Sunday, February 21, 2021



Lent invites us to a re-orientation to the life and opportunities God has opened to us, and offers us the joy of stepping into and exploring and discovering greater spiritual depths. 

Today we begin the season of lent, well we kind of began Wednesday on Ash Wednesday. But for our Sundays, we begin the season of lent, a time of renewal and focus on the spiritual for Christians of many different denominations, and even a lot of people that don't celebrate Christians, Christians that don't celebrate lent, but perhaps Christians who celebrate other things during this period leading up to Easter. Or even people who are not Christians, but they still know what Christians are by and large doing during this period, tend to give each other some space over the six weeks period to adjust, because they know what we're up to.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on February 21, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

We're up to introspection, we're doing some self examination to try to see where the improvements that we need to make in our lives are. So we're stepping back and withdrawing and we tend to do that as a group and in support of one another, knowing that this is a time of spiritual growth and renewal. We try to encourage that in each other and in the world around us. And then we're complimented by nature itself in the renewal of spring coming and the new changes that it offers, the new cycle of life.

Baptism of Jesus

And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.      Verse 11 (KJV)

This passage of scripture from Mark chapter one describes for today the time when Jesus went to be baptized, and then he went to the wilderness and then began preaching. And one of the things I love about the gospel of Mark is that it's condensed. It just hits on the action points, usually just not going into a lot of detail, but just almost a bullet point of what happened. There's other things that happened one right after another, in these groupings. And really, he leaves the other descriptions to the other gospels. So you can look a little further and get some more information usually in the other gospels. But even in the other gospels and really throughout the entire Bible, the scriptures don't go into a great amount of depth about anything. And there's, I think, a reason for that. And the reason is that the Bible gives us these invitations and suggestions and imagery and communicates to us God's call in our lives and is God's love for us an invitation to delve deeper into spirituality.

And if we want to, then we can. And if we don't want to then, well, we can put it off for a little while. I think eventually everybody will get there, but the sooner we get there, the more we can explore, the sooner we can explore anyway. And the more we can go ahead and be applying the things that we find to our daily lives. And so the invitation is there. The doors are open and all, but a lot of that discovery of the spiritual realm of life is left to us to accept the invitations, walk through the door and see what's there. And then how we try to communicate that to each other is going to be wildly different, because we're all different. We're all going to see things differently and experience not only that, but the things we experience seem to be quite different too. It's very personal in a lot of ways. Or one group of people might see things and experience certain things one way and another group, another way.

We should try to be in harmony about that, but we aren't always, are we? But we should be and supportive and interested in what the other people are finding also in their discoveries. I called this orientation because during this season, just kind of building up on where we've been over the last several weeks of exploring eternal life and last Sunday, the transfiguration of the Lord, and experiencing the discovery of the spiritual realm I'd just like to kind of continue that thread in this time of Lenten exploration of the spirit, spiritual exploration, where we examine our own spirituality, our hearts and minds, our souls and spirits, the spiritual nature of our relationships with God and with each other, with all of creation and see what's there and see what could be improved in all of that. What could make better connections and more harmony with all God's creation.

I called it orientation because a lot of times when we begin something new, we usually take a little bit of time to familiarize ourselves with what we're getting ready to do at the time of orientation. And I think that's what Jesus was doing in part in going to the wilderness as he began his ministry, because it said that he was baptized and he went to the wilderness, then he came back from the wilderness and began preaching. And so this became, it was for him a time of sorting things out and getting things straight, thinking about what he was going to do, thinking about what really was the mission and the task at hand, the needs and all these things that, and searching himself too as indicated in the temptations that are described. And they're just mentioned here, but they're in Mark, but described a little bit more in the other gospels in Matthew and Luke, but probably still only scratching the surface of the temptations that he actually dealt with.

Maybe categories of temptations. Mark records how at the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and then there was a voice that was heard from heaven saying, and this is how it says in the King James. "And there came a voice from heaven saying thou art my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."

