Sunday, February 26, 2012

1 Lent

February 26, 2012

Genesis 9.8-17; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.9-15

+ So….did you miss me while I was on vacation? I hope so. Because, of course, I missed all of you. Of course, it does feel a bit strange to come back from vacation and, all of sudden, be confronted with the Season of Lent. But, here we are. The First Sunday in Lent. And no doubt you were all were prepared to come to church this morning, through all the threats of winter storms and blizzards, and hear gloom and doom in our scripture readings for today.

Ah, but not so. Instead, we get… water? We get Noah and the ark? And baptism? Now, this is my way to begin Lent!

We begin Lent as we begin any important step as Christians—with solid footing in our baptismal understanding. We begin Lent with a remembrance of our baptismal covenant—that covenant that we formed with God at our baptisms—a covenant that is still binding on us, even now. This covenant is a covenant very much like the covenant God made with Noah after the waters of the flood that we hear about in our reading from Genesis. I wasn’t expecting to do it, but here we are on this first Sunday of Lent, and I am preaching about, of all things, baptism.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also get another special treat. In our Gospel reading, we get, in a very brief scripture, an upheaval.

What? You missed the upheaval in our Gospel reading? You missed the reversal? You missed, in that deceptively simple piece of scripture, a mirror image? It’s easy to miss, after all. Our Gospel reading is so simple, so sparse. But then again, so is haiku. But let’s look a little closer at what we’ve just heard and read.

In today’s Gospel, we find three elements that remind us of something else. We find the devil. We find animals. And we find angels. Where else in scripture do we find these same elements? Well, we find them all in the Creation story in Genesis, of course. The story of Adam is a story of what? --the devil, of animals and of angels. But that story ends with the devil’s triumph and Adam’s defeat.

In today’s Gospel, it has all been made strangely right. Jesus—the new Adam—has turned the tables using the exact same elements. We find Jesus not in a lush beautiful place like Eden. Rather we find Jesus with wild animals in the desert—animals who were created by God and named by Adam. We find him there waited on by the angels—and let’s not forget that turned Adam away from Eden. And there, in that place, he defeats the Devil—the same Devil who defeated Adam.

I have found this juxtaposition between Adam and Jesus to be a rich source of personal meditation, because it really is very meaningful to us who follow Jesus. If we lived with the story of Adam, if we lived in the shadow of his defeat, the story a somewhat bleak one. There doesn’t seem to be much hope. The relationship ruined with Adam hasn’t been made right. But today we find that the relationship has been right. The story isn’t a story of defeat after all. It isn’t a time to despair, but to rejoice. The Devil has been defeated. And this is very important.

We, in our baptisms, also defeat the Devil. Now, by the Devil, I am not necessarily talking about a supernatural being who rules the underworld. I’m not talking about the horns, forked tail and pitchfork. By Devil I mean the personification of all that we hold evil.

In our baptisms, we renounce all the evil of this world and the next, and by renouncing evil, we are assured that it can be defeated. By renouncing the devil and all the evils of this world, we turn away from the evil inherent within us—the evil that was set upon us from the beginning—from Adam’s being turned away at Eden. Our baptism marks us and in that mark we find the strength to stand up against evil. This time of Lent—this time for us in the desert, this time of fasting and mortification—is a time for us to confront the demons in our lives. We all have them.

In our wonderful collect for today, we prayed to God to “come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations.”

The poet that I am, I love the tradition language of Rite I better here.

“Make speed to help thy servants who are assaulted by manifold temptations.”

We all understand that term “manifold temptations.” We all have those triggers in our lives that disrupt and cause upheaval. Sometimes this upheaval is mental and emotional, sometimes it is actual. We have our own demons, no matter what name we might call them.

I certainly have my own demons in my life and sometimes I am shocked by the way they come upon me. I am amazed by how they lay me low and turn my life upside down. They represent for me everything dark and evil and wrong in my life and in the world around me. They are sometimes memories of wrongs done to me, or wrongs I’ve done to others. Sometimes they are the shortcomings of my own life—of being painfully reminded of the fact that I have failed and failed miserably at times in my life. They are reminders to me that this world is still a world of darkness at times—a world in which people and nature can hurt and harm and destroy. And their power and influence over my life is, I admit, somewhat strong.

Trying to break the power of our demons sometimes involves going off into the deserts of our lives, breaking ourselves bodily and spiritually and, armed with those spiritual tools we need, confronting and defeating those powers that make us less than who we are.

For me, I do find consolation when I am confronted by the demons of my life in that covenant I have with God in my baptism. I am reminded by that covenant that there is no reason to despair when these demons come into our lives, because the demons, essentially, are illusions. They are ghosts. They are wispy fragments of my memory. They have no real power over me despite what they make think sometimes. Because the demons have been defeated by God.

Again, returning to our collect for today, we prayed, “as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save.”

God has been “might to save” us. The demons of our lives have been defeated by our Baptismal Covenant and the waters of those baptismal waters. The real power they have over my life has been washed away in those waters, much as all evilness was washed away in the flood in Noah’s time.

So, as we wander about in the spiritual desert of Lent, let us truly be driven. Let the Spirit drive us into that place—to that place wherein we confront the demons of our lives. But let us do so unafraid. The Spirit is the driving force and, knowing that, we are strengthened. Let us be driven into that place. Let us confront our demons. Let us confront the very Devil himself. Let us face the manifold temptations of our lives unafraid, knowing full well that God is “mighty to save.” And in confronting evil and temptation, let us, with Jesus, defeat those demons.

Strengthened by our Baptismal Covenant let us then be able to return from this place, proclaiming loudly, by our words, and by our actions,

“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

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