First Sunday in Lent

Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor

1 Lent—February 22, 2015

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1.9-15

A few years back, I had a real blinding flash of the obvious. That wasn’t the last of them. They keep happening. I was preparing for the first Sunday in Lent, and I tend to get confused about scripture—about exactly what’s happening when. I get Easter and Christmas mixed up because they’re kind of book ends for me, and I have trouble remembering really what’s happening. And I was preparing for Sunday, as I said, and I wondered what the other gospels for the first Sunday in Lent said. So, I looked at all three of them—Matthew, Mark and Luke—and there it was: all of them begin with Jesus’ baptism. Who knew? Clearly I had not noticed. I had not noticed that in all of the rotation—in all three years—the gospel portion begins with the account of the baptism. And I finally figured out that I hadn’t noticed that because I was so busy focusing on the preparation through Lent for Easter—and particularly focusing on our Baptismal Covenant promises and getting it better and making it righter and doing those—you know, just really working at those covenant promises and thinking of ways to help the people in the congregation deal with those promises.

Now, you remember those promises, right? They’re on page 304 in the prayer book, if you don’t know where they are. If you don’t have a prayer book at home, let me know. I’ll make sure you get one, because we need to have that around with us. Anyway, my focus had been on helping us live into those baptismal covenant promises—to get better at it. And I thought: But Jesus began this journey with his baptism. And so do we. Most of us are baptized, I think—if not all. So, here we are. We’re already baptized, so what are we doing as we move toward Easter? Each year, I’ve had a different thought about what that might be, and this year, I didn’t know what it was going to be, and on Wednesday morning, when we did Ash Wednesday service and had Eucharist, I noticed something in the Eucharistic prayer. Our prayer says: You bid your faithful people cleanse their hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast, and that word with was just right there with me. Another blinding flash of the obvious. With. Prepare with joy. Cleanse their hearts, and prepare with joy. So I studied on that for a while, and it’s been wandering through these days with me. What do we need to do to cleanse our hearts so that we can prepare with joy—not for joy but with joy—in every day of this Lenten journey?

And I thought: well, what we need to cleanse our hearts of is guilt and fear, because those are the barriers to joy. Those are the things that keep us separate from joy. Guilt is about everything that happened in the past. Fear is about everything that might happen in the future. Joy happens in this minute. Right now. We can’t joy tomorrow or yesterday. We’re joying right now.

So, what does that mean for our preparation for Easter? How do we do that? I keep getting pulled back to those baptismal covenant promises. You know, those covenant promises are our response to God’s covenant with us. We’ve just heard, in the reading from Genesis, that God said: Never again. Never again will I destroy my creation. Never again. In all these years—in all these generations—God has been there. God has been saying: Y’all come! I’m here. Sometimes God has said: You’re getting it wrong, but God has always said: I am here. Y’all come. God never says—never, never, never says: You go away. You are not my people. I don’t want you anymore. God says: Y’all come. And our response is our response to the promises in our baptismal covenant. We covenant with God to follow the apostles’ teaching and to worship and to break the bread and pray. We promise to resist evil and when things don’t go like we hoped, to repent and return to Christ. We promise to proclaim the good news by word and example. We promise to seek and serve Christ in everyone we meet. Everyone. Everyone. And we promise to respect everyone. Every one we meet. Well, this morning I had already broken it twice, and it’s been a few more times since then. I’m pretty safe on number one; I’m usually with the teaching and the worship. So, it’s really easy for me to look at the places where I’ve failed to live into that covenant. That doesn’t bring me a lot of joy. It brings me a lot of guilt and fear.

So, what I’d like to invite you to do during these next weeks is to look at those baptismal covenant promises and notice the times when you’ve lived into them. Notice the times when perhaps you didn’t want to and you did anyway. And notice how that striving to live into our promises has enriched your life—how it’s helped to build community—how it’s helped maybe even to shift this world we live in. Just the striving. Notice those things. Notice also those times when you feel the presence of God in these next weeks. Notice when you feel God present with you or when you feel the action of the Holy Spirit or when you’re aware of Jesus walking beside you on this path. Notice those times. Cherish them. Write them on your heart. Feast on those times when you know that God is with you, and fast from recrimination and blame. Don’t blame yourself. Acknowledge when we don’t get there, then put it down and ask for God’s forgiveness and know that God’s forgiveness is there.

Whatever else you do—whatever discipline you take on in these weeks, hold on to that goodness that God continually showers on us, and know that the God who always forgives us walks with us in all of these days—loving us and forgiving us.

Thanks be to God!