Psalm 25:1-9, Genesis 9: 8-17, 1 Peter 3: 18-end, Mark 1: 9-15
In normal times we all have to move on at some point in our lives. We all have to leave one part of our life, which may have been comfortable and familiar, and we have to move on. It is something we do throughout our lives. We leave school, we leave home to go to college or to set up our own household, we move because of jobs or family circumstances. Over and over, we move on. And it can be scary. Can any one of us say in all honesty, when moving to the next big phase of life, that we have not been nervous or anxious about what lies ahead? Sometimes we can’t wait to leave. We’re ready to go. Other times we would rather stay put. Regardless of how or why it happens, change is a part of life. It happens in lots of different ways and at different times.
In the Gospel we read that Jesus had left his home in Nazareth. The carpenter shop and the family life with Mary and Joseph were now behind him. He was moving out into the World where he would be loved, hated, feared, but above all noticed. He left his home and now stood with John in the Jordan, the transit stop between that home and the wilderness. There he was baptised. Then the Heavens were torn apart, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice declared:” You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And from there the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Moving on is not, however, simply about the circumstances of life. It has always been the way of God’s people. Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden. God told Abram to move to a new country. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt. Noah and his family moved in dramatic circumstances casting off from dry land into the unknown. When Noah saw the flood waters, he must have been petrified, but he trusted in God.
When Jesus stood on the banks of the Jordan, he may have been thinking “Right well here we go, this is it!” He too must have been nervous and anxious. He knew why he had come to Earth; he knew what lay ahead and, as he was human as well as divine, he must have at least been apprehensive.
I think it unlikely, though not impossible, that someone here might be thinking “Hey, he is just repeating word for word the sermon he gave us on 18 February 2018”. Well so far that would be correct. What I have said up to now is pretty well what I said then. But now I will go in a slightly different direction.
None of us would have guessed in 2018 where we would be now. We are all probably itching to move on, to get on with life. The vaccine and its so far pretty impressive, roll out holds a spark of hope that life will get back to some form of normality. The last year has been pretty depressing. So many hopes and dreams and just life in general put on hold. We want to move on.
But what the messages we get from today’s readings confirm to us is that, despite the difficulties of life, the frustrations and worries, God is there for us, just as he was for Jesus, just as he has been for his people throughout the ages. Noah saw the World destroyed; Jesus stood on the threshold of a life about to be transformed. God has a covenant with us as he had with Jesus and Noah and all his people. Wherever we may be, whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, there he is blessing us, encouraging us, caring for us. And as we move on through life, we go through not only a physical journey in which we gain many experiences and deal with changes in our bodies and our lives, but we should also be going through a spiritual journey with God alongside us.
In my sermon three years ago, I spoke about our spiritual journey, our pilgrimage with God. We all need times to reflect on where we are on that journey, whether there are things in our lives that hinder us rather than help us and whether there is anything we could be doing to grow spiritually. We all need a little bit of God time, when we can devote ourselves to prayer, not just on Sundays, but every day. Over the last year some, but by no means all, of us may have had more opportunities for being alone and for approaching life more calmly and quietly. For having God time. Have we used this time profitably? I must admit that I cannot necessarily claim that I have. I hope those of you who have had the opportunity, have been more successful.
Prayer and contemplation should be what this holy season of Lent is about. Traditionally on Ash Wednesday many people were marked with the ashes of remembrance, ashes often made by burning the previous year’s palm crosses. And now today the Gospel takes us with Jesus into the wilderness. The two occasions cannot be separated. Wednesday’s ashes are about moving on. And Lent is about sacrifice, reflection and contemplation. Lent and life can take us to somewhere uncomfortable, somewhere new, somewhere where we need to make adjustments.
But just as Jesus used the forty days he spent in the wilderness preparing for his Ministry, we can use the forty days of Lent to reflect, to pray, to prepare ourselves for the traumas and momentous events of Palm Sunday and Good Friday and ultimately the joy of Easter. Let’s make the most of it!
And to him be praise for ever!