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Lent 1, Year B: Genesis 9: 8-17 & and Mark 1: 9-16

What does it mean to belong?  We might belong to lots of things in our lives: clubs, organisations, communities, families.  They might be sports club, who you work for, where you live, your family (whether near or far), your church.  What does it mean to belong to them?  They usually involve some kind of commitment, they ask something of us, whether that is time, skills and gifts or money.  And I wonder what it feels like when you know you belong?  This is a deeper connection, when you know you truly belong.  What does that feel like for you?  Why is it important?

These are questions to hold in our mind as we encounter our Old Testament reading today.  Here we are at the end of the story of Noah, the ark and the flood.  But it is really a story about God and God’s longing to be in close relationship with humanity, with all that God has created.  God wants that deep sense of belonging between us.  God’s promise to Noah is a promise rooted in deep, unconditional love.  “Never again”.  These are the words that are repeated.  “Never again.”  God doesn’t want to experience this separation and loss again.  Never again.  We belong to God and God does not want to be parted from us.  

I wonder if you have ever got lost as a child.  I can remember losing my Mum in a shop once.  I was quite small and felt so overwhelmed that I couldn’t see her.  She was right beside me a minute ago!  And now she’s gone, and I’m afraid and alone.  Or, maybe you’ve experienced it the other way round.  You’ve been the anxious parent, searching for the little child who was by your side one minute, gone the next.  There’s such an immense feeling of relief when you find the one you’ve lost!  “Never again”, you think.  I don’t want that to happen again!  Never again.

I wonder if this might help us to understand God’s fierce and protective love for us.  We belong to God and God doesn’t want to lose us.  And yet, time and time and again, God’s people wander away and get lost.  And we do it too.  Lent is a time to remember that we belong to God, to turn again to God, knowing how much we 
are loved and longed for.

On the first Sunday in Lent, we usually hear the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.  So, in this year, when we’re working our way through Mark’s gospel, we can feel a little short-changed!  In just a few verses, Mark’s characteristically pacey narrative takes us through Jesus’ baptism, his time in the wilderness and the beginning of his ministry.  So we have to focus on what Mark does offer us, and know that if we want the detail about Jesus’ temptations, then we can turn to Luke and Matthew to find out more.

Jesus’ baptism is such an important moment in his life.  It is when he knows most fully who he is and whose he is.  He knows that he is the Son of God and that he belongs to God.  He is filled with God’s Holy Spirit.  And then, this same Spirit drives him into the wilderness.  Jesus enters the wilderness and God is fully present with him.  It is a God-filled, Spirit-filled time.  Jesus is not alone.  He faces all that the wilderness throws at him, with God.  As we read and learn about Jesus, we see how he constantly seeks to be in the closest possible relationship with God.  He talks about this a lot, he shows it.  Jesus knows that he belongs to God.  And it is this deep sense of belonging that helps him to know who he truly is, that sustains him in the wilderness and that enables him to begin his ministry.  The greatest temptation for Jesus, after that wonderful moment of his baptism, could have been to forget God and to go into the wilderness in his own strength.  But he didn’t.  He knew his need of God, how much he belonged to God, and he turned to God.  

When do you know that you belong to God?  What kind of experiences or moments come to mind?  How does it feel?  Lent is a good time to recall those moments, rest in them.  We belong to God.  On Wednesday, some of us were reminded how that sense of belonging to God is often marked with the sign of the cross.  At our beginning – at our baptism; at our end – as we near death.  At these times we receive the sign of the cross, a sign that we belong to God.  Dying and living we belong to God.  And there are times in between too: each time we gather here we receive the sign of the cross as we hear our sings are forgiven, and as we leave with God’s blessing.   On Wednesday some of us received that sign of belonging in Ash, as we committed to turning afresh to God during Lent.

Lent is a time to remember that we belong to God.  It is a time to remember what that feels like, why it is important to us.  And to do that we need to clear a little space, do a little spring-cleaning of the soul.  Whatever we may decide to do this Lent, should help us to remember God and to remember that we belong to God.

The traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving have at their heart a turning to God.  They are a mark of commitment to God in response to knowing that we belong to God.  They’re not meant to be trials or heroic acts.  They are meant to be experiences that pull body and spirit together again.

Taking time in prayer is to give time to God, to speak to God and listen to God, to remember others and ourselves before God.  To fast (or go without certain things), is to know what it is that sustains us in life, and to remember those who go without all too often.  To reflect on what we give is to help us understand that generosity is not just something for when tragedy or challenge threaten, but that is a way of life that is deeply blessed and transforming.

Lent is a time to remember that we belong to God.  It is a time to remember that – together - we belong to God.  Lent isn’t just a personal, individual journey, it is a journey that we share in as a community of faith.  We belong together because we belong to God.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ.  And there is a commitment in this belonging.  We offer God, each other and our community something of ourselves: time, gifts, money; our prayers, our fasting, our almsgiving.  We offer these things, so that we can serve God and God’s people.  So that we can take part in Jesus’ ministry of sharing God’s love with all people.  

They say that if you do something for 40 days, you will form a habit.  Whatever we do during Lent could become the habit of a life-time!  So for 40 days, let’s remember that we belong to God and that in belonging to God we belong to each other too.  Amen.