Mark 1 9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
At some point in our lives most of us leave home, in today’s climate it is more difficult, and some have left and had to go back for financial reasons, but the desire to go is still strong. When we leave home we leave physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We leave those places that are familiar, comfortable, and predictable. Sometimes we can’t wait to leave. We’re ready to go. Other times we would rather not leave. Sometimes we choose to leave. Other times the circumstances of life push us out the door. Regardless of how or why it happens, leaving home is a part of life. It happens in lots of different ways and times.
For children it might be the first day of school or going to guide or scout camp. Young adults move out of their parent’s home to start college, university or to work away from home. The major decisions that bring us to the crossroads of life are also about leaving home.
Leaving home can be difficult, frightening, and risky. It invites us to change and opens us to new discoveries about ourselves. It challenges our understandings of where we find meaning, and security. Ultimately, leaving home is often the beginning of our spiritual journey and growth. We are more vulnerable to and in need of God when we leave home.
Leaving home is not, however, simply about the circumstances of life. It is the way of God’s people. Adam and Eve left the garden. Noah left his dry land home. God told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gn. 12:1). Jacob ran away from home fearing for his life. Moses and the Israelites left their homes in Egypt. And in today’s gospel Jesus is leaving home.
Mark writes “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” and he went to the Jordan River. He left his home and now he stands with John in the Jordan, the border between home and the wilderness. He is baptized, the heavens are torn apart, the Spirit like a dove descends, and a voice declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” From there “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Jesus may have been baptised in the river but His baptismal life is about to begin in the wilderness.
This story is not just about Jesus. It is our story too. God’s words referred to Jesus in a uniquely literal way, it was His Son he was talking to, but they also apply to each one of us. By the grace of God we are his beloved daughters and sons. If leaving home, getting baptized, and going to the wilderness was the way for Jesus then it is our way too. When we believe in Jesus and follow him we leave behind our old identity, and we are identified and we are claimed by God as his children.
That is what this holy season of Lent is all about. It is no coincidence that on Wednesday some of us were marked with ash as we remembered the dust of our creation, and today the gospel takes us to the wilderness. The two cannot be separated. Wednesday’s ashes lead us to wilderness soil. Lent is about leaving home and leaving home in Lent should take us to the wilderness.
The wilderness is an in-between place. We have left behind what was and what will be is not yet clear. In the wilderness we come face to face with the reality of our lives; things we have done and things we have left undone. This is where we face our fears, our hopes and dreams, our sorrows and losses, as well as the unknown future, the place where we face our temptations. The temptations are not about our behavior, breaking rules, or being bad. God does not tempt us to see if we will pass or fail. The temptations are for our benefit, not God’s. They are a part of our salvation. We leave home and experience wilderness temptations to discover our identity as a beloved child of God and that our only real home is with God.
Every Lent we enter wilderness and it is new territory for us. New challenges and new temptations. But we are never alone, the way has already been walked by Jesus. It is the way home, the way to God. We go to the wilderness with the knowledge and confidence that Jesus has gone before us. In the wilderness is where we surrender our self-sufficiency to God, our helplessness to God’s grace, and our guilt is to God’s compassion. Lent is a positive time and we should never try to escape or avoid the wilderness experience and like Jesus, go through it. We must face the temptations of doubt and wrestle with the wild beasts of fear, uncertainty, serious illness or bereavement, remembering that we are never alone. The angels that ministered to Jesus will be there for us. “Remember who you are,” is their message. “You are a beloved son of God. You are a beloved daughter of God. Some of you will know that I carry a piece of string in my pocket. I have had it since I started training for ordination 17 years ago! It has six knots tied in it. It is my homemade rosary. It gets mislaid, turns up in the washing machine, gets dragged out with a handkerchief but I still have it. Each knot represents a word. (miss out a knot for the ‘a’) Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. It keeps me connected to God and his grace. It might not be right for you but I would encourage you to join me. I have made a new one this year to keep me focused during Lent. One piece of string 6 knots as you work down the string to each knot say the words “I am a beloved child of God.” Then repeat “With me he is well pleased.” If two sentences seems a lot just stay with the one “I am a beloved child of God.” The angels will encourage us but sometimes it is hard to hear their voice, this way if you make one you will have a constant reminder of the message in the wilderness. Every time you find your piece of string, or seek it out, you will be reminded, encouraged and reassured.
With each remembrance of who we are the demons of doubt are banished and we are able to overcome temptations. With each remembrance of who we are, his beloved child, we take another step closer to God. That is the way through the wilderness of Lent and the wildernesses of life.
Remembrance after remembrance. Step after step. “I am a beloved child of God. With me He is well pleased.” Let that become our wilderness mantra. Let those words fill our minds, cross our lips, and occupy our hearts. The truth of those words is the way to our eternal home.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent and a good opportunity to reflect on the good news that our lives proclaim. The good news is centred on Jesus – he was and is the good news that he proclaimed. He did not just talk about God, he was God, and he is God. He drew people to himself and they found life in him. That is our testimony too – when we recognize God in our lives, when we respond to him and relate to him we will find life in all its fullness, we will find our home in him.
One step at a time, step after step, remembrance after remembrance: “I am a beloved child of God. With me he is well pleased.”