Genesis 9:8-17 & Mark 1: 9-15
“A Good Lenten Journey: Tested and Tempted”

“A Good Lenten Journey: Tested and Tempted”

Genesis 9:8-17 & Mark 1: 9-15 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ Feb 18, 2024


40 days of lent. 40 days in the wilderness for Jesus. 40 days is a long time! 40 days provides opportunity for evaluation, for change, for rebirth! That is what the Lenten period is all about: change, growth, renewal, rebirth. What will a ‘good lent’ look like for you? How will you walk the Lenten path to Easter’s rebirth?


I walked the Camino de Santiago path last year through most of Lent during my sabbatical. And I will be forever grateful for that growth opportunity from Northwood. I recall thinking that I almost walked it for 40 days. It is a walking pilgrimage that many choose to take their meagre belongings on their back: a change of clothes and a few supplies for the day. They advise the pilgrim not to carry more than 10% of their weight, so we were limited to 15-20 pounds. And, when you begin to weigh an extra t-shirt, book, toiletries, and other comfort items, you need to become very conscious of what you carry. And for all of us, the Lenten season is calls for an evaluation of the journey ahead…40 days to Easter, and what we are carrying on the way. What can we afford to carry? What do we need to put down? What will sustain us during this simpler season of faith?


For Jesus, he prepares to move into the wilderness. This is a journey that he will take alone. It is one where he will navigate the landscape with his body, his mind, and his spirit. It will be a time of upheaval, of reorganization of his “inner world”, a time of growth. It is an event of psychological formation where he will grow and prepare for the ministry ahead. It will align him with that which is the highest and best of his Spirit and allow him to walk the path that will forever be remembered by all who follow.  


Aside from Jesus, we might think of many spiritual figures who reported these type of chapters through the journey of their lives: Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, the Buddha, many of the Desert Fathers. They shared the common element of periods of intense spiritual unrest; they were times of struggle; they were times of ecstatic vision; they were times of growth. And all of these experiences were determining facts for the direction of their lives.


Perhaps you might think of a time in your life that contained struggle and unrest…a time that ultimately led to growth and the defining of who you are. This is the kind of journey, as we take the first few steps of Lent, that we are engaging in now. The journey of Lent is one of struggle, of preparation, of growth that provides the opportunity for God to intercede and provide life. Indeed, it is a different view of the Holy Spirit. While we might normally think of the Spirit as gentle and dove-like…we have our favourite songs like “Spirit of gentleness”. Yet, on this First Sunday in Lent, we see a side of the Holy Spirit as one as one that is disruptive in our lives. As the text puts it “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness”. “Drove” is not a verb we normally associate with the whispering/ gentle Spirit. Yet that word encapsulates the dynamic energy of this season. We have been driven, like Jesus ~ and so many other great people of faith, into a season of upheaval, of wandering, of change.


Now that we are in the Lenten season, the first element of our humanity that we deal with is testing and temptation. In his humanity, Jesus dealt with it. And so do we. An interesting feature of Mark’s version of the temptation story for Jesus is that he doesn’t define how Jesus is tempted and tested. We might be thinking of the temptation battle that occurs between Jesus and the tempter in Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels: turn stones into bread, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple, ultimate power over all the kingdoms of the world. But Mark doesn’t define temptation like the later gospels do. Mark merely says “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts”. I love this feature of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is tempted and tested. Just like us, tempted and tested.


By not defining what temptation and testing is, it causes us to ponder what it is that tempts and tests. It would be, I suspect, different for all of us. Perhaps that is why Mark wrote the gospel this way? However, I would suggest that temptation and testing all have the common element of drawing us further away from God. Temptation and testing draws us away. This is why so many of us, especially in Lent choose to give things up ~ as we consider the sacrifice that Jesus makes. This is why many of us take things on ~ prayer and study, acts of service and care. All of these disciplines to help draw us back…closer to God.


A few chapters later in the gospel, Jesus’ enemies will charge that he is performing miracles through the power of evil. Jesus’ response is that it is impossible to plunder a strong-man’s house without first tying him up. The outcome of Jesus’ temptations, of being tempted by Satan and surrounded by the wild beasts, is that the powers of darkness must be tied up…the evil around and within us must be bound. Satan must be bound and tied! That might sound like a grand statement for us to consider; however, when I speak with the people from the 12 step movement who come and go from the church, I hear real stories of the powers of evil being bound and destroyed. In fact, we even had a cake to celebrate that very triumph over evil earlier this week!


Through all of this journey, the good news is that we do not journey alone! Mark is quite succinct in putting forth his formula of God’s presence. Jesus temptation is contained with the bookends of blessings. It begins with blessing, continues with testing and temptation, and concludes with blessing. Hear the passage once again: “and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (dripping with the waters of baptism the text continues) And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; (and through his testing and temptation there is blessing) and the angels waited on him.”


What I love so much about Mark’s entry into Lent is the promise of God’s presence through the journey of testing and temptation. He was tempted by Satan, he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited upon him. He was never alone. I believe that this is the reason that the scholars who aligned the various readings through the lectionary year choose for us to hear again the concluding portion of the Noah story. The Noah story is the very first biblical promise, or covenant, between God and God’s people. There will be others: to Abraham, and Moses, and David. But this is where it all begins! This text is where God decides never to give up on humankind. This is where God becomes bound to our destiny. God, at this moment, will not longer be like the gods of the Greeks or Roman who can sit back and be oblivious to our fate. When the rainbow is painted in the sky God becomes vulnerable and exposed. God is bound with the interest in humanity and invested in the future of all Creation.


And here we see this wonderful promise in action. A rainbow moment, if you will, where God’s promise is alit over all time and space. Jesus is tempted by Satan and the wild beast threaten. We are in our wilderness, tempted and tested, yet no one is left alone. All are accompanied by God’s angels who are waiting upon us, guiding us, strengthening us.


I wonder if this kind of promise might allow us to have a ‘good Lent’ this year. I wonder if the promise to go into the wilderness with God’s blessing that “you are my child in whom I am pleased” might give you strength through the temptations and the testing. “You are my son…You are my daughter…you are my child…in whom God is SO WELL pleased” are the words that we must carry through our Lenten experience. Through the testing…through the tempting…through the wilderness…All the while knowing that God’s angels go with us.


We take these next Lenten steps of temptation and testing knowing we go with God’s presence.