Before I begin, I want to tell you that some of my shortest sermons follow our diocesan convention, especially when it falls on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday, making it extremely difficult to start writing a sermon early in the week.

At our diocesan convention, Bishop Harmon said there are four P’s found in the Scriptures. The first P is for place. What happens in Scripture always begins in a place. In today’s Old Testament reading, it begins where Noah, his family, and the animals disembark from the Ark. In the Gospel reading, it begins at the Jordan River where John is baptizing people.

The second P is for people. God turns to people in that place. In the story of Noah, the people are Noah and his family; in the Gospel, it is John the Baptist and Jesus. God has a purpose for the people—purpose is the third P. Some people might think of God’s purpose as God’s plan for us.

Here in Genesis, just before today’s reading, God blesses Noah and his sons, then says, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” We know the purpose for Jesus; he is anointed by the Spirit to redeem the world.

The final P is the promise God makes. In Genesis, it is that God will never again destroy all flesh with a flood. In today’s gospel, it is a bit different. The Gospel of Mark is different from the other Gospels in that it is so concise. I’ll show my age by saying, it is the “Cliff Notes” or Reader’s Digest version of the gospels.

In just six verses, Mark moves us from the River Jordan and the Baptism of Jesus to the wilderness, where Jesus is tempted, and then to Galilee where he begins his ministry. So, when we put these all together, the promise is the coming of the kingdom of God. The call to service requires very little from us; it requires us to “repent and believe in the good news.”

Place, People, Purpose, and Promise—as Jesus is coming up out of the water of baptism, he sees 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.’” Last Sunday, the place was on a mountain, the people were Peter, James, John, and Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. The voice from above said the same thing, “This is my Son, the beloved.” Then, we were told last week to “listen to him;” Jesus is told this week, “with you, I am well pleased.”

These stories are reversed in order; however. Last week’s Gospel story was near the end of his ministry, today’s is at the beginning. So, God’s plan begins with the Spirit descending like a dove onto Jesus and continues until his preparation for what will take place in Jerusalem—with a lot of things in between. You will recall it is Elijah and Moses who meet with him on the mountain. Thus, God’s purpose, God’s plan has been unfolding for generations—and I dare say it is still unfolding. The Promise, however, has been steadfast. Bishop Harmon reminded us yesterday that God’s plan is life-giving—God’s promise for us is transformation. God’s love, which we find in Jesus, is transformational.

Today, I want you to think of St. John’s as the place and us as God’s chosen people. God is turning to us. What purpose does God want to accomplish through us? What is God calling us to do in this community? In Bishop Harmon’s sermon on Friday, he spoke of circles. We are all a part of many circles: family, friends, co-workers, parish family, and more. God’s call, he said, is always to break open our circle and include more people. God’s plan is never to exclude anyone; it is to include everyone. This is the example Jesus set for us. Jesus spent time with sinners and outcasts. How might we expand our circle here?

The majority of the churches I know say they want more children and young families; many want more diversity, but most of us are set in our ways and are reluctant to make the changes to our worship space or in how we worship in order to enlarge our circle. I love our tradition, I love our worship, and I believe our new bishop is an Episcopalian through and through. Still, we have to ask ourselves, are we committed to growing our circle if growing requires us to change?

I don’t know the answers, just questions. Questions that I believe are important for us to consider in prayer. Prayer before action is another point that Bishop Harmon stressed yesterday. We often act, then pray. We need to pray, then act more often.

We are entering into a new time in the life of this parish. Not only do you have a new rector, but the needs of our community are also changing as both Good Samaritan and Next Step will be relocating. So, we have an opportunity to use what we have, our facilities, to transform lives in a new way. Prayer is always important, and we are especially called upon to pray during Lent and periods of discernment such as this. So again, I ask as I did last week, that during this Lent you prayerfully consider this question, “What is God calling you to do or be in this broken world?” I then ask you to prayerfully consider one more question, “What is the purpose for which God is now turning to us here at St. John’s?”

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you have called us to this place for a reason. Help us to listen and discern your call to us that we might break open our circle and welcome others into the saving embrace of Christ our Lord. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.