First Congregational Church
February 21, 2021
First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 9:8-17 & Mark 1:9-15
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There’s a plane going down over the desert with only 3 parachutes on board. There are four people onboard, the smartest man in the world, the best doctor in the world, an old priest, and a young nerd. The doctor says, “People need me for my medical skills.” grabs the first parachute pack, and jumps. The smartest man in the world says, “People need me for my intelligence.” grabs a pack, and jumps. The old priest says, “I have lived a long and happy life. You take the last chute.” The nerd says, “Don’t worry. There are enough chutes for the both of us. The smartest man in the world just grabbed my backpack.”
For those who may not know, there is this thing called the lectionary. It’s a list of prescribed scripture passages for each Sunday of the year, along with church holy days. Generally, each daily reading includes a passage from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a Gospel reading and one of the epistles - the fancy name for the rest of the ‘letters’ in the New Testament.
On any given Sunday, it would probably take a good ten minutes to read all the passages for that day, and most times, God’s mouth to my heart to your ears, just the gospel passage is sufficient for that day’s message. But this week, the part from the Old Testament just begged to be read along with the gospel.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
Jesus Is Baptized
9 At that time Jesus came from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the place where John was. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. 10 When Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove. 11 A voice came from heaven and said: “You are my Son and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”
12 Then the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert alone. 13 He was in the desert 40 days and was there with the wild animals. While he was in the desert, he was tempted by Satan. Then angels came and took care of Jesus.
Jesus Chooses Some Followers
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee and preached the Good News from God. 15 Jesus said, “The right time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!”
Thank you, Catherine and Judy. Actually, it’s a goofy thing, this brain of mine, that loves to look for similarities and differences between things. And so we can appreciate that both passages are set around ’40 days,’ although the first set of 40 is not explicitly mentioned. But just about everyone knows about the 40 day flood back in Noah’s day, not only because it makes for great children’s books, but because most all ancient and near-eastern cultures have a monumental flood story as part of their history.
While Jesus came up out of his baptismal water, the ark, animals and humans also came up out of a baptism of sorts. Both passages have God speaking to people, making a proclamation of relationship: God and all in and of the earth and God and Jesus and all of us.
The animals of the ark are most recognized as part of the ark. But I wonder how many of us recall or recognize that God’s covenant in the Genesis passage is not only with people, but about “all flesh,” i.e., living creatures.
There is the Spirit that came on Jesus as a dove in the gospel passage, but verse 13 reminds us that while Jesus was in the desert, he was there with the wild animals. Perhaps it is so with many of you, that when recalling the scene of Jesus’s forty day temptation in the wilderness, we don’t often include the living creatures that would have been there, too.
So we come to differences, and they are not so much with the two passages read today, but between the other two depictions of Jesus in the desert - in Matthew and Luke. In those books, Jesus’ temptations have more elaboration. Both Matthew and Luke describe Jesus being tempted by food, power and grandeur. Mark simply says Jesus was tempted by Satan.
While doing my homework for this message, I came across a dandy little chart about Jesus’ wilderness temptations, in - of all places - Wikipedia. Using Matthew as it’s basis, the temptations were hedonism, egotism and materialism - of mind, soul and heart, representing the divine virtues of faith, hope and love. Interesting connections. Heart equating to love - makes sense. The soul equating to hope - okay. But the link between mind and faith - that’s interesting! Linking the heart to feelings and the soul to wishes makes sense, but in this category of mind and faith - there are thoughts.
That faith is a matter of mind, more than heart or gut, is an interesting and is at least partly true thought. (I say partly, because I’ve not sat down to think out the potentials of why that would be a false statement.) But when we are tempted or tested, it isn’t a feeling that God will help us through, as much as a determination to believe that God will do so - even if it doesn’t look like the way we envisioned God’s rescue.
Music and film critic, Stephen Holden, commenting on Rodrigo Garcia’s film, “Last Days in the Desert,” points out that the Tempter, Satan, teases and lies and reflects ourselves. Apparently, there is a line in the movie where the Tempter - who is a doppelgänger for the main character - who happens to be Ewan McGregor - says, “I am a liar - that is the truth.”
