This sermon was preached for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 21, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please subscribe!
The texts were:
Genesis 9: 8-17
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 9-15
It was riveting to watch the Mars Rover, Perseverance, land this week. The joy of the Nasa and JPL crew was palpable as the rover transmitted first pictures of the surface of the red planet. The rover projected a barren terrain: only sand and rocks, no plant life, trees, lakes, or rivers. The mission is to determine if life is possible or was ever possible on Mars, as currently, it appears that there are no signs of life to be found. But the recent discovery of the possibility of water, 4 million years ago in the Jezero Crater, opens the door and the imagination to dig deeper, literally, into the sand and rocks, to see if life is indeed present and possible. This most certainly captures my imagination, as if there is life on Mars, it will be unlike anything we have ever seen. The possibility exists of life and we might miss it because it will be so foreign to us and outside our scope of experience. This scientific mission names a truth for us on this planet earth. I often only take in at face value the surface of the terrain around me, whether that’s the actual earth, which at this time of year seems to be as lifeless as Mars, or my day-to-day encounters with people and places. I don’t take the time, possess the curiosity or have the imagination to wonder about what I don’t understand and what I don’t know. I make assumptions about situations and people sometimes writing them off as lifeless, useless, and arid. I assume that there is nothing life-giving able to come from that place or relationship. I don’t dig deeper; I don’t allow for the possibility for my mind to be changed. I believe that what I see, is all there is to see. Only sand, only rocks, only snow, only barrenness.
Lent beginning at the end of winter, when most life is dead or hibernating, is not simply a happy coincidence. Lent was wisely ascribed by the religious folks to begin the six weeks leading up to Easter, when signs of life are harder to find. And the texts that we encounter in worship, call us to dig deeper, go beyond the surface terrain and look under the rocks, dig in the sand, and the see past the barrenness to see signs of new life. Every first Sunday of Lent we read about Jesus in the desert. Each version from Matthew, Mark and Luke are slightly different, offering a myriad of insights, but Mark’s our reading today, and it is the briefest, two verses. After Jesus is baptized (also a brief version) the Holy Spirit drives Jesus, or literally in the Greek, throws Jesus into the wilderness or the desert. He’s tested by Satan, is with some wild beasts and the angels who erve him. This story would have been much kinder and easier to digest if it went right from Jesus’ baptism with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and the loving words from God, to Jesus proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, turn around and believe in the good news! But that’s not what we have. In between those two stories, Jesus is thrown into a dangerous place where few people could survive. No water, no food, no shelter, only sand, rocks and the blazing Middle Eastern sun. Not a very hospitable place for life. Yet, Mark adds the detail that there are wild beasts there. So, there is apparently SOME life to be found. And if that isn’t enough, the angels are there too, serving Jesus, that is to care for his life. Despite Satan’s attempts to prove otherwise, there were signs of life in that wild place. Maybe not the life that Jesus would have preferred, or the kind of life that brings comfort and ease, but it was life finding a way against all odds.
This is the good news that Jesus then proclaims in Galilee. Yes, John is arrested and most likely will be killed, yes, you might be surrounded by desert, death, lifelessness, hopelessness, but God’s kingdom is also here! God’s kingdom is the sign of life that you are looking for! It’s life that meets you at the waters edge, in the cold, parched, and dead places in your life, in suffering, in hopelessness and helplessness. God never gives up on revealing abundant life, over and over God chooses life. God creates life from the chaos of the void, calls forth life from a flood, gives life to God’s people in the desert for 40 years, God offers a new life to the exiles, and in Jesus, God proclaims that death will not abound for humanity or creation only life eternal.
God sends signs of life: The bow in the clouds, manna on the ground, water from a rock, a sprig from the dead stump of Jesse, a baby in a feeding trough, God’s son on a cross and a tomb that is empty. Not always the signs we look for or can understand but signs of life, nonetheless. Signs of God’s promise of life are all around us today: people volunteering to give vaccines, Navy pilots rescuing sea turtles in TX, animals keeping their humans warm in subzero temps, people serving their neighbors who live on the streets in the bitter cold, hospital staff working overtime to heal broken bodies, voices in unity demanding equity and dignity for Black, Indigenous and LBGTQIA folks, there are signs of life.
Jesus calls us to be God’s signs of life in the world. We are part of the promise that life finds a way even when it seems impossible. Drenched in the life-giving waters of our baptism and nourished by Jesus’ very body, we are walking, breathing, loving signs of life. We are signs of life when we refuse to allow any person be denigrated, we are signs of life when we ensure that children and families have safe and adequate housing, food and medical care, we are signs of life for MillCreek Elementary families, we are signs of life for Family Promise guests and Linus Project children, we are signs of life when we realize that we can’t sit silently on the shoreline, we have to get into the water, we go into the desert, not alone but by and with the Holy Spirit and each other to usher in the life that God has envisioned from day one of creation. Life in harmony, life in balance, life abundant and life for all. It’s risky to be those signs of life, like the Mars Rover, we might feel like we’re being hurtled through space towards an unknown future. But unlike the Mars Rover we know that we go with God and one another and God knows what’s coming: God’s realm where signs of life aren’t hard to see but are abundantly found, in creation, in you, in me and in us all. Amen.