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First Sunday in Lent

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Readings: Genesis 9:8–17, 1 Peter 3:18–22 & Mark 1:9–15

We entered into the Season of Lent on Ash Wednesday when, under normal circumstances, we would have received the “imposition of ashes” on our foreheads. As I said during my homily on Wednesday morning, the ashes are a sign of repentance for sins. Such repentance is central to the rite of baptism, where candidates who are able to answer for themselves, and the sponsors of other candidates, are asked a series of questions, one of which is: “Do you repent of your sins?”, to which the response from the candidate should be “I repent of my sins”.

Baptism is at the heart of our readings from Scripture this morning. The story of Noah and the Flood can be seen as a story of the washing away of the sins of the world, after which Noah and his family, together with every living creature that was with them in the Ark, are reconciled in relationship with God through the covenant that God makes with Noah and his sons. 

In 1 Peter, Peter uses the waters of the Flood as a symbol of baptism, with baptism being the sign and seal of a new covenant that God has made with humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter is saying that not only is Baptism a religious ritual that washes the body clean of sin; it is also one’s pledge to God to live righteously from that time on, which results in a clear conscience before God. Peter reminds his readers of the pledge of their baptism at a time when they are facing suffering because of Jesus and are tempted to turn away from Jesus and God.

And today’s Gospel passage, from the Gospel of Mark, tells the story of the baptism of Jesus. It’s also tells us that following his baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus spends 40 nights in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. The 40 days of Lent represent these 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness. They are a reminder to us of the temptations that are present in our lives each and every day. Temptations of various shapes and kind that threaten to divert our attention away from our relationship with God. We know that Jesus resisted every temptation that Satan brought before him. He remained true to his relationship with God.

Of course we are not Jesus. We may give in to temptation at different times, and then feel remorseful over our human weakness and failing. But that’s when we need to remember the message that Jesus proclaimed throughout Galilee, “repent, and believe in the good news.” Jesus called people to repent of their sins, and to believe in the good news of the Gospel that by God’s grace all people could be reconciled with God through Jesus. People were to be washed clean of their sins through baptism in the name of Jesus, and to be reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

As Christians, each of us has already been washed clean of our sins through our own baptism, but as we continue to fall victim to temptation at different times throughout our lives, we have the opportunity to repent each week in church when we recite the words of the prayer of confession together, and are then absolved of our sins.

We have the opportunity during the Season of Lent to focus on our failings or shortcomings, and to reflect on the nature of our relationship with God. It is the perfect time, as we prepare to remember and celebrate the saving act of Jesus at Easter, when he died and rose again to reconcile us to God, to consider what we want our relationship with God to be like, and to renew our commitment to that relationship.

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