1 PETER 3: 18-22
MARK 1: 9-15


I frequently wonder where in the world winters in the section of the world we live in have gone to. For most of my life, winters have been a season of consistency. I think most of us here today remember the days of winter when lakes and ponds would freeze over so that numerous folks could skate together without fear of the ice crumbling below them. Yes, ponds and lakes in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York once froze solid in the winter months. We remember ski resorts whose deep inches of natural snow would be merely enhanced with just a little man-made stuff on top. But our winters have become seasons of change due to the ravages of climate change where we don’t know from one day to the next whether we will have some beautiful snow creating winter scenes like we saw yesterday morning or whether we will experience temperatures in the upper 40’s or mid 50s in the heart of winter that will only tease Spring and perhaps even encourage the daffodils to crawl out from their slumbering underground locations.

Amidst my mind’s many wanderings … in the wonderment of life … I have spent more than my fair share of time lately thinking about changes. Yes, I can sing many songs about changes … sing with Bowie [1]Changes, turn and face the strange changes.” Perhaps the close of that powerful anthem from my youth is what is echoing in my mind today as we start this Lenten season. He sang, “Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older. Time may change me but I can’t trace time. I said that time may change me … but I can’t trace time.

As most of you know, I can find God in popular music, in the great hymns of the church as well as praise songs, in the songs of the birds flying in the air, and even in quiet moments too. It is my ongoing prayer that all of you and also people I don’t know find God out there in their daily lives because fewer individuals are entering churches these days. It makes the change from a person with no faith to a believer in God and Christ more difficult when there is no starting point or connection with God nor with Jesus.

I hope that you are rediscovering God and Jesus Christ this Lenten Season for yourself while sensing and following the call of the Holy Spirit as a priority in and for life. As we sang “Because He Lives” … was it a joy-filled prayer from you to God acknowledging that you can face your tomorrow’s because your fear is long gone, and that your life is worth living … because God holds your future? When you sang “I took Jesus as my Savior …” were you thinking who amongst your friends, family members, co-workers or neighbors needs to hear the response “you take him too” or are you not willing to share your faith even in this Lenten season? Not willing to help someone change their future through God and Christ even though your faith has changed who you are.

This year’s Lenten Season is much different for me than any Lenten Season before. It’s not that I have minimized the season of Lent in years past, but I know more than ever before that I can’t trace time … that each week, day, each hour, and even every second I have are opportunities … opportunities and choices for me …to change and also to align more closely with God. To notice and value Jesus’ teaching with greater expediency and to align myself with God’s expectations, which we each can easily find in Micah chapter 6, Matthew chapter 25, John chapter 3, and other Scriptures.

I am sensing that the Lenten Season for those of us who are Christians is not merely a time tracker taking us from winter into springtime, which frankly is how casual many Christians consider this Holy season and have always considered it. It is a season to contemplate and implement changes in our faith practices. Those in attendance on Ashe Wednesday heard the traditional call to pray more, fast, read Scriptures, and to repent … changes friends. A SEASON of CHANGE is that Lent offers us.

There are so many individuals whose lives could grow in faith and whose lives would be better for it choose not to use the Lenten season for God rather it’s an excited journey towards Easter candies. But the hope of Lent … the intentional design of the Holy season … is to have everyday individuals who call ourselves Christians, like you and me, realigning our focal points in life beyond church services. A time to finally consider God as God … to love God as much as we love our stuff that gathers in our homes … well actually to love God more. To love God as much as we love our sports teams. And yes … Lent is our opportunity to include God with those humans we declare to love in this world with an equal status of love. But, I also know that requires change, it does involve giving some time to pray more and read Scripture as part of our daily routines, to value worship with greater intent, and that is the purpose of Lent. CHANGE.

