We have entered the season of Lent… a time traditionally set apart to fast, pray and give alms. A time when Christians meditate on Christ’s life and impending death. A time to renew our commitment, our covenant, to following Jesus.
Unfortunately, in many cases, Lent has devolved into simply giving up chocolate or something like that. The fasting and giving up of rich foods was part of a twofold practice: to be in solidarity with those who don’t have enough to eat and to use the money saved to give alms to the poor.
So, I invite you to ponder what you might give up in order to make the world a better place. Make a covenant with God. We don’t use the word covenant very much anymore. The word cloud on the front of the bulletin is made up of words that mean covenant: promise, contract, treaty, pact, deal and others. Covenant is mentioned 7 times in that short passage from Genesis. Do you get the feeling it might be an important word? Seven times God speaks of the promise God is making to us. There is a funny thing about covenant though… it’s not one sided… So, in this passage, where God promises not to destroy the world again, we look back to the earliest passages in Genesis… where we make promises to look after the earth.
The reading from Mark’s gospel is that of Jesus’ baptism… Promises are made at baptism too… it’s a three way covenant between God, the parents or persons seeking baptism and the congregation… God’s promises are implicit in the symbolic actions of water and blessing… Parents promise to bring their children to church… The congregation promises to nurture the children and provide opportunities for them to grow in faith and love. Covenants are always mutual… they cannot be one sided.
Later on in the service, we will be doing a different kind of covenanting… We will be recognizing Lana MacLean as an Inquirer… Inquirer is a term that the United Church uses when someone experiences a call from God to ordered ministry and expresses a desire to be considered for that within our church. There are many parts to this particular covenant: God, Lana, this congregation, the wider church. All have a part to play in discerning Lana’s call to ministry. It’s an exciting time and spirit filled time… And just like Jesus who felt God’s presence and heard God’s voice at the time of his baptism, this high point for Lana may lead to wilderness times. Lana, you may experience fear and uncertainty on this path that God is calling you on. May you experience hunger and thirst for righteousness. May you experience the depths and the heights of a life of following Jesus. May you always feel God close to you.
Those few short verses from the gospel of Mark have Jesus baptised, sent him out into the wilderness where he wrestled with temptations and then start his public ministry. Where he said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Remember that Jesus was born into a world in which he had no power, no financial backing, no followers at that time. What an audacious statement, to say into that world, that the Kingdom of God was at hand. What he had was the conviction that God hungered and thirsted for justice and healing for all God’s people, not just some of them. That message of love, inclusion and justice for all is still an audacious statement. And we, as followers of Jesus, by virtue of our baptism and our common life together, we say the same things.
It is said that the church exists for those who are not yet part of it. Our mission statement says: St. Paul’s United Church is a welcoming, caring Christian community of faith and love. As a congregation we strive to live God-inspired lives through worship, spiritual growth, stewardship, and outreach. Let’s covenant with God to bring that message to our world.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
(C) Catherine MacDonald
Genesis 9: 8-17
Mark 9: 1-15
February 22, 2015
St. Paul’s United Church