February 18th (Lent 1): Lenten Preparation

Mark 1:9-15, Psalm 25:1-10, Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22


“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Welcome, all, to the first Sunday of the season of Lent.

This penitential season began on Ash Wednesday

With the reminder that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

It ends on Holy Saturday, when we here at Bethesda

Celebrate with the Easter Vigil service.

While culturally Lent is known for giving something up,

Or as a second chance at fulfilling a New Year’s Resolution,

It has been traditionally marked by the three spiritual practices

Of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving/works of love.

Pastor Tim has made a wonderful list of Lenten spiritual practices (in the Narthex)

That stems from these three traditions.

Check it out if you are still thinking of committing to something.

If you have given yourself a Lenten practice,

Congratulations! Counting from Ash Wednesday,

You’re four days in.

Only 42 days left (if you count Sundays, which traditionally do not count as fasting days)

Or 36 if you don’t count Sundays.

How’s it going so far?

Judging from the expressions I’m seeing up here…

It’s a work in progress.


Also, Lent is a time when

People prepare for their baptisms at Easter.

They ponder the difficult declarations of the Christian faith:

Do you renounce the devil, the world’s powers, and sin that defy God?

Do you believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God and God the Holy Spirit? The Holy Catholic Church? The communion of saints? The forgiveness of sins? The resurrection of the dead?

In the end, Lent, in the church, is not simply about giving up chocolate

In order to test your willpower or because your tummy’s getting flabby.

Instead, Lent, as stated in the resource Bread for the Day,

Is a time when “the disciples of the Lord Jesus are called to contend against

Everything that leads them away from love of God and neighbor. [And its disciplines] help the household rejoice in the gifts of baptism: God’s forgiveness and mercy.”

Contend against all that leads us away from love of God and neighbor

And rejoice in God’s forgiveness and mercy.


We definitely have something to contend against, haven’t we?

There is much in this world, great and small,

That lures us away from the love of God and others.

These things are both within us and outside us.

Here is one of many examples outside of us:

On Ash Wednesday, 17 people were killed

At Marjory Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

These people, made by God,

Were students, teachers, administrators, and coaches.

According to nonprofit Gun Violence Archive,

Over the past four years,

138 people have died on school grounds from shootings in the US,

Either self-inflicted or in mass shootings.

If, during Lent, we are to compete

Against things that lead us away from love of God and neighbor,

We are somehow supposed to stand up to

Acts of evil like the Parkland shooting.

From the individual sins that we commit each day

To the big evils that seem like unstoppable trends,

How on earth are we supposed to contend

And come back to God this Lenten season?

What does that even look like?

Do we hunker down by ourselves and focus on our own spiritual practices alone?

Do we leave these practices behind, following instead the impulse to hide or fight?

What do we do?


Some biblical figures underwent similar 40-day journeys amid trying times.

After the deaths of all of humanity and non-aquatic creatures,

Noah, his family, and the creatures stay on the ark for 40 days

During the flood

Before re-inhabiting the earth.

Our first reading today tells about

The covenant God makes with these people.

In Exodus 34,

Moses was on his second trip to God on Mount Sinai

After breaking the first stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments

In frustration.

He threw them down after seeing the Israelites worship the golden calf—

Not long after God had delivered them from Egypt.

Moses fasts for 40 days on Mount Sinai

As he wrote down the Ten Commandments in God’s presence

And prepared to offer them,

Once more, to the Israelites.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is running away from the death threats of Queen Jezebel.

He journeys to the holy mountain, Mount Horeb,

And as he walks he fasts for 40 days.

At Horeb, amid the earthquakes and fire,

He is told by God in a whisper to return and anoint kings,

As well as his successor, Elisha.

These three figures did various things during their 40 days:

Noah was in the ark doing who-knows what;

Moses fasted and wrote; and Elijah fasted and walked.

But they have something in common:

Their preparations were not static.

Anyone who fasts can tell you it’s not just about giving something up.

It includes prayer and love to continue on.

Preparation itself is a contending force because, in it,

We seek God, we act in love,

And we seek and search for and live as if there is good news

That undergirds us.


In today’s Gospel reading,

Jesus is immediately sent out from his baptism

Into the wilderness with Satan and the wild beasts for 40 days of temptation.

Unlike in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels,

There is no detail of the kinds of temptations Jesus underwent.

There is just a sort of strange meeting of cosmic figures

Out in the Judaean wilderness.

Jesus then, after somehow evading Satan in the wilderness,

Arrives in Galilee and proclaims his inaugural message:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;

Repent, and believe in the good news.”

Yes: after his 40 days of temptation among the contending forces against God’s love,

Jesus has the audacity to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near,

And that there is in fact good news.


This Lent does not seem like the time for good news.

And yet, here it is, miraculously.

We see the good news in the in-breakings

Of the kingdom of God throughout the Gospel passage:

The heavens are torn apart!

God speaks to Jesus and the Spirit descends upon Jesus!

It is good news later in Mark that Jesus performs miracles,

Heals, teaches, loves, dies, and rises as God’s beloved Son.


So, what are we to do this Lent about the contending things in our lives

That seem to drag us away,

From the love of God and neighbor?

Like Noah, Moses, and Elijah,

We are called to prepare amid trying circumstances.

In our spiritual practices, we have the opportunity

To contend by turning to God

And lifting our lives up to God.

We have the opportunity to love God

Through practices of prayer, fasting, and works of love.

We have the opportunity to love our neighbor

Through practices of prayer, fasting, and works of love.

We have the opportunity to love

Through practices of prayer, fasting, and works of love.

Because Lent, as a season of preparation,

Is not a season of inaction.

It’s a season where we double down on the bet

That God’s kingdom is indeed near.

That the kingdom is near,

That this is good news,

Is something we proclaim with our words and actions

This Lent,

And we prepare our hearts for its annunciation at Easter.


It is so easy to succumb to the evils of our world and let fear

Take over our thoughts and actions.

However, by contending against this evil

Through turning toward God:

Through praying that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done;

Through fasting from things that deter us from the love that God gives us;

Through housing folks experiencing homelessness

Or offering help to a friend/colleague/student/stranger in need

Or advocating for societal change or a million more things;

I think we are taking the Lenten journey faithfully.

We prepare on this Lenten journey because we believe that there is Good News,

And it comes from God.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


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