Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
The Only Way to Get There is to stay on the main road.This was my dad’s reasoning to my mum when we were making our first road trip from Dargaville to Auckland. The road was muddy, hard and shingled a lot of the way (it was 1953), and the diversion along the Kaipara Harbour was no shortcut. My sister and I were going to get nauseous whichever way they went. And it could take as long as 6 hours. Now, there is still either SH1 or SH16, and whichever way you go takes at least 2 and a half to three hours, and there are no shortcuts. Even if the road is a lot better now it’s the only way through.
The road following Jesus includes hills and valleys, rough patches, dry deserts, and drenching deluges, and it’s the only way forward with Him. Even if we try to take a diversion here, or a scenic route there, we still find ourselves back on the same road with the Lord. We may be tempted attractive side tracks, or to go back or stop altogether – but He will always call us back onto the road with Him.
In this journey of faith there is road of His choosing that builds and strengthens our relationship with Him, and our willingness to shoulder our part in the work of the pilgrimage of joy. There are stages we all have to go – just like Shakespeare’s imaginative stages of the life of every person…or like the stages of life discerned by Piaget and Maslow.
In this journey with the Jesus Christ, we start with our initiation, or baptism. And this start is at His invitation. either our parents brought us as little ones to be baptised into the family of the Church, or “we made a decision to follow Christ.” Seriously any decision we made was in response to His lovingly insistent invitation. Our Lord goes through baptism to show that this is indeed the beginning of the path of the spiritual life. Even adult baptism is something that’s done to us – by the congregation. We start in fellowship, not alone.
Uncomfortably the next step seems to keep showing up in different forms – like the steep and winding hills that traverse this magnificent and gorgeous peninsula. Temptation or testing is a recurring phase in this pilgrimage of joy, this life-strengthening journey following Christ. Jesus was lead into that situation by the Holy Spirit. It hardly seems fair don’t you think. First the high of baptism and the startling affirmative word breaking through from the heavens, followed by a series of agonising tests.
Even a favoured and holy person like Noah had endure the testing of building a ridiculous boat, waiting for a weather no-one else could see. But for Noah it lead to an eternal covenant between God and humankind (that’s us), to favour us even when we didn’t deserve it. Peter likens Noah’s experience to baptism into a new life. What are you trusting in to keep you through times of testing? Peter offers the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a demonstration of our hope, standing at the end of our trials and tests.
The problem is that too many of us think the Christian life is about avoiding and surviving temptation, about not getting caught, but it is far more than that. For Jesus the initiation and the testing had a purpose that showed itself in his obedience to God’s call in proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. This was His response to the call on His life, and we know He didn’t just preach. He healed and delivered people from all manner of illnesses and diseases, He challenged religious bigotry, He frequented the company of the socially untouchable. He did what God put before Him, day by day, hour by hour…all the way to the pain and dereliction of His suffering and crucifixion. And our testimony is that even this horrid death could not claim Him, because it was for the sake of a love that saves and redeems us, that in resurrection we see the wonderful triumph of love over all that resists it. Our obedience is expressed in doing whatever God has given us to do that gives some form of proclamation of this amazing good news.
Since we’ve been brought to this astonishing starting point in God’s grace, and we keep on through all the testing that comes our way, we also seek to know and answer the call that each of us has in the Lord who walks with us in that grace. What is your call? What does it look like for you and your life to obediently testify to the wonders of this Good News of the Kingdom of God? What happens for you when you leave this holy hour for the streets and neighbourhoods of Thames?
We each have a calling, that is an expression of the grace that won us, saved us in the midst of testing, and still persists with us – regardless of age, or station in life, or of health. To love as He loved, to care the way He cares, even to ache with that for which He aches. This is HIs relentless and loving call to each of us. In this Lenten season, maybe we can reflect on how our lives can be shaped, or reshaped so as to enable us to continue to be His living vessels in this place and at this time.