A Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent; Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
Ash Wednesday, we explored the story of Esau selling his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of “red stuff” or lentil stew. We asked how lentil stew is present in our lives? We asked what have we sold our Christian birth-right for? We will continue exploring these questions throughout Lent, by looking at three things in each gospel reading: What is Jesus doing in the Gospel? How do the disciples, the people, and/or the authorities react? How do we ~ you react?
This morning we go back to the verses the follow Jesus baptism. We heard Mark’s version of Jesus being driven into the wilderness. There is none of the familiar back and forth between Satan and Jesus, there is just Jesus, 40 days of temptation, the wild animals, and the angels. After that Jesus comes to Galilee preaching ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ Mark 1:15 (Olive Tree).
Beyond his words, it doesn’t appear that Jesus has or is doing anything. However, Jesus’ ministry is closely connected to John’s ministry. And John was very good at his job of pointing to Jesus. People were coming from all over the place to hear him. And John is always clear he is not the messiah. And then Jesus shows up (Johnson). And anyone could see, everyone could see, that Jesus is different, Jesus ~ is the one John has been talking about.
John’s arrest is not caused by Jesus’ appearance. However, from a story telling standpoint, it is an effective way for John to leave the stage to Jesus.
There are also the details of Jesus’ language. The word for time is not clock time, it means the right time, i.e. now is the right time. It references the Hebrew prophecies of God’s kingdom. The word ‘kingdom’ means ‘reign’ (Keener and Walton). Jesus is announcing the arrival of God as the undisputed King over all people and all creation (Harrelson). Another clue is that the verbs indicate that his action is continuing in Mark’s time and into the present time (Harrelson). There is no doubt Jesus is intruding, bringing God’s judgement into the present both then and now (Black). To prepare for such judgement, people are called to make a radical turn and trust only in God, and no longer rely on worldly insurance policies of social, political or religious institutions (Perkins). All together it is a challenge to both existing ruling parties in Israel, the Jewish Temple, and religious authorities and the Roman Empire.
Now we have a glimpse of what Jesus is doing. What about the responses? Although the timing is before Jesus wilderness adventure and preaching, John’s arrest reveals the response of the authorities. If John is arrested simply for pointing out the messiah, we can imagine their response to the one who is the messiah. At least Herod Antipas, the local representative of Roman authorities, is a threat to Jesus.
So far, we have explored how Jesus preaching the Gospel of the presence of the Kingdom of God and we see how that attracts the active ire of the Roman authorities in John’s arrest. What about our response to the intrusive presence of God.
Last Monday David Brook’s column explored the world of the early 90s. Then it was all very good news. There was the reunification of Germany, the liberation of Central Europe, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the Oslo peace process. It was a time of abundance. But, there was outlier event, the breakup of Yugoslavia along simmering nationalist loyalties. Brooks see this as an indicator of our times in which we experience the financial crisis, a shrinking middle class, the unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – spreading to Syria, Yemen, and beyond and how limited resources lead to conflict (Brooks). The shooting in Florida on Wednesday brings the violent nature of American society once again into the lime light. The Senate’s failure to pass any of the 4 immigration bills on Thursday indicates our political and social inability to make hard decisions. Both are a response of a culture of scarcity, whatever it is, there isn’t enough of it, so I/we will do whatever it takes to keep what is mine, and deny whoever, whatever is in the way.
And the lentil soup? Well, I am wondering if there are two bowls of lentil soup. In the 90s we came to believe we could overcome evil on our own (Lewis). Bruce Epperly wrote
Mysticism alone cannot guide our vocational path. Jesus needs to ground his mystical encounters in prayer, meditation, and fasting (Epperly).
Even though the world was moving in a direction we, the US, and the western world, favored, the powers at be still wanted to stay in the reality they knew and (believed they) controlled. The 90s form of lentil soup was the illusion of earthly power and control. We neglected the necessity of the Gospel of the reign of God. The current form of lentil soup is whatever the current the populist talisman against sacristy happens to be, nationalism, white power, gun control, universal healthcare, election maps, and the power of wealth. In all these movements, if you will, we continue to neglect the necessity for the Gospel of the reign of God.
Upon deeper reflection I began to see how these are simply different servings of the same bowl of lentil soup. We have a deep seeded fear of the wilderness, so we rely on the soup of avoidance, we just refuse to go there. And that is understandable, the fear is rational, the wilderness is a sign, if not a place of grave spiritual danger; and we avoid it because we do not trust anyone, not even God to be there with us.
We are wrong.
In Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptation, Jesus is forced, ~ driven by the Spirit ~ into the wilderness. But she does not abandon him. The Spirit is present in the wild animals. She is present in the angels who serve Jesus, as Simon’s mother in law will serve Jesus. This is a story that calls us to trust that the Spirit will be there ~ no ~ already is, with us, as we dally around on the edge of the wilderness, that feels a whole lot like the shadowed valley of death. The story also shows us that where ever Jesus goes, even into the depths of places of spiritual danger and evil shalom, the divine wholeness of life, follows (Hoezee).
In our time of deep divisions driven by deceptions of scarcity I pray we turn to our birthright that divine love which endures all the approval driven, silly, wrongheaded, selfishness, hateful, violent, evil, that has ever resided in our hearts, or the hearts of others.
I pray we walk on by the illusion of lentil soup and trust the strength the peace of God that pass all understanding.
Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 1:9-15. 18 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.
Brooks, David. “The End of the Two-Party System.” 12 2 2018. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/02/12/opinion/trump-republicans-scarcity.html>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Lent 1 B Mark 1:9-15 . 18 2 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
Johnson, Deon. “Wilderness, Lent 1.” 18 2 2018. Sermons that Work.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lewis, Karoline. A Tempting Silence. 18 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Lent 1 B: Lenten Courage. 18 2 2018.
Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.
Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.