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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Lent 1: The Flood

I’m always struck by the stark distinction between me and Jesus. My first thought when I read today’s Gospel, especially after reading through the Transfiguration last week was: “talk about waiting for the other shoe to drop.” With Jesus’s baptism we hear about today, we’re stepping back to the beginning of his ministry. And what a start. A cloud descends, which as we said last week, is like a visual announcement of God’s presence, and we hear the voice of God the Father: this is my beloved with whom I am well pleased. And then we’ve got the heavens torn apart like a garment or shroud or curtain torn, again, symbolising God revealing himself and overturning the world’s current order. Then we have God the Holy Spirit descending on God the Son, the baptised God-man, Jesus.

But here comes that shoe dropping out of heaven. God is fully revealed, great news, rejoice, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, redemption is near, get ready. And boom: the Holy Spirit, and I quote directly from God’s Word: “drove Jesus out into the wilderness to face Satan.” 

I imagine for a moment this being me. But God, I’ve done everything right. I just got baptised. That’s my checkmark to heaven don’t you know. Even as a kid I was pretty loyal even telling my human adoptive parents that I had to be about your business and that’s why I took off. I haven’t been selfish or overly ambitious or violent or even spoken badly or wrongly. In fact, I’ve pretty much just been obedient to you Father. So uh, what’s with being driven out into the wilderness, like the evil Israelites where I’m going to be hungry, thirsty, and want control over my own life and probably other people’s lives too so that this NEVER happens to me again. 

In the other Gospel accounts of Jesus being driven out into the wilderness and tempted by Satan, we hear Jesus reject Satan’s offer of food, drink, knowledge and power, which of course is a reversal of the original sin of Adam and Eve setting in motion the cascade effects of sin and so the repeated and more nuanced, situationally complex sins of the Israelites, God’s chosen people and then of all of us gentiles too.

But here in Mark we simply find that after John had been arrested for his proclamation of God’s kingdom, Jesus picks up his baptismally marked mission to become the Ark through which people might be saved from that cascade of sins that drowns us all in a kind of collective brokenness of words, actions and relationships: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news of God.” I am the fulfilment of Scripture. I am the Ark. I am your salvation: see me, hear me, follow me. Let go of Satan, put down your old ways of seeing and thinking and responding and turn to me. Take hold of me. Step onto the Ark that I am. And follow. I will heal and transform you. I will make you fishers of other people, disciples who bear my likeness and reveal my perfect love so that others might come to me too. 

Sounds simple enough right? I could just stand on the street corner and yell this at people passing by right? I can be just like John the Baptist: repent of your sins you evil doers. Surely all people - especially people as well educated as Canadians are, so knowledgeable about the strife in this world - will immediately turn to God because I’ve told them the truth. 

Oh but then the shoe drops. God has indeed manifested himself to us. But my response to testing in the desert, the Churches testing in the desert, I’m afraid, has proved far more like Israel’s response to God than like Jesus’s. There’s my pride, often manifest as anger, frustration, impatience, condemnation, and cynicism, my lack of courage in acting out of fear rather than faith; there’s yours - likely you share some of mine, and probably have your own issues. Then there’s the Church’s integration with the demons of empire and nationalism: see indulgences, violence, crusades, religious wars, burning people at the stake, slavery, genocide, too many failures to oppose Hitler, alignment with leaders like Trump and Putin who explicitly defy nearly every word and the overall ethos of Scripture. Or Church’s that become social clubs rather than places where people can learn who God is and why this matters. 

Is it really a wonder that most people my age reject a Church whose members have, over time, shown preference for satisfying their own desires and their own myopic judgement - whether social, political, or military - over taking God’s own life seriously? Many read the story of God wiping out most of humanity in the flood as the act of a cruel God of the OT. But what do those same people make of the NT when God drives Jesus out into the desert or to the Cross - stripping him of all he has - to be tempted, like Job, like the Israelites, by Satan? 

I’ll tell you what sort of God I find: I find a God who doesn’t stand for our cruelty to one another. For the flood of sin that washes over us and tempts us to drown one another and ourselves in its ways. A God who refuses to oblige our acts of rage, of revenge, of greed, of violating one another, of seeking to undermine, attack, destroy, of pretending to be righteous when in fact our limited view exercised as judgement and condemnation and refusal to engage with mercy, only leads us to pushing others away from God. I find a God who is righteous. Not a God who accepts me as I am, thank God for that. I find a God who calls me out of myself; who pushes me and drives me out into the desert where I am brought face to face with God: all my thoughts, all my motivations, all my reasoning exposed by the wind, the breath of God, his Spirit. I find a God who drives me there so that I will not die, but instead, will finally ask for his help and receive it: God help me. God make a new and right heart in me. God save me so that I might know perfect love. This is life: letting go of my ways and embracing God’s own, I no longer have to struggle to survive. God is my all and God is my everything just here. Are you willing to allow God to drive you into a desert of transformation where you might follow him in living for, sharing and proclaiming not your will, but his? AMEN

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