I believe that the Lenten Season more than any time of the year is a time for those who are already attending churches to look at themselves … to examine OURselves with a focus on whether or not God would be happy with the images we see of our lives in relationship to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is not surprising that scheduled baptisms traditionally took place during the Lenten season because in the baptism vows there is the pledge of the church to care for those being baptized and a solemn publicly spoken promise from the parents or the individuals being baptized committing to a life-forever walk in the light of Jesus Christ.

DO YOU CHURCH … confess Jesus Christ as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in His grace? Do you PROMISE to SERVE HIM, as your Lord? The questions of baptism. Those questions have been asked through the centuries during Holy Baptism and answered by some who still attend church and many who don’t even give worshiping God on Sunday’s a second thought.

Those are not rhetorical questions but the questions that have been answered with a quick “I do” by all so many people through the years. Have they fulfilled those promises lifted up in churches such as St. Paul’s? Have they raised their children in the church as they smiled as selfie’s were being taken and posted on social media … the children in their unique baptism clothing.

I wonder on this first Sunday of the Lenten Season of 2024 … a season with the opportunity to grow closer to God. … to Jesus Christ … a season to embrace our faith more fully through prayer and the reading of the Gospels … whether we are ready and willing to change to fulfill the promises of our baptism’s?

Scripture as well as the musical group The Byrds teaches us “There’s a season for everything. A time for searching … A time for planting … a time for every purpose under heaven. “ Beginning on this year’s Valentine’s Day we have entered into a season of connecting with God but will you do as the song says and turn, turn, turn towards God?

Today’s Scripture readings reflect a lot of joy in our connection with God … or at least we should be sensing joy when we are reminded that “Baptism saves you now not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is at God’s right side.”

I could do a little “Joy to the world the Lord has come let earth receive her King.” Right now. We are connected with God through our baptism … but that didn’t save us and I find it interesting how the author of Second Peter uses the phrase “good conscience toward God” connected with our baptism. It’s not that we have some automatic connection but it takes us to make the active decision in good conscience … so that does take an effort on our part. And, when we understand that well … Jeremiah was just a bullfrog but Jesus was and is our Savior giving us much more of a reason to sing “Joy to the world all the boys and girls now.”

And, what did Jesus proclaim … what did Jesus shout … what did Jesus teach? “NOW IS THE TIME!!! CHANGE YOUR HEARTS and LIVES!!! TRUST THE GOOD NEWS!!”

You may have noticed that I am wearing a KERMIT the FROG tie today. When we made the decision to join the Church of the Advent many years ago before our children were born it was a message from Father Bob Egglenshier that hooked us on joining that church. He had a Kermit the Frog puppet in the pulpit with him on the Sunday we visited. The church family was friendly and welcoming but in his message he reflected Kermit’s message about how it’s not easy being green and compared it to our life as Christian’s. This week as we were cleaning out things from our house I found the church bulletin from the Sunday in October 1985 when Megan was baptized.

Yes … I save things … lots of things … but I was moved to see the word baptism and next to it MEGAN LELA. That was a day … a day of celebration … and a day that a different church family answered Father Bob’s question “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons before you in your care?”

The answer then as now from the church … a promise all of you have made to others was “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness.”

That church family was good to us … Father Bob eventually came to hear me preach at Central United Methodist Church before he went home to the Lord but friends … you have promised time after time to proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.” Don’t you think as Jesus would say, “NOW IS THE TIME …CHANGE YOUR HEARTS and LIVES! TRUST THE GOOD NEWS!”

Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older. Time may change me.” Truth is God and Jesus Christ can and will change you if you allow God in … if you love God … if you take this Lenten Season as a difference making time in your life.

And, as Kermit would sing “When green is all there is to be It could make you wonder why But, why wonder, why wonder? I’m green and it’ll do fine It’s beautiful and I think it’s what I want to be.”

Are you ready and interesting in living life because God and Christ are your priorities … it’s a Season of Change … a time to get closer with God. AMEN

[1] CHANGES written by David Bowie, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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