Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meditation on this Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 1, 2009:

First Reading: Genesis 9:8-17

Psalm: Psalm 25:1-9 (Psalm 25:1-10 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

We begin Lent back in the country of baptism. Once again, we hear the story of the baptism of Christ. Didn't we just cover this material a few weeks ago?Indeed we did, and it should remind us of the importance of this sacrament. It gives us a chance to notice what we might not have noticed before.

On the RevGalBlogPals blog, Kathryn observes, "when Jesus appears on stage here, he has done nothing to earn God's love. The teaching, the healing, the utter obedience unto death all lie in the future-- but still God looks down and speaks the unconditional love that is always being poured on each of [God's] children." (go here for the whole essay).

I still struggle with the idea of grace. I still struggle with a fair amount of self-loathing. Where does my self-loathing come from? I have parents who have always loved me very much. I grew up watching Mister Rogers, who always ended with such a message of positive love that I'm tempted to watch him again today. I went to a Lutheran church, where I did not get a message that I was unworthy of God.

Perhaps my self-loathing comes from my society which would encourage me to spend all my free time trying to lose weight (because otherwise, I might transform society with my non-worldly ideals of peace and justice). Perhaps it comes from being a first-born child, with my extensive to-do list and my ever-increasing standards of what success looks like (always looking to the next milestone, never resting on my laurels, never enjoying current successes). Perhaps I need medication.

Or perhaps I should return to this Bible passage periodically. It's important to remind myself that God loves me. It's also important to remind myself of how much the world cares about whether or not God loves me.

Look at the end of the Gospel lesson: John the Baptist has been arrested. We can't say we haven't been warned about what might happen to us when we do God's work in the world.

But we're not excused from doing it. The Gospel ends with Jesus continuing his mission, preaching the gospel of God.

Lent is at hand. Many people think of Lent as Spring Training Camp (or Boot Camp) for Christians-these images aren't mine, but I've seen so many people use them, I'm not sure who should get credit. Lent is a great time for us to get serious (again) about our faith journey. Lent is a great time to spend some contemplative time to consider the ways that we're living out our Christian faith and the ways that we could improve. Many people will give up something for Lent. Many people will add something, like more Bible reading, more prayer, more devotional reading, more charitable work.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day in the Liturgical year that reminds us that we are dust, and all too soon, we'll return to dust. You can call yourself a creature made out of the ruins of stars (true!), but you're dust all the same. This service used to depress me, but these days, I find it one of the more important ones of the church year.

We're not here for very long, and most of us have already used up at least half the time we have in this life. We just do not have time for most of the self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors in which we engage. Now is the time to turn off our televisions and to focus on something more important. Now is the time to give up our self-loathing and to focus on our God, who is well-pleased with us.

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