Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

                                                      Guided by God

Based on Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, Mark 1:9-15

          There are some well-seasoned aphorisms about setting out on a trip; you likely know them as well as I do.  Sage advice like, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”, or “If you don’t know where you are headed, any road will get you there”.  It certainly makes sense that in order to journey somewhere you must leave where you are, and if you don’t plan for the journey and select a destination, then you will be wandering around seeing many places but not knowing which is your final destination.  It has always seemed to me to be kind of important when going to an unknown place to find a map or a guide to lead you.

          I have always been fascinated by journeys – especially those into previously un-explored parts of this world.  I read about explorers who delve far into cave systems around the world, dive submersibles down to the deepest reaches of the oceans, exploits of Arctic and Antarctic exploration teams of a century ago, the conquest of mountains such as Mount Everest and K-2.  I think about what courage and fortitude it took to circumnavigate the oceans and to journey to unknown places and dangers.  Guided by crude maps, reckoning by stars and sun, waves and wind – sometimes guided by natives of the region, sometimes only by God, faith and hope.

          This is the journey that I hope we are set on for the next six weeks.  It is the journey to authentic being and to restored relationship with God.  It is guided by the Holy Spirit and it is every bit as daunting at times as scaling a mountain, diving into an abyss, or discovering a land yet unknown.  It is a journey of letting go and of emptying so that we all might be filled again.  It is a journey that I do not want us to do solo – let us ask God in prayer for God’s presence on our trek…

          The first of the three great covenants is being given by God to Noah and his descendants.  The ark has held up thorough a very long and tedious voyage.  All of the creatures and humans have survived to disembark on a planet which except for them is lifeless.  Noah and his tribe are to repopulate the humans of the world, while each of the pairs of creatures does the same.  God places a rainbow in the sky to signal that never again will floods cover the face of the earth to destroy all living things.  The rainbow is the sign for God to remember the covenant made with Noah and all creatures to never again destroy all the life on the earth.

          The Psalmist sings a song of guidance and deliverance.  For guidance, the lyrics tell of a God who is merciful and forgiving – One who leads in truth and teaches the ways to walk.  The deliverance comes from the love of God who overlooks our transgressions and our guilt.  In order to learn from such a wise and wonderful God, we must be humble and open to that instruction.

          Jesus was beginning the journey of his ministry.  He must be baptized by John first and then tempted in the wilderness for forty days by Satan and surrounded by wild beasts.  He needed to be tested in this way to show His resolve to undertake a ministry which would end up with him losing his life for those he loved.  He came out of his wilderness time knowing just exactly what He was supposed to do and to be.  He also knew where He was going.  It was time for the Israelites to repent and to believe the gospel that God’s kingdom was coming soon.

          Noah needed to step out in faith and to prepare long before the first raindrop fell from heaven.  He was guided by his faith and trust in God and by the detailed instructions he was given.  He had no idea where he and his family were headed, but they trusted and floated on the waters for 300 days before finally coming to ground on the mountains of Ararat.  After a couple more months Noah and all the inhabitants of the ark were able to come out onto dry land – a land that had been emptied of all life except what was contained in the ark.  God had guided Noah and his family and all the creatures to a place to begin again. 

          Things have not gone well for the writer of Psalm 25 (King David?).  Enemies surround and the decisions that the writer has made have not worked out.  In his desire to not be defeated and to regain knowledge of God – whom he has deserted, he sings a song of understanding and humility so that he might be saved.  The writer wants God to take the lead in the journey again.  Like the covenant rainbow in the clouds, the writer says, “…Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love (chesed), for they have been from of old….according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake….”

          The chosen people were walking around in darkness and they had not heard from the LORD in over 400 years.  They were slaves to the Roman Empire and their Temple leadership was abusing them as well.  They were in need of having God be reminded of God’s promises to them.  Into this mix comes a rabbi from Nazareth in the Galilee.  He is baptized by John in the River Jordan and then driven out into the wilderness for a period of testing and temptation by Satan.  All of his life, however, he had been guided by God, and so he returns from the wilderness with a message for the people to repent and to believe in the gospel.  The in-breaking of God’s kingdom was at hand and Jesus’ message of love and repentance was going to launch a religious revival which would soon outstrip the Judaism which birthed and nurtured it. 

          This is the nature of being guided by God.  When one is filled with the power and truth of the message of divine redemption and reconciliation, then how could it not spread around the known world within just a few generations after Jesus.  Men and women who became leaders in this new movement known first only as “The Way”, spoke and lived in such a manner that others saw something that they wanted in their lives as well.  It was the culmination of the covenants that God made with Noah, Abram, and Moses.  It was the fulfillment of all of the law and prophesy created over more than a millennium.  It was the final act of the play that began when Noah and his family, and all the creatures, took those first cautious steps out of the Ark and on to drying ground.

          It is that history with which we stand at another Lenten season and ask ourselves, what will be different this year?  How will we embrace this season of introspection and study so that we come out of it on Easter Sunday knowing that we are created to live as Easter people with a message of hope that blows the doors off of any other currently being shared on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, news outlets, TV, blogs, etc.?  My message from Ash Wednesday (which I encourage you to read on our website) was that this Lent we must give up our hypocrisy and begin to live fully as people who really believe what it is that we are saying.  Giving up chocolate or ice cream or other things never changes us long-term, because we have not changed our behavior and our belief models.  We have not changed what we do the other 325 days until our next Lent – and so our world does not change.

          Until we admit that there is a fundamental flaw in our way of doing Church that makes it true when people outside the Church say that they won’t belong to an organization where so many hypocrites belong – then this 40 days of Lent is wasted.  If we choose, however, during this Lent to be moved and guided by God through study, prayer, fasting, sharing Holy Communion, and engaging in repentance (to confront our individual and institutional hypocrisy) then we might just be empty enough for God to fill us up and move us forward on kingdom work.  When we lose our hypocrisy, we will have room again on our God-journey to believe in the gospel according to Jesus the Christ and to humbly submit to God’s guidance in our lives.  This Lent, my prayer for us all is that we come to realize that at our essence we are unconditionally beloved sons and daughters of God – and that God is well pleased with us.  When we take off all our masks and get down to what is real – that is what we find.  Then, guided and filled by God, we can do what Jesus did – or maybe things even greater.  Thanks be to God who waits patiently and expectantly for us, now and always.  And all God’s people said…AMEN!