Sermon For February 22, 2015 ~ First Sunday Of Lent

Mark 1:9-15http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=291606349

“Preparing For The Journey”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

 

There’s nothing novel about the imagery of life as a journey. There’s certainly nothing original about interpreting the season of Lent as a journey. It’s a well-worn metaphor, and rightfully so. And each year the lectionary dispatches us off on our journey with one of the three biblical texts describing Jesus’ trek in the wilderness at the very beginning of his ministry. What’s different about this year in the lectionary readings (and we are in Year B by the way) is that Mark’s gospel, in it’s all-too-familiar way, condenses a great deal of the story of Jesus into almost painfully too few words. In a mere seven verses we go from Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, through his wilderness excursion and the arrest of John, to Jesus proclaiming the good news! Whew! That’s a fast romp if I’ve ever read one!

 

A scene from Homer's epic tale, The Odyssey

A scene from Homer’s epic tale, The Odyssey

But as minimal as it is, we still understand that Jesus’ life journey began in a wilderness first and foremost. This is a recognizable aspect of life that we all know so well. It’s so endemic to the human condition that it has become the mainstay of literature and stories, from Homer’s epic The Odyssey to Jack Kerouac’s One The Road, from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales to Hollywood’s The Wizard Of Oz and Finding Nemo! Scripture is no less interested in such roaming, from Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, to Abraham and Sarah’s leave-taking from their homeland of Ur, to the freed Hebrew slaves wandering in the wilderness on their way to the promised land. Later we will find Paul on the road to Damascus and the apostles trekking across the known world to share the gospel.

 

And, most noticeably, each and every one of these tales of travel have as a central component a period and/or place of struggle and strain, confrontation and

Jankel Adler No Man's Land 1943 Gallery, London, 1943, and later exchanged for another work); the artist; C.R. Churchill, Lower Chicksgrove, Wilts., 1946 or 1947, The Tate

Jankel Adler
No Man’s Land 1943
Gallery, London, 1943, and later exchanged for another work); the artist; C.R. Churchill, Lower Chicksgrove, Wilts., 1946 or 1947, The Tate

opposition, and deep and often life-changing transformation for the protagonist and intrepid traveler. This is what we are invited to embrace as we begin our Lenten journey. Life involves movement from point A, to point B, to point C, and beyond. This might be an inward journey within our own souls and psyches, or an outward journey, that involves new geographies and peoples. However it happens, all of us if we are on this planet for any time at all we will be travelers on a journey, and that journey will include at least one wilderness.

 

So journeys and the wilderness places that so often make up those travels are part and parcel to our lives. The question becomes, “Is this realization prescriptive or descriptive?” In other words, does it have to happen, or do we simply notice that it usually happens? In faith language, and this is where it gets really sticky: “Does God somehow make us, or urge us, or compel us to go into the wilderness, or does God simply know we will go into the wilderness and wants us to know that the presence of the divine is with us wherever we go.” Well… a careful reading of today’s scripture tells us… both!

Textually, the reading for today is not very exciting. That is to say there are not a lot of interesting or controversial words or images. Except for two. And they are two very compelling points of interest. The first one is in verse ten when, in the NRSV, it reads, “he saw the heavens torn apart,” and in The Message, “he saw the sky split open.” The Greek word for what happened is schizein, which is a fairly violent word. It will be used again, most notably, at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross when the veil in the Temple is “torn open.” It is in this forceful and intense moment when the heavens are rent asunder, split wide open, that God’s Holy Spirit, and – in an odd juxtaposition of metaphors, “like a dove” – comes down upon Jesus. In this moment God says “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (1)

 

Baptism of Jesus 1987 Lorenzo Scott Born: West Point, Georgia 1934 oil on canvas 48 1/8 x 48 1/8 in. (122.3 x 122.3 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Jane and Bert Hunecke 1994.52 Smithsonian American Art Museum Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 23A

Baptism of Jesus
1987
Lorenzo Scott
Born: West Point, Georgia 1934
oil on canvas
48 1/8 x 48 1/8 in. (122.3 x 122.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Jane and Bert Hunecke
1994.52
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 23A

This is why we offer the ritual of Baby and Child Dedications. This is why we choose to be baptized. This is why the Church is so very, very important in people’s lives because it is here, in a public and beautiful way, that we remind each other that, like Jesus, we, too, are God’s beloved, and it is our life-long hope to live into the blessing that God is likewise “well pleased” with us. Which is to say, getting back to our central image of journey-taking, God is with us every step, or roll, or