The readings for today are set against the background of lent; because this is the first Sunday in Lent. Originally Lent was the final 40 days preparation for those preparing to be baptised on the Saturday night, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
They had been through at least a years instruction, and now came to the final 40 days preparation; and the faithful Church members joined them in fasting and prayer. And then on the Easter Saturday night they were baptised and the faithful renewed their baptismal vows. So lent was an important part of the life of the early Church, especially in the first 400 years.
The Old Testament reading for today is the Priestly writers conclusion to "The Flood Story". Like the whole of Genesis, The Flood Story is a combination of two main sources.
The "J" or Yahwist tradition looked at the flood from a human point of view, and concluded that the flood was a great tragedy, because nothing changed - no amount of water could wash away the evil in the world.
But The "P", or Priestly Tradition, changes the focus in the conclusion, away from evil and human sin, to God. And it says that the Flood didnt change humans, but God has makes a Covenant with Noah, and those who follow after, which says that we can count on Gods commitment to us. God will never again abandon the world, or seek to destroy it. So it is saying that, Our hope is with God.
The Gospel reading is Marks account of Jesus baptism, temptations, and the final preparations for his ministry.
It begins by saying how Jesus came from his home village of Nazareth to be baptised by John in the Jordan River. But if Jesus was without sin, why would he submit to Johns baptism, which was said to be a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Well ----
First of all, it was probably Jesus way of identifying with the people he came to save. So that in the waters of the Jordan, and in the agony of the cross, and everywhere in between, He was one with us.
But his baptism also marked the start of his public ministry; and at that solemn moment Jesus offered his life to God. He was anointed as Messiah; and endowed with The Spirit for the task he came to fulfil.
Then came the final part of the baptismal drama with The Voice from Heaven saying, "You are my own dear Son with whom I am well pleased". So the silent years in Nazareth were past; and at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus was - approved by the Father; confirmed as the Son of God; and anointed with The Spirit. And with that Trinitarian assurance he went through his own personal Lenten experience. His 40 days of preparation and testing in the wilderness, before he emerged to proclaim the good news.
Matthew and Luke show in much greater detail how during that wilderness experience Jesus struggled with human temptation; wrestled with alternate ways of using his power; and agonised over his relationship with the father, as he was tempted to call the shots, and be master of his own destiny. But he came through what were real and agonising temptations so he is able to help and strengthen us in our struggles.
A lot of the temptation and struggle on our journey of faith is tied up with our search for happiness, security, knowledge and success. When what we are really looking for is meaning and purpose in life. Some people can achieve every goal they ever set; have everything they ever wanted; be the envy of their friends; and yet feel empty and unfulfilled. Everything they ever wanted isnt enough because life doesnt seem to have meaning.
Meaning grows out of a sense of peace with God, as we follow the way of Jesus, and let his words and actions direct our lives. It grows out of our relationships with other people. The way we give ourselves in love and friendship, will usually determine the amount of love, friendship and support we receive in return. Meaning is also found in having worthwhile things to do that give us a sense of achievement. It could be school or career, or the all absorbing task of raising a family. It could be a hobby; music, sport, painting, some voluntary service or one of the many opportunities we have to serve God and other people in the life of our church.
The Old Testament reading of the Covenant with Noah, and successive covenants that God made with Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and finally through Jesus, assure us that we loved and accepted and valued by the God of the universe, who has promised to be with us always. And there is a deep sense of peace that comes from being relaxed in the knowledge that no matter what happens around us our life is ultimately in Gods hands.
So as we journey on, and get a little bit older, I think we realise more and more, that life is relatively short, fragile and precious; and the important things in life are still the same.
Good relationships are more important than possessions;
Unconditional love is better than controlling people, however sweetly it may be done. Forgiveness is better than resentment.
Serving God in our church and community is better than trying to be our own God. And if at every stage we can stand before God, and look the world in the eye with a clear conscience, it is worth everything.
Let us pray,
Loving God, help us in this Lenten season
to slow down a little and reflect on
our journey of faith.
Grant us wisdom and perspective and faith and trust and sufficient health, to do the things you want us to do, in the time you have given us. Through Christ we pray. Amen.