God is in Charge: First Sunday of Lent
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
First Reading: Genesis 9:8–15
Psalm: Psalm 25:4–9
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18–22
Gospel: Mark 1:12–15
SERMON AND LISTENING TO THE WORD
Theme: “Divine Control: God–is–in–charge”
Point of reflection: In spite of human sinfulness and wickedness which goes contrary to God’s intentions and plans, God in his wisdom guides the people towards final salvation. Nothing can stand in the way of God’ redeeming grace and salvific love.
Sermon (Reflection): The first Sunday of Lent is the day which the mother Church celebrates the rite of election or enrolment of names for Catechumens who are to be admitted to the Sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil. The theme surrounding the Scriptural readings of first Sunday of Lent is totally linked with the destruction of the world ruled by evil and the beginning of a new world. By the enrolment of names for Catechumens it shows the start of a new humanity. Besides all wickedness and sinfulness in the world, God is in charge and does not leave His people. This is manifested in the God’s unconditional covenant with Noah and the victory of Jesus during temptations in wildness where He stayed for 40 days.
God’s unconditional covenant with Noah is discussed in the first reading from the book of Genesis (Cf. Genesis 9: 8-15.) This covenant comes after the tragic story of the flood which almost put an end to all life. This disaster was caused by human wickedness and led to the reversion of creation into chaos, thus undoing the order God established at the very beginning of history. Evil found its way into the peoples’ hearts to such an extent that God regretted creating humanity altogether (Cf. Gen 6:5). Yet, in the midst of this tragedy, God still maintained his gracious and unconditional commitment to the human family and to the whole of creation. By choosing the righteous Noah and giving him a promise to sustain life, God ensured the restoration of the cosmic order, and made a solemn promise, a covenant, that life will not be ended, no matter how wicked humanity might become. This is how God works: He does not abandon His people. It is the people who ignores and abandons God. God is all faithful.
This is well reflected in the responsorial Psalm of today “all your paths, O Lord, are mercy and faithfulness, for those who keep your covenant” (Cf. Psalm 25:4–9). The promise or covenant with Noah created a profound bond between God and his creation. During this Lenten period, as Christians, we are called to make a profound bond between ourselves and God. We need to allow God’s grace to descend upon us.
The second reading from 1 Peter presents to us the saving power of Baptism and that God cares, which simply means, God is the in-charge. There is Divine control. Of course, the author of 1 Peter assures the afflicted Christians about God’s presence and care, even as they face persecutions and dangers. The author intended to help the faithful to understand the deeper meaning of their anguish in the light of the suffering of Christ. Making use of ancient baptismal formula, the author likened the waters of the flood to the waters of baptism. However, unlike the destructive waters of the flood, the water of baptism has saving power. As Noah and his family were saved from the waters of the flood because of Noah’s obedience to God’s word, so also the Christian believers are saved through the waters of Baptism which they accept because of their faith. This shows how complementary the New Testament is to the First Testament (OT) in view of salvific plan of God.
The Gospel of Ash Wednesday recounts the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, which Jesus faced immediately after His baptism and on the onset of His public ministry (Cf. Mark 1:12-15). Evangelist Mark presents the temptation of Jesus in a unique way which is quite different from Matthew and Luke. Evangelist Mark with his typical brevity emphasizes that God was with Jesus through this trial. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not mention that Jesus resisted three temptations by citing the words of Scriptures to fight off the tempter who attempted to detract Jesus from his unreserved commitment to carrying out God’s will. Instead, Mark reports that Jesus was surrounded by the wild beasts, wrestling with the power of Satan in the wilderness. Evangelist Mark has a very unique emphasis which portrays God’s presence and power.
The Gospel reports that Jesus went to the wilderness. The term “wilderness” has several biblical characters who experienced the wilderness as a place of refuge and safety, while others were driven from their homes into the wilderness because of their witness and prophetic message. Overall, the desert is a place where people confronts their fears and desires, and must decide whether to put his or her life in the service of God or turn away from him.
According to the narration of Mark, Jesus faced Satan in the wilderness, but he was not alone. The wild beasts who were with him represent God’s creation, while the angels serving him represent God care and support for His Son. Jesus faced his opponent with the power of God working through creation and through his angelic servants. Mark does not explicitly say that Jesus resisted the temptations. However, it is clear that he prevailed over the tempter as in the very next verses of the Gospel Jesus initiates His messianic ministry with the proclamation of the arrival of God’s kingdom and a call to repentance and faith. God was with His Son when He was making His choices in the desert, and God sustained Him so that He might carry out God’s salvific work in the people. God is with us too to sustain our life.
Listening to the Word of God: “God is in-charge of the World”
In the Scriptural readings of the first Sunday of lent, we are guided to reflect on our life lived under God’s authority and God’s covenant. This means allowing God to be in control of our lives, by trusting in His closeness, and relating to our fellow pilgrims, following the way as taught by Jesus. Let our Lenten season be a time of renewal, of re-placing ourselves under God’s authority, and helping others to do the same.
Today, we are reminded that despite trials and tribulations, God never abandons humanity as He did not abandon His only Son suffering at the hands of the wicked. Because of God’s unwavering, support Jesus emerged victorious over cruelty, evil, and death. God overcame the power of death in Jesus, which demonstrates that He is in-charge of human destiny, and even death cannot alter or challenge this. That is what it calls to be a Christian; to understand that God is in-charge.
In life, we encounter many challenges and tribulations which are often human made, but God today is assuring us that, it will all pass by, God Himself is in-charge. Whatever you are going through my sister and brother, be rest assured that God will never abandon you.
The mother Church through Lenten season gives us an opportunity to examine our Christian living, to see whether we allow our lives to be directed by God’s will, and whether we consciously and willingly place ourselves under God’s guidance. With the Scriptural readings of first Sunday of Lenten period, we can reflect and discern three points.
First, to place ourselves under God’s power, we need to recognize that all we are, and have, results from God’s grace. Second, today’s liturgy reminds us that our faith and commitment to God will be challenged by circumstances and forces beyond our control, but God will stand with us in our trials. The second reading shows how our baptism is a sign of our covenant with God. Last, we are called to be aware that being in the covenant with God demands our active response. As Christians, we remain frail and weak even after baptism. Through baptism we receive the graces that enable us to begin a journey towards our full salvation. Now it is our responsibility to open our minds and hearts to allow God work in us.
Action: During the entire Lenten season my daily bread will be prayer and reading the Holy Scriptures. I will begin each day with a prayer of thanksgiving for the covenant God made with me. I will set a day of fasting and prayer for each week in this Lenten period. I will devote it to reflection and prayer focused on the strengthening of my relationship to God in time of trials and temptations. It is only God who is in-charge. I need to open my heart to Him.
Prayer: God of mercy and compassion, look with favour on us as we begin this Lenten season. Grant us, we beseech you, the grace to recognise your enduring presence even in moments when our faith is put to the test. Give us the strength to overcome all that seeks to draw us away from you. Amen. We ask this through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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