Mark 1:9-15 NRSV
Do you remember the Israelites? After they were affirmed by God in the presence of God through Moses and the Exodus, they found themselves in the wilderness for forty years struggling with evil and searching for a God who seemed to be non-existent.
Do you remember Moses? After he was affirmed by God in the presence of God as the leader of God’s chosen people as he led the Israelites out of Egypt, he found himself in the wilderness on Mount Sinai for forty days struggling with evil and searching for a God who seemed to be non-existent.
Do you remember Elijah? After he was affirmed by God in the presence of God on the top of Mount Carmel, he found himself in the wilderness for forty days struggling with evil and searching for a God who seemed to be non-existent.
Today, and every Sunday, we come to this place, hopefully we are also affirmed by God in the presence of God. We are affirmed as we sing the songs of faith and say the prayers of faith. We are affirmed as we gather around a communion table, as we listen to the Word of God through music and word, and as we commune with our sisters and brothers in Christ.
Together, we sense with our hearts, hear with our ears, and see with our eyes the very presence of God. As we come together in this place and make commitments and recommitments to God, we are empowered by the Spirit of God, and we are affirmed.
However, like the Israelites, like Moses, and like Elijah, Monday morning comes.
On Monday morning, anxiety is usually your alarm. You are awakened with a list of countless worries. If tomorrow morning is anything like the last few mornings, added to your fretful list are the children who were killed in yet another horrific school shooting. You anguish that so many of your friends have acquiesced to the notion that nothing can be done to prevent this from happening again. You worry about your own children, your grandchildren, great grandchildren. You grieve over the state of our country. Some of you absolutely dread going to work or to school. While others dread spending another day at home alone.
Some of you make it to work, and it’s just that, it’s work. And school is still school. Same old mess day after day, week after week. There, there are all kinds of trials, temptations, drama. This is where you are most aware that you are not the person you need to be, the person you could be, the person you should be.
Back at home, there is more drama. There is arguing over trivial things, fussing over nothing. However, much worse than the drama some of you experience are those who come home to no one. Your phone rings in the middle of the drama or the isolation, and you’re told that a good friend has just been diagnosed with cancer.
One day— affirmed by God in the presence of God. The next day— hurled into the wilderness, struggling with all kinds of evil, into a place where God seems to be non-existent.
The good news is that God understands. The good news is that God empathizes. The good news of the gospel is that God has experienced this world as we often experience it through the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
One day, Jesus was affirmed by God in the presence of God like none other. We are told that Jesus’ baptism, the heavens which were thought by many to have been closed, were “torn apart” and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus “like a dove.” Then there was this voice from heaven: “This is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
One day affirmed by God in the presence of God, but then, without warning, Monday morning came. Jesus is driven immediately into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, hurled into a place where God seemed to be non-existent, a place with wild, chaotic forces, with evil personified.
At one time, when I was much younger, much more naïve, much less experienced in this world, this passage of scripture used to trouble me. For what kind of God would affirm their child one day and then drive him into the wilderness the next day, where there are trials, dangers, and sufferings? What kind of God would lead us into such a place?
Well, since becoming more experienced in life, earning some of these gray hairs, I no longer struggle with these questions. Because, the reality is that God does not have to drive us into a wilderness. We are already there. We are there because we are human, and life itself is a wilderness. We encounter suffering, evil and chaotic forces everyday of our lives, not because God drives us into it, but because we are earthly creatures living in a fragmented world.
Like you and me, Jesus found himself in a in a fretful, fearful place. One day, Jesus is affirmed by God in the presence of God. The next day, he’s in a seemingly God-forsaken wilderness.
But here’s the good news. It’s just one short sentence, but it is a beautiful sentence. Mark says: “And the angels waited on him.”
Angels, representing God’s providence and presence waited on Jesus. Struggle and trial, isolation and evil are present in the wilderness, but “So is God!” Throughout Jesus’ forty days and nights, God was not absent! God was with Jesus, ministering to him, serving him, waiting on him.
Even in the most demonic experiences in this wilderness called life, God is always present. The Rev. Fred Rogers put it this way: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
In other words, even in the midst of the most chaotic forces, even in the midst of evil personified, we will always find angels.
Angels like football coach Aaron Feis who gave his life this week, sacrificing his body to shield students from gunfire.
Angels like geography teacher Scott Beigel who risked and gave his life opening classroom door to shelter and save the lives of students.
Angels like the unnamed janitor who helped save students who were unknowingly running toward the shooter.
Angels like so many of the teachers who hid students in closets, barricaded their doors, kept everyone quiet.
Angels like so many of the students who survived this experience, who you just know are going to help make this world a better, safer place to live.
In the middle of the wilderness, in the presence of evil personified, in the midst of the chaos and terror, angels were everywhere.
This wilderness experience of Jesus is often called “the temptation of Jesus.” I believe we are sometimes tempted to believe that we can make it through our wilderness alone, on our own power. We are tempted to believe that our own physical power or even our own spiritual power can see us through our Monday mornings.
We must be able to humbly recognize that come Monday morning, or Tuesday morning, or Wednesday afternoon, we need another power. If the Son of God needed angels to wait on him in his wilderness, how much more do we need angels? How much more do we need God’s abiding presence? How much more do we need one another? How much more do we need those who have been called to be God’s selfless, sacrificial, transforming agents in this world, who are, even now, sitting all around us?
Which leads to this question: Come Monday, who might need you?
It’s Sunday morning. Gathered here, in the presence of God, we are loved, and we are affirmed. The heavens are open. God’s Spirit fills this room, and God is speaking to our hearts.
In a few moments, we will receive the bread and the cup, and we will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved with a grace that is greater than our sin. We will pray. We will sing a hymn. And we will make commitments and our re-commitments. During the Benediction you will hear the wonderful words: “You and you and you and you are God’s beloved children, with whom God is well pleased.”
Yes, it is Sunday morning, and here in the very presence of God, we are affirmed.
But we can be certain of this: Monday morning is coming. For some of us Monday morning may come this Sunday afternoon. As sure as we are here, it is coming. But always remember…
Remember the Israelites. They found God and the promised land. Remember Moses. He found God in such a profound way that it changed his appearance. Remember Elijah. He found God in a still, small voice. Remember Jesus. The son of God found God through angels who waited on him. And as children of God, as sons and daughters of God, I am confident that so can we.
How can I be so confident? Because when I look around this room, you know what I see?
I see angels. Let us pray.
O God, thank you so much for the countless times this church has come to us and waited on us, ministered to us, served us as angels. Remind each of us O God that you call us to be your representatives on this earth sharing with all people the good news that when we find ourselves in the wilderness, you are always present. Amen.
Invitation to Communion
Come to the table, join in the song,
This is the place where all shall belong.
Voices in chorus, seeking Christ’s ways,
To become God’s living stones of praise.
Come voice your struggles, come shed your tears,
Come calm your anger, come lose your fears.
Here we encounter the Living Lord
Through bread that’s broken, in wine that’s poured.
COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION
It’s Sunday. The good news is that you are here in the very presence of God, and “You and you and you and you are God’s beloved children, with whom God is well pleased.”
But guess what? Monday morning is certainly coming. Go now with the assurance that tomorrow morning, God will not leave you alone nor forsake you.
Go, also remembering your calling to be God’s representatives on this earth, on Sunday, but especially on Monday, in the light of affirmation, but also in the darkness of the wilderness.
And may the love of God, the grace of Christ Jesus and the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of angels, be with us all.