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February 21, 2021
First Sunday in Lent
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When the weather forecasters first predicted the cold front that hit Texas last week, I think most people didn’t pay it much attention – I know I didn’t. At most, it should have been featured in the news for maybe a night or two that people who live in a state known for its hot and dry climate were going to experience snow and cold weather. But it soon became apparent that the situation is serious.
We’ve all heard about the sub-zero temperatures and the power grid failure; water freezing and pipes bursting; water shortages, and in some of the areas where water is available, it has to be boiled before it can be used. People are dying, either from exposure or carbon monoxide poisoning.
And even though the temperatures are starting to warm up, it’s bad.
What we’re also hearing, though, is the way people there are coming together to help each other. When a grocery store in Leander, Texas lost power on Tuesday, it rendered the cash registers and payment terminals useless. But people were allowed to leave the store with what they needed without paying.
And it didn’t stop there. People helped each other in the parking lot when carts got stuck in the ice and snow. They held onto each other’s grocery bags and helped load them into each other’s cars. They helped push cars free of ice when wheels were spinning.
At a time when it would have been really easy for everyone to fend for themselves, they were a community. And my guess is that we will hear more stories like this one as the rebuilding and recovery commence.
Many times over the last few months, I’ve said that Mark’s Gospel cuts to the chase, and this week’s reading is no different. And if it sounds familiar, you aren’t imagining it – we’ve had pieces of it over the last several weeks. Today’s reading includes Jesus’ time in the wilderness.
Mark doesn’t tell us much of anything about it. Just that the Holy Spirit took Jesus there right after his baptism, and that he spent forty days being tempted by Satan while being among wild beasts and with angels waiting on him.
But even though we don’t have the details, we know enough. We know, for example, that wildernesses can be harsh places. That sometimes expert survival skills are needed. That forty days in a place like that is a long time for anyone. And we know that Jesus stayed in it.
That last detail is probably the most important one for us – that Jesus stayed in the wilderness. Because he stayed in it because he loves us. And what we learn from that is everything.
Jesus could have walked out of the wilderness whenever he wanted. He could have said, “Nope.” But because he stayed in it for us, we learn what it means to not live for ourselves but for the sake of others out of love.
In the season of Lent, we’re asked to intentionally nurture our relationship with God. And when we do that, it often means we turn our focus inward and – unintentionally – we end up focusing on ourselves instead.
So instead of nurturing our relationship with God and, in turn, learning the way God calls us to live we become individualistic. We call attention to ourselves. We try to do things on our own instead of reaching out for help. We compete instead of cooperate or work together.
There are some loud voices in our society that would have us believe that’s the way to live. To be concerned with what’s yours; to protect yourself, your family, and your stuff and let everyone else fend for themselves. To ignore the welfare of the people around you. To not participate in community, to not build community at all. To do the opposite of what was done at that grocery store in Texas last week.
But Jesus and his time in the wilderness teach us differently. When he came out from the wilderness and proclaimed the good news of God, Jesus proclaimed a message of grace, love, compassion, healing, and mercy. He proclaimed a message that taught people how to live for the sake of others and how to build up community.
It wasn’t well-received by people who wanted to maintain the status quo. But it was the best news in the world for people who’d been pushed aside.
We know that it isn’t always easy to live this way. Living for the sake of others means being accountable for our actions, and remembering that the decisions we make have an effect beyond our personal lives. It means not getting defensive when we make mistakes, and owning up to it and making things right as best we can.
Living for the sake of others doesn’t mean getting along and agreeing all the time. But it does mean figuring out how to work together for the well-being of everyone – having conversation, asking questions, checking in with each other, listening….
Living for the sake of others is work. But it’s work borne out of the love Jesus has for us. The love that digs deep, and stays in it when things are difficult.
I saved the chat log from our Snow Day zoom worship last week. At that service, I invited you to share a favorite memory, a way that the pandemic has disrupted your life, and a way that Jesus’ promise of new life beyond the pandemic has been made real for you in this last year.
And even though we responded to those as individuals, all of our answers – without exception – included other people. Whether it was family members or friends, or people who helped us along the way, every answer included a community of some type.
Our favorite memories were experienced with others. The pandemic has disrupted our relationships with others. And it’s those same relationships that make real Jesus’ promise of new life beyond the time we’re in.
These communities that we’re a part of are rooted in love. As Christians, we identify it as the love Jesus has for us. It’s the love that teaches us how to live for others, that loves us anyway when we mess up, and that gets us through when things go sideways.
It’s the love Jesus teaches us to have for one another.
In the coming weeks, I invite you to identify the various communities that you’re a part of. Maybe it’s your family – either the one you were born into or the one you chose; maybe it’s your work group; maybe it’s one of the ministries here at Saint Andrew’s.
Notice the ways Jesus’ love works through the people in your communities – the conversations, the listening, the patience, the laughter, the accountability. Notice Jesus’ love at work and give thanks for it.
We don’t get through this life without being part of a community of some type. We can’t, we need each other. Living for the sake of others in those communities is part of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus taught us how to love each other through everything that that brings. And he did it because he loves us. Thanks be to God! Amen.