Welcome to Lent, a period of forty days leading up to Easter. Lent need not have anything to do with dietary restrictions or eating fish on Fridays. No, that model of participation is disappearing and for good reasons. For one, the mechanical rehearsing of church liturgical holidays does little to address core spiritual issues. People are realizing that reflection and spirituality should occur throughout the year and not simply within a timid, calendar-driven boundary. But whatever you think of Lent, issues in today’s message remind us of ongoing challenges and opportunities.
A familiar theme returns today in that Mark’s Gospel provides another version of Jesus at his baptism. This is a proper story to rehearse, especially since the symbolism reminds us of how we are transformed by God’s Spirit. John the Baptist didn’t invent baptism, which is a rite of initiation, cleansing and participation whose origins are lost in time. However, the way Jesus participated in baptism gives us a window into an interesting spiritual truth. Jesus wanted people to see that he, too, was willing to highlight his calling. The water was not magical, but it symbolized Jesus’ entry into public ministry.
God was pleased with Jesus’ baptism because his heavenly voice said as much. I wonder how many other people there heard the voice or if it was only Jesus. The other two times we hear words directly from God the Father are on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane. That God the Father doesn’t address people directly within the gospel story is a separate, interesting topic. For now, back to the riverside with Jesus. No sooner had Jesus dried off from the dip in the river than the Spirit began working. Jesus was assailed by temptation and he spent time in the wildlife-filled desert contemplating his life and ministry. Then, Jesus leaped into his public life, preaching the good news of God’s love and truth.
As we stop and look at this grand sweep of events, we can make analogy to our lives. Initially, God can call any of us out of obscurity and we can wake up to the realization of our spiritual nature. Seldom do we hear with our ears words spoken directly from God. Yet, we need not feel disappointment because we have the sure presence of God in our hearts.
Sure, we struggle inwardly as we weigh the cost of discipleship even as we discern what God wants. The Spirit of God communicates with us, but we must be ready and willing to accept it. We need to develop a sense of mindfulness wherein we are acutely aware of who and what we are in relation to divine promises and possibilities. Yes, if we expect to perceive God’s guidance then we can be expecting it, and to be open and awakened to a renewed reality.
Like Jesus, we may feel assailed by all manner of temptation as we try to do God’s work. Have you felt hindered as you try to do good things for other people? As we begin living an intentional spiritual life, we may enter a wilderness fraught with dangers. Yet, armed with God’s Spirit we endure and become stronger as we encounter challenges.
During times of trial and tribulation we may wonder what God is up to. Rather than wait for an unlikely answer we can choose to become mindful by living in the present (despite persistent uncertainty). As we pursue spiritual awakening we will fathom our life purpose, any form of which involves receiving and sharing God’s love and truth.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey