Sermon for Lent 1, Year B February 18, 2018


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

Last Wednesday, after the school shooting in Florida, there was a picture of the parents who had gathered outside the school.  One woman who had been to an Ash Wednesday service that day was among those pictured.  She had heard, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” as the cross was made on her forehead.  It is one thing to consider our own mortality, and something altogether different to consider the mortality of our children.

What a horrific way for us, as a nation, to begin Lent – with yet another school shooting.  A month earlier there was a school shooting in Kentucky, but it did not get the coverage that this one did.  Why?  Only two students were killed and I’m afraid that, as a nation, we have grown accustom to shootings.  Perhaps it has something to do with the mind-numbing debates on gun control and mental health care that don’t result in any substantive changes.  Or perhaps it is because we feel helpless to change things.

Whatever the reason, the 2 students who were killed and the 18 injured in Kentucky did not the get the press this one did.  Yes, I do understand that the body count is Florida was the worse yet – but I also understand we do not want to think about a problem that seems to have no foreseeable solution.

The fear school shootings invoke can be crippling.

I am not going to stand up here and suggest I have an answer to the violence in our country, I don’t.  At our diocesan convention yesterday, we hear a presentation by Dr. Catherine Meeks, the Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing.  She was not talking about the school shootings, but she did talk about fear and she asked, “How can we have peace, how can we have joy in the world as it is?”

Much of what she talked about was the need for us to move beyond our fears and take action.  She spoke of the need to become one shade more courageous.  Our focus needs to be on taking one step forward each day, not to tear down the walls that divide us in one day.  That is too big a goal and the thought of attempting to do so can be crippling.  She was speaking of injustice and racism, but what she said applies to so much more.  I suspect we all find ourselves imprisoned at points in our lives, whether it be from the fears of the things we cannot control, the violence in our country, a loved one’s addiction, mental or physical illness, or from the oppression that keeps people from believing in themselves and achieving their potential.

We may not be able to solve the world’s problems, but we can take a step forward each day and we can learn from the work that Dr. Meeks is doing.  The Center shifted its focus from “Antiracism” to “Healing.”  As our Presiding Bishop calls upon us to create a “Beloved Community”, the center works to promote listening and transformation.  Healing comes she says when we are more interested in peace than war and on non-violence than violence.  It sounds too simplistic but than we are followers of Jesus, who changed the world and our lives by helping us focus not on ourselves alone but on God and others.

Where we focus our attention makes a tremendous difference.  When we put our trust in the Lord, it does not protect us from harm and adversity, but it does afford us the strength to endure.  God does not promise prosperity and peace, God promises to be with us in the hard times as well as the good times.  With God’s help we can endure whatever happens, as Jesus endured the cross with the help of his Father in Heaven.

In our reading from the gospel of Mark today, Jesus hears a voice from heaven say, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Then, he is immediately driven into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan for forty days.  Dr. Meeks asks us to think about the stories in our own lives that have defined us.  For many of us, these are not the stories of our successes, but of our failures.  Our responses to tragedies and heartache have helped to form us.  Such events in our lives  can cripple us or make us stronger.  Remembering what we have done that has hurt others can make us better people.

The forty days in the wilderness helped to define the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus knew what it was to be tempted as we know what it is to be tempted.  When we give into our temptation’s, we suffer and others suffer.  The forty days of Lent are our opportunity to look at the stories that have defined who were are – not so that we can feel the appropriate amount of guilt, but so that we might be stronger in our efforts to resist future temptations – and there will always be future temptations.  Maybe not the same ones, but temptations, nonetheless, to put our desires and interests first.

What are the stories that define you?  What promises have you made as a result of those stories?  And, what steps can you take, to be one shade more courageous?  These are all good Lenten questions that can help us be more intentional in our lives.  As someone at my table pointed out, you cannot be courageous unless you respond to your fears by taking action.

Let us pray.

Loving God, help us to acknowledge our fears and not be crippled by them.  Give us the strength to take one step forward, so that we might shift our focus from illness to healing.  We pray especially for all the families affected by the school shooting in Florida.  Help the injured to heal and comfort all who mourn.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.