Sunday, March 1, 2009

Who Will Be A Witness For My Lord?


First Sunday in Lent
Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)
The temptation of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."


Today we get to talk about the 3 Ws--Water, wilderness, and witness. This concept is borrowed from the United Methodist Church’s Board of Discipleship and serves nicely to encapsulate today’s GOOD NEWS message! As we explore the 3Ws together, I want us to think deeply about what it means to be a Christian and how it is that God prepares us to be proclaimers of the GOOD NEWS message.

First of all, let’s explore the theme of water. In today’s reading Jesus goes down to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin John. Now, one can only imagine why the Son of God would need—or want—to be baptized. Generally, when we think of the reasons for Baptism we might say that it is an outward action which reminds us that Christ washes away our sins, extends to us God’s grace and mercy, invites us into a salvific relationship, and promises us eternal life.

When I was a little girl, I was always told that Baptism is a public declaration of your commitment to being a part of the Body of Christ. In my home church, when someone is baptized we say, “Welcome to the Family of God!”

Given this understanding of baptism, it seems strange that Jesus came down to the chilly Jordan River singing, “Take Me To The Water.” I mean, Jesus had no sin. He was the embodiment of God’s grace. He was to become the means of our salvation and he was already well acquainted with eternal life!

Is it no wonder then, that his cousin John expressed shock at seeing Jesus down by the riverside? And before he could get over his shock, he stated emphatically, “Jesus! You ought to be baptizing me!” In response to his humble message, Jesus says, “‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

My! That’s a tall order, isn’t it? Well, rather than stand in the water asking a bunch of questions, John trusts that Jesus knows what he is doing and so he baptizes Jesus according to his request. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the sky rolls back, the Spirit of God descends in the form of a dove and the voice of God declares, “You are my son, The Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Wow! What a wonderful affirmation of Jesus’ special relationship with God as the “only begotten Son!” But do you know what? In response to this great moment in scripture, all that I can hear in my spirit is 1 John 3:1 which says, “See what love God has given us, that we should be called the children of God!”

Oh what Amazing Love, What awesome grace come down, that we too should be called the sons and daughters of God and that we too should hear the voice of God declaring at our baptisms, “You are my son. You are my daughter. You are beloved. With you I am well pleased…”

How incredible is that, ya’ll? But before the voice of God finished echoing across the desert in affirmation of Jesus’ baptism and of his special relationship with God, something incredibly strange happens. The very same spirit that has just lavished so much praise upon Jesus, then turns and “immediately drives Jesus out into the wilderness!”

Immediately? Into the wilderness? But, why? Why would God send Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days and forty nights?

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the 2nd W—wilderness--I think of “lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!” I am the epitome of a city girl. The only camping I have ever done was at Girl Scout camp in a little tent cabin with bunk beds and electricity. I am afraid of the dark, afraid of the cold, and afraid of the wilderness experience.

When I think of the wilderness I imagine a deep and abiding quiet, a loneliness that is tangible, and a need to be extremely hardy. I, for one, cannot imagine foraging for food, or avoiding wild animals, or sleeping on the ground.

Now, I know that I probably sound pretty silly to all the campers, fishers, and hunters in the room, but I’m just trying to keep it real with you on this Sunday morning! (Laughing..)

There is nothing in my life experience that would help me to understand how the wilderness could be a good thing. That is why in my search for answers, I had to turn to the wise, old elders to find out.

In the Black Church tradition we have a saying, “If God brings you to it, God’ll bring you through it.” The Bible says, “All things work together for good, for those that love God and are the called according to God’s purposes (Romans 8:28).” And more than one good ole church mama has whispered in my ear from time to time, “Chile, you ain’t got no testimony, without a test!”

My! My! My! My! My!

All these wise ones remind us that the wilderness is not all bad because it fortifies us for the journey ahead. While Jesus was out in the wilderness Satan tempted him in body, mind, and spirit. And when we meet our wilderness experiences we may be tempted in a similar fashion.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’ve had some wilderness experiences. I have been driven out into the lonely places by God to affirm my relationship with God and to learn to put all of my trust in Jesus.

Listen, you don’t mind if I testify now, do you?

I have been hungry and poor and tempted to get money any kind a way, but I had to trust Jehovah Jireh, God who is my provider. I have been depressed and anxious over many things, but I have had to trust Jehovah Shalom, God who is my peace. I have been sick in my body and tempted to give up on God, but then I remembered that God is Jehovah Raphe, the God who heals me!

Come on, somebody! I know that I am not the only one who has ever been driven out into the wilderness of life…Has anyone ever been abused and mistreated and had to trust, El Roi, the God who sees us? Has anyone here ever felt small and afraid and convinced that you just could not make it through another day and El Shaddai, God Almighty, showed up just in time!

I could go on and on because God is Good (all the time!) And all the time (God is good!) But, I got the feeling that somebody in here knows what I am talking about.

See, it is in the wilderness of life that we come face to face with our very real need for God. When we are tempted to try to go our own way, or live in our own power, or push forward by our own might, the wilderness of life encroaches upon us and we learn to sing with the ancestors, “I Need Thee! Oh, I Need Thee! Every hour I need Thee! Oh bless me now my Savior, I Come To Thee!”

Now, scripture doesn’t tell us all of the lessons that Jesus learned and affirmed out in the wilderness, it only says that when he emerged from the wilderness forty days later, he was on fire! He hit the “streets” running! He was willing and ready to carry out his God-ordained mission on the earth!

Can’t you just hear Jesus calling, “"The time is fulfilled, The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent now and believe the good news."

Oh, Glory to God in the Highest! After we go under the waters of our baptism and emerge from the wilderness experiences of our lives, we come forth ready to bear witness to the GOOD NEWS that Jesus saves and saves to the upmost!

Right now, you may be experiencing life in the wilderness. You may be feeling alone and afraid. You may be tempted by Satan and the world on every side, but do not be discouraged my friend. Hold on to God’s unchanging hand. God may not come when you want him, but God is always right on time!

God was on time, as Jesus led his disciples. God was on time, as Jesus went to the old rugged cross. God was on time, as Jesus shouted, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” God was on time, as Jesus hung his head and died. God was on time, when they laid Jesus in the tomb. God was on time, as the disciples dispersed dismayed and depressed.

And let me tell you one more thing! MY GOD WAS ON TIME, when early one Sunday morning before the break of day, Jesus got up! He got up with all power in his hands. He got up victorious over sin, death and the grave. He got up having secured our pardon and reconciliation with God.

Now we can sing in the words of the song,

Before the throne of God Above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great High Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of my guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I am,
The King of Glory and of Grace,
One with Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,

Water, Wilderness, and Witness…Amen.


The Good News Living Book Club will be reading Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard during March. You can purchase the book by clicking the link to the right. Please mark your calendars for our very first book club meeting to be held on Saturday, March 28, 2009, at 9:00am.

from Pastor Yolanda's blog

1 comment:

  1. OMG! Now that was a sermon to shout with!! I would love to have that cd!Do you sell your cd's.
    Yes, yes, yes Lord! To hear the voice of God declair, you are my daughter, you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased...Amen, Amen!! God please let that be me!