18 February 2018
We often talk about God’s Reign in human terms – what it means for us, how it affects us. This first Sunday in Lent, though, at the start of our penitent journey of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, we are invited to expand our vision of God’s Reign and recognise that it embraces all of creation, and that it whispers of a connectedness between all things that, once we embrace it, is truly world-changing.
May our worship and our penitence open our eyes to the connectedness of all creation.
Genesis 9:8-17: God promises Noah that God will never again destroy all life through a flood, and God gives the rainbow as a sign of this promise.
Psalm 25:1-10: A plea for God to be merciful and to not remember the sinfulness of the psalmist’s youth, but to teach the psalmist God’s ways and deliver him from his enemies.
1 Peter 3:18-22: Jesus died for us and was raised to life, having preached to the “spirits in prison” who disobeyed in Noah’s time. And now we are given the sign of baptism to show that we are saved & cleansed within by Christ, who now rules with God in heaven.
Mark 1:9-15: Jesus is baptised by John, affirmed by God and sent into the wilderness to be tempted. Then after John is arrested he begins his ministry calling people to repent and believe in his Good News message.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Water – in the flood and in the baptism of Jesus and of Christ’s followers – is the striking image at the heart of this first week in Lent. But, along with it comes God’s promise of restoration, of grace and of the united creation toward which God is working. In the Noah story, the promise that God will not again destroy the earth with a flood is freely given, not just to Noah and the human beings, but to the whole of creation. In Peter’s letter, Christ’s work in saving both the living and the “spirits in prison” from Noah’s time, is explained, with baptism as the sign of our salvation. Importantly, though, Christ’s place as ruler of all “angels, authorities and powers” is also proclaimed here – indicating again, the unity that comes through God’s grace. In the Psalm the writer expresses trust in the God who restores and protects and who leads the psalmist in God’s ways of life. Finally, in the Gospel, we return to the account of Christ’s baptism (which we last encountered in the first week of Epiphany on Baptism of Christ Sunday), but now, the temptation narrative is included, along with the start of Jesus’ ministry. Here again, God’s affirmation of Jesus, along with the baptism experience, is a highlight, leading on to God’s sustaining of Christ in the wilderness. Here, too, a vision of a united creation is offered, as we read that Jesus was cared for by angels and wild animals.
If we are to bring all of these threads together, we find a simple, but transforming message coming through. The act of baptism, which is a sign of our welcome into God’s community of grace and salvation, embraces and includes all of creation. And, as all of creation is brought together, so we are all called to be agents of God’s grace and sustenance and life to one another. The mission of Christ, of which his baptism was the start, proclaims the Reign of God in which all creation, not just human beings, are included and restored. As we embrace the Lenten fast and the journey of repentance, it is important that the scope of God’s saving work be remembered, for ultimately our spiritual work must lead us to be better participants in this work.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
There is much that we, as global citizens, need to repent of in this Lenten season. The increasing fragmentation of our world along religious, political, economic and racial lines, and the disconnect between humanity and the rest of creation are all destructive forces that have no need to exist. Somehow we need to learn that we are all welcomed into the community of God’s grace and love, and that our wellbeing depends on us recognising our connectedness. Certainly, when we place Christ’s message of the availability of God’s Reign alongside the events of his baptism and temptation, we cannot help but recognise that his message was inclusive of all of humanity, but also of all of creation. The Lenten disciplines are all useful ways for us to re-orient our lives around God’s Reign, and live out the truth of our connectedness. Fasting teaches us to “live simply so that others may simply live” and provides a discipline of restraint that could potentially keep us from over-consumption of the world’s resources, and from the fight for resources that so often leads to war and violence. Giving – of time, abilities, and resources – teaches us generosity and sharing, and grows compassion and thankfulness, which strengthen our ability to be peaceful, loving, and welcoming people. Prayer teaches us that our quest for power is futile, that we cannot be our own gods, and that the most effective power is that which is shared and given away. If we will allow these disciplines, and the Lenten vision of a unified creation, to shape our lives, this journey can transform us into true participants in God’s saving mission, and, through us, help to bring some measure of peace and healing to our communities and our world.
As local communities and as individuals we have two choices when it comes to how we will live. The first is to keep ourselves separate from those who are different from us, from our environment, and from the big issues that face our world. The second is to “think globally, but act locally,” recognising that what we do affects others, and what happens to others happens to us. It takes deliberate work to shift our awareness away from our own perspectives and concerns to our connectedness with all of creation, but it’s a life-giving shift to make. When we begin to live as citizens of God’s inter-connected Reign, we start to experience the healing that comes from embracing our neighbours as friends, and from caring for our world and its creatures as companion recipients of God’s grace. Once this vision has settled into our souls, we begin to recognise that the smallest of acts can have massive healing consequences. We begin to recognise that small acts of care and generosity contribute to world peace. We discover that kindness expressed in word, action – or even just a smile – makes our world safer. We start to find that caring for our corner of the earth can help to address issues of climate change, and that learning simplicity can help in reducing our over-consumption. It’s the small acts, connected and shared, that can have a huge impact – which is why Jesus preached his message to small groups, and called individuals to follow – all of which ultimately resulted in a global community numbering in the billions which could, if we choose it, make a massive difference in helping to heal our world.