A Lockdown of God’s Love
Sermon for 1st Sunday of Lent – 21 February 2021 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe
Reading – Mark 1.9–15
A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Mark 1v11
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Mark’s Gospel does not beat about the bush. No Nativity story, no long prologue about the Incarnation, no childhood tales, no mention of his mother Mary until the crucifixion. Jesus just appears, is baptised, tempted, and then gets straight down to work. It is a gospel without frills, full of action, light on sermons and parables, determined to proclaim the story of God’s love.
But before the action begins there is a pause, a voice from heaven, and a declaration;
You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1v11)
For the Greeks and the Romans the gods could not be pleased but only appeased. The most that mortals could do was to divert the attention of the gods to some other unfortunate soul. For the Jews the Temple sacrifice and the keeping of the Torah could please God but there was not much wriggle room within the Levitical Code. Faith was not so much about freedom but about ritual, rote, and not getting caught.
But this is not who the Lord God Creator of heaven and earth is. God is not a God overflowing with wrath who is always out to get you (the God I was taught to fear at Boarding School). God wants to love and nurture us. This is how Isaiah describes God;
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40v11)
We worship a gentle God who wants to be tender and generous towards us and even nurse us. Hosea speaks for God;
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11v4)
Wow! Have you ever pictured God as a contented mother nursing babies at her breast? As an aside that is just one of the reasons why mothers are welcome to nurse their children during our worship. They are a picture of God’s love for us.
God is pleased with us, wants to nurture us, to see us grow, but surely we must do something to earn God’s favour first? Not so.
At the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel before Jesus heals a single person, or feeds a multitude, or welcomes a leper, God is pleased with him.
This is not because Jesus has done anything particularly worthy or righteous. In fact his background was not at all promising. His parentage was the subject of the village gossips, he was the ‘son’ of a lowly tradesman, and he came from Nazareth of all places (and everyone knows nothing good can come from Nazareth). Yet God was pleased, in fact ‘well pleased’, with Jesus not because of what Jesus had or had not done but simply because he is there to be cherished.
God is pleased with Jesus simply because he is. Jesus doesn’t have to do anything to earn God’s favour or love, he just has to be.
We are so used to having to earn the love and approval of others that we can fall into the trap of trying to win God’s favour when it is always and only available for free.
We think we are valuable because of what we do (and feel worthless if we do not ‘do’). God decides otherwise and lavishes steadfast unending love simply because we are. In God’s eyes we are not valuable for what we do but because of who we are, God’s beloved children.
As Anne Young reminded me recently. ‘We are called to be human ‘beings’ and not human ‘doings.’
We can’t earn God’s approval – we can only receive God’s love and joy. This is our purpose in life, to relish the love God pours on us and in thanksgiving learn to live lives of freedom and joy.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it all when it asks this as its first question;
Q: What is the chief end of Man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever
Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Let me tell you part of my story
The thing I’ve missed most during this time of Covid is my annual retreat to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. I suppose it’s a sort of spiritual lockdown.
However, much as I have missed it, I never enjoy the first few days because once I have calmed down I know that one thing and only one thing will happen.
As soon as I’ve got rid of the fidgets out of my mind
As soon as I’ve stopped planning what will happen next
As soon as I’ve learnt to sit in the parish church and let others lead the worship
As soon as I’ve let God enfold me just as the tide enfolds the island I will hear words that I have longed to hear yet to which I do not want to listen.
Sometime in those blessèd days on that holy place, God will sneak up on me and whisper in my ear ‘Andrew, I love you’.
‘No you don’t’ I reply instantly.
‘Oh but I do’ our Beloved replies instantly.
And we enter into a pantomime script routine that eventually brings me to my knees and through tear stained eyes I whisper back ‘thank you’.
I can’t escape the tide of God’s love. I can’t run away. I have to admit that no matter how ugly and unlovely I find myself to me God looks at me, God looks at all of God’s children, smiles, and says ‘with you I am well pleased.’
A Retreat is a Lockdown of God’s Love.
Much as Lent, when entered into fully, can become.
In Lent God, as Cliff Richard sang, says ‘I’m gonna give you, forty days to get back home’ …to my love.’
Friends use this precious time wisely. Take the opportunity provided by our physical lockdown, social distancing, and self-shielding to turn our eyes and ears Godward.
This is the centre of the Gospel; God loves you and sent his Son to show how deep and wide and broad and high that love is.
Let us not pass up this time to take the slogan ‘Hands, Face, Space’ into our journey of faith.
This Lent may we;
Lift up our hands in prayer
Turn our faces towards God
And makes space to hear God’s love song for us.
Prayer of the Tides – from St Mary’s Church, Holy Island
From the flowing of the tide to its ebbing
From the waxing of life to its waning
Of your peace provide us
Of your life lead us
Of your goodness give us
Of your grace grant us
Of your power protect us
Of your love lift us
And in your arms accept us
From the ebbing of the tide to its flowing
From the waning of life to its waxing.
[This blog ‘A Lockdown of God’s Love’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2010 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]