Each week, Moravians across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean share a common message through their Sunday bulletins. This month, we share insights written on Mark 1:9-15 for the first Sunday in Lent. Thanks to writers past and present for their contributions.
The Baptism of Jesus
Mark 1:9-15, NRSV
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
So — What Comes Next?
Willie Israel, retired pastor, Asheville, North Carolina • Feb. 21, 2021
Where Do We Go from Here? is the title of the final book written by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Even after all of Dr. King’s accomplishments in his work for justice, he realized that there was still work to do.
We are happy when we achieve certain goals: a better job, graduation from high school or college, receiving the love of a certain woman or man, winning an award, the birth of a child—and the list goes on. But in most cases, we recognize the event or accomplishment not as the final goal, but as a step toward what the future holds.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been baptized, and has been affirmed by God as God’s beloved Son. This must have been an awesome moment for Jesus! But beyond that affirmation, Jesus knew he had earth-changing work to do. The possibilities must have seemed endless. So when the Spirit sent him out to the wilderness, Jesus was able to discern which of these possibilities affirmed God’s will, and which did not. After his forty-day wilderness experience, Jesus began his earthly mission, which was to proclaim God’s kingdom and call God’s people to repent.
When we have to make those big, important decisions in our own lives, it is important to choose the course of action that affirms God’s kingdom, and shows the presence of that kingdom in our own lives. This is a huge challenge in today’s world, and it will not be easy.
But when we are faced with the question, “What comes next?” we are assured that Jesus has walked this way before us, and will continue to walk by our side.
Christine Johnson, pastor, Fry’s Valley Moravian Church, New Philadelphia, Ohio • Feb. 22, 2015
A mild-mannered, even-keeled friend of mine recently shocked me by doing something uncharacteristically audacious. She jumped out of an airplane. On purpose! Why anyone would trust life and limb to a couple of millimeters’ worth of ripstop nylon is beyond me, but skydiving, it turns out, is just something she felt compelled to try.
Have you ever felt compelled to do something? Driven? Jesus, we are told, was driven to complete his wilderness expedition. Filled with God’s Sprit, Mark’s Gospel reports, Jesus was also pushed by that same Sprit to face formidable challenges and obstacles, not the least of which may have been his own fears. Jesus’ wilderness experience was no spa retreat. It was boot camp.
The church season of Lent is forty days long (not counting Sundays), mindful of Jesus’ forty-day undertaking. Often, people of faith use this time frame to develop their understanding of Jesus, to deepen their relationship with him. They may “give up” a luxury, a habit, or a vice as a way to remind themselves not only of Jesus’ wilderness journey, but also of his life’s journey.
But who truly feels compelled to “give up” chocolate or coffee? Is it not more compelling to face a fear, or overcome an obstruction, or blast through a barrier? These next forty days could be the period when you attend to whatever inkling is working on you, whatever God’s Spirit is driving you toward. Maybe this is when you come up with the courage to address a broken relationship; maybe this is when you move forward with plans for that overwhelmingly hard mission trip; maybe this is when you quit your job to follow your calling.
Maybe this is when you jump out of an airplane…
Maggie Wellert, pastor, Great Kills Moravian Church, Staten Island, N.Y. • Mar. 13, 2011
Wilderness time is not fun. My most profound experience of wilderness was walking through divorce after three decades of marriage. It was a painful struggle—it felt like total failure. It was the loss of home and identity, living in anxiety and ambiguity. If I was no longer this wife and mother, this particular actor in the larger family drama, then who was I? Wilderness is not something I generally do by choice. Yet each year, on the First Sunday in Lent, there we are again, telling the old, old story of wilderness. And here’s the thing that gets me every year: it is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness! The Spirit, who has come descending from the clouds in the form of a dove at the baptism of our Lord: “You are my Son.” Immediately following his commission into public ministry, the Spirit forces Jesus into the wilderness . . . every single year.
Why is wilderness a part of the Christian’s journey? It would be much, much easier to live the temptation that following God means life without struggle! It would be much easier to live the temptation that following God means God will shower me with riches.
Here’s the thing about wilderness: it is a place of formation. When Moses led the people out of Egypt, they were “no people.” They came out the other side God’s people. They forged a new identity. Jesus faces the hunger, loneliness, and temptations that will challenge his public ministry. He has a new vocational identity.
The wilderness is part of the journey because it is how we learn to trust God, where we forge our identity as God’s daughters and sons. The Spirit of God leads us into a forty-day wilderness. Welcome it as a time to renew your relationship with the Lord, to reclaim your identity as a child of God.
From baptism to wilderness to victory
Olaf Andersen, pastor, Saratoga Moravian Church, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. • Mar. 5, 2006
Jesus, after his baptism by John, was in the “spiritual wilderness.” He was tempted, as we are, but he did not sin. He did not succumb to temptation.
When was your spiritual wilderness? When in your life were you fighting hardest to follow Jesus? Are you going through that period right now? My “wilderness” was when I was between the ages of 23 and 26. Yes, like us all, I did not fare as well as Jesus did. The temptations continue, as we all know, but as I get closer to Jesus, those temptations become easier to deal with.
Lent and Easter are a reminder to us to listen to the still, small voice, to allow ourselves to follow “in his steps.” Remember that Jesus himself has walked this path for us. As we are able to do that, we will begin to experience some of the victories Jesus won for us in that wilderness experience and make the witness he made at his baptism.
Have you been in the position where you felt that you needed to make a phone call, send an email, make a visit, or hold someone in prayer—and did not do it? That was giving in to the temptation not to do the right thing. But if you followed your instinct to make the call, send that email, make that visit or say that prayer, your victory was won, and the glory belongs to almighty God.
During Lent, why give up something? Why not take up something instead? Something like attending church on a regular basis. During this season, why not follow your instinct to do what is right and proper and good?