Contributed by Pastor Julie A. Kanarr
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Port Angeles, WA
Warm-up Question: What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
American sailor Zac Sunderland, who turned 17 in November, and British sailor Mike Perham, who will turn 17 in March, are both in the middle of sailing alone around the world, in attempts to become the youngest person to do so. By coincidence, they recently met up with each other in Cape Town, South Africa. They toured one another’s boats, shared a meal, and spoke with admiration and respect for the each other’s journey and accomplishments.
Zac is sailing a 33 foot cruising sailboat named Intrepid that he purchased with his own savings. After months of preparing the boat with the help of his shipwright father and the financial support of several sponsors, he set off from Marina Del Ray in southern California on June 14, 2008. Zac’s boat is equipped with a satellite phone, radios, and a laptop computer, enabling him to stay in touch with his family and friends during his journey. In addition, there are hundreds of people who are following his journey through his blog at www.zacsunderland.com .
Zac sailed west across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, with stops in Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and in ports along the coast of South Africa as he rounded the Cape of Good Hope en route to Cape Town. Along the way he battled storms, mechanical problems, and skirted areas known to be frequented by pirates. His route will now take him across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal, and up the coast of Mexico back to his home port in California.
Upon finishing his trip, Zac will become the youngest person to sail alone around the world, a record that will stand until Mike Perham, who is a few months younger than Zac, finishes his trip.
Mike Perham departed from Portsmouth, England, November 15, 2008. He is sailing a chartered 50 foot racing sailboat named totallymoney.com in honor of one of his primary sponsors. Like Zac, Mike’s boat is equipped with an assortment of electronic gear that enables him to stay in touch through the Internet and satellite phone during his journey. Mike, who already holds the record for the youngest person to sail alone across the Atlantic Ocean (at age 14) had originally hoped to become the youngest person to sail non-stop, unassisted around the world, but a mechanical issues required him to stop for repairs in Portugal and in the Canary Islands along the way, so now he is hoping to become the youngest person to complete a solo circumnavigation. He sailed the Atlantic Ocean down to the southern tip of Africa, where he landed in Cape Town for additional repair work.
After departing Cape Town, Mike will continue sailing east, rounding the southern tip of Africa, Australia, and South America on his way back to his starting point in England. You can follow his journey through his blog at www.totallymoney.com/sailmike .
Both Mike and Zac have been tested by the challenges that are part of long-distance solo ocean sailing. Sleep often consists of taking short naps between periods of needing to tend sails, respond to changes in the wind, and keep watch for large ships, and other potentially dangerous situations. Each has navigated his boat through difficult conditions, and faced mechanical issues. These challenges have honed their skills and given them greater confidence as they move toward achieving their goals. Both have also received encouragement and support from their parents, friends, and well-wishers along the way.
- If you were to meet Zac and/or Mike, what would you ask them about their experience?
- Imagine that you are heading out on an extended journey by yourself. What kind of journey would you undertake? What do you think you would you find difficult? What do you think you would enjoy most? In what ways would you hope to grow from the experience?
- Tell about a time when you undertook a new challenge. How did it turn out? In what ways did you succeed or fail at what you tried to do? What did you gain from that experience? What did you learn about yourself in the process?
- Where do you look for strength, encouragement, or inspiration in facing challenges or in working to meet your goals?
- In what ways can challenging situations serve as a positive experience? In what ways can challenges be a negative experience? Overall, do you view challenges (and tests!) as good things or as bad things? Why?Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 1, 2009.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
After his baptism, the Spirit “drives” Jesus into the wilderness, where he spends forty days. Unlike Matthew and Luke’s version of this story, Mark’s gospel offers few details. Jesus is tempted. He is with the wild beasts. The angels wait on him (Mark 1:12-13). (For comparison, see Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, which, by contrast, have an extended verbal sparring match between Jesus and Satan.)
Mark’s sparse telling of the story invites readers to reach into their memory banks to “connect the dots” with other biblical stories. The forty days Jesus spends in the wilderness is reminiscent of the forty years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness after their rescue from Egypt. After passing through the waters of the Red Sea, where they were saved and the Egyptian army drowned, Israel spent those forty years wandering in the wilderness, facing tests and challenges. During that time, they learned about trusting in God, and discovered the consequences of failing to trust or obey. (For example, see Exodus 17:1-7).
Being with the wild beasts may be suggestive of the kinds of dangers that accompany challenging situations, or it may suggest a fulfillment of the yearning for harmony among all creatures that was expressed through Isaiah’s poetry in speaking of the coming of the Messiah (see Isaiah 11:6-9).
The mention of angels ministering to Jesus in the wilderness echoes the story of Elijah, who retreated to the wilderness to rest, and received food from an angel to strengthen him for a forty-day journey to Mt. Horeb (Sinai) and to the renewal of his calling to serve as God’s prophet (see 1 Kings 19:4-9). These biblical stories help us grasp the significance of wilderness as a place of encountering God, and point us toward a deeper understanding of Jesus as Messiah and prophet of God.
Although we often think of Jesus’ time in the wilderness as a time of “temptation,” the word that Mark’s gospel uses also means “to test.” Jesus is tested — he is challenged. Testing has an important function. It is part of Jesus’ preparation for the mission that lies ahead. Testing is a process of probing for weaknesses, so that they can be eliminated before they lead to catastrophic failure. Testing is a process of determining what is genuine and trustworthy. Testing is process of distinguishing truth from falsehood. Advance testing determines reliability during actual crisis situations. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is tested. As he faces those unnamed challenges in the wilderness, he is strengthened for what lies ahead, so that he will be able to withstand the tests that he will face during his ministry, including the opposition that ultimately leads him to the cross.
Mark’s sparse telling of the story also leaves room for all who read this text to find themselves within it. By not being specific about the kind of testing or temptation that Jesus faces, each of us can recognize that Jesus shares in our own experiences of being tested and tempted, and we can draw strength, comfort, encouragement, and inspiration from him as we face our own times of trial and challenge.
- Share your thoughts about Jesus’ experience of being tested/tempted. Do you think it would have been easy or difficult for him? Why? What do you think would have been the most challenging part of that experience?
- Do you think that testing/temptation was a necessary part of Jesus’ life experience? Why or why not?
- Do you think that testing/temptation is an important or necessary part of your life? Why or why not? What do you think your life and faith would be like if you never had to face a test, challenge, or temptation?
- In the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “lead us not into temptation.” In the modern version, we pray “save us from the time of trial.” What does the difference in language between these two versions mean for you? Which one do you prefer as an expression of your needs in prayer? Why?
- Spend a few moments reflecting on the kinds of tests, challenges, and temptations that you experience in your faith and life. (If you feel comfortable doing so, you may wish to share with your group). In what ways can you draw strength, encouragement, or inspiration from Jesus as you face your own experiences of testing, challenge, and/or temptation?
Make plans and arrangements to go to a challenge ropes course at a nearby outdoor ministry, college, or other place that offers supervised and facilitated challenge course activities. Process the experience with attention to:
- How do we face and deal with challenges and tests? As an individual? As a group or community?
- What are the advantages of being part of a community? (large or small)
- How do we help each other face and move through texts and temptations?
- What strengths, qualities, assets, or skills do you bring to a group? What are your weak areas?Closing Prayer
(Pray the Lord’s Prayer or the following prayer.)Lord God, you have called us, your servants, to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths that have not yet been traveled through challenges unknown. Give us faith to move through each day of life with courage, often not knowing where we go, but only that your Spirit is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.