(Lent 1, year B)
RCL Lectionary Readings:
Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
Some questions for discussion (or to provoke thought)
1 (Genesis) What is the significance of God’s covenant agreement with all living creatures? Does it tell us something about God, something about our future? Is there a Christian concern for ecology, and is that now a pressing issue?
2 (1 Peter) Can suffering lead to blessing? How, and how can we explain this to people who suffer? Peter uses the example of Jesus, whose passion lead to his victory; he also cites Noah and his family, saved through the flood (as our joining to Christ in the waters of Baptism is a sharing of his death) – but how was this understood by the suffering Christian community then? and now?
3 (Mark) Why does Mark tell us that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism? Why do we have to repent, as well as believing the good news – and what does that mean in practice for people in your community?
A sample sketch for 3 voices: A is a “misery”, B and C more constructive.
A It’s started again – we’ve got to the miserable time of year.
B I suppose the weather hasn’t been that good, but what’s the problem?
A Never mind the weather, it’s this gloom in church – readings all about suffering, temptation, that sort of thing. I can’t see the point! You don’t talk about suffering, you forget about the past and think about something more cheerful.
C That’s all very well, but why did the Holy Spirit push Jesus into the desert?
C Sorry, it’s something I haven’t noticed before. You know the story, Jesus is baptised by John, and then he is tempted in the desert.
A Yes, that’s the miserable bit.
C But I noticed this morning that it says it was the Holy Spirit who sent him into the desert, not the devil, and I was wondering why.
B Would you be thinking that it was a bad thing for Jesus to be tempted?
A Well he hardly enjoyed his 40 days, did he?
C I suppose I assumed that being tempted was bad, yes. Do you mean it isn’t?
B We all get tempted, and Jesus did, because it was part of being human. The good or bad bit is how we respond, what we do about it. Maybe the Holy Spirit wanted Jesus to be ready for his ministry, and sent him to sort out his mind while he had time. He was meant to think and pray, and make decisions.
A What sort of decisions?
B First of all, whether he was going to give in, and do as no doubt he felt he wanted to – be well fed, successful and popular.
C So it might have been a good thing – for him and for us – that he sorted out his attitudes and his lifestyle.
B and prepared in that way for his ministry. The same temptations would come up again, when he was busy or tired, but if he had already recognised that they were temptations – a wrong choice – he was better prepared.
A Are you trying to tell me that it’s a good idea to talk about suffering?
B Sometimes, yes. There are a large number of people who suffer, and if we never talk about what is happening to them, they can feel even worse for being missed out and ignored.
C Do you think that suffering sometimes achieves something?
A Auntie’s two hour drama of her hernia operation made me want to strangle her, if that’s what you mean.
B Sometimes seeing someone in pain makes us ask why, and do what we can to make it better – like pictures of starving refugees on television starting an appeal and a relief effort.
C Yes, that’s good, but there’s more. I was thinking more about the way Jesus had a hard life and a harder death, but it seems to have set us free.
B And the early Christians certainly didn’t have an easy time, but they still thought it was better to keep the faith and suffer, rather than keep their heads down and be like everybody else.
C The really strange thing is that they were so positive about it all. They sang the praises of God even when they were being bullied.
A I wouldn’t mind that – a good hymn to sing, something positive to enjoy.
C But what if the Good News Jesus preaches comes out of his time in the desert?
B and he calls for repentance – facing up to what we’ve done wrong isn’t a bundle of fun.
C but it works! It’s a bit like the story of Noah. Lot’s of hard work, being made fun of, then the terror of the flood, but at the end they survive, and there’s a new world.
B and they trust God, who has brought them through it all. The early Christians learnt to trust him too. Out of suffering came a strength.
A But it’s all a long time ago, so why are we still being gloomy about it?
B we don’t have to be gloomy, exactly, but sometimes we have to look at the difficult bits, and face up to failure and suffering.
A Why would I want to do that?
C When Jesus preached Good News, he called people to repent.
C but repentance is about recognising what’s gone wrong – particularly what I have done wrong. First you have to see that it was wrong, then put it right if you can, and decide not to do that again.
A You mean, I’ve got to dig through all the misery and muck?
B only so that you can get rid of the muck heap and its smell. The early Christians sang the praises of God because they knew how good he was, and how they were free to celebrate with him and enjoy his love.
A are you sure this is going to work?
C yes, honestly.
A It’s really worth thinking about all the things I’d rather not think about? What good’s it going to do.
B You’re not just going to think about it, you’re going to sort out where you went wrong, admit that to God and decide not to repeat it
C and then you are free of it. You won’t have to worry about remembering it, and you’ll be ready to do something positive now.
A Well, if you put it like that
B which is more of less what Jesus said, it becomes Good News, not being miserable.
C Now I see why the Holy Spirit sent Jesus into the desert – he does the same sort of thing to us if we’ll let him.
B He helps us to face the truth, find forgiveness, and move on?
C That’s it, we’d better do it.
(970 words. about 10 minutes) (Click here to return to the Index of Sketches)