The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 12, 2014 – Lent I, Year A: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11
Well we began Lent a few days ago on Ash Wednesday, but this is the first Sunday of the season – the Great Litany gave it away. You can also see that the church has been stripped down to its very basics – no bright colors – just a deep penitential purple to mark these forty days and forty nights. The tone and focus are slightly different now. We even tucked away the “Alleluia.” And so it’s obviously a beginning of sorts, but the gospel story we just heard actually began several verses ago and for us here at Grace, this story began last week and well before that. So rather than see this Sunday as a clean start, I want to blur the seasonal lines a bit, back up a little and remind us where we and Jesus have come from.
If we back up just about five verses in the gospel of Matthew, we hear this: “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. . . And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, alighting on him, and a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” And if you were here last Sunday or heard about what happened, you know that we baptized Hazel and Sam. In the spirit of the season that was Epiphany – the season of revelation – we renewed our own baptismal vows and we welcomed two new members in to the household of God.
Now one of the traditional approaches to this season is to approach Lent as a time of preparation for baptism, a time of intensive learning for those who are new to the faith so that they can be baptized during the Easter season which comes next. There are people among us who are preparing to be baptized and soon there will be a group moving toward confirmation or reception in our church. And so we are using Lent as a time of learning, of getting ready, of looking forward to new things to come.
BUT in the gospel, Jesus time in the wilderness was preceded by baptism, and I think we want to see all of this through that lens too, because baptism wasn’t something he received at the end of a journey; it was something that gave him strength for the journey. Jesus was still dripping wet from the blessing when he walked into the wilderness. That voice that had come from heaven was still echoing in his head when he entered into his forty days and forty nights. “You are my beloved,” the voice said and my guess is that in the wilderness, that belovedness mattered more than anything else.
Because when you’re beloved and you know it, there is strength there. When you are beloved of God and you are in a scary place or a can’t-quite-find-your-way place, there can be peace even in the midst of the struggle. That’s how belovedness works. It is something that seeps into your heart and into your very being and it comes to matter more than anything else in this world. Sure there was evil in the wilderness – and there is evil in our wilderness too. Jesus was tempted with promises of power and privilege and absolute security – and we are too, every day. But Jesus turned it all down, and I think it was because he knew that there was something that he could only begin to grasp that was already holding him. He was beloved and that was enough.
On Ash Wednesday I talked about Lent as an opportunity to reclaim the “kinship” given us by God. “Quit hiding from your kin,” Isaiah told God’s people in the passage we heard that day. Belovedness is related to that concept and practice of kinship. We are all beloved of God – kin to one another, related in our essence – brother and sister in Christ – created in God’s image. And so if we accomplish only one thing this season, I would hope it would be to let that belovedness sink into our hearts and in to our lives to the extent that it effects every decision we make.
That’s what happened to Jesus in the wilderness. And it’s true for us too. Regardless of where we are on the journey, we walk differently when being loved is something that we don’t have question at all. That’s the security we seek and have already been given. That’s the power we need to tap in order to transform ourselves and our world. We treat one another differently when we see the other as beloved too. That’s the grace that allows bread to be shared and abundance to be something meant for all.
Belovedness changes things. It just does – it has strength and vulnerability all wrapped up in a holy sort of gift. One of the first things we ask of those getting baptized (or their sponsors) is “Do you resist Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? “and then we ask them, “Do you put your whole trust in Christ’s grace and love?” Those two questions together contain the work, the gift that is Lent.
And so the story continues: “You are beloved,” God tells us. On the mountain top? Beloved. In the wilderness? Beloved. At the font, at the table, still searching? Beloved. Tempted, hurting, hungry, sinful, saintly? Beloved. Strong? Weak? “You are my beloved,” God says. So soak it up and stand up and resist everything that would have you believe anything other than that. AND stand up and resist everything that would have you believe that your neighbor is anything less than beloved too. May we hear that voice of God speaking to us, reminding us who we are as we move through the season before us.