The beginning of Lent is here : a new beginning with new possibilities for a renewed life. We are awakened from our English winter hibernation to the voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, get ready, make way, wake up – there’s a change on the way.
This year, with all the pandemic restrictions, we could do with a change. And we might wonder what God has on offer - where is God in all this?
The four gospels were written to tell us just that . We begin with Mark’s gospel, the shortest and the first to be written (we believe). It literally changed the world into which it came 2000 plus years ago, telling a story through pictures, vignettes, snapshots of moments in time.
The story bursts in with’ in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. We can hardly believe our ears! Surely it should be the other way around? But no, Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan. Make way, make way, for the king of kings: make way, make way and let his kingdom in – go the words of the popular worship sing.
At Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan river, there is no doubt of his call from God through the Holy Spirit, to act as his agent to right all wrongs and make his rule clear , with all. The heavens open and a new dimension of reality, a new relationship, is recognised; the loving Fatherhood of God, with powerful words of affirmation for his Beloved Son, encouraging him to take the reins. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him shall have eternal life. As the river flows through the Jordan, so God’s love flows through his creation.
The Holy Spirit continues to work through Jesus, as he is driven into the hot and sandy wilderness to test and strengthen his resolve. The tempter suggests the if he is God’s Son, he would be able to use and show miraculous powers to stun the people into awe and wonder; to take control of the centres of power in Jerusalem ; to do daring acts of bravery knowing that God would save him from disaster. Or simply to turn back and change his mind. The wild beasts were there; Satan was there; but so were the angels, affirming God’s presence watching over him, loving him as he rejects the temptations to personal power. God begins to pour out his Spirit and with his Son begins the journey.
All this takes place, not in a place of worship, but outdoors, in the great outdoors, in the midst of a rather hostile creation, a desert. This mission is for the whole world, both political and natural, and includes both humans and nonhumans, the creatures, the animals and birds, and the Spirits. Wouldn’t you be a little daunted? As usual, Jesus way of coping is then to withdraw to pray for a while before starting his journey and his work. A moment of stillness.
Meanwhile, John the Baptist is arrested, and it’s time now for Jesus to go up to Galilee and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom - the long awaited messiah is here; the kingdom is near; repent; turn to Christ; believe the gospel.
The Old Testament story comes from, not Isaiah, but Genesis. It’s the story of the first covenant made between God and his people; it’s a generational covenant with promises on both sides, made with ‘ all flesh’ , all creatures and humankind, and powerfully sealed with the rainbow. The spectrum of the rainbow covers a wide diversity of people and nations as it bows across the sky.
As long as we are obedient to God’s way of life, there will be no more floods such as the flood of the Noah’s Ark story. Apostle Paul spells this out more clearly in one of his many letters, reminding us that the new way of life, which can be learned in our church communities, includes good behaviour and gentleness in our daily witness; and a good conscience, good moral behaviour as befitting children of God. This is how we must use the freedom purchased for us by Jesus on the cross. If we read Paul’s letters carefully, we find that this includes taking care of creation as well as taking care of each other. In fact, we know today how one is so closely linked with the other.
We do need to face the threat of flood. It is actually very real. In our warming world, arctic melt is causing the sea levels to rise. People in the Pacific Islands are already losing their homes. Coastal regions across the world are being threatened, cliff faces crumbling – yes, even in our northern seaside resorts such as Scarborough. Makes us think!
Deforestation is a major cause; will all our forests gradually be cut down, and the land become wilderness and savannah? Deforestation is a cause of increased chance of disease too; as we reduce the habitat and spaces reserved for animals, so we facilitate the spread of disease. As we reduce the opportunities given by the forest canopies to clean up our polluted air, to regulate and balance the atmosphere, so we facilitate the spread of disease.
Much of what happens next is up to us humans. Our life choices matter. During Lent, we remember that Jesus was tempted to use his powers for selfish gain and self glorification. We know that we must repent, turn around , say no to the tempter; turn back with commitment to our commission as people of God, to heal, to bind up and to comfort; our commitment to combat global warming and to seek better ways forward.
We will remember that nature is an essential tool for addressing the threats of climate change , of biodiversity loss, of deforestation and polluted waters. The call for all is for ambitious action to put nature into recovery and embrace natural solutions. We will remember nature as well as people in our prayers this Lent. We can renew our promises to God; and put the two great commandments at the heart of our Lent; put the ‘Lord our God’ at the centre of our lives and tlove our neighbours, both here and abroad, as ourselves.