Again & Again, God Meets Us

Link to Service

scriptures  Mark 1:9-15  |  Genesis 9:8-17

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.[a] 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 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.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

Again and Again, God Meets Us

                                   February 18, 2024

We are now in the first week of Lent, a time in the liturgical calendar when we have the opportunity to begin a new chapter of our spiritual journey.  Each year we mark these forty days as we make our way through readings and prayer toward Good Friday and Easter.  This is a time when we mark the lengthening of the days, a time when we discover more and more light at the end of the day.  It is also a time to listen deeply, to listen to our own spiritual yearnings and listen to that still small voice within that beckons us forward, and invites us to deeper reflection on our life, our spirituality, our relationship with our Creator and with one another. Let us pray, O Holy One, we invite you to walk with us through these days ahead.  Bring us new insights; guide us in exploring more deeply our faith journeys; grant us inspiration and comfort us in our days.  Amen.

Our theme for the coming weeks is Again and Again.  In Lent, we’re reminded that, again and again, suffering and brokenness find us in our lives.  We doubt again, we lament again, we mess up again. Again and again, the story of Jesus on the cross repeats—every time lives are taken unjustly, every time the powerful choose corruption and violence, every time individuals forget how to love. In frustration, we ask, “Again?! How long, O God?” And yet, in the midst of the times of challenge and confusion, we hear God reaching out to us saying… 

“I choose you, I love you, I will lead you to repair.” Again and again, God breaks the cycle and offers us a new way forward.

In this first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we hear about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. First we hear of John calling people to repent, to turn their lives around and then Jesus appears.  John knows that he is the One who will share the Good News of God’s covenant, of God’s plan for our world.  Jesus knew what he was being asked to do; he knew that there would be times of confusion as well as deep satisfaction.  Each step along the way, he would invite the Creator to draw near to him and give him what he needed for his ministry.

I wonder about our own experiences of meeting God at certain moments in our lives.  Perhaps it was in a moment of great awe as a child gazing up at the stars one night.  Perhaps it was in a moment of heartbreak or a time when someone has let us down and we are feeling terribly alone.  Perhaps it was sitting in the waiting room of a hospital awaiting news of a loved one or joyfully welcoming a new baby into the world.  God often meets us in sacred moments in our lives, times when we are not necessarily looking for God.   When has gone met you in your life?  When did you feel the presence of God reaching out to you?

In Mark’s reading, God meets Jesus at the water before he is tempted in the wilderness—this is important. First and foremost, God claims us. God meets us in the liminal space, at the water’s edge, at the threshold of something new, and names us Beloved. God’s covenant with all of creation reminds us that God meets us where we are—in the midst of our reluctance, doubt, eagerness, or weariness—and proclaims we are good.

I imagine many of you may know that Mark’s Gospel serves as source material for both Matthew and Luke’s gospels. It’s the shortest and most direct of all four gospels. In just seven verses, we learn of three significant events in the life of Jesus as he began his ministry. The first is his baptism, where God claims him as God’s own beloved son. The second is his experience in the wilderness, where God sends angels to attend to him as he faces the Accuser. Lastly, after John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins proclaiming God’s hopes for our world, speaking of how near God is to our lives and what the Kingdom of God looks like. Like John, Jesus calls people to turn their lives around, to follow the way of love and justice and to turn away from that which causes harm and brokenness.  This is the work of repentance.  (commentary on mark 1:9-15 | By Rev. T. Denise Anderson)  

The common thread in each of these stories is the closeness of God. During critical moments, God is extraordinarily present with Jesus and those around him, and for good reason. The singer Van Morrison speaks about God actually lifting us up to higher ground in one of his songs… singing “Whenever God shines his light on me Opens up my eyes so I can see When I look up in the darkest night And I know everything’s going to be alright In deep confusion, in great despair When I reach out for him he is there When I am lonely as I can be And I know that God shines his light on me He lifts you up and turns you around and Puts your feet back on higher ground   It’s such a beautiful image…Who among us hasn’t wanted to get picked up by God and set on the right path. We dearly want to sense God’s closeness to us in our lives.  

Again and again, God meets us where we are, but doesn’t leave us there. We believe that God continues to invite us to better ways of living for ourselves and our community.  Our God is continually reminding us of the beautiful covenant of love that is spoken about in the passage in Genesis today.  And in times of trouble, there are rainbows that may appear to remind us God is faithfully there on the horizon, watching over us and walking by our sides. Lent is indeed a time to reflect upon our lives, a time to explore more deeply our essential beliefs and extend our gaze outward as we consider what needs to change in our lives and in our world because it is not in keeping with God’s loving vision for the world.

   While each of the gospels begins the story of the good news differently, they all include Jesus’ baptism as the precursor to his ministry. This repeated detail emphasizes a number of things. It aligns Jesus with John the Baptist’s countercultural movement for repentance and change. It shows that Jesus begins his ministry with those on the margins, as he travels over 100 miles from Galilee to wade into the Jordan river near Jerusalem. It places Jesus with the crowds, showing us that his ministry is one embodied through solidarity with the broken, the poor, and the weary. It reminds us that God’s goodness refrain (Genesis 1) echoes through Jesus—and in all of us—also. It reminds us that God didn’t just send Jesus to suffer; God delights in Jesus, expressing joy for his belovedness. It reminds us that God does not delight in what we do, but rather, in who we are. 

   I invite you to consider how God has come to you, time and again, in your own life?  What does it look like to live with belovedness as the very essence of who we are? How does this change how we think, love, and act? What happens when we forget or neglect the belovedness in ourselves and in others?    God meets us at the edge of things—in suffering, uncertainty, reluctance. God meets us at the edge and promises to stay with us, watching over us through the wilderness of our lives. Where are the edges in your life right now and how is God meeting you there?

If we listen closely, as Rev. Jan Richardson writes, “we will be able to enter this  text with the same knowledge that Jesus had: that when he went into the desert, he went with the baptismal waters of the Jordan still clinging to him, and with the name Beloved ringing in his ears. How else to enter into the forty-day place that lay ahead of him? How else to cross into the wilderness where he would have no food, no community, nothing that was familiar to him—and, to top it off, would have to wrestle with the devil? How else, but to go into that landscape with the knowledge of his own name: Beloved.

In this first week of Lent, as we turn our faces toward whatever this forty-day place holds for us, it is important to remember that we too are God’s beloved.  Perhaps when we left home long ago, our parents told us how much they loved us.  They wanted us to remember that no matter the challenges we might face.  It is important that we remember how loved we are as we begin again this season of Lent—to enter into the terrain of this season with the knowledge that we, too, are the beloved of God.

As we cross with Christ into the landscape of Lent and into the mystery that lies ahead of us, may we know at least this about ourselves: that our name, too, is Beloved.  I will close with this blessing from Jan Richardson…

Beloved Is Where We Begin
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.
I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.
I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:

—Jan Richardson

from Circle of Grace

first sunday in lent   

— Commentary by Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and former Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)