I’ve been invited to be a part of an online sermon series, and my first day to preach was today. Below is what I was led to write.
26 February 2012: Year B, First Sunday in Lent.
Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, and Mark 1:9-15
Turning. Turning toward something. Turning away from something. Changing direction. Reorienting. Our readings today speak of turning.
In the first, one of the most terrifying episodes in the Bible has come to an end and even God wishes to turn from that. The one who is love turns away from destruction and toward love. Toward life.
What does it mean that God turned, changed direction, reoriented?
We see it again in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus, after his baptism, a very public ceremony, turns away from the crowds, from his family and his people, He turns away so that he can turn back toward them renewed. He turns away from temptation so that he can turn toward his ministry.
The Psalmist asks God for help turning. “Make me to know your ways,” he says. “Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” Turn me toward you, Lord. Take me out of my busy life. Teach me patience as I wait for you.
And the author of 1 Peter talks to us of our own turning, our baptism, “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” echoing the earlier cry of the Psalmist.
Here at the beginning of Lent we bring our attention to our own turning. We may be turning away from our evening cocktails, or from spending too much time online, but in these turns our goal is ultimately to turn ourselves toward God. Often in saying “O my God, in you I trust” we have to remind ourselves to turn away from the places where we often put our trust, places that do not deserve it.
On Ash Wednesday we heard the words “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This reminder of our own mortality, and of our oneness with all that surrounds us, opens our entry into Lent, into our turning. Looking at this precious and brief time we are given forces us to take note of our own direction, to be deliberate in that toward which we are oriented.
Perhaps you are called to turn away from clothing yourself in the products of worker abuse. Perhaps you are called to a clearer mind, turning away from alcohol or other substances. Perhaps you are called to turn toward God in regular prayer. Perhaps you are called to turn toward God in service. Perhaps you are called to fasting and self-denial, to turning away from yourself and toward the other, often-forgotten children of God. Perhaps you are called not to turn away from yourself in self-denial, but to turn toward the self that you or others have forgotten to love, toward remembering that you are made in the image of God, that you are holy and that the dust from which you came was stardust.
Whatever the call may be, God is calling to you. God is asking you to turn, as God has shown you God’s own turning.
Lent is a time for turning, but I cannot tell you how to turn. I can only tell you that God’s call is to love. You must listen to God’s call, to how God is calling you to love.
O God, in this season which begins with an embrace of our own mortality, an acknowledgement and observation of the brevity of the time in which this pile of dust is animated by your holy breath, we put our trust in you. Help us to walk the paths to which you call us with steadfast love and faithfulness. Help us, O Lord, in everything that we do, to turn toward Love.