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. The mechanical rehearsing of church liturgical holidays does little to promote personal vitality. Spiritual seekers increasingly realize that reflection and spirituality should occur throughout the year and not simply within a calendar-driven ritual. But whatever you think of Lent, issues in today’s message highlight ongoing challenges and opportunities.
A familiar lectionary theme returns today in Mark 1:9-15, which is a version of Jesus’ baptism. This is a proper story to review, especially since the symbolism is a reminder of transformation 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. Baptismal waters are not magical, and in Jesus’ case the act symbolized his entry into public ministry. The way Jesus participated in baptism was such that he wanted people to know that he was aware of his calling. Are you attuned to God inviting you to be a child of the Almighty?
God was pleased with Jesus’ baptism because the Father’s voice pierced the air with laudatory words. It’s not certain how many other people at Jesus’ baptism heard God’s voice. Two other times wherein the Bible records God the Father speaking (during Jesus’ earthly ministry) are on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Seldom do people hear with their physical ears words spoken directly from God. Yet, no one need feel of any less value because all can have access to the spiritual presence of the Almighty.
For now, back to the Jordan River with Jesus. No sooner had Jesus dried off from his dip than his spirit was tested. Jesus was assailed by temptation and he spent time in the wildlife-filled desert contemplating his existence. After the challenges, Jesus leaped into his public life preaching the good news of God’s love and truth. As we stop and consider this grand spectacle, we can gain encouragement. Initially, God can call any of us out of obscurity and we can wake up to the realization of our noble spiritual nature. Whether you are baptized or not, the important point is that you feel and know that you have been called by God for a life of spiritual health.
Sure, life can be a challenge at every level. People who take their faith seriously can struggle as they weigh the cost of discipleship and attempt to discern what God wants. The spirit of God communicates to children of faith, but those who seek God’s direction can prepare to accept the presence of the Almighty. A person desiring spiritual enlightenment is invited to develop a sense of mindfulness, to become more aware of who and what they are in relation to everything around them. To perceive God’s guidance implies that a person is ready, willing and able to receive it. By minimizing distractions and remaining open, a person can experience transformation as they are awakened by God’s presence.
Like Jesus, we may feel assailed by diverse temptations as we attempt God’s work. Have you felt hindered as you pursue a life of compassion? If receiving and sharing God’s love is each person’s divine purpose, then trying to implement that goal isn’t easy. As you begin living an intentional spiritual life, you may enter a wilderness fraught with dangers and startling obstacles. Fear not! Armed with God’s Spirit you can endure and become stronger in the face of all challenges. Embrace the journey God has for you and don’t fear drowning when life washes over you like violent water. You may get wet and soggy, but God will elevate you out of the maelstrom and you will rise to a new life empowered by the voice of God.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey