Held in God's hands
Our lives are in your hands
First Sunday of Lent
- Genesis 9:8-17
- Psalm 25:1-10
- Mark 1:9-15
Our lives are in God’s hands
What does it mean for us to be “held in God’s hands?” Are we willing to pray and to say to God, “Our lives…are in…your hands?”
Our theme for worship throughout Lent is that prayer. It calls forth a reciprocal prayerful promise between us and God. We recognize that God holds us in God’s hands and in return we trust God to do just that. That is not an easy response for us – to trust God to hold us. To claim and to trust that God is holding us in God’s hands is at the center of these 40 days of Lent and 6 Sundays in Lent. It is a journey with Jesus.
All three scriptures today ground us and launch us on this Lenten journey with Jesus. I want to offer a brief word about each scripture and connect it to a part of our body as a way of embodying God’s Word for us today. These scriptures call us to use our head, our heart, and our hands to trust God and follow Jesus. All three – our head, heart, and hands – are part of our whole body and will help us remember through this week and throughout Lent that we are held in God’s hands.
Lent, like Advent, teaches us to wait and to prepare. Waiting and preparing may seem contradictory but they are complementary ways of being and doing the same thing.
Psalm 25: 1-10 – Appeal to our head: Teach me your paths
The 25 th Psalm heard today tells us that our waiting offers us an opportunity to learn; that is our waiting is preparing us to learn. This Psalm is an acrostic Psalm as a way of teaching and learning. In this Psalm each verse begins with the letters of the alphabet in order which is what acrostic means.
The Psalms are for worship and have been learned and prayed across the church across Christian history. When you couldn’t read it was helpful to learn the Psalms by heart so you could pray and worship together.
The acrostic for the first and last verses of Psalm 25, in Hebrew spells a-l-p, which means “to learn” or “to teach.” The Psalmist repeatedly asks God to teach – teach me your paths (v. 4), “Lead me in your truth and teach me” (v. 5), “he instructs sinners in the way” (v. 8), and “He…teaches the humble his way” (v. 9).
“The Psalmist turns our waiting into a wonderful opportunity to learn from God our Master Teacher. In waiting, we learn of God’s faithfulness to us through difficult times and God’s steadfast love for us no matter what. For the Psalmist, some things worth learning are worth waiting for” (Jim Brenneman, president, Goshen College, Lenten devotions online, 2/26/09).
A classic monastic expression for this way of waiting on and learning from God is Benedictine Jean Leclercq’ masterpiece book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God . I find inspiration in that expression and in Leclercq’s book!
On this First Sunday in Lent let the Psalmists words open our head , that is open our mind, to this love of learning and desire for God. That is one way God will teach us to trust that God holds us in God’s hands. The Psalm appeals to our heads.
Genesis 9:8-17 – Appeal to our heart: I establish my covenant with you
The Genesis scripture tells of God’s promise after the great flood when only the ark holding Noah’s family and two of very living creature was left on earth.
This morning we are not interested in the how and why or historicity of the flood. Rather we go to the heart of the story and let it speak to our hearts. The heart of the story is God’s promise: “I establish my covenant with you” (v. 11). God gives a covenant sign:
“I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and all the earth” (v. 13).
A covenant is a reciprocal sacred promise between two entities. A covenant is also something God is doing and offering that two people or entities enter into.
The exchange of wedding vows enacts a marriage covenant between two people. But it is more than that. God is doing something and that something is establishing a covenant in which two people receive God’s covenant and commit themselves to live it out with each other and with God. A sign of that covenant are wedding rings.
Likewise, baptism is a covenant made by a person with a community of faith. Yet it is first and foremost a covenant God is offering and we enter into with God in the church.
In other words, covenant is God’s work calling for our heart work to receive and commit ourselves to living out with each other and with God. This Genesis covenant appeals to our hearts.
Mark 1:9-15 – Appeal to our hands: Jesus’ calls us for life
Mark’s gospel tells us the story of Jesus. In a concise and clear way we hear Mark tell of Jesus’ baptism and temptation and beginning ministry. In these three very short stories a lot happens. Jesus is on the go. Jesus is on a journey and invites us to go along on the journey. Jesus reaches out a hand to us to follow him on this journey.
“In those days Jesus of Nazareth came from Galilee,” we are told. Nazareth and Galilee are hardly places you would look for a leader to come from or to take you to. You would have reason to be suspicious of anyone coming from Nazareth in particular or Galilee in general. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” was the first question of one of Jesus’ future disciples (Nathanael in John 1:46).
Nazareth was a “nowhere” kind of place. Jesus came from “Nowheresville” and was in Galilee, a place notorious for being home to Gentiles and the poor – those you don’t want to associate with.
Jesus came to the Jordan River and was baptized by John. More than a baptism takes place in this place. The heavens were torn open, the Spirit descended like a dove of peace upon Jesus, and a voice from heaven proclaimed, “You are my own son, you are beloved, I am pleased with you” (vv. 11-12).
Immediately the Spirit drove the just-baptized Jesus in the wilderness where he was tested and tempted. Yet Jesus trusted that he was in God’s hands, accepted that he was beloved by God, and that it will take him on a journey.
That journey takes Jesus back to the notorious Galilee. So Jesus comes from “nowheresville” and goes to a notorious place. In all this Jesus entrusts and commits his life into God’s hands. He truly knew that his life was in God’s hands.
On this great and glorious and difficult journey Jesus reaches out his hands inviting us – you and me – to reach out and take Jesus’ and join hands with each other and entrust our lives into God’s hands.
In Mark we hear an appeal through Jesus’ hands to our hands.
Our lives are in God’s hands!
Lent in particular is a season that teaches us to take Jesus’ hand and follow Jesus in the community of faith on this journey. We begin the journey anew today with these scriptures calling our heads, our hearts, our hands – our whole being – to go with Jesus on The Way – which is what Mark’s gospel calls this journey with Jesus. Then and only then can we truly know what it means to say and to pray to God, “Our lives….are in…. your hands.”
Thanks be to God!