Lent 1: Love builds up – self confidence

Readings from Scripture (CEB) Mark 1:9-15

9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” 12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him. 14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept it to themselves, wondering, “What’s this ‘rising from the dead’?”

Love Builds Up – Self Confidence 

During our Ash Wednesday service this week, it’s a part of our liturgy to write a prayer that we’ve been carrying, that’s been weighing on us, that’s become unbearable, and burn that prayer – not to destroy it – not to admit defeat – but to share it with one who can bring about life from the dust.  It reminds us as we begin the journey of Lent, that we’re not alone. 

I’ve always loved Lent for the soul-searching opportunity that begins with Ash Wednesday.  It establishes Lent as a time to think about priorities – how am I spending my time?  What is feeding my soul?  How am I feeling God’s presence (or at times, how or why am I not)? 

But it’s kind of felt like this last year has been a Lenten time.  Over and over we’ve been confronted by loss and disappointment and death.  Over and over we’ve been had to redefine things we took as granted: church, love, relationships.  But again, and again, God is with us, even in these fragile times: God surrounds us, blesses us, and sustains us.

(Just in case you’re wondering) Your memory is correct – we did speak about Jesus’ baptism just a few weeks ago, but as we begin Lent, we start where Jesus’ story starts.  We hear how from the beginning, at baptism – love surrounded him, in the wilderness – love sustained him, and from the cross, following that love ‘til the bitter end, as love looked upon those who derided him, and hated him, and hung him there, love prayed: Father, forgive them…Jesus’ love was revolutionary and threatening. 

And as we see in today’s scripture, God’s love is always powerful and present. 

There’s a brevity about the Gospel of Mark that I didn’t point out the first time.  Within the first 15 verses of chapter 1, Jesus appears, feels God’s call to seek out baptism, is baptized and blessed, and then sent into the wilderness, after which he preaches his first sermon.  Life is rarely that direct. 

The directness of Mark leaves us wanting.  We get no mention of the 30 years or so of Jesus’ life prior to this.  There’s no description of Mary’s profound trust and love of God to birth Jesus.  There’s nothing of Joseph’s steadfast love unwilling to disgrace Mary.  For all we know this might be Jesus’ first experience of God.  But it’s enough.  For in that moment Jesus hears that he is beloved, and any doubts about his self-worth, or calling, or future are met with the knowledge that he’s not alone.

It’s why I’ve chosen the theme of ‘love builds up’ for this Lent.  Jesus’ ministry begins with the building up of his confidence.  He’s literally told that he’s the son of God, and even still, he’s chased into the wilderness of loneliness and fear.  But there too is God, as I don’t think there was a little guy in red pajamas waiting for him.  Tempted by Satan is the temptation to give up.  It’s the temptation to give in.  It’s the temptation to look at the difficult road ahead and believe the loneliness.  I hear that voice of temptation that sneaks in doubt and fear as the covid vaccine rollout has been less than ideal.  I hear that voice of temptation that tells me to just stay in bed.  I hear that voice of temptation that threatens to speak louder than all the good that has been done as is still being done in the world.  But that voice is mine – not Satan or a guy in red pajamas – it’s the me I’d rather ignore. 

For when we look in the mirror, the we who we want to be don’t always show up.  It might be our hair or something that’s gone on in our lives, and the road ahead might look rough, but you can make the journey with a little bit of work and a whole lotta love.[1]  I imagine that’s what the angels whispered into Jesus’ ears: the road ahead might look rough, but you can make the journey with a little bit of work and a whole lotta love. 

So where are you right now?   Whether you’re in your pajamas, sitting on the couch…Are you at the river’s edge, basking in God’s love as it reveals the you, you imagine yourself to be?  Are you feeling the warmth of the sun, the optimism for the future, the call of the one who sees you and your worth?  Are you holding that self-worth up to the light of society, and sensing your call in this waiting world?  Or have you been chased into the wilderness?  Have you fled there not knowing where to turn?  Are you feeling lost and alone?  Are the voices of temptation stronger than the whispers of God?

The Gospel writer makes it clear in such a few brief words that no matter where you are – God is cheering you on.  Even if it’s “just” God, there’s a voice speaking your name in love, building you up and sustaining you not for glory, but service.  Not for recognition, but for life shared.  Not for fame, but for a world transformed by revolutionary love.  With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, it’s easy to convince ourselves of our insignificance.  But somewhere, someone is speaking your name, in love.  Yes, the road ahead might look rough…with a little bit of work and a whole lotta love..you can make the journey.[2]  As Rev. Shonda Nicole Gladden powerfully preached recently,

We must work out our faith through love to accomplish justice for all.  Much like our text this morning we see that love is a many splendid thing, that as the gospel writer talks there to the people, the gospel writer suggests that it is through love and by love and with love that the gospel writer was called to do the very thing that the gospel writer was called.  Beloved brothers and sisters, comrades and kin, I wonder this morning, do you know to what you are called?  Do you know what God is speaking into your spirit right now?

I believe that if you are attentive, that you will hear the whisperings of revolutionary love. Revolutionary love that looks at our work of faith in love to overcome evil.  Overcoming the evil of simply talking about being faithful to live into the good of walking out our faithfulness.[3]

If we are attentive, we will hear the voice of God, speaking into our spirit, saying, ”you are beloved…now go into the wilderness where life is messy and painful and forgotten.  Go and enact the love that is uniquely yours to give.  Go and embody something that the world doesn’t have but so sorely needs.”  For

people of faith of every tradition must come together on the common thing that we all hold together.  And that is love.   Where is the love? When blatant discrimination persists.  Where is the love when the perpetuation of systems to stand in the way of anyone’s right to live?  Where is the love?  You see my faith tradition reminds me that the world will only know of my status as a follower of the way of Jesus Christ by my love.  For Love lifts me up where I can stand.  Where all of us can stand is that plateau called love.  Yet so far as anyone of us is confronted by discrimination and housing and employment and disenfranchisement of voter rights and intolerance of LGBTQ+ people, we have failed to demonstrate true, true love.  And so I ask you again, are you ready for revolutionary love?  Do you want a revolution?

I recommend revolutionary love is the way there.

Love can and must ensure that all can live safely, happily, and into the vision that God has for them.  The love that builds us up isn’t one that tears down another to make it happen.  The love that builds up requires decisive action to enter the world where it’s messy and painful and forgotten, where revolutionary love may seem like “nails on a chalkboard” because it cannot be ignored.  This revolutionary love will lead to our own crosses, as we choose to stand by our convictions that all life, all love is sacred. 

But undoubtedly, this revolutionary love will leave the earth forever changed. 

Thanks be to God for the love that surrounds and blesses, sustain and strengthens, and transforms us and others, leaving the earth knowing that we are not alone, in the sharing of our love.  Amen


[1] Quoting from the video shared for Story Time – entitled Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

[2] ibid

[3] From a sermon entitled A Revolutionary Love from February 14, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CahEH2_QWg

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