Come Up

February 21, 2021

Series: February 2021

Category: What Are You/We Up To

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Today's Scripture:  Psalm 25:1-5 and Mark 1:9-15

Today's Sermon


"Come Up"

Psalm 25:1-5
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.  Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.  Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Mark 1:9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, which is the 40-day season leading to Easter.  Traditionally, Lent is a time of self-reflection and repentance, as we consider how we might turn away from that which separates us from God and turn toward that which brings us closer to God.  It is often seen as a somber season, one in which we might practice self-denial - giving something up in order to better put our focus on God.  Some find Lent too somber.  I once read about a congregation who decided to just ignore the Lenten season.  The pastor explained, “We don’t celebrate the season of Lent here. It’s just too depressing.”

If ever there was a year to skip over Lent, this would be the one.  I heard someone say recently that it feels as if we have had an entire year of Lent.  There has been so much that we have had to give up and to do without. However, perhaps this year more than ever, it is important to remember that Lent is about more than just doing without.  For me, Lent is all about the journey.  We journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem, and as we journey, we see what we might learn both from him and from his encounters with people along the way.  We examine our own relationship with God as we journey - releasing what need to be released, as well as gathering in what needs to be gathered.

This year as we journey through Lent as a congregation, we are going to ask ourselves the question, what are we up to?  Each Sunday, we will consider all that Jesus is “up to” as he journeys toward Jerusalem, as well as all that he asks us to be “up to” in his name. This year, rather than asking ourselves what we will give up for Lent, let us ask ourselves instead, “What are we up to in our lives that calls us to be our best selves as individuals, and our best selves as the church?”  What are we up to?

Today our theme is “Come up,” which is inspired by Jesus coming up out of the waters of his baptism to hear those words of promise, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  During this Lenten season, how might we come up out of the depths of whatever seeks to keep us down?  We have certainly experienced some depths lately. The pandemic.  Economic uncertainty. Separation from loved ones. Anxiety.  An unknown future.  Whatever your own depths may be, how might we each “come up” and hear that promise that we are God’s beloved?  I can’t necessarily answer that question for you.  Coming up from whatever holds us down will look different for each one of us. For some, that journey of coming up will be a long one.  For others, it is right around the corner.  I do know, however, that when we come up out of our depths, God is right there with us, reminding us that we are beloved.  Reminding us that God is well pleased with us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this scripture passage from Mark’s Gospel ended right there?  On that note of hope and promise?  Of course, it doesn’t.  What happens immediately after Jesus comes up out of his baptismal waters? The Spirit drives him out into the wilderness.  Wonderful. Is that what we can expect too? We have a glorious, Spirit-filled moment of hope and joy, and then we are tossed out into the wilderness.  As I think about it, that actually sounds about right.  Life is rarely a straight line from here to there.  Instead, it is filled with continual ups and downs, highs and lows. In the midst of it all, though, is a constant.  Jesus comes up out of the water, and the Spirit descends on him. Jesus is tempted by Satan and is with the wild beasts, and the angels wait on him.  Jesus is never without God’s presence, and neither are we.

Much of this past year has been a wilderness time for me.  There has been so much that has been so hard.  Some of it COVID related, some of it not.  Just two weeks ago, for example, Camie and I got word that Mike, one of our treasured friends from Louisiana, died unexpectedly from a heart attack.  This news came just when I had begun to come up out of my current depths. I had been experiencing a new surge of hope from the COVID vaccine - especially hearing from my parents and many of you that you have received your first doses – and then the news of Mike’s death brought me right back down into the depths.  Here at the church, just as we began to celebrate the installation of new solar panels on the sanctuary roof and the very generous donations from congregants that made those possible, the installers hit a sprinkler line and flooded the sanctuary.  Up and down, up and down.

And yet, the angels continue to wait on us.  The Spirit continues to descend on us.  The outpouring of love and support that Mike’s wife and daughter have received this past week has been awe inspiring.  The way that some of our congregants moved right into action after the sprinkler accident was absolutely amazing.  Yes, the angels do wait on us.  We are not alone in the wilderness.

We are also changed in the wilderness.  We come up from the depths different.  Seminary professor Rodney Hunter points out that in this passage from Mark’s Gospel, “Spirit” is shown to be at once gentle and dovelike, yet acting with awesome, disruptive effect – descending without warning from a heaven “torn apart.”  This Spirit reorients our selves and our world, setting us on a new and revolutionary spiritual path.[i]  Our encounter with Spirit in the depths is transformative, and we come up a new people.

So what are you going to be up to in Jesus’ name this Lenten season?  How have your encounters with Spirit this past year transformed you? How might you continue to be transformed each time you come up out of a new depth?

As we begin this Lenten journey together, with all of its ups and downs, I leave you with a poem from Jan Richardson –

Beloved Is Where We Begin

If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.

But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.

I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.

I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:

Beloved. [ii]


i “Feasting on the Word,” Year B, Volume 2, pg. 46.
ii © Jan Richardson.