Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Life Comes at You Fast


Mark 1:9-15

Lent 1 / Year B

If, upon hearing today’s gospel reading, you are feeling a sense of Déjà vu, there is good reason.  This is the third time we have read from this brief passage in the last nine weeks.  After this morning we will be free and clear of it for the next three years.  Only six verses long, it condenses a lot activity into a very tight description and it unfolds with great speed because Mark uses one of his favorite words to describe the pace: immediately…  For Mark, things happen fast and for a reason.

Think about Jesus.  He has led a quiet life since the fantastic events surrounding his birth.  Suddenly, he is baptized, blessed, possessed, tested, and comforted prior to launching into his public ministry; all unfolding in about forty days.   

The Stoic philosopher Seneca famously noted life comes at you fast.  Our days can turn from quiet to turmoil in the blinking of an eye.  One moment we are in the cool waters of the Jordon experiencing a spiritual high, the next we are in the barren wilderness being tested; seemingly with nothing and no one to support us.

In the year 1880, at the age of 22, Teddy Roosevelt married socialite Alice Hathaway Lee.  He wrote to his brother, “My happiness is so great that it makes me almost afraid.”  Having been married, written a book, attended law school, and elected to public office, Teddy wrote in his diary it was the best year of his life. 

And it only got better.  The winter of 1883 found the couple preparing for the birth of their first child.  Again he wrote in his diary,

I can imagine nothing more happy in life than an evening spent in the cozy little sitting room, before the bright fire of soft coals, my books all around me, and playing backgammon with my own dainty mistress.

On February 12, 1884, Alice gave to a birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl.  Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, Roosevelt’s mother succumbed to Typhoid Fever and died in his home.  Stunningly, just eleven hours later, Alice died from kidney failure; an ailment which had gone on undiagnosed.  The next day Roosevelt made a large X in his diary and wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.” 

Life comes at you fast.  

This is a truth many of you have been living with recently.  Since maybe December at least nine of our members have been in the hospital and have received a troubling diagnoses.  Immediately, as Mark would say, life is changed.  These folks, and those who care about them, have been driven into the wilderness.  It is not a choice they have made.  It is a journey which has been thrust upon them.  We don’t voluntarily choose periods of trial, temptation, struggle, they happen to us.

Here is what I want you not to miss about today’s reading.  Even though Jesus is alone in the wilderness God is with him throughout his trying ordeal.  Angels minister to him.  As a priest it is such an honor and blessing to visit people during their wilderness moments, to listen, to pray, to share the sacraments, to be a visible reminder all of us are holding them in prayer.  I am always humbled by how a priest’s presence expresses the never-failing presence of God.

This is certainly one way we expect God to be with us in the wilderness, but there are also blessings we could never imagine.  In Mark’s gospel this truth is conveyed through six words: “he was with the wild beasts.”  Surely among them are lions, jackals, bears, and snakes, but far from menacing, the text suggests Jesus has tamed them.  He has restored the shalom between humans and creation which existed at the beginning in Eden.  So too, when we are in the wilderness God is at work in and around us to make peace with those things which once were frightful. 

And when we emerge from the wilderness, we find ourselves proclaiming the good news: 

·    God has been with you to see you through.

·    Family, friends, health professionals, people from everywhere have rallied round you and supported you.

·    You have felt God’s power at work in you and you have been empowered by the thoughts, prayers, and expressions of compassion so many have offered.

·    You have found an inner strength you never knew you had.

·    You have become a herald of the good news. 

Teddy Roosevelt was devastated by the deaths of his mother and wife and, grief-stricken, was rendered almost unable to function for some time.  But two years later he fell in love with Edith Kermit Carow.  They married and had five children together.  Teddy ran for mayor of New York City and lost, but continued his life as a public servant.  As a Rough Rider, he played a decisive role in Battle of Kettle Hill in Cuba in 1898.  He garnered fame and popularity from his exploits and bravery, going on to be elected Governor of New York, Vice-President under McKinley, and then President after McKinley’s assassination. 

There is something about the wilderness which makes a person more than he or she could have been without its experience.  It is certainly true for Roosevelt.  It is true for Jesus.  And it is true for you and for those you love.  God is in the business of redeeming our every hurt, loss, and struggle.  Yes, life comes at us fast, but God and those who allow God’s Spirit to work in and through them, are with us to see us through.