Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, First Sunday in Lent, Year B
February 21, 2021
Lessons: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people seek during Lent to deepen their relationship with the Creator of the Cosmos whose love is constant and never failing.
Key Scripture: Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD! – Psalm 25:7
Lent is one of my favorite seasons of the liturgical church year. I’m introspective by nature, so this season provides much needed quiet time to reflect, reorient, and return to a deeper focus on discipleship and my relationship with the Christ. The lessons appointed for Lent bring us face to face with Jesus’ ministry from baptism to cross and grave. We begin on Ash Wednesday with a stark reminder of our own mortality, something we don’t ponder enough in our death-avoidant culture. We follow the narrative arc of our Lord’s life and work, and yes, we go with him to suffer and die. No, we cannot skip Lent for the glory of Easter, just as we cannot truly experience resurrection hope and promise without physical death. Fully embracing Lent means no shortcuts to lilies and alleluias. We will get there—yes—but we have work to do first.
This week’s lessons offer many rich possibilities for preaching and teaching. Here are ideas for each lesson:
Genesis 9:8-17: This is the story of God making a covenant not only with Noah and his sons but also with every living creature, the earth, and future generations. Never again will water destroy all that God has created. The sign we still see is the bow in the sky, a rainbow of colors and beauty. One might consider whether we humans are upholding our side of the covenant, considering how our choices are affecting climate change. This week, for example, at least 23 people in Texas have died and millions have been without power as a catastrophic winter storm and frigid temperatures blanketed the state and a good portion of the rest of the country. More severe weather events are happening with greater frequency around the world resulting in death, famine, and destruction of property.
Psalm 25:1-10: Why not consider praying this psalm and meditating on it throughout Lent? It’s a beautiful image of lifting one’s lament and relying fully on God, as well as recounting some of the attributes of God. Verse six gives us that beautiful reminder of God’s mercy (raham) and steadfast love (hesed) that have been part of God’s covenant relationship “from of old” or the time of Moses. This mercy and steadfast love comes full circle in Jesus.
1 Peter 3:18-22: It is helpful to study and draw from the entire third chapter of 1 Peter to help make sense of this five-verse snippet of scripture. On its own it may not make much sense to folks, but framed within a larger portion of the letter one can clearly grasp the message. Try reading 3:13-22 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. This gives the clear connection between water and baptism in three of the four lessons. Check out how Peterson translates verse 20b: saved from the water by the water. We are a people set apart in Christ. We are supposed to act differently, be different because we have been baptized in Christ dying daily to sin and our old selves and rising to new life.
Mark 1:9-15: Think you’ve heard some of these verses recently? You would be correct. It’s not that many weeks ago that we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord, including verses 9-11, and the Third Sunday after the Epiphany included verses 14-15. That leaves only two verses we haven’t heard, and these short verses cover 40 days in the wilderness and the temptation of Jesus by Satan. One possibility is to focus on those two verses, particularly that Jesus was ministered to both by the wild animals and angels. In these verses I hear echoes of the peaceable kingdom—where lion and lamb lie down together in a rather thin, wild place between heaven and earth. We all face a time in the wilderness at some point (or points) in our life, and the valley of shadows is a tough place to be. Thankfully, Jesus goes before us to show us the way.
One of the opportunities of Lent is an emphasis on simplicity. During this season we strip away the adiaphora of worship, right down to the flowers. Consider how your worship space (even if it’s still digital) might reflect the spare beauty of this season. How might your own inner landscape also reflect this season? Consider singing “I want Jesus to walk with me” this week. Here’s a powerful arrangement of the spiritual by Eric Bibb.
Consider writing your own version of this week’s psalm (Psalm 25:1-10). This psalm is a personal lament, lifting up one’s very being openly and honestly before God. It also tells a lot about the nature of God as the poet understands this. This could be done in small groups or individually. You might have your own version ready to share to give youth an idea of what can be done.
Here’s a musical version of the entire psalm from The Psalm Project. If you have any musicians in your youth program, invite them to set their work to music.
This week’s focus verse is Mark 1:13 – [Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beats; and the angels waited on him.
In this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus is baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist, but he doesn’t get to go home and have a party with cake, cards, and presents to mark the event. No, IMMEDIATELY the Spirit drives him into the wilderness where he’s tempted by Satan. I guess it must have been like a kind of spiritual boot camp to prepare him for the hard work of ministry that lay ahead.
When I was your age, I thought that Jesus and Satan were alone in the wilderness, but Mark lets us know that God provided care for Jesus through angels and wild animals. God did not let Jesus endure this time alone. This is good news for us because God never leaves us alone, either. Even when we have “wilderness moments” when we feel alone and confused or afraid, God is always just a prayer away, and the Holy Spirit that we were given in baptism is right there with us, too.
We are not promised that life will be easy-peasy or full of rainbows and unicorns, but with Jesus we are never alone. Let’s thank God for this good news.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us). Thank you for always being there (Thank you for always being there) when times are tough (when times are tough), even if we can’t see you (even if we can’t see you). Nothing can separate us (nothing can separate us) from your steadfast love (from your steadfast love).
Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
During Lent we return to God with our whole heart. Let’s also focus on whole-hearted stewardship, listening for God to guide our decisions about time, talent, and resources. With the psalmist we can pray “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.”
Stewardship at Home
February is African American History Month, and our faith at home suggestions will celebrate the rich history and faith of Black Americans. This week consider watching Henry Louis Gates’ new series “The Black Church” on PBS. Click here for more information. Watch the series here.
2018 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2018/02/pack-light-for-lent/
2015 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/02/signs-of-the-time/
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