February 18, 2018
First Sunday in Lent
(1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)
Say the words “Big Wheel” or “Schwinn Stingray” to just about anyone over 40 and they will likely pull back some thinning hair to show you a scar and tell you a story — a story that usually involves participating in some variation of a copycat Evel Knievel stunt involving cinder blocks, plywood, a hill, pavement and a trip to the emergency room. For many baby boomers, getting a few stitches in the scalp was a childhood rite of passage. My brother got stiches on his head due to tobogganing down a hill during winter in a cemetery. Headstones tend to not move.
Now that the boomers are parents, though, there’s no way they’d let their offspring be so scarred and scared by the ER doc and his needle (or worse). Many of the kids in the neighborhood are now fully helmeted, padded and protected by increasingly more high-tech and specialized safety equipment — whether they are riding their bikes or scooters or skateboards. Oh, and the formerly fearless boomers are wearing them, too — now realizing that their own bones and skulls are more fragile and are just one bad pothole away from being irreparably cracked.
And it’s not just bicycle riders who sport these multicolored brain buckets. Now there’s a helmet for just about every activity you can think of. An ever-increasing number of people are sporting helmets on the slopes — as much as 50 percent of the skiers and riders at some resorts. It makes sense to have on a helmet when you’re bombing down the mountain, though they’re probably more effective at staving off bumps and bruises than keeping you alive if, say, you have a run-in with a tree at high speed. (That would definitely be what would happen to me!)
Helmets are hip — even with teenagers, including the Tantrum Audex, a helmet with integrated headphones for snowboarders to listen to their iPods while thrashing some powder. Some models even incorporate a cell phone, though one wonders whether talking on one when skiing is even more dangerous than driving with one.
And it doesn’t stop there. Once mom piles the kids into the minivan, the day is coming when the kiddos will switch to another kind of helmet. The government has been reviewing a patent for a child-sized car helmet.
Wearing proper protection to keep your head together makes good sense. But what kind of protection do you use to guard your spirit when tempted to take some ill-advised risks? What kind of holy helmet is best?
The temptation narratives in the Gospels give us a clue as Jesus, venturing out on His own to begin His ministry, heads into the wilderness to engage in some extreme spiritual sports competition with Satan. Today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, which is kind of a Reader’s Digest version of the story, gives us the sense that Jesus was prepared to take on the challenge, knowing that His thoughts and His spirit were protected.
As the passage opens, we find Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by His cousin, John. And though we do not see this in this Gospel narrative, we know from the others that a voice from heaven breaks through the sound of the rushing water and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. “You are my son, the Beloved,” says the voice; “with you I am well pleased.”
God, the Father, is the one who gives Jesus His identity, marking Him as someone special, someone who has God’s favor. In a very real sense, Jesus begins His ministry equipped and protected with nothing less than the full love of a divine parent. A child who is loved is more likely to take care of himself because parents express their love freely. They’ll put on the helmet at the parents’ request (usually) before jumping on the bike because they know that the folks have their best interests and safety at heart. Jesus goes forth into the wilderness with a similar feeling — knowing in a powerful way that He is loved.
As we go out into a world fraught with temptations and potential pitfalls, our first line of defense is to know that God loves us, too. That we are “beloved” because of God’s grace. The knowledge and experience, forged through the day to day relationship we walk in with God, are better predictors of heart, mind and soul protection than any high tech headwear. When we know that God cares for us, we can move out smartly to take on the bumps and jumps the day throws at us.
Mark doesn’t expound much on the temptations that Jesus faced out in the wilderness, but Matthew and Luke do. Foundationally fitted with God’s love, Jesus is able to switch helmets effectively to protect Himself against the tempter. Like a bullying kid standing at the base of a plywood ramp, Satan double-dog dares Jesus to do something risky. Using Scripture as a biblical brain bucket, Jesus doesn’t take the leap.
Satan says, “Satisfy your hunger and turn these stones to bread.” Jesus puts on the shell of self-denial, recognizing that everything comes from God and that God provides.
They go to the pinnacle of the temple. “Jump off,” says the bully, “and land unharmed. If you’re so great, God will protect you.” Jesus tightens the strap on the “skid lid” of common sense and knows that people who have real power don’t need to show it off or use it to suit their own ends.
Then there’s the big one — “All the kingdoms of the world can be yours,” says Satan, “if you’ll only worship me.” Jesus buckles on the helmet of humility and says that God is the only one worth serving.
Knowing who He was, what He was about, and what He had to do to accomplish his mission kept Jesus’ mind guarded and heart protected, not only in this wilderness temptation, but throughout His ministry and, ultimately, on the cross where He would again be dared to “come down” and do what a messiah was supposed to do.
Experiencing God’s love, knowing our Scriptures, and following Jesus’ example are probably the best ways to be spiritually protected as we roll through our days.
Lent is like a helmet for us. It helps us to get into a frame of mind of protecting ourselves from various temptations by fasting from them. Fasting doesn’t necessarily need to be fasting from food; maybe it is fasting from television once or twice a week; or fasting from technology on the weekends. Any number of things can be your fast. And these fasts will be your helmet to protect you from something that needs curbing. Whatever it may be, by putting on a Christian fast will always bring some good and definitely some grace from God.
Let me leave you with a Rule For Lent written by the late Arthur Lichtenberger, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, 1958-1964.
“Fast from criticism, and feast on praise.
Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy.
Fast from ill-temper, and feast on peace.
Fast from resentment, and feast on contentment.
Fast from jealousy, and feast on love.
Fast from pride, and feast on humility.
Fast from selfishness, and feast on service.
Fast from fear, and feast on faith.”
Let us pray.
That this season of Lent will be a time of greater prayer and fervent devotion for us and for all of the Church. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That these days of Lent will be marked by earnest efforts at peacemaking throughout the world. We pray to the Lord.
That we will be generous in our almsgiving this Lent, and attentive to the poor. We pray to the Lord.
That this Lent we will be faithful to fasting and to all the ways that the Lord sanctifies us. We pray to the Lord.
That God will rescue all those who live at a distance from Him due to self-absorption or sin. We pray to the Lord.
That this Lent, the Church will bear witness to the Gospel message of God’s love to those who live in material, moral, and spiritual destitution. We pray to the Lord.
That the 17 lives lost in the Florida shooting this past week, may rest in peace eternal in the bosom of God’s love. And that the family and friends and colleagues left behind; that the Holy Spirit will comfort them in their great time of sorrow. We pray to the Lord.
That senseless murders and terrorist attacks be stopped. That all peoples who are aware of any indications of any individual or individuals that plan to perpetrate these killings, that may help to bring those people to justice and save lives. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, at all times let us bless You as we ask You to make our paths straight and to grant success to our endeavors and plans. And that, You, Lord Jesus, in Your most difficult hour, You asked Your friends to watch and pray with You. We pray now for the courage to remain faithful to You, surrounded as we are by the difficulties of our own lives. Help us to learn from You what it means to take up our cross each day and to seek the will of the Father. As our Lenten prayers and actions bring us closer to You, open our eyes to the gift of Your saving grace in our lives. We ask all these things in your most holy name. Amen.