Faithlife Corporation

Renunciation Engrafted into promise

Notes & Transcripts

='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal'>Come Holy Spirit, Fill the hearts of your faithful, enliven us with your Word and imparted to us that we may: Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest all Scripture, that by patience, and comfort, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life. Amen 


When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah (Genesis 9:16)

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 9:12-13)

Baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)

Five verses from our three readings today – that frame our understanding of this, the beginning of Lent

The first Sunday on our Journey from last week’s glorious Transfiguration towards the glory of Calvary


The first declares the covenant made to Noah and to all his decedents, all the way down the span of history to us, each and every one of us

            The promise of God to remember humanity and all creation in an everlasting covenant

                        Given to us with the first symbolic representation of worship – the Rainbow

                                    We begin our time of Lenten observance blessed with the powerful promise of God

Recently, I have been listening to recorded debates between leading Atheists and leading Christians

And sometimes there is ‘an appeal of the heart’ of the Atheist that sees the world as deeply broken and flawed, particularly in the light of all the suffering in the world

The appeal is that, if there was a God why would He allow all the troubles in the world… – and if they were God, they might want to eradicate sin – wipe out all the evil

And that is backdrop of the story of Noah

We might think of the Noah story with child-like fondness – memories of childhood Sunday school and the story where there are all these animals, two by two, in a really big boat – with the promise of the rainbow to conclude

But in fact the story carries with it an alarming drama

God wipes out all creation except that which is on the Ark

God does, what a person ‘struggling with faith in the face of evil’ might want to do – wipe the slate clean

But… humanity goes on… creation goes on

God provides…. In the midst of it all… God solution is that all humanity and all creation is saved by an obedient, faith-filled representative few

And God promises that, by the faith of the few, God will never again wipe the slate clean in that way

This week we hear the first telling of Gospel, the good news that God is in charge and covenantally promises to us –in a dramatic startling story – of God pressing the restart button

Our beginning of Lent this year also starts with St. Mark’s account of the 40 days of wilderness of Jesus

            And so thoughts of Lent and how to observe a Holy Lent come to mind

We might be thinking:           

·         How can I lose weight without cutting down on any of my favorite foods?

·         How can I get better marks at school or university without having to give up any of the extra-curricular activities I enjoy so much?

·         How can I have better relations with other persons — at work and at play, at home and in my marriage — without having to make some sacrifices in desire and aspiration and freedom to do as I please?

·         How can I find more satisfaction in life, more fulfillment, more happiness, without having to change any of my cherished habits?

Too often we approach faith with the attitude of the man who, when told by his doctor that the best thing he could do is give up drinking and carousing, asked "What's the next best thing?"[1]

Consider some lessons for Lent in the stories of the past

Much of the good in the world has been done by people who at the beginning didn't feel like doing it.

Methodists should remember that John Wesley went "unwillingly" to that little prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London.

This was his own confession, that he went unwillingly. But what happened at that service made an appreciable difference in subsequent history.

Washington's birthday reminds us that he had considerable reluctance to assume the leadership to be the 1st President of the United States

He is quoted as saying: "My movement to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit going to his place of execution."

Lent reminds us that our Lord, Himself, found his will resisting the absolute demands of the Kingdom.

What else are we to make of the forty days of temptation, and the agony of Gethsemane?

These were not cheap theatrics. Here was a great soul overcoming the unwillingness inborn in that mortal flesh which for our salvation he took on.[2]

The call of a Holy Lent can take on bizarre contradictions – consider this story which a French priest says it actually happened to him.

An armed robber accosted him on a dark, back street in Paris and demanded his wallet.

As the priest opened his coat to reach for the wallet, the thief caught sight of the clerical collar for the first time and immediately apologized:

"Never mind, Father, I didn't realize you were a priest — I'll be on my way."

The good priest was relieved, of course, and good naturedly offered the man a cigar.

"No, thank you, Father," the robber said; "I gave up smoking for Lent."

Obviously, that hold-up man didn't get the whole picture in whatever religious instruction he received (in more ways than one).

But, then, neither have a lot of other people.

Lent, to many religious folk, is a season of minor inconvenience when, in the cause of penitential a few convenient little renunciations are taken on.

Candy or tobacco are sacrificed for forty days or coffee is taken without cream.

Small sacrifices are made, as are small jokes about the whole affair.

Clarence Day said that what his father always gave up for Lent was going to church.

Whether we make a big deal of Lenten self-denial or make a joke of it, we are missing one of the primary principles of life — the principle of renunciation.

Lent reminds us of life's fundamental trade-off:

The things of the spirit in exchange for the things of the flesh

You can't have this if you want that.

You can't have the things of the spirit if you want the things of the flesh.

There has to be a trade-off.

This dichotomy of spirit and flesh is repeated throughout the Bible.

It grew out of the philosophical thought called Dualism, which was popular during the Hellenistic period, especially among the Gnostics.

St. Paul, who was influenced by this period, picked up on dualism and made constant reference to the flesh-spirit dichotomy, but did not go to the extremes of Gnosticism.

But Paul did view "flesh" as the instrument of sin, mankind's lower nature, the tendency to sensuality and the like.

St. Peter believed this too, and drew the analogy that we hear today, that even Christ had to die in the flesh in order to attain the things of the spirit.[3]

There is a story of a man who was given a small yacht — outright, no strings attached.

