Bible Study: 1 Lent (B)

February 22, 2015

Steven M. Balke, Jr.Virginia Theological Seminary

“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.’” (Mark 1:9-11)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Genesis 9:8-17

As human beings, we seek to make sense of our world and our existence in it. We love to find explanations and bring meaning to what is happening around us. Early civilizations fashioned stories about why it rains long before the science of precipitation was understood, because we just had to know why it was happening.

Part of what makes wilderness intimidating is that it is full of the unknown. In a world where we so often want assurance and certainty, the wilderness is teeming with the uncontrollable and the unexpected. In Lent we are asked to embrace the wilderness in the hope that it will bring us closer to God, but exactly what is it about a wilderness discipline that brings us closer to God?

One answer is trust. To truly be close to God, we need to be able to trust in God, and one cannot exercise trust when one is only ever surrounded by certainty. The doubts with which we struggle in our lives – each one is like a rainstorm that could last for 40 days and 40 nights. God has promised us that they won’t, but the proof of the rainbow doesn’t appear before the storm. Lent is a chance to be aware of the doubts and unknowns that trouble us and to see them as an opportunity to trust in God’s promises to us.

When do you find it easy to face the unknown?

When do you find it difficult?

How do you practice placing your trust in God?

Psalm 25:1-9

Trying to trust God not only in certainty but also in the midst of doubt is a fitting Lenten discipline. This is especially true if one is struggling with self-doubt. Growing into a deeper, more trusting relationship with God means being able to trust God with the things that we find distasteful, shameful and unlovable about ourselves and trusting in God to love us anyway.

This psalm features some of the most powerful feelings a person can have: fear of being put to shame, anxiety of being judged unworthy of love, doubt that one’s mistakes can be forgiven, anger at being hurt or betrayed. It can be debilitating to think that we are beyond love, especially God’s love. The person singing this psalm is opening up to God about some of the most vulnerable and private self-doubts, trusting in God to love, teach, lead and extend mercy in response.

This Lent is not only a time to face the wilderness out in the world but – perhaps even harder – the wilderness within us. Engaging in a practice of being vulnerable with God, trusting that God will always respond with love, brings one into closer relationship with the divine.

Do you have fears and doubts that you feel as if you cannot share with anyone?

What does it mean to you that God has promised to unfailingly love you?

1 Peter 3:18-22

This Lent is a fine time to recognize that you and God growing closer together is a two-way street. Just as you work and learn and grow into a deeper relationship with God, God chose to dwell among us as a human to grow into deeper relationship with us. In living as a human, Jesus Christ alongside us, God knows what it is like to be joyous and to be sad, to be enveloped in love and to be in great pain. God knows what it is like to be generous to a stranger, to receive a kind act, and to trust in someone and get hurt. God made the choice to experience the full range of what it is like to be us, so God knows the unknown, the doubts and the fears we face every day. To trust in God is to trust in someone who gets us.

In Lent, we try to take on disciplines that bring us closer to God, but maybe one of the important things to remember is that we are already a lot like God, and God is a lot like us. As we step into the wilderness around us and face our own inner struggles, we are stepping into a wilderness and a struggle that God understands and in which God genuinely dwells with us.

When have you found someone who really understands what you’re going through?

When have you really understood what another person is feeling? Does that make you think about your relationship differently?

Mark 1:9-15

Given all the talk about giving up things for Lent, personal sacrifice, and just trusting in God, it is important to remember that there is a dark side to these things too. It is painfully marginalizing to people who is impoverished to tell them that they need to give things up to grow closer to God. It is terribly harmful to tell a person who is suffering from abuse that personal sacrifice is the answer. Telling someone to just trust in God can do great damage when praying for a sick loved one or a needed miracle fails to deliver. Lent is an important time to embrace living a disciplined life, but Christ did not ask us to harm each other or ourselves to make God happy.

Jesus responded to the gift of the Holy Spirit by going into the wilderness as a way to help prepare him for the work he was called to do. Any Lenten practice should be about looking for God in your life. The wilderness is about empowerment and exploring new parts of this relationship to understand where you and God are together in yet undiscovered ways. It will always involve facing the unknown, but that is because growth always involves the unknown. Lent gives us a chance to step into that unknown with God and come out stronger on the other end as a result.

When have you seen people hurt by well-meaning things people have said?

How can you take advantage of Lent as a chance for growth?

What would you like to accomplish between now and Easter?


  1. Louis Smith says:

    In trying to explain Lent to others, I found myself in a quandary as to my own feelings about Lent. In my prayers this week, I have been seeking a way to help a very troubled family member. I have been led to this sermon as the second step in my endeavor to help another.
    Thank, You,

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