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Bible Search
Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent - February 18 2018

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Year B
February 18, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near: Repent, and believe in the good news.” [1]

There’s a story in Genesis that his sons found Noah passed out from an excess of wine, and two of them mocked him, while the third made sure that he was protected.  Why should not Noah have had his fill, when he and his family were the only survivors of total world destruction?

The early Christian church remembered that Christ suffered on behalf of his followers and that baptism – as Peter wrote – is an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection … and if you understand that you are smarter than I am.

Oppressed by Romans and Greeks, rule-bound by Pharisees, held in contempt by Sadducees, Jesus and his little band were in many ways, simply a microcosm of a society in great turmoil and pain.

How could Jesus claim that the kingdom of God has come near?

Is the kingdom of God near when school children are murdered by one of their own?  Is the kingdom of God near when babies are born addicted to heroin?  Is the kingdom of God near when innocent villagers and city-dwellers are bombed and chased from their homes and become refugees from war or violence or hatred?  Is the kingdom of God near when our neighbors are hungry or homeless or mentally ill or abandoned or neglected or dying and no one does anything to help them?  Is the kingdom of God near when hatred and bigotry and arrogance and avarice and fraud and lies are the basis of government policies? 

Tell me, where is the kingdom of God?  I really want to know.

Because, to tell the truth, I think we’ve missed it.  I think we’ve walked right past it, and we continue to not see it, or we do our best to ignore it, because to see it, to acknowledge it, to recognize it … means that WE HAVE TO TURN AROUND.

WE have to turn around.  You.  And I.  WE have an obligation and a responsibility to seek the kingdom of God, and to call attention to it, and to point it out, and to live in it, even when everything and everyone around us doesn’t.

If we miss an exit on the interstate, it may be miles and miles before the next one, before we can turn around and go back – and we might wind up being late for an appointment or a meeting or dinner.  But what if we just keep on driving, past the next exit, and the one after that, as well.  Do we really think that will work?

We have to turn around.

We have to face the fact that we’re going to be late, or we’re going to miss the appointment, or miss dinner, or disappoint our friends or let down our colleagues, but we also have to turn around.  Even if it means we’re going to be embarrassed. Or late.

There’s no dodging on that one.  If you want to get to a particular place, then you have to go there.  And if you miss the turn, you have to turn around and try again!  As many times as it takes.

Someone was telling me the other day about trying to find their way into the center of a city in Spain, while on vacation.  Apparently, this city is filled with narrow streets and hidden corners, and the signs were, as you might expect, not in English.  Three times, they drove around the city; three times they failed to find their hotel.  Finally, they saw another car, and decided to follow it, even though they didn’t know where it was going – and lo and behold, it went right past their hotel!

They took a gamble, and it worked.  Much relief all ‘round.

We don’t know where the kingdom of God is.  But Jesus says it “has come near.”  Maybe if we follow him, we will find it.

Even if it leads to the cross.

Because that’s what we signed on for.  That’s the price of admission. 

Jesus walked the path of the oppressed.  He cared for the sick and the lost; he took up with scalawags and no-accounts; he told the rich to sell what they had and give to the poor; he told demons to get lost; he turned his back on the satan in the wilderness; and he opened his heart to those in any need or trouble.  He still does.  And if we want to follow him into the kingdom of God, we need to do the same.

Because the kingdom of God has come near.  As near as the seat next to us, as near as the street outside, as near as the jail and the hospital and the nursing home and the house next door, as near as the refugee, the dreamer, the student, the trans person next door, the mixed race couple down the street, the atheist, the Muslim, the gun-rights advocate, and even – God help us – the shooter.  That near.

We don’t get to draw lines, around, much less, in the kingdom of God. 

Jesus takes us there, if we follow as faithfully as we can.  And Jesus takes a lot of other people there, too, if they follow as faithfully as they can – and we might be surprised at who does that.  They might be people we don’t like, that we disagree with, or don’t understand, or don’t know.  It’s not up to us who gets in; that’s God’s call – and God’s call.

What is up to us is to remember who we are – beloved of God – and to act like it, as best we can.

Mark’s gospel is pretty bare bones.  The short bit we read today covers so much territory – all the way from Galilee to Judea, into the river Jordan, out into the wilderness where the wild beasts dwell, and where angels came and ministered to him, and back again.  We don’t get to hear what temptations were placed in Jesus’ path; we have to reason them out of the story that follows.  Mary McCord Adams wrote what I consider to be one of the more brilliant commentaries on Mark, and she pulls out those hints and threads – and she calls Jesus “the wild beast who refuses to be domesticated”[2] because he challenges all the suppositions and assumptions and rules and canons and practices that govern his society. 

He challenges the power of Satan; he challenges what is a “savior”; and he challenges the idea that God is distant, even on the cross in his final cry: “At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”[3]

So Jesus himself is living – and dying – and living proof that the kingdom of God is near.  That knowledge, gained in his vision, honed in his desert struggle with Satan, sharpened in his ministry, defined in his teaching, confirmed at Gethsemane, and justified on the cross – is our trust, that is, he has entrusted that knowledge to us, and we have an obligation, if we accept it, to carry it on and pass it along and to live within it.

Lent isn’t simply a time to admit that we mess up; it isn’t simply a time to acknowledge how far we fail to live up and measure up; and it isn’t simply a time to beat ourselves up over our failure – it is a time to struggle against all the voices that tell us we are not worthy, and that all creation is bad, and we can fix it – it is a time to claim that the kingdom of God is near and we can trust that, rely on that, hold on to that, and draw on that truth to deal with whatever challenges and disappointments and wickedness come our way.

Without fear. 

With love.

Amen.

 

 

[1] Mark 1:15, NRSV.

[2] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 2. Kindle 1718.

[3] Mark 15:34. NRSV.