Lent 1- Deepening Our Roots in Jesus
Mark 4:1-20, Isaiah 51:1-3, Psalm 32
We are in the first week of our Lenten sermon series. This Lent, we are going to talk about deepening our roots in Jesus. During Lent we will talk about different spiritual disciplines that help us deepen our relationship with God. During Lent there is a tradition of fasting. Last year I talked about fasting being sacrifice and blessing. This means that we can remove something from our lives in order to add something. One way to do this is to fast from food, maybe fasting from a meal or a type of food: we replace preparing, eating, and cleaning up with prayer and the hunger that we feel makes us more aware of our need for God. Another way is to sacrifice something that is getting in the way of our relationship with God in order to add something to help us deepen our relationship with God. We will talk more about this in a minute. Fasting as sacrifice and blessing can also work in reverse. We might decide to add something to our lives to deepen our relationship with God and then we need to find a way to make space for it. We might want to add volunteer work and need to sacrifice something else to make space for it. I am going to add something to my life this year. This year I am going to add sabbath rest to my life and so I need to find a way to make space for that, I will have to sacrifice things. We will talk about sabbath next week. Fasting is always sacrifice and blessing, whether we sacrifice something in order to add or receive a blessing OR whether we add something to our lives and have to make space for it by sacrificing something else.
What does this have to do with the parable of the sower? In the parable of the sower, Jesus describes how different people receive the word. Just like this can describe different people, this can also describe different aspects of our own life. Last year for Lent, I gave up the news and email on Mondays. You guys wanted an update on how it went and I never really said anything about it. That’s because those Lenten fasts - giving up the news and giving up email on Mondays - were the very beginning of spiritual renewal that God has been doing in my life throughout this whole year. And I didn’t even understand it until I was thinking about Lent for this year and looking back. So now, I want to tell you about it.
Last year, my prayer life was like the seed sown on the good soil. Let’s read that in Mark 4:20: “And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundred-fold.” I prayed for an extended period of time every morning. The roots of my prayer life went deep. It was full, it was solid, and bearing fruit.
But there were two aspects of my life that were getting in the way of my relationship with God. One was doing church emails on Monday. That aspect of my life was like the seed sown on the rocky ground, so let’s read that in Mark 4:16-17: “And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then when trouble and persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” I was so intent on doing a good job as a pastor that I was sacrificing rest and replacing it with more work. It was exhausting me, and making me irritable and annoyed. If I had continued on that path, I would have come to a place where I really didn’t like my job and would have fallen away. Sacrificing email on Monday is something that God has been working on with me all year to the point that this year I am going to do a sabbath rest on Mondays. Adding sabbath to my life will put that aspect of my life in the good soil and I will have a chance to really deepen my roots in Jesus.
The second aspect of my life that was getting in the way of my relationship with God last year was reading the news. Last year, reading the news for me was like the seed sown on the thorns. Let’s read that in Mark 4:18-19: “And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.” As you know, I am American. Last year when I started at Briarwood, Donald Trump had just been elected president. The cares of the world were choking me and reading the news was yielding no good in my life. I felt like the world was ending and I was looking to the news for comfort. Of course, all of the journalists felt like the world was ending, too, so I was just in this tailspin of panic. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had put my faith and trust in the news and not in God. All I knew at the time was that the news made me feel depressed and it just needed to go during Lent and I hoped that God would do something to help me bring the news back into my life. Fasting from the news during Lent made me realize that I was focusing on negative articles. I was drawn to them and it’s all I read. Ever since that Lenten fast, I work very hard not to read negative articles. It’s a discipline, though; I have to always be intentional. Also, over the course of the year, God has helped me to place my trust in God again rather than looking for hope and comfort about tragedies in the news. I am still learning and growing, but I feel like this aspect of my life is in better soil now so that I can start deepening my roots in Jesus in this aspect of my life.
As we go through Lent, my challenge to you is to ask yourself, is there an aspect of your life that is like the seed sown on the path, or like the seed sown on the rocky ground, or like the seed sown in the thorns? Is there something getting in the way of your ability to deepen your roots in Jesus? I encourage you to consider a fast, sacrifice and blessing, in order to change that aspect of your life so that it becomes like the seed sown on the good soil. God’s goal in our lives is to give us the blessing that we read in Isaiah 53:3 this morning: “God will comfort all [our] waste places, and will make [our] wilderness[es] like Eden, [our] deserts like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in [us], thanksgiving and the voice of song.” Amen.