This Week's Sermon
February 18, 2018 Mark 1:9-15 Rev. Micol Cottrell
We have left the star shine, the magi, and the stories of the season of Epiphany. We have left the green season and moved into the purple season, the colour of royalty and the colour of repentance. Welcome to the season of Lent.
One of the best descriptions of Lent came to me from an Anglican Priest in New Liskeard. She described Lent like this: Imagine you are on the lake and you are speeding along in a boat, you see the surface of the water around you. All of a sudden you decide that you want to go scuba diving. So the boat stops and you jump into the water. You start to explore the depth of the water, the stuff that is hard to see when you are moving quickly along the surface. This is what the season of Lent is like – it is a time to slow down and go deep; a time to explore the depth of our lives, our world, our relationships, and our faith.
Friends, welcome to Lent, the season of depth searching, of honesty, of painful growth and transformation, and of rediscovering our identity.
The Gospel of Mark, Matthew, and Luke all share the same stories about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is baptised by John in the Jordan River and the Spirit gives him his sacred name: Child and beloved of God, with whom God is well pleased. Immediately after this the same Spirit that has named him drives Jesus into the wilderness, into the place of solitude, searching, testing, struggle, and transformation.
In the wilderness Jesus goes deep into his life. I believe the character of the devil is simply and powerfully a symbolic image of Jesus going deep within his own self, his own struggles and wrestling. What does it mean to live as the Child of God, the Messiah, the one who proclaims and articulates in his life the dominion of God lived right here and right now? Will he lead as one who strives first for comfort and material gain? Will he be a flashy Messiah one who through great spectacles and marvels wows people into following him? Will he make the whole world submit to him, even if it means giving up on the core of faith- life centred in God’s love and justice? Will he live the life and ministry God calls him to or will he live for power over others? In this wilderness time the Spirit offers Jesus a gift, time to fast, pray, and delve the depths of his own self, to wrestle and struggle, and to chart the course for his life and ministry.
Today we are invited to begin this season of Lent by sharing in the ancient ritual of marking our self with Ashes. This practice, traditionally done on Ash Wednesday, is a ritual of repentance. Repentance can be a scary word because for many of us, myself included, it conjures up feelings of guilt and not being good enough. But that isn’t what repentance means. In the Old Testament the word translated into repentance simply means turning our life once more towards God which is also turning our lives towards one another, creation, and our self - who we are called and created to be. In the New Testament the word that is translated into repentance means taking on a new heart, which means taking on a new way of being rooted in our relationship with God and our relationships and responsibilities to our self, one another and creation. Repentance is about re-turning to who we are called and created to be.
Ashes are a powerful symbol. Robert Bly, in his book “Iron John: A Book About Men” speaks about the powerful symbol of the ashes. He points out how the symbol of ashes and cinders appear in many fairytales, think of Cinderella – which means little cinder girl. Ashes and cinders symbolize the burned out, depressed, out of it time that the main character faces before they move into an adult life. Throughout the world, Bly points out, ancient cultures used ashes to ritually symbolize the death of the childhood life and birth into the adult life, a movement from a life of self obsession into a life of community, of giving and sharing. Ashes appear throughout the Bible. Job covers himself with ashes as he faces life’s suffering, Jonah and other prophets instruct people to rip their cloths and cover themselves in ashes for living a life out of tune with God which results in injustice and suffering. It is no wonder that by the end of the 10th century it was commonplace in Europe for Christians to mark themselves with Ashes to begin the season of Lent.
It takes courageous love to enter the depths of life and not to run away from the ashy places. To wade through the burned out spots in our own life, to walk alongside others in their moments of struggle, loss, and pain takes great strength. It takes deep faith, which means trust, to believe that we can continually learn to refocus our lives, that we can renew our hearts, the depth of our being. It takes grace to know that we can be imperfect and to allow others to be imperfect as well. The spiritual practice of confession, repentance, and ash marking are all ways of saying we are real. We mess up, we fall short, we strain and break relationship and the web of life. But the rituals are there to remind us that we are children and beloved of God, we are part of a holy ministry of love and justice in this world, we can walk through mistakes, walk through the burned out places, and we can grow and live more fully and true to the person God knows we are. It takes courage and it takes strength and God knows we can do it and together we can help one another. This is part of the adult faith, of adult living, that we can face our own struggles and failings, and the struggles and failings of the world around us, and we can feel the love which carries us forward.
Today we drink the cup and eat the bread and share the sacrament that reminds us that Christ is with us, within us, and all around us; that reminds us that we are the body of Christ at work in this world. Today we mark ourselves with ashes and take the courageous journey into life. Today we dare to allow God’s spirit to lead us into the wilderness where we can follow the path of Jesus, finding our identity and claiming our part in the sacred ministry of love, peace, and justice. Today we enter Lent and continue to allow God to write the sacred story through our lives. Amen. Let it be so.