Before long he realized that his entire manner of living had changed;

Spare time was spent working on the yacht; money was spent for fuel and accessories; money was needed for winter storage;

All leisure time now was spent on board; his family was together more until the novelty wore off; weekends were spent on the water;

Churchgoing was for winter time in good weather.

Funny how the "good" things of life can have destructive results – how the attractive things of "the flesh" can promise so much, but have an adverse effect on one's spirit.[4]

The Gospel of St. Mark is the briefest of all the gospel biographical accounts

Mark’s prime goal, as stated in the 1st verse, which I shared last week, was revealing the identity of Jesus Christ - and then taking the rest of his writing to lay out the case

Christ’s 40 days of the wilderness lacks all the symbolic narrative that Luke and Matthew’s gospels share – it is a mere two verses

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 9:12-13)

There is, however, a certain drama in the brevity itself. In a few swift strokes of the pen Mark sets the stage for all that is to come.

Our attention is focused precisely on the man Jesus and the message he brings.

This clearing away of extraneous detail, this forcing our attention on Jesus is just what Lent can be about for believers who are too absorbed in their own projects to focus for themselves.

Mark's opening verses invite us to re-focus in Lent. 

As an invitation to re-focus our attention, these verses echo Jesus' own message, "repent and believe in the gospel."

We might translate these familiar words to "re-focus and trust the good news."

Mark leaves us in no doubt about the good news that Jesus calls upon his hearers… to trust.[5] 

While talk of principalities and spirits bound in prison or of Satan may strike us as a vestige of a bygone world, we should not be so quick to discount the contemporary relevance of this text,

Especially during this season of Lent

Walter Wink, a well-known theologian, has argued persuasively that "the powers that be" are still a very real part of our existence

Whether as the collective spirit of a nation, a corporation, or other organizations

And often we are only too willing to offer them the trust and obedience that should be reserved for God alone.

Lent offers us the opportunity to search our conscience, to consider the implications of our baptism, and to assess which side we are really on.

Seemingly, the waters that wash us clean are the source of our salvation,

But our actions sometimes suggest an allegiance to the chaos that lies just beyond the walls of the ark.

Christ proclaims from the right hand of God that the spirits have been bound,

But we, too often, insist through our words and our deeds that they should once again be set free. [6]

One traditional way of viewing Lent is that since Jesus resisted temptations, so can you…

When we examine this, it is a foolish proposition – because, of course we are not Jesus

            Much as we might strive to follow Him

We are certainly called to hold fast to the notion of Repentance - and there is great value in the discipline of renunciation – relinquishing or sacrificing the enjoyment of something for the Lenten period

But, maybe this Lent we might want to try for a different or additional spiritual discipline

Maybe we could focus more on a positive, proactive approach to Lent

We could focus instead on where the 40 days in the wilderness led… and draw our attention to the verses 14-15 – with the message that – the kingdom of God is near

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 9:14-15)

Consider it in light of St. Peter’s Gospel message that we have as our third reading of focus that begins our Lenten journey from Glory to Glory

Baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)

Peter is stating a nuanced understanding – that is not just a cleansing – not just a transaction with God –

BUT, a pledge … and relational covenant

Begin a new Lenten discipline of celebrating God’s involvement in our lives

·         celebrating the process – celebrating joy of God’s presence

·         What it means to be human

·         How our humanity to be understood in the ambiguity of life and faith

·         Understanding of the Kingdom of God near

·         How we are in the “now and the not yet”

·         Understanding the Pivot from “you are my son – to you all are my children”

o   God is on the loose in the way previously completely unknown

·         Look for and see the movement concluding in “the time is fulfilled”

This Lent, I put the challenge out to you to see with different eyes…

To be intentional with your spiritual sensitivity

I challenge you to have moments of understanding where we might hear God’s revelation

Or feel God’s presence in the desert and the isolated places

Surrounded by the reality of OUR wildernesses

Lent is not about what WE give up for God – but how we might understand God in a more intentionally way on route to Calvary and Easter morning

In conclusion I want to close with a brief story

The writings of Christopher Columbus reveal that the famed explorer struggled throughout his life between the things of the flesh and the things of the spirit.

He had the conviction that he should live up to his name (Christopher means "Christ-bearer") and carry the Light of Christ into the darkness of unknown lands.

But Columbus also had a strong bent toward reaping riches in the New World.

He wrote, "Gold is most excellent...He who possesses it may do what he will in the world, and may so attain as to bring souls into Paradise."

Toward the end of his life he sought to reconcile this dual desire in his life when he visited a monastery and confessed his desire for wealth and decided to focus on God's purpose in his life.

He died fourteen years later, poverty stricken, but at peace with God.[7]

My prayer for you and myself – is for a Holy Lent where we see God… are at peace… and trust in His Promises – Amen


[1] Illustration Sourcebook II - # 1669 - RENUNCIATION, FAITH — from sermon "You Can't Have This If You Want That" by J. A. Davidson, Ottawa, Canada

[2] Illustration Sourcebook II - # 1170 - RENUNCIATION, LENT

[3] Illustration Sourcebook II - # 1048 - RENUNCIATION, LENT

[4] Illustration Sourcebook II - # 1046 - RENUNCIATION, MATERIALISM



[7] Illustration Sourcebook II - #1545 - RENUNCIATION, GREED - from The Light and the Glory by David Manuel

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