Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
This line from Psalm 25 very closely models a constant prayer that circles and winds its way around in my head most days. In fact, I found much of Psalm 25, the one appointed for today, to be instructive in light of the other readings assigned for this First Sunday in Lent in Episcopalianland.
We had the retelling of what God had to say to Noah and his kin once the forty days and forty nights of flooding, drowning and destroying were over. "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And, to seal this deal that God is making with Noah, he puts a rainbow (that's right, folks, a rainbow) in the clouds as a sign of this covenant, this promise to humanity that no matter what, he will not try to drown us out of existence again. Not part of the reading are the lines that precede this chapter in which God acknowledges that the "inclination of the human heart is evil from youth..." and so drowning us isn't the answer.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
This is another one of those lines that popped out at me during Psalm 25. And when you think of it... the time of our youth, when thinking of 'God time', could long surpass our 'human time' adolescence. We may think of our youth as those wild and crazy days of high school... and those party nights in college. But 'God time' is not restricted to 24/7, 365 days a year. For all any of us know, youth in 'God time' could last into our 60s! And for those of us who are all too aware of how crooked our halo sits on our heads, it might do us some good to think on the words of this Psalm, and then remember what God told Noah: "I know. I got angry. But I won't try to drown you again."
All paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
In the gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is baptized and immediately driven out into the wilderness... again, for forty days and forty nights... to endure wild beasts and the wildest beast of them all, Satan. Mark isn't the one who tells us all that Jesus endured in those days. What we do know is the angels waited on him... and we know from the Gospel of Matthew that the devil showed him rocks and asked him to turn them into bread to feed himself; tried to get him to jump and command the angels to save him; and last of all... showed him all the riches and splendor of the world and said it could all be his if he'd worship Satan. And Jesus... son of God, God of God... doesn't break. For while an only human heart has an inclination toward evil... a heart that is fully human and fully divine will keep his covenant and his testimonies. And Jesus returns to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. He can say, "Believe it! All paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness! Repent and keep his covenant and testimonies and you'll see!!" Of course, John the Baptist is in jail at this point... and will later lose his head. Not for Jesus' sake, but because John the Baptist had told Herod "you ain't right!" when he married his brother's wife. Sometimes, there are consequences for speaking truth to power. Certainly, we'll be getting that when we reach Holy Week.
And yet, that is not an excuse to shrink back into your shell and hide. Quite the contrary, the possibility of losing your life (literally or figuratively) for doing justice and showing mercy, loving God and your neighbor, is part of the package of being a Christian. It means stepping outside yourself and doing right by your brothers and sisters in the human race, the animals and planet left in our care.
Sound a bit daunting? Sure! But don't forget: God placed a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of the words Jesus says at the end of the Gospel of Matthew:
"Remember that I am with you always to the end of the age."
And with God, nothing is impossible.