The movie also suggests that some of Jesus’ fears appear in nightmares and when calling out to God, there is no answer, all of which makes Jesus’ desert sojourn more immediate and concrete for us. And now I can’t wait to see the movie, which you can rent on Amazon or watch with ads on Tubi or Crackle for free - so I read.
Perhaps there is a special poignancy in today’s passage, as we have been in a “life” desert for nearly a year - stripped of hugs and informal visiting and concerts and oh so many other things. In watching clips where exhausted medical personnel are emotionally empty and physically zapped, families struggle - on top of Covid - with food insecurity and housing, sometimes it’s just too much, and God, can’t you turn it all off, for just an hour so that everyone - in a collective, world-wide moment - could take a socially-distanced breath?
For whatever reason, it’s been on my heart and mind lately, that this Lenten season could include some of the great art that has been done in relationship to Jesus’ life and path. The pictures on the front of the bulletin, aren’t the best quality, but each was chosen for a reason. And those who can get to it later, the pictures can be found at www.fccfrankfort.org.
The first one in the upper left-hand corner is a rare one of Jesus and the animals - directly from Mark’s passage, the second of Jesus praying, the third, although harder to tell, it a computer drawing representing the vastness of the desert. I included the fourth one because of the nothingness of it, except the sun, and the fifth because it shows a dirty faced Jesus holding a pieta bread. The sixth one, I think, is from the movie mentioned earlier and the seventh is actually from a coloring book. The bottom left corner is an old pen and ink rendition, the middle is that idea of confrontation and the third shows Jesus over looking the valley that Satan took Jesus to in the Matthew and Luke versions.
I will venture to guess that all of us - to one degree or another - have stood on that precipice - been confronted with our own evil spirits, feeling as if we are walking into a vast nothing. Or we’ve been afraid, as if a pack of wild animals was ready to pounce on us. Desert places are not rare, nor are they completely void, because as Mark - and Matthew - remind us, there were angels there, too. In both those gospels, the angels were not only present, but they “waited” on Jesus.
We don’t know how they waited on him - with foot-tapping impatience to get in the car or else, or if they brought him invisible platters of divine take-out. But he wasn’t alone and those with him were here to help. And neither are any of us alone.
No matter how strongly it may feel otherwise, we know that our nightmares - as scary as they can be - are only dreams, dreams with a message perhaps, but there are no mean and threatening people out to get us when we wake up worrying about whatever subject that seems to be haunting you. No matter how loud we cry out to God, as Jesus most surely have done, and even though it seems that God has turned a deaf ear, we are not alone. Our gospel passage says that the Holy Spirit sent Jesus out into the desert alone, but the angels came in when they were needed.
Every year Martin's parents took him to his grandmother's house during the summer break and rode the same train home the next day. Then one day the boy says to his parents, “I'm pretty big now. How about I go to grandma alone this year?” After a short discussion, the parents agree.
Standing at the platform, parents hugging and giving him one last tip, Martin thinks, “I know you've told me that a hundred times…!" The train is about to leave and the father says, “Son, if suddenly you feel bad or scared, then for you!” And he puts something in his pocket.
Now the boy is sitting alone, sitting on the train, without his parents, for the first time...
He sees the passing landscape out the window, strangers around him rushing, making noise, coming and walking out of the compartment, the conductor addresses him that he is alone... A person even takes a sad look at him… This is how the boy always feels more uncomfortable...
And now he's scared. He lowers his head, cuddles in a corner of the seat, tears come to his eyes. He remembers his dad putting something in his pocket. With a trembling hand he is looking for this piece of paper, opens it. It says, “My son, I'm in the last car…"
As God’s people, let us pray. Protective and Providing God, we thank you for those times when you helped us through, and we didn’t notice or know it. We ask for forgiveness when we believe you have abandoned us or left us to our own devices. In the days and moments ahead of us this week, help us to look back on those times in our lives when we’ve been tempted - in whatever ways - and help us to find the angels that waited on us, that they become part of our knowledge in understanding the tests of life. Help us not to fear like moments in the future, but be able to come back to your time of testing, and going through it, to our times of testing and getting through, so that those future moments of testing will be met with a more mature faith in you and your goodness - despite the situations. For calling us your own, all your beloveds say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.