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Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Welcome to Lent. As part of our Lenten practise together we are going to ask questions to consider in our sermons and give you an opportunity to respond as you are comfortable. For those online, if there is something you would like to share, you can post it in the comments and those helping with the livestream will let us know so your responses can be heard as well. To give you a chance to think about them, the two questions that I will ask in a few moments, arising especially from the Gospel and Jesus being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, are “What wilderness and temptations do you sense you/we face this Lent?” And the second, “What angels minister to you in this wilderness time?”

First, borrowing language from our presenter that Pastor Lyndon mentioned, at the Alberta and Territories and BC Study conference two weeks ago, Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer, a few things about our “liturgical geography,” meaning, the “soulful, complex space of the earth” in which we meet and travel now through this season of Lent. The font is where we begin. The waters of baptism are our entrance, as they are in our worship space this season. Saving waters, connected to the flood story in the first reading, of Noah and family and all the creatures with them, and God’s covenant promise that never again would all flesh be destroyed by flood, symbolized by the rainbow as a reminder to God and to all creation. These saving waters, 1Peter suggests, prefigured baptism and salvation in the resurrection of Jesus. Our Lenten journey begins as the Gospel reading does today, in Jesus’ baptism and ours, with the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on Jesus and the voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved, with you I am so pleased.” Baptismal waters of salvation are our entrance and beginning every time we gather in Lent, and every day of our lives.

It is a forty-day wilderness journey for Jesus and for us. Recalling the forty days of rain for Noah and the ark, the forty years in the wilderness for God’s people, and similar times of danger and struggle for God’s prophets and people before us.

The Gospel of Mark offers few details other than Jesus is tempted by Satan, and with the wild beasts, and angels served him. There is no description of three temptation scenes as in Matthew and Luke, only that it is wilderness and there is danger and challenge and potentially, suffering. And Jesus is either threatened by the wild beasts or is in harmony with them as God’s creatures as imagined by the prophets. And angels “wait on” Jesus is the translation we heard. But the word again is diakonoun in Greek, which is the origin of our word deacon or diaconate, meaning “serving.” The angels serve Jesus, as Jesus will invite followers to serve with him. The wilderness to which Jesus is driven for forty days is a place of temptation and threat with God’s creation and creatures. But Jesus overcomes temptation and is ministered to in suffering. And this sacred space and time serves as preparation for Jesus’ ministry and for ours, becoming the quiet wilderness space that Jesus returns to, to pray and to be renewed. This sacred Lenten time and space in a wilderness of temptations and threats and suffering for us and others and our world, is our human journey, and that of all creation, that Jesus shares with us, and endures and overcomes for us, that we too would by grace endure and overcome and be served and ministered to by God’s angels.

Our liturgy/worship order in this season of Lent leaves space for us to listen to the choir sing the Kyrie, calling for God, for Christ, to “have mercy;” and the Holy, proclaiming God’s glory, in heaven and earth, and the blessing “of the one who comes in the name of God. Hosanna in the highest;” and the Lamb of God, “who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us peace.” Served by angels, in the wilderness. And time to pray, and quiet space for our prayers, together.

The beautiful purple, in quilts Dana carefully made, and on the table and at the entrance, is a penitential colour, and a royal colour, holding a reminder of the call to repentance that John began in the wilderness, as prophets before, and that Jesus continues following John’s arrest. As I said previously about this year of Mark’s gospel, the sparse words of Mark hold so much. Jesus is baptised and proclaimed God’s beloved, driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, and after John’s arrest, returns to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, saying, “The dominion of God has come near, repent and believe the good news.” This proclaiming the good news of God stands at the centre of our space for Lent, at the centre of our gathering. Overcoming wilderness temptation with all creation, Jesus begins his ministry of calling for repentance and sharing the good news of God’s dominion coming near.

And in just a few words, “after John was arrested,” we hear this is a political message that got John arrested and will threaten and eventually get John and Jesus killed. This good news of God challenges the powerful and privileged, and threatens those in authority who resist repentance, the radical turning around, that God desires. This is the good and challenging news of God’s dominion coming near that Jesus, out of the wilderness, following John, brings to the world. This is the good and challenging news that Jesus calls us to share in this space and in and through our lives, in our words and actions, for God’s love of this world and all creation.

And in repentance and hope, we join in confession for what we have done and failed to do individually and together, to serve our neighbour in need, and a suffering world and planet, trusting in God’s gracious promise of forgiveness and renewal to begin again each day not burdened, but inspired and hopeful, thankful and even joyful, for the gracious, creative possibilities for greater love and justice and peace that God constantly seeks to create with us. Confession and forgiveness form us in our Lenten and life journey.

And so also this long table for Lent, with space enough for everyone, and the radical inclusion of Jesus eating with anyone, that we will witness in Jesus’ growing ministry. Especially those on the outside, dismissed and excluded by others, eating and drinking with Jesus, and ultimately Jesus giving his very self, in flesh and blood, to save and feed all who hunger and thirst. This Lenten table is a sacred space of God’s welcoming and feeding and celebrating all in the great rainbow of diversity and promise that we celebrate together.

So welcome to Lent. And the liturgical geography of this soulful, complex space of the earth in which we gather. And the questions: “What wilderness temptations do you sense we face this Lent?” “What angels minister to us in this wilderness time?”     

Thank you for your responses and for your listening. For considering together what this Lenten geography in soulful time and complex space with Jesus and all creation holds and means for us. There is wilderness in our lives and world, which threatens and can harm us, others, and all creation. And there is God’s promise, in the wilderness, in the rainbow and in Jesus with us in every experience of life, through waters of salvation, in confession and forgiveness, quiet prayer and angels ministering to us, and the good news of God coming near, right here, and at a table with a welcoming, safe place, and food for all. Blessed Lent. And let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.