Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, February 18, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 1

Lent 1, 2021
Genesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15
Psalm 25:1-9

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Let’s review what we just heard:  Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  Every one of those things is scary.  With some explanation, every one of those things is something we spend our lives avoiding.  It’s fair to say that someone would probably have to force you to go out and face one of those things, let alone all four at once.  And in today’s gospel reading, the Holy Spirit does exactly that to Jesus.

The way it gets translated in our gospel text is, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”  That’s pretty close.  But I want you to know that the Greek word that becomes “drove” in that sentence is actually ekballo.  Which doesn’t help yet, but hang on.   Ballo is the Greek word that means “to throw.”  When you add the prefix ek, which means “out,” you get ekballo, to throw out.  So, immediately after his baptism, the Spirit throws Jesus out into the wilderness.  What that looks like, we don’t know, but it definitely suggests that Jesus didn’t decide to take a walk in the woods, right?

And then, let’s go through that list of four scary things I started with.  On the face of it, forty days is a long time, yes, but is it scary?  Does it drive fear into your heart?  I mean, for little children, the phrase “wait forty minutes” brings howls of protest.  For the most part, as adults, we’re pretty okay with forty days. 

But it’s important to look at the number forty from a symbolic perspective, which is what the readers of Mark’s gospel would bring to it.  For forty days and nights it rained until every living thing was killed except Noah and his family.  For forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert without a home.  Moses was on the mountain alone with God for 40 days when he received the Ten Commandments.  Twice!  Jonah warned the people of Ninevah for forty days that God would destroy their city.  Ezekiel laid on His right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah's sins. Elijah went 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb.  Our season of Lent lasts for forty days (minus Sundays).  And I feel compelled to point out that a healthy pregnancy typically lasts for forty weeks.  Forty is a significant number.  The number forty is usually connected to a time of testing, or endurance, or judgement, or all of the above.  So yes, forty days is a fearful amount of time.

Second scary thing: In the wilderness.  For me—kind of a city boy—this one is right out.  Forty minutes in the wild is 30 minutes too long for me.  As I’ve told you before, I’m what the comedian Jim Gaffagan calls, “indoorsy.”  But for those of you who enjoy being out in nature, I just want to remind you that the wilderness of Jesus’ time and place is not the peaceful parks of Ohio.  You’ve seen pictures or videos, I’m sure, of the desert places around Israel.  Not exactly a walk in Walden woods.  Plus, since there were fewer than 300 million people on the planet at the time, wilderness really meant wilderness.

Third scary thing: With wild animals.  I don’t really need to say much about that, do I?  I mean, you’ve seen Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, right?  Wild animals means exactly that.  There’s no lion tamer or matador walking in front of Jesus.  It’s just Jesus, and the wild animals in the wilderness for forty days until we remember, oh yeah . . . 

Tempted by Satan.  This fourth one is a little trickier, because we don’t really know what is meant by the word “satan.”  (But that’s a discussion for anther time.)  The main thing to remember is that it isn’t a man in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork (no matter what you may have read in Dante’s “Inferno” or seen in Renaissance paintings).  Nonetheless, tempted by satan would certainly be something Jesus would not be eager to run out and do.  

So.  Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  And then we get the one good thing here: and the angels waited on him.  Now THAT is an unfortunate translation, especially given our cultural baggage.  Because, what do you picture?  A bunch of creatures with wings and white robes, with a towel over their arm, bringing Jesus silver trays filled with pina coladas, right?  Well, it’s what I picture, anyway.  But two Greek words we need to look at here.  (Who knew this would turn into a Greek class?)  

The word diakanoun means “ministered.”  We ran into it a couple weeks ago with the healing of Peter’s mother in law.  The second word is angello, which always gets translated as “angels,” which makes us think of chubby little babies with wings, but which actually means “messengers of God.”  We never get a reliable description of angels, but we each carry our own picture in our heads, either from Hallmark cards or artwork we’ve seen.  We don’t know what angels look like; we only know that they are messengers of God.  So, that phrase, “the angels waited on him,” should really say something more like, “the messengers of God ministered to him.”  And that’s important, for a reason we’ll get to in a minute.

To catch us up, then, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is thrown out into the desert for forty days with wild beasts, tempted by satan, and the messengers of God ministered to him.  And what happens after that?  Then, Jesus goes to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Now I want to revisit the specific dangers of those four things that Jesus faced.  You could say that forty days is a dangerous time.  And the wilderness is a dangerous place.  And wild beasts are physical danger.  And being tempted by satan is a mental and spiritual danger.  So, dangerous time and place, and dangerous physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Immediately after his baptism, all that Jesus is as a person is in danger.  And, in the midst of this, messengers of God ministered to him.  And then, Jesus went out, proclaiming the good news of God.

Each one of us faces threats in our lives.  Not usually all at once, or hopefully not.  But there are times for all of us when we are under assault by the dangers of time and place, where our physical, mental, and spiritual health are at risk.  I mean, just look around.  Sometimes those dangers are caused by others; sometimes they are caused by our own actions.  And sometimes they happen just because the world is a dangerous place to live.  But, thanks be to God, we have messengers of God who minister to us in our dark times.  St. Timothy’s Church is a place where you can find these messengers of God.

I’ve never been a fan of telling people to do what Jesus does.  You know, asking yourself, What Would Jesus Do?  Because you and I are not Jesus (in case you haven’t noticed).  But I am always a fan of pointing out instances where we can follow Jesus, where he shows us the way.  And today’s gospel lesson is just one such time.  And here’s what I mean by that.

After a baptism, it would be really nice to just stay over there by the font.  Safe and sound in the knowledge that God has redeemed us through the waters of baptism, and claimed us as God’s own child.  But then, the Spirit throws us out into the dangerous place of daily life, to live in the dangerous times into which we are born.  Along the way, there will be challenges to our physical well being, our mental health, and our spirituality.  But all along the way, we are ministered to by the messengers of God.  And, like Jesus, that is what gives us the strength to go out into the world, proclaiming the good news of God.

As we continue these forty days of Lent together, may God continue to send messengers to minster to each of us, to carry us through the hardships of our lives, so that we too can continue to proclaim the good news of God’s love for the world.

We all face challenges.  But we are not alone.  Because the messengers of God minister to us, and give us the strength to proclaim the good news of God.  We are not alone, and we have a savior.  And that makes all the difference.


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