The Baptism of Jesus
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The Temptation of Jesus
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)
Our word of the day today is “temptation,” and temptation means, “a desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise.” In the Bible, we hear the classic stories of temptation through the stories of Adam and Eve, Bathsheba and King David, Samson and Delilah, and many more. We also hear the stories of prophets who were tempted to run from God’s call and leaders who were tempted by promises of wealth and fame.
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear of Jesus spending forty days and forty nights being tempted by the devil. And the truth is, we face temptation in our lives all the time. We face the temptation of putting our wants above another’s needs. We face the temptation of ignoring problems such as hunger, poverty, war, violence, and disease, with the false hope that they will go away without our intervention. We face the temptations of wealth and consumerism. We are tempted by food, alcohol, and gambling, fame and fortune, love and false promises of happiness. We face many temptations to stray from the path of our faith, and we face the temptation of filling our schedules and thinking that we are too busy, sometimes, to do what is right.
I actually laughed when I read today’s scripture reading. Now you may not have found it funny, but in the context of today’s society, when we rush from one thing to the next, never looking back, and barely processing where we are in the moment. I found it very interesting that in the six short verses of our scripture reading today, Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan River, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days and forty nights, and then Jesus even began teaching and preaching the good news. I think the gospel of Mark needs to slow down a little bit! To help us understand a little more, and to remind us to not fall into the temptation of always looking to that which comes next.
I wonder, how many of you know what you’re doing after church today? And how many of you are sitting in your pew and thinking about that? How many of you are making your grocery list, or figuring out what you need to do in the coming week? Unfortunately, we all do it, all the time. We are tempted to race to the next thing, and we lose sight of the “here and now.” As Lent began, I told you all that we were going to start digging through the mess and talking about some of the difficult words and understandings of our faith. And that is just what we are going to do. Now, today’s word, as we all know, is “temptation,” and we have already talked about many of the temptations that we face in our lives. But there is one word or concept that we are always tempted to sweep under the carpet, or to push aside. It’s something that we all know about but we don’t like to talk about. It’s one of those things that we are tempted to try to forget, but unfortunately, when and if we do, it only grows and becomes more consuming and painful. The word or concept that I am taking about is “grief.” No one wants to talk about grief, because it’s sad, and it makes us feel bad. But the more we try to tuck it away, the more we try to hide it and pretend that it’s not there, the more pain it causes us. Oh sure, we can hold it back for a little while, but it always shows up, usually in the most unexpected and surprising ways.
So, friends, we are going to take a little time to talk about our grief today. Because as a congregation, our grief is weighing heavy on us. As you all know, one week ago today we lost a very special member of our congregation. Betty Grant, who was a deacon and a choir member, a church lady extraordinaire, the organizer of all things Oldtown, and our church’s face of warmth and welcome, unexpectantly passed into eternal rest. As I spoke with many of you last week, the phrase that I heard over and over again was, “I’m heartbroken.” And I think it’s true; as individuals and as a congregation, we are heartbroken at the loss of Betty Grant and we all need time to heal.
We had a wonderful celebration for Betty, with her family and friends, here on Friday, and with their help, we shared some beautiful stories about Betty. But there is still work to be done, my friends, to sift through our grief as a congregation. So, I have decided, that today is going to “Betty-Palooza Sunday.” And rather than following the temptation to sweep our grief aside or to tuck it away somewhere in hopes that it will magically disappear, we are going to recognize our grief and our brokenness, and we are going to truly celebrate who Betty was, and what she meant to this church.
I also have to be totally open and honest with all of you and let you know that I too am working through my grief. Because as I have told many of you, this is a hard one! But I am also letting go of another big temptation that I struggle with, and that is control. Because as your pastor, I always want to make everyone feel comfortable. I want to make sure that no one gets put on the spot. And that the message on Sunday is tied up in a neat little bow. Every Sunday, I want you to know that you are loved. I want you to be inspired and filled with so much joy that you go out and share the light of Christ in the world. So, I could follow the temptation to take care of everything for you. I could make a list of all of the wonderful things that Betty did here in Oldtown. I could mix in a few funny stories and then send you off to your busy week ahead. But friends, I can’t fix your grief. I can’t process your feelings for you. I can tell you that everything is going to be okay, but I can’t control your feelings and emotions; only you can do that.
And the truth is, with grief, you can’t go around it, or over it, or under it; you have to go through it. You have to face it and name it and, in so doing, you allow yourself to work through it. So, friends, what I am going to invite you to do today is to share a quick story or remembrance, of Betty. Maybe something that you know she always took care of here at the church, or something funny or quirky that she did. Perhaps something that she taught you, or something that you admired in her. And friends, it’s okay to laugh, and to cry, because that is part of the way that we work through our grief. And don’t be afraid if you feel yourself become overly emotional. As Washing Irving, the great American writer once said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, but also unspeakable love.”
Friends, we have a wireless microphone, so you can stay right in your seats, but if you would, just raise your hand if you would like to share. Then, we’ll take a few minutes to celebrate just who our friend Betty was and still is in our hearts.
(CONGREGATION SHARES STORIES)
It is often said that “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by doubling joy and dividing grief.” (Cicero), and I think that is very true! So thank you to all of those who shared this morning!
Friends, in our scripture lesson today, we briefly heard the story of Jesus spending forty days and forty nights all alone in the wilderness as he was tempted by the devil. The good news for us is that we are never alone like that. Grief may seem like a lonesome valley, a long and lonely road, but look around! Not only are you surrounded by friends and family, but you are held in the hands of a God. Friends, don’t be tempted to hide your sadness or to sweep your grief under the rug. Acknowledge it, and name it, and then, let the healing begin.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go into your busy week ahead, bring a little light to your corner of the world. Share a smile, or a warm welcome, just like Betty taught us all to do. And remember that you never have to walk alone. Be good to yourself and those around you. And don’t be tempted to worry about tomorrow. Instead, appreciate and celebrate the moment that you are in.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!