This first Sunday in Lent we are kicking off a series that accompanies our Lenten devotional about embracing the uncertain in unsteady times.
And you don’t need me to tell you that we are certainly living in uncertain times.
All of us are likely reeling from the heartbreaking news about yet another school shooting. 17 of our children dead at the hands of gun violence.
There have already been 8 schools shootings in the US. And it’s only February. Our most vulnerable- our children- no longer seem safe in the very places where they are supposed to be- our schools.
These are unsteady times.
The suicide rate for teenage girls doubled in the last 8 years, according to the CDC. The suicide rate for teenage boys increased by 30 percent over the same time period.
Unsteady times indeed.
Reports of sexual harassment among women in the workplace are skyrocketing. Light is being shed on a dark, painful secret that has existed for years. Women enduring abuse in their workplace; unable to feel safe in their careers; dreams compromised at the hands of power.
Global political shifts are dividing citizens in many countries and giving rise to frightening, unstable leaders—all of whom boast at the power and the potential for catastrophic nuclear war.
Yes, we are living in unsteady times.
In the Gospel reading today Jesus has barely toweled off from his baptism before he is immediately- a favorite term for Mark- driven out into the wilderness. He’s there for 40 days among the wild beasts and animals- the wilderness where the wildlings and the demons roam, and while he’s there he is tempted by Satan.
Many of us have heard this story that the Spirit drove him out to be tempted. But at least in Mark, that’s not in the text. He’s driven out to the wilderness and while there, yes he is tempted. But it’s not like God set Jesus up to be tempted. That just happened to be the natural consequence of being in the wilderness.
We live in the world and oftentimes it seems like the wilderness, doesn’t it? It definitely seems that way now in the midst of all the uncertainty.
But our vocation as Christians is to go out into the world and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. In our baptism, we are named and claimed as God’s own for the sake of the world. To go out and be little Christs in our communities and in the world. Our baptismal vocation is not to stay comfortably ensconced in safety but to go out into the world that desperately needs us.
A world of gun violence.
A world of sexual harassment.
A world of depression, racism, addiction, and teen suicide.
But as Christians we have a message of hope to combat this despair. We know that as children of God we are loved. As children of God our identities aren’t shaped by our accomplishments, appearances, or social status. We are all equal at the foot of the cross. As baptized Christians we are freed for the good of the world. We are called to be change agents.
And the hope here is that we never do it alone.
Going back to the text, Jesus is in the wilderness among the wild beasts, repeatedly tempted by Satan. Now we don’t know exactly what the temptations are. Mark doesn’t tell us. But as we read this text devotionally, we all know what our temptations are. We know what the enemy uses on us, don’t we? It can be a variety of things but in the wilderness of our lives we are all tempted, aren’t we?
So where is the hope?
Notice in the text how Mark writes, “and the angels tended to him”.
Yes. The angels tended to him. God is always with us and among us, caring for us. Even when we feel alone. Even when we feel abandoned. Even when we feel on the edge of despair.
As baptized Christians we are cared for. We are never alone.
How does God do this? I know it seems like I’m a broken record, but I feel like it is one of the most important realities of our faith- we become angels to one another. God works through us to care for one another. Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life” and this is true. As the body of Christ we become the way, the truth, and the life by caring for one another.
There were times along my seminary journey when I wanted to give up. It seemed like way too much- balancing 5 young kids, a disabled wife, a full time job, and somehow trying to take classes and do all the requirements for ordained ministry. But thanks be to God I had angels tending to me. Those angels encouraged me, affirmed my gifts for ministry, and cheered me on to keep going. They helped in so many ways and in doing so, I was able to keep going.
Even now when hair lice infestations, broken AC units, and various health problems get me down, YOU ALL are my angels. YOU tend to me and encourage me and keep me going. And you do this for everyone. It’s what this community does best.
When a person in our congregation has a surgery or loses a loved one, within a blink the Miriam Circle (whom I lovingly refer to as the Miriam Mafia) have organized meals and cards.
That’s tending to people.
When a need surfaces to sponsor 45 more kids from single-parent homes for Vacation Bible School, you respond gladly by opening your wallets to cover the cost. Or when Lily Pad Haven, a home for victims of human trafficking expresses a wish for new sheets for their beds, you fill baskets in the narthex so these folks will have what they need.
That’s tending to people.
That’s being angels to one another!
And I argue this is the function of the church. Not entertainment- because let’s face it my sermons aren’t going to go viral on YouTube anytime soon and you definitely don’t want to see me with gelled hair and skinny jeans– But service to one another. Paul writes in Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, WHICH IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.
The late Mr. Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I say look for the angels. Look for the angels tending to others.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s become those angels in the world.
An uncertain world needs certain angels.
And the need is great. Right in our back yard in Matthews there are over 1700 people living in poverty.
• 70% of single parent families do not receive any kind of child support
• 50% of single mothers have an annual income of less than $25,000 per year
• 40% of single parent families are “food insecure
Even on a larger scale, consider our environment. The effects of our lifestyles on the environment are horrific. The products we use, the things we buy- all have consequences. Our consumption, production, and acquisition patterns threaten Earth’s capacity to sustain life as we know it, and exploit vast numbers of people worldwide.
But we can make different choices. And in doing so we can be angels to people we’ve never even met.
The world can certainly seem like a wilderness. And each day we seem to be reminded of the constant state of despair. Unsteady times for sure.
But friends, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to tend to one another, to go out into the world with courage to combat these issues. As the hands and feet and Christ we can stand against these social ills and work to eradicate them.
Social media is lamenting about how many are offering prayers for victims but little else. Well I say it’s time to put our prayers into action. Filled with the promise and hope and power that is Jesus Christ in each of us let’s actively pray by working to steady this unsteady world.
It’s our baptismal call.
Let’s get to it.