The Spirit Drove Him

At once the Spirit made him go into the desert.  Verse 12 (GNT)  

 And that kind of helps me to think that if Jesus had his drought time or his orientation time or his time in the wilderness., and he was loved by God so much as a beloved son, enough for a cloud to come and God to speak out of that cloud at his baptism and to say how much he loved him and how much he was pleased with him, then these dry times that we have, our spiritual deserts we sometimes encounter, are not necessarily a sign of falling out of favor with God, but maybe perhaps even a time of his grace, a sign of his grace to pull us closer to God and pull us closer to our own spiritual life and to draw us in, to invite us. And then it said that the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. In the Good News, it says, Good News translation says, at once the Spirit made him go into the desert.

So it was this the force of the Spirit driving him there and driving we could say, drawing him. However, the Spirit that had descended on him at his baptism and that was empowering him to go preach the gospel of repentance and of promise of new life and all the other things that go along with that with his ministry, this same Spirit now was making him go apart. As we see that he often does throughout his ministry, make him go off alone, spend some time in the wilderness, getting re-situated for where he was heading next.

In the Wilderness

He was in the wilderness forty days. Verse 13a (DLNT)

 He was in the wilderness 40 days. And that's how it's written in the disciples literal New Testament. The 40 days in part signifies an extended period of time. The 40 days of Moses and 40 days of Elijah, 40 days of Noah, all these extended periods of time. 40 years in the desert and in the same wilderness probably, similar wilderness, maybe not the same, similar, wilderness of the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness before they entered the promised land.

But I think more than symbolic, we kind of have a symbolic 40 days now, but it's also literally 40 days, but maybe 46 if you count Sundays, which we don't count as the 40 days of lent. But anyway, this extended period of self-examination and renewal is a reflection of this 40 day period of Jesus in the wilderness. And so there's some thinking about what we're thinking about for 40 days and thinking about that being done in a situation of complete withdrawal from all of the things and devices and schedules and people and tasks and everything else that surrounds us all the time. Complete withdrawal from that for 40 days, then that would seem more extended than it probably seems a lot of times as we pass through this six week period preparing for Easter.

But this was a period then extended of disconnect from some things so that we could be, or in this case he could be, more deeply connected in the spirit, to the spiritual things and to himself, to look inside himself and examine what was there and resist the temptations, whatever they may be, that come his way, our way, their way. And to establish some new connections in the spirit with connections with God, connections with each other through our thoughts and prayers and through our meditations, connections with others through what we think about and what we feel in our hearts, connection with nature, with God's creation. And part of that creation was the animals. It says here, it says in the message, wild animals were his companions.

With the Beasts

 Wild animals were his companions.  Verse 13b (MSG)

 I like that, not just that they were there, but they were his companions. There were no people there, there were just these animals, all different kinds of animals living there. And I think in some ways that sounds a little bit scary because you can imagine that some animals are a little bit scary. Not all animals are friendly to human beings. But then again, not all human beings are friendly to each other. So we can extrapolate a little bit and make some associations there. But I think about Daniel in the lion's den, because he was praying. They put him in the lion's den over overnight and came back the next day expecting what we would all expect if we were put in a lion's den, but instead they all were companions.

They all had worked things out somehow and there they were together and everything was fine. And there's several examples of that with animals and all in the Bible and a lot of imagery of animals in the Bible, like think about the Balaam's donkey talking to him. There was Noah and the ark and all the different animals that were brought into the ark during that 40 day period. And they all somehow seemed to, the Bible doesn't say if it didn't work out with any of them, but so kind of gives the indication that things got worked out okay for everybody. Isaiah foretells the time when the lion would lay down with the lamb and the little children would play with wild animals and nothing would hurt in all my holy mountains sayeth the Lord.

And then maybe we can extrapolate that to our own living situation. In some ways it's almost like we've all been in the wilderness, a worldwide wilderness journey through this pandemic because we've had to be withdrawn and we've found other ways of being connected with each other and with nature and with life and with ourselves. And some people have found great difficulty in that, but we still are trying to do it and managing through that as we continue through the pandemic and connecting.

