chooses to simply tell us that it happened and then it ends with “and the angels waited on him.” This in turn connects to the words from our reading in I Peter today which finishes chapter 3 by telling us that Jesus has gone to heaven are resides there at the right hand of God with angels, authorities and powers made subject to him.

The third part of this passage is after Jesus has returned from the wilderness and he begins his ministry. Interestingly by that time John has been arrested and his time of ministry is over. Jesus now begins to proclaim that the time to repent is now. This sounds a lot like what we heard from the scripture lesson on Wednesday, II Corinthians 6:2 said: “See now is the acceptable time; see now is the day of salvation.” What Mark is telling us here is that after the 40 days, after Jesus left the wilderness and all the temptations he went through, he didn’t falter, he didn’t hesitate, but he got right to work: Perhaps an example for us to follow?

On Wednesday I closed the message with the question of how will we return God’s love, or maybe the modern terminology is how can we pay it forward… because we know of course there is no way to pay it back. Yesterday as I was having one of those mother moments off in the corner of the infield watching the results of the event go less than I had hoped, the opening words of Jeremiah 29:11 popped into my head, “I know the plans I have for you” and it finishes with: “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” God knows what plans he has for all of us, for each of us just as he had plans for his Beloved Son, who came to earth to be our Savior.

We might be tempted to fuss and fidget about why we don’t know what those plans are at this time, but one thing we can be sure of, is that what God wants most for us is to resist the temptations that stand in our way, and to turn to him for comfort and guidance and mostly that love that knows no bounds. As we travel through the rest of these 40 days, may we be constantly looking for new ways to share God’s love with those around us. Amen.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy
    Jun 30, 2018 @ 12:17:30

    Lucinda, looks like you’ve quit blogging for awhile. Wondering if life has provided a temptation in another direction? Hope all is well with you and your family.

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