When I was a kid, my brother and I would give up something for Lent, usually something food related. For me it would probably have been candy or sweets. At various times in my life I have stopped eating meat, or drinking coffee, or having dessert, or some combination thereof. Usually something I probably should have cut back on anyway.
For Joseph, my younger brother, it would often be caffeine related. I remember one year, when he was about 12, he decided to give up cola for Lent. This is also the year that I realized he was probably going to grow up to be an attorney.
This is because Lent is counted as the “forty days before Easter, not counting Sundays.” Joseph, future attorney that he was, really paid attention to the “not counting Sundays” bit and decided he could break his fast on Sundays and would have a Mountain Dew on Sunday afternoon.
Some of us may add a new devotional practice, or may give more to charity, or take on extra service projects, or this, or that.
And these are all great.
But they are not really the point.
Our reading from Mark today is a bit of a promise sandwich, with trials and temptation in the middle.
First we have God’s promise in Jesus’s baptism. Just as Jesus comes out of the water, the Spirit of God descends on him and he hears God claim him as God’s own and name him as Beloved. We see Jesus becoming bound to God in the promise conferred through baptism and being claimed as God’s own.
At the end of the reading from Mark, we have the announcement of God’s promise to creation becoming manifest. We see Jesus launching out in to his ministry of proclamation about the promise of God’s love and calling people to come into the Kingdom which is at hand.
In the middle of these two reminders of God’s promise we have verses twelve and thirteen
There is a lot of action in these two verses.
For starters, the word that is translated as “drove out” is a swift action of being thrown out.
Thus immediately after his baptism, the Holy Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness. This is not a gentle invitation to a safari or a day hike. This is a compulsion. Jesus is violently thrust out of his comfort zone and into the wilderness.
And in the wilderness, he spends FORTY DAYS being tempted by Satan.
Again this is not a gentle action.
This is not like being tempted by that extra piece of chocolate or another episode of House Of Cards before bed.
The word for tempting here goes way deeper than that.
It evokes a tormenting trial, being really put to the test. Jesus is having the screws put to him by Satan, the adversary of all that is good.
Jesus is sent forth into the wilderness and slammed up against his humanness.
And he comes back from the wilderness and immediately goes about proclaiming the Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand.
In order to begin his ministry, Jesus had to confront himself. He had to confront the reality of his mission on Earth; that he would die for the sake of the world on the cross. He had to meet the parts of himself that pull him away from that mission head on and overcome them.
And so do we.
In our baptism we are named as Beloved by God and claimed by the Holy Spirit, we are also marked by the cross of Christ forever. That mark compels us out into the world, announcing and bringing about the Kingdom of God.
But first we have to get ready.
These next forty-two days, including Sundays in this counting, are not some mere remembrance of Jesus’s walk in the wilderness. They are not a time for gently working on ourselves, for nice self-help and doing things we ought to be doing already.
This season is not about us at all, it is about God. It is about It is about preparing to heed the call of our baptism and live into the cross of Christ.
These next forty-two days, we are cast out into the wilderness to confront ourselves. This is a time to examine ourselves and come face to face with our own issues, behaviors, and demons that turn us away from God.
Thankfully we have help in this. When Jesus was in the desert, he was waited on by angels. In other words, Jesus was ministered to by the ones sent by God. They are not some ephemeral spirits in the wilderness to serve Jesus. They are very real beings sent by God to minister to Jesus and keep him whole while he confronted his temptations.
Just as Jesus had help, we have the entire community of saints, those sent by God into the world, throughout all time to help us through our examination and confrontation. Not only do we have help, but we are all sent by God to minister to each other along this Lenten journey of examination, contemplation, and repentance.
When we travel together into the wilderness, we become better prepared for responding to the promise of God made to us in our baptism and going out together with God and each other to proclaim to all the world the love of God.
As we traverse the wilderness of these forty-two days, may the grace of God keep our hearts and minds ever steadfast in the love of Christ Jesus our Brother.
May we come to the end of these six weeks, finding ourselves reoriented towards God and renewed in our calling as the beloved of God to make known to all the world that all the world is named beloved as well.
Amen and Amen