Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

So this world is broken. There was another school shooting this past week, the 8th school shooting this year in the States that resulted in death. Did you catch that? Not the 8th shooting that resulted in death in the whole country in the last 49 days, nor is it the 8th incident in a school that guns were fired. This is the 8th shooting that resulted in death that happened in a school since January 1st. That is roughly one every 8 days, just to put that into perspective. Half of those shootings happened in a high school or younger. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not sure if I would want my kids go to a school in a country that has an average of one gun-related death every week. I wouldn’t want to risk odds like that. School should be about forming minds and preparing for the future, not dodging bullets and mourning their classmates.

And to top it off, I was reading how all this school shootings have sparked a huge influx of “protective” school gear, like bulletproof backpacks and stuff. What the what? Seriously. Is that supposed to make up for this? Make us feel better? Put our kids in some Kevlar and look the other way? Broken.

Times like this I feel like there is no hope for the world. Like any attempt at any kind of change is just futile and that maybe we should just hole up somewhere and ignore everything. Or that if we are lucky to start any kind of change, someone with completely opposite ideals will come and roll back any change that has been brought forth. It’s like there just isn’t any point in trying anymore, because everything will just stay the same. Or maybe not the same, but it seems like nothing can stop the constant descent into the brokenness and short sighted selfishness and evil that the world seems to be revelling in now. It seems like it would just be easier to hit the reset button and start over. Let the world succumb to war and disease, let the riff raff weed themselves out, or maybe hope that there will be a massive flood that will just wipe everyone out.

Oh wait, God tried that before, right? And after that ordeal God promised that it will never happen again. Well there goes that idea. But why would God make such a promise? We know the story of Noah and the Ark, yeah? The people of earth was just riddled with evil and wickedness, so much that God was just fed up and decided to hit that reset button by sending a worldwide flood and literally wipe everyone out. Well, everyone except for Noah and his family who were prepared by building an ark that carried them and a large selection of animals to safety, while all the other land lubbers weren’t so lucky. I mean, it was effective, wasn’t it? The mission was accomplished. All wickedness and evil was cleansed off the earth and righteousness was restored. Why wouldn’t God want to do that again, especially now when the world has again gotten to a point of evil and wickedness that has robbed us of all goodness, justice, and hope?

Because like I said, if I had the option, I think I would want to reset things. I sometimes dream about how nice it would be if society were to learn how to work together, live as a community, and create that kind of utopia that we like to talk about so much in church. Wouldn’t it be nice? We won’t have to worry about school shootings anymore. We wouldn’t have to be concerned about the future of our environment. We wouldn’t even have think about where our next paycheque or square meal would come from, as all people would share, support, and care for each other. One can dream, huh?

So you’d think that destroying the world in the midst of all this evil and wickedness would be a good idea. That the world had a good run but now it’s time to cleanse it again. That since it worked once before, it’s worth trying again.

But as I was reading up on these passages in preparation of this sermon, I read something that I found very interesting. While we often hear the story of Noah and the Ark and see how people have changed through the act of this flood, I read that it is actually about how God changed, how while God was driven to act by the evil found in people, after the flood God saw that as evil as people can be, there will be no warrant to destroy all people again. Rather, the people are worth saving, worth believing in, worth loving.

Man alive that is hard to see, isn’t it? It is hard to see the good in people when people can be so bad. It’s hard for us to forgive even the shooter in Florida, a kid that we’ve never met or perhaps can’t even remember his name, let alone forgive those who have wronged us up close and personal. It’s hard for us not focus on the evil of the world, chalk any effort for positive change to being futile, and give up on hope.

I wonder if this is how the gospel according to Mark sees the temptation story. As you probably noticed, this account of this very famous story is much shorter and direct than the others. While the others told us specifically what each temptation was about and how Jesus battled it, this one just tells us that he was tempted at all, after being driven out to the wilderness by the Spirit, immediately after Jesus was declared God’s beloved Son with whom God is well pleased. What a whirlwind of events that might need a bit of unpacking.

Without any kind of consideration to the other gospel accounts, I wonder if Jesus was driven to the wilderness by the Spirit because he is declared the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God. I wonder if Jesus had no choice but to head out there because he needed to understand for himself the weight of that title and proclamation. I wonder if Jesus needed to go out to the wilderness to be tempted in order to further see his own value and worth that supports the claim made at his baptism.

So I guess he was baptized in the river, and kind of confirmed in the wilderness, in that he was told he is beloved by the water, and his trust in that claim is just confirmed by the tempting and testing. How? Because the angels attended to him. He was surrounded by God’s creation. He was reminded that throughout the pain and suffering that God is with him, with all of us, revealing all grace and mercy, all love and acceptance, all hope and promise, that as God made a promise to Noah and all flesh out of the waters of the flood, that God also makes a promise to Jesus and all of us out of the waters of baptism, and as that promise is confirmed in Jesus through trials and temptation, so it is confirmed in us and in the world through the trials of seeing the good in the midst of evil, the difficulty in knowing the value of people given by God, the temptation of giving up on hope, and being reminded that God saw the world worthy enough to keep, love, and even cherish.

But I know it isn’t easy. In fact, it’s really hard. With so much greed in the world it is hard to trust. With so much violence it is hard to feel safe. With so much evil it is hard to keep hope. But it is there. God saw it. God sees it. God promises it to us and reminds us daily through the beauty of creation.

A few weeks ago, I came across this story that I thought was worth sharing and talking about. Without giving away too much, here is a video summary of it:

So this guy saw good where there seems to be none. He saw beauty in the midst of evil and greed. He held onto hope in the midst of a broken world and successfully did something about it. (And I am glad to be a small part of it)

You see this is the promise given by God, that the world is worth preserving, saving and cherishing. This is the grace of God, that the brokenness and hurt and suffering can be healed. This is the hope in God, that in the midst of wilderness, trials, and temptation, God doesn’t leave us but lifts us up, holds us, and loves us.

Today we install our new council members, and we begin to look ahead into this season of Lent, this year and beyond, discerning our call and duty in the world for the world. May we embrace the gifts and talents given to us by God, the hope instilled in us by the Spirit, and the declaration that we are God’s beloved children. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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