But we've also seen over this past year or so, continuing relationships that would be more like what you would expect from wild animals, so to speak, as people continue to be polarized and kind of sometimes at each other a little bit more than they need to be. And even religious people, spiritual people, kind of pulling each other's threads a little bit and kind of getting on each other's nerves a little bit with the things they believe or say they want to accomplish and all like that, that are at odds with each other. And so it can get pretty wild sometimes, I guess. But we say a thing about if we can get along with wild animals in the desert or whatever situations we're in, then maybe that's an invitation for us to try to work things out with each other a little better and make some accommodations and kind of get it worked out, we might be okay if we can do that.

Angels were There

Angels took care of him.   Verse 13c  (MSG)

 Harmony would be what we're looking for. Not necessarily some kind of a forced unity where everybody has to do everything the same. We certainly don't want to do that. But where we can find some points of, at least some points of harmony to where we can be in cooperation and have a good relationship with each other in some ways at some points, around some tables anyway. And then Mark notes that the angels came and ministered to Jesus. And that's a wonderful picture that calls us into some additional imagery and awareness of what's going on around us in the unseen realm of life. Of course, we already know we don't see everything that's physically around us because the particles and atoms and all that, they're too small for us to see. And so there's so much going on, even this pandemic, with a microscope, if you could see everything with a microscope, then you could be up close and see the virus as it moves around.

But we don't have that privilege in our range of vision to be able to see little tiny things like that, as deadly as they are and as much as it would help us if we could see it, we could avoid the virus when we saw it. We'd just see it in the air, but we don't see that deep. And so just, if we can't see physical things, how much more can we not see spiritual things that are going on around us?

But the Bible brings up these angels several times and doesn't again, go into like the other things that we talked about, doesn't go into a great deal of depth there. What it does do is give us some little insights and one that they're there, that angels are messengers from God, envoys to do God's bidding of love and help and salvation, healing, all that, to bring messages like Gabriel who appeared to Mary and gave her the message of Jesus conception. And others that appeared in dreams or in visions or in human form, as the apostle mentioned that we should treat each other like angels, because we might be entertaining angels unawares.

You never know who that immigrant is that's passing through your land. It might be an angel. And here you are, be careful how you treat people, especially people that you don't know. You might know somebody else and think, well, I'm sure that's no angel anyway, but some of them that we don't know, we might not know. And a lot of times, even if somebody is not an angel, God might still be having them help you out in a certain way that kind of associates with the work of an angel. So how many times have you had somebody just come up in your life at just the right time with just the right solution, and it was just like an angel came. You don't really think that they were actually an angel, but yet in a way, they were an angel to you.

They did the service of an angel in your life that day. And we have those stories on ourselves and we hear them from our friends. So it's not unusual that this angelic view is a part of, even though that a lot of what we think about angels and all the different ideas and studies and angel-ology and all that comes is built on things that are in the Bible instead of not necessarily what is in the Bible. But there are some images there to go on and build on, the idea of a little bit of a hierarchy in some forms that may suggest some ways for our imagination to go as we reflect on that. But I think the point is that that God had fixed a way for Jesus to be taken care of.

In the message it says, angels took care of him. Angels ministered to him, the other translations say. And we don't always see how God is working and who he's working with and what agencies he's using, but we have the opportunity and invitation to trust that God is working, that all around us things are going on that we're not aware of both physical and spiritual that we're not necessarily aware of, but it's still happening for our benefit and the good of the people around us. There's an Old Testament story about Elijah where his servant became really concerned because, that's an understatement, he was terrified because the King's army were coming after them and he didn't know what they can do about the whole King's army. And Elijah prayed and asked the Lord to open the eyes of his servants so that he could see the hosts of heaven all gathered around and all the hills above them there to surround and protect them.

And the prayer was answered, the servant's eyes were opened, he could see for a moment all the hosts of heaven around and protecting them. And we might pray about that during this lent that maybe our eyes can be open to what is around us, what's going on in our spirits, in the spiritual realm where we are. And then even more what's going on around us, what's going on within us, within our own hearts and minds, our own thoughts and feelings that we might become acquainted with who we are. So all of this is a part of the Lenten orientation, re-orientation perhaps to life and to our selves, to the ministry of our spiritual gifts, that authority that each of us has in the laying on of hands or a baptism. A re-orientation to the life and opportunities that God has opened to us, and that we have the opportunity and we have the joy of stepping into and exploring and discovering. 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.


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