Message for Morning Prayer

Jeffrey Bowyer

1. Lent
Lent is a time of creative transformation.  We let go what keeps us from experiencing God’s presence in our lives and awaken to God’s new possibilities for us and our communities.  During Lent, we need to repent, turn around, and move from negative behaviors to good actions and good attitudes.
There are many popular things people give up for Lent.  Here are a few :                                                       1).The need to be right all the time (just need to be heard)                                                          2).comparing yourself to others (find contentment in what you have)                                                             3).fear of failure (Sister Teresa said, “not need to be successful, better to be faithful”)                                   4).need to be in control (important in the Lent season, as it is a reminder that we ultimately are not in control of what happens to us)                                                                                                                  
Today’s readings in the first Sunday of Lent can take us in a variety of directions. We can reflect on mystical experiences, the Holy Spirit, the nature of temptation, the Lord’s care for the non-human world, and the scope of salvation.  We can also reflect on images of hope in a time of crisis.

2. Jesus   40 days in the wilderness
According to the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus spent “forty days” in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Matthew’s Gospel even specifies that it was “forty days and forty nights”.
Whether or not this period of Jesus’ life was precisely forty days is theologically irrelevant, since the number “forty” is highly symbolic in all biblical literature, representing “a long time,” especially as a time of trial or testing.  Forty Days is mentioned in the following textes:       -In the story of Noah and the Great Flood in Genesis, it rains for “forty days and forty nights”.      -It takes a full forty days to embalm the body of Jacob, according to Egyptian practice.         -Moses spends “forty days and forty nights” on Mount Sinai when receiving the Law from God.

3. Mark’s Gospel
l. As we move through the year of Mark, John’s gospel is called on consistently and often to fill out the Sundays when Mark’s story does not have enough texts to go around.  This passage for Lent 1 is typical of Mark.   There is, however, a certain drama in this brevity.   In a few swift strokes of the pen, Mark sets the stage for all that is to come later.  Our attention is focused precisely on the man Jesus and the message he brings. This focusing our attention on Jesus is just what Lent can be about for believers who are too focused on other projects.  Mark’s opening verses invite us to re-focus in Lent.
In the re-focusing our attention on Mark (1: 9-15), these verses echo Jesus’ own message, “repent and believe in the gospel.”  Mark leaves us in no doubt about the good news that Jesus calls upon his hearers to trust.  And that news is all about timing, “The time has come”, in the perfect tense.  Something has already happened and the implications of that happening are emerging in “In that time,” the very same days referred in verse 9.  The time is ripe and the kingdom has come near.

ll. Isaiah provides several references for Mark 1:9-15.                                                                                The placing of God’s Spirit on his chosen one to bring justice to the nations is part of God’s description of God’s servant in Isaiah 42:1.   Isaiah 52:7 connects the one who brings good news with the proclamation, “Your God reigns.”.

lll.  So with these verses in Mark we hear description of Jesus coming (his Advent?) into Galilee. We know, of course, that the story leads urgently to the fulfillment of those prophecies about the servant, as surely as Lent works it’s way toward Good Friday. Yet the promise of exaltation of the servant, as the one who ushers in God’s reign, is here at its beginning.
Yet all this prophetic preparation does not diminish the qualities of loneliness that will be exacerbated for Jesus as the gospel story unfolds. We are surprise and shocked at the “immediate” follow-up to Jesus baptism, when the Spirit literally throws him out into the wilderness and then we hear of John arrest.
The loneliness of God’s servant, a theme that persists throughout the gospel, is already suggested in these opening verses.  It all begins in the wilderness, home to prophets of Israel, and to Israel itself in the years of wandering. Jesus will be there too, his meeting of Satan’s temptations.  Jesus’ proclamation of the “gospel of God” follows immediately upon the arrest of John who had also been preaching repentance. That arrest will not bode well for John or Jesus.
At the end of Lent and the end of Mark, both violence and loneliness come to a culmination in Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross. But here at the beginning of Lent,  something new has begun and Jesus is announcing it as good news. In him, God pulls back, or better yet, rips the veil that has kept heaven’s power and intention hidden (verses 10 and 15:38). This tearing of the veil between God and humankind and the opening of God’s reign among all humans, both begin in this lonely, isolated way.  
Mark’s gospel puts before us God’s own beloved son who announces clearly what is going on.  Althought some of us may misunderstand, it is good news. During Lent, perhaps we can focus our own attention on that kingdom that Jesus puts forth to us.  In Mark 4:9 says “Let anyone with ears to hear: listen” (Mark 4:9).