The Wilderness and the Covenant

Preached at Church of the Resurrection, Bellevue on 22 February 2015.
The first Sunday in Lent, Year B

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you.
This is what we do during Lent.  We lift our souls to the Lord; we put our trust in God.

In each petition of the Great Litany, we open our souls a little more.  We acknowledge to God and one another, our weakness and vulnerability .  We recognize our dependence on the Lord and put our trust in God’s compassion, mercy, and grace.

Why?  I think that ultimately, it’s because of our past experience with life and with God.  We have learned to trust that experience, in part, because of the testimony of other people and because of the testimony of our Holy Scripture.

This morning we hear about God’s covenant with Noah.  God makes an unconditional, everlasting covenant, with not only Noah and his family, not only humanity, but with all life.  Far from the Greek concept of God as an unmoved mover, in the story of Noah, we see God is much moved.  We see God expressing emotion and having a change of heart.  God regrets creating humanity and grieves over the evil in the world and vows to undo creation destroying almost all life.  Then after it’s over, God is moved again and vows,  “Never again.  Never again will I curse the earth.  Never again will I strike down every living thing as I have done.”

Then God blesses Noah and his family and establishes the covenant.  The bow in the sky is a sign of the covenant between God and all life.  It is a reminder – not for us, but for God.  God says, I shall see it and I will remember the eternal covenant between me and all living things.  God places constraints on God’s own power, choosing love and forgiveness over vengeance.

In the coming weeks of Lent, we will see more covenants with God, all leading up to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

We put our trust in the Lord because God makes covenants with us and with all the earth.  We put our trust in the Lord because God delights in creation; because God delights in incarnation and embraces it through Jesus.  In the gospel this morning we see again, the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit enters into him and immediately drives him into the wilderness.

Now Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is spare.  He doesn’t elaborate much; he just gives us four important details.  Jesus was in the desert for 40 days.  He was tempted by Satan.  He was waited on by the angels and he was with the wild beasts.  No mention of fasting; no specifics about the temptations.  Then he went to Galilee to proclaim the Good News.

So, what is Mark’s point?  There are a few aspects of the story that stand out for me.

The wilderness experience was essential to prepare Jesus to begin his ministry of proclaiming the Good News.  Preparation takes a long time – 40 days Facing the reality of evil, dealing with Satan gives authenticity and integrity to Jesus’ message.  He knows exactly what the people are up against.

Another aspect – the wilderness is not an adversary.  It is a place where growth occurs.  In the wilderness, the angels wait on Jesus.  The Holy Spirit guides him.  The wild beasts are with him – but not as a threat.  Are they his companions – like the peaceable kingdom images of the lion lying down with the lamb?  Or are they there to protect him?  Mark uses direct forceful verbs:  the Spirit drives him into the wilderness; the angels wait on him; Satan tempts him.  If the wild beasts were dangerous, in some way, I’m sure Mark would have chosen a different verb; he wouldn’t have said simply that they were with him.

So, Jesus goes apart, into the wilderness to prepare and he confronts Satan.  But he doesn’t go alone.  Even Jesus has God with him and the angels and the wild beasts.

We put our trust in God, we lift  up our souls to the Lord – our whole lives to God because whatever life hands us, God goes with us.

And so, we pray with the psalmist,
Let none who look to you be put to shame;
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
Show me your ways; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth…
For you are the God of my salvation…
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love;
for they are from everlasting.
All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness;
to those who keep his covenant.

To you, O Lord, we lift up our souls;
we offer our very being, the whole of our lives.

Because of your Holy Covenants,   because of your Son, Jesus Christ,
we put all our trust in you.  Amen.