First Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2021

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As we begin the season of Lent, our gospel lesson is the familiar story of Christ’s 40 days in the desert (the picture above is the Negev near the Dead Sea). May the Spirit bless our study of the Word:

Mark 1:9-15

  • In these short 7 verses, the always succinct Mark covers Jesus’ Baptism, Temptation, and the beginning of his Galilean ministry. What do you notice missing from Mark’s version of the story as compared to Matthew or Luke? Which included details stand out to you?
  • “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (verse 12). The language here is interesting. The ‘immediately’ is indicative of Mark’s fast, action-oriented pace, and we’ll see it used repeatedly in the gospel. The verb translated as “drove” in Greek is ἐκβάλλω, which is the same word that describes Jesus ‘casting out’ demons; it has a forceful, compelling connotation. Can you recall a time the Spirit “drove” you to do something? Are there times we need an extra push from God?
  • The wilderness is a special place in scripture, perhaps because of the simplicity and silence we find in the desert. Needs are more basic and immediate in a barren landscape (like knowing where to find water!), and there is an absence of noise or distraction. In the Bible, God is constantly ‘drawing close’ to people in the wilderness (the Israelites in the desert; Elijah on Mt. Horeb; and Christ in this story), and it becomes a place of deep spiritual intimacy. What do you think Jesus thought about and prayed during those 40 days in the desert? Are there times you’ve retreated to the wilderness to find God? What does silence reveal to us about ourselves and about God?
  • While Mark doesn’t describe the temptations like the other synoptic gospel writers, he does include something completely unique to his telling; “he was with the wild beasts” (verse 13). There are two very different ways to think about that phrase: 1) some people find it threatening (there are many instances in scripture of animals like lions ‘prowling by night in the wilderness’), or 2) some people find it a peaceful image (Jesus, who is also the Creator, is walking with the animals like Adam in Eden). What was your first interpretation of this phrase? When you go to the wilderness with the “wild beasts” do you feel more alone in solitude or more connected to the natural world around you?
  • We always read this story at the beginning of Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sunday ‘feasts’) of fasting before Easter. 40 is a Biblical number of completion, often related to trials or testing – the Flood falls on Noah for 40 days; Israel wanders in the wilderness for 40 years; Goliath taunts the army for 40 days; and, of course, Jesus is tempted for 40 days here. Historically, the Church has used the 40 days of Lent as a season of fasting and prayer, encouraging practices of silence and reflection on Christ’s sacrifice. Does 40 days seem like a long time to be without something? Is there anything you’re giving up this Lent? How do times of trial or testing make us stronger in the faith or better equip us for ministry to others?

I pray that the Spirit might use this Lenten season to bless each of us. May we grow deeper in the faith and practice self-sacrificing discipleship as we follow Jesus’ footsteps toward the cross, declaring with him: “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!”

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Maggie Rust

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