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DFLC Sermon - Feb. 18, 2024 - Pastor Marie Meeks

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


For this first Sunday in Lent, we are back in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. There is a little overlap from the Baptism of our Lord Sunday. The Holy Spirit seemed so great in the first part of this passage - descending like a dove when Jesus is baptized. But as we continue to read, we see a change. The Holy Spirit is not a dove anymore. Matthew and Luke’s Gospels say the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. But Mark uses a much harsher word. He writes, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.


From a beautiful dove, the Holy Spirit morphs into an angry blue jay! To anyone who has not had a bad encounter with blue jays, let me tell you a story. Our next-door neighbor when I was growing up was Mrs. Stadtlander. Her daughter, Lori, and I were best friends. The family had a beautiful huge white German shepherd. Heidi was a wonderful dog, very tolerant of us children, always willing to play. But watch out, if anyone she didn’t know came into her yard! Heidi was very protective of her family She would give a warning bark or two, but if that didn’t work, Heidi would growl and charge, and go for the intruder’s shoes! Luckily for the neighborhood kids, Heidi considered us all of part of her family. There was one thing and one thing only Heidi was afraid of - the blue jays who nested in the pine tree at the back of the yard. Most of the time the jays were fine, but if there were eggs or chicks in the nest, no one was safe. Heidi would be out in the yard, minding her own business, when she would be attacked. And these jays didn’t just swoop down at her and fly away, they would fly beak first right into the top of her head, drawing blood! Poor Heidi would dive under the picnic table and refuse to come out. They even attacked us kids and the adults. In fact, we all avoided the back yard when the jays were nesting!


I wonder if the Holy Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness was anything like that! Jesus ends up in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. But there is something missing in Mark’s story. We get no details of what the temptations were, as we do in the other Gospels. Remember Mark doesn’t give us much detail in his Gospel, but I think that may be a good thing. This way, we are free to imagine Jesus being tempted by some of the things that tempt us. I’m not talking about chocolate or binging on Netflix. I mean real serious faith-threatening temptation, like the temptation to lose hope. It’s an easy thing to fall into, having no hope.


When we see the world around us seeming to fall apart, and all the things we once held dear falling away, the people who were in our lives passing away, imagine Satan using that to tempt Jesus. Jesus is eternal but the world around Him was not. He knows everyone he loves will die. Jesus can see the wars going on, the changing politics of Israel. Maybe Satan showed all these things to Jesus. It’s hard to have hope when we dwell on these things, but it’s good to know that Jesus walks with us. Jesus has been in the places we are.

There is a passage of first Thessalonians, often read at funerals, to comfort those who are grieving. Paul says, “We who follow Jesus do not grieve like people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. And those we love will be raised as well. We don’t just grieve for people who have died though. We grieve for “The way things were” too. The story of the blue jays reminds me of my neighbor and friend Lori. We were the same age, and often in the same classes at school. But after high school, we went our separate ways; and I haven’t seen her in many years. I miss her, and the fun we had growing up.


But if I am to follow Jesus, I cannot dwell in the past. I have to keep following wherever God is leading me. That is true for all of us. If we are to follow Jesus, we have to keep moving forward. It is good to remember and cherish the past, but we cannot live in the past and be Christian people serving God in the present. Things are changing for the people of Dobbs Ferry Lutheran. Many of the faces we once saw in church are gone – either passed away, or moved away, or still too afraid to be among people because of Covid. We who are still here feel the loss of these brothers and sisters in Christ. Whenever we gather, we look around at our dwindling numbers and long for the good old days. But we can’t live in the past.


As you know, this is my last Sunday here at Dobbs Ferry Lutheran. I am moving to a new congregation in Auburn, Pennsylvania. As followers of Jesus, to follow Jesus isn’t always what we expected. Things will change. Just as Jesus knew he would lose those he loved, and the ones he held most dear would abandon him in the end, we know that the only way to be the church is to continue following God wherever God leads us. The Good News is… we do not live as people with no hope. Our hope is founded in the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ/


Just as I am being called to St. Paul’s in Auburn, you all are called by God to minister here in Dobbs Ferry to the people in your community. As Peter says in our second reading, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” We need to remember what Jesus did for us. Jesus brought us to God, so that we, too, are made alive in the Spirit, seeking with hope what God has in store for us.


Let us pray. O God, we are in the wilderness. We are tempted, Lord, to despair. Give us the strength to see that you give us hope that you will never abandon us, and that you have wondrous things in store for us. We ask this in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


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