Repent and Believe the Good News!

“Repent and Believe the Good News!”
1st Sunday in Lent, Year B, 2/22/2015
1st Communion Sunday
Mark 1:9-15, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29

 

Good Morning Everyone! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well, welcome to Lent everyone. Some of you may be wondering what Lent even is, if you aren’t familiar with the Church year. Things seemed to be going pretty well. Christmas is over and we got to celebrate the story behind our frescoes, but then we had a funny service last Wednesday where we put ashes on people and everyone was all serious. What the heck is going on?

Well, this is what Lent is. Lent is the 40 days before Easter in which we remember Jesus on His way to the cross. During this time we take a moment to remember why we need Jesus and the cross, like we did with Ash Wednesday with the ashes. It’s also the reason that during Lent we don’t sing or say the joyful word Alleluia, which is Hebrew for “Praise the LORD.” Lent is a time of somberness and repentance.

In today’s Gospel reading however, we are looking at the start of Jesus’ journey to the cross. In our reading from Mark, Jesus comes out of the backwater town in Judea called Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.

Jesus gets baptized, and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven like a dove, and the Father tells Jesus that He is pleased with Him. The Bible says though that immediately after this Jesus was sent out into the wilderness. Jesus didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to His mother Mary or His brother James. He was sent out right now!

The Bible here says that he was out in the wilderness for 40 days, the same amount of time that Lent lasts! But this wasn’t like a long trip to the Boundary Waters though. In Judea, going into the wilderness meant going out into the desert. Out in the desert there isn’t much of anything. It’s hot, it’s dry, and there isn’t much water, and Jesus doesn’t have any food either.. And Jesus was out there for 40 days straight with no one but Satan and wild animals to keep him company. The entire time he was out there he was getting more tired, more thirsty, and Satan’s temptations are looking more and more appealing. Not exactly the most fun camping trip ever!

The time that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness is the reason why many Christians will “give something up for Lent.” If you want to do that, that’s great! Fasting, even from things you like that aren’t “food,” like Facebook or video games, is a great way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Alternatively, instead of giving something up, some Christians will add something, like prayer, Bible reading, or giving to the poor. If you decide to do anything, however, make sure you do it for God, not to brag about it or do it so others will see you. If you brag about it, Jesus tells us three times in Matthew chapter 6 that the people that brag about it or do it just to be seen are hypocrites that have “received their reward in full” (Matthew 6: 2, 5, 16).

But why was he sent out into the wilderness though? He had just been baptized! And now Jesus is going out into the wilderness! But look at what happens when Jesus comes back. Jesus comes back from the wilderness more committed than ever to fulfilling His task that He knew that he had to do. Jesus comes back and finds that John is in prison, but as the Scriptures said, the time had come for him to start His ministry that would one day lead him to the cross.

Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of His work and ministry in the world. That’s why Mark’s Gospel starts with the baptism of Jesus unlike Matthew and Luke that start with the Christmas story or John’s Gospel that begins with creation.

Our baptisms are the same way. St. Paul says that in our baptisms we are crucified with Christ to belong to Him (Romans 6:6) and St. Peter says that we are all priests chosen to declare God’s work in us (1 Peter 2:9). So just like Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, our own baptisms, whether they happened last week or a week after we were born, they are the beginning of our own ministries as well.

Already in our lives we have been doing ministry to spread the Good News, even since our baptisms. However, like I mentioned earlier Lent is a time of remembering Jesus’ journey to the cross. Later in Lent we will come to Maundy Thursday, when the first Holy Communion happened. It makes sense then that during Lent we are celebrating the faith milestone of First Communion for some of our children.

Some of our kids have been working over the last few weeks with Pastor Ed, learning about Holy Communion. Because of that, I think it’s a good idea for all of us to take a look at what Communion means, especially since us as a church, especially those of us that are parents, are the ones that are responsible for showing the children the way they should go, as our Lay Shepherd reading from Proverbs today said (Proverbs 6:22). And to show anyone the way to go, we need to know ourselves.

St. Paul in our first reading today talks a lot about the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  The first part sounds pretty familiar. Those are what we call the Words of Institution, the words that Jesus said on that night. We also see them in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In these words Jesus Himself tells us what this Sacrament means. In it Jesus says that the bread is His body; that the cup of wine is his blood. An internet meme that I saw once, called “Things Jesus Never Said” talked about this. In it Jesus was holding the bread and said “This is sort of like my body.” The point is that Jesus tells us that this really is His body and blood, and because of that Communion is really big deal that deserves our reverence and respect.

In those words Jesus also said that His body and blood are “given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Martin Luther wrote about this in his Small Catechism that these words of Jesus along with eating and drinking really do work the forgiveness of sins just as Jesus said if you believe what Jesus said.

Like I said a moment ago, Holy Communion really is Jesus’ body and blood. Because of that, St. Paul in the second half of our first reading sets down some rules. First, he says that everyone needs to receive Communion in a worthy manner. What does a “worthy manner” mean though? We certainly don’t have anything that we can bring before God that could make us worthy. The only thing that we can bring to God is a repentant heart that forgives others and believes in what Jesus said, “given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.”

The second thing that St. Paul says is that those that receive Holy Communion need to examine themselves before they receive it. That’s why we do Confession and Forgiveness during the service every time we have Communion. It’s also the reason that we give First Communion classes to the kids before they can have Communion, so that they can do this discerning and examining that St. Paul talks about. They actually have it pretty good; I had to wait until after I was confirmed when I was 15 before I could receive Communion.

It is important to do both of these things, receiving Communion worthily and examining yourself before Communion. St. Paul said it was so important that he left a warning to those who don’t. To those who receive Communion without examining yourself and discerning the Body and Blood he says that they “eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

The last thing that Jesus said in the Words of Institution was “do this in remembrance of me.” The last thing that Jesus does for us in Communion is to help us remember him, that is to strengthen our faith. And like I’ve been saying all along, remembering Jesus to strengthen our faith is what Lent is all about anyways. That’s why I am so glad that we get to celebrate First Communion with our children here.

St. Paul said in our reading too that “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26). As you take Communion today, whether it is for the first time or for the thousandth time, remember that by taking Communion, you are taking part of something that God’s people have been doing for centuries- participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You are doing something in which Christ does something amazing for us, strengthening our faith and forgiving our sins so that we can go out and be God’s people in the world that proclaim the same thing that Jesus did when he came out of the wilderness: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Let us pray. Lord, on this first Sunday in Lent help us to remember the sacrifice that you gave for us on the cross. Help us to always remember what you have done for us and send your Holy Spirit to us so that we can proclaim the good news of your death and resurrection to those around us and to show them that the Kingdom of God truly is near. Be with all of us as we take part in your Body and Blood today, and help us show the way of faith for the children of our congregation who will be taking Communion for the first time today. Amen.

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