"A-MAZE-ING Grace": Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Year B

"A-MAZE-ING Grace": Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Feb 18, 2018

Passage:Mark 1:9-15

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Lent

Category: Hope, Grace, Faithfulness

Keywords: angels, healing, hope, lent, love, practices


In the midst of our own tragedy and fear, we have the model of Jesus going into the wilderness after his Baptism. What can we learn from his experience? As we travel into Lent, how are we to respond to the very real presence of tragedy and hopelessness in life?


In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Several years ago, my whole extended family went on vacation to the beach. During the days we enjoyed the surf and sand, but in the evenings we looked for family activities we might enjoy together in the town--museums, arcades, mini-golf and the like.

One particular evening, one of the amusements we decided to go to was extensive, intricate maze. This wasn't just ANY maze.... This was an AMAZING maze! It was constructed out of ten-foot privacy fence on a multiple-acre plot. But to make it even better, it had several gates throughout in the many paths of the maze that the management could open one way on this day and open another on a different day. This meant the pattern of the maze changed daily.

The management placed time clocks with time stamps in three locations--at the entrance to the maze, in the exact center, then at the exit. It was advertised as the "Twenty Minute Maze." We were to buy a ticket, get it stamped with our entry time, then find the center within ten minutes, then if we found the exit within another ten minutes, we won a free snow cone.

My mother decided not to enter, but she watched from the observation deck built high above the fences, so she could follow our progress through the maze. Each of the rest of us entered at staggered times so we wouldn't interfere with each other in our quest to win the snow cone.

First Catherine, our daughter entered, then Dolph, my brother, then Jill. I went in last, confident I would find my way.

My confidence didn't last long. After the first fork in the passage, I turned down a dead-end. I had to back track. I kept doing so, over and over and over. Eventually I found Jill. We walked together back and forth and back and forth up this passage and down that one, never finding the center. The clock just kept ticking away...

In the meantime, we could look up at the observation deck and see my mother. She kept calling down directions to us: "keep going straight, then turn right.... No, now turn left...Not that way... THAT way..."

Eventually, when Jill and I looked up, we saw Catherine up there with her... Then we saw Dolph up there as well... They kept calling out encouragement: "You're doing great!" "Not THAT way... It's a dead end!" "Now keep going!"

Jill and I were still trying to find the center!

Then Dolph called down: "Just keep going right... That's what I did!"

Jill and I looked at each other. "What have we got to lose?" So every time we came to a place where we had a choice--right or left--we turned right. And you know what? We made it to the center, stamped our card. Then, with the voices from above guiding us, we finally made it to the end. It only took us a little over an hour to finish this 20-minute maze!

Mark’s Gospel provides us with the rousing, brief version of Jesus’ baptism and his being sent into the wilderness. John baptizes Jesus, and as he comes up out of the water “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit” descends like a dove on him. We also hear that a voice comes from heaven, saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Immediately, this same Spirit drives Jesus to the wilderness.

We are walking in the wilderness today. Once again this week, we are reminded by tragic and unspeakable events in our society that we can feel adrift and separated from the goodness of God's creation. This is a world of danger. It's a world of fear. Where is the hope? Where is the love in the midst of senseless devastation? We are angry and sad and distraught. We look for answers and blame and something different.

We are walking in the wilderness. And the season of Lent is a forty-day liturgical season modeled on Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. During this season we are asked to reflect on the same things Jesus faced after his baptism. He receives the Spirit of the Lord—the same Spirit that identifies him as the beloved Son of God.  But now he is in the world of temptation and danger. He is among wild beasts and things that can cause him to fear. The question is: how will he handle this period of anxiety?

What we see in Mark’s gospel is that Jesus has help during his time in the wilderness. He has “angels” waiting on him throughout his time there. Perhaps a different way of putting this is that Jesus knew that the presence of the divine never left him the whole time he was in the wilderness.

We often forget to look for angels among us when we are in the wilderness. We ache for those in Parkland, Florida, who have lost their loved ones to senseless violence. And even closer to home, many of us have anxieties and difficulties that can overtake our day-to-day existence. The complexities of life can overwhelm us. These problems are also real. Some of us wake up each day wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. When is the next calamity going to happen to put the final nail in my coffin? When is the doctor going to call with the bad results? How am I going to tell the people I love about the shameful secrets I have been keeping from them? When am I going to fit in the way I would like to among my peers?

We have all felt these ways. We have all been in the wilderness. In the midst of the wilderness, we need to look for angels. We need to look for the Divine presence. These angels could be a friend lending moral support or a helping hand. They may be professional or organizational support in a given situation. They may come in the form of being fed spiritually in the midst of corporate worship.

One of the reasons I think Jesus goes into the wilderness is to model devotion. Jesus shows us--with his devotion--how to find the divine in the midst of the fight.

In order to see the presence of the divine with us, even when we are in the wilderness, we need to practice. We should develop spiritual practices to bring us God's peace.

The season of Lent is about helping us to find those spiritual practices of repentance, self-denial, prayer, and other sacred actions. These Lenten practices deepen our knowledge and understanding of God’s presence with us. They calm our fears. They soothe our anxieties. They bring us out of the "maze" of our insecurities and doubts. They give us the strength to act on our baptismal call to be agents of justice and peace in the world.

Our angels are most often those who love us reminding us to "just keep going right..." "Back out of that dead-end..." "Turn around and go the other way..." "Keep on going...We're with you," they tell us, "you'll get out of the maze of the wilderness." "And we'll be here with you all along the way."

And just as Jesus left the wilderness to go out and proclaim the Good News of God; we, too, ultimately, need to use what we gain from our Lenten journeys. We must share God's hope and God's healing in this world. We must be the angels for others in the wilderness. We must find the strength to live out our Christian call. We must actively work to bring about peace and justice into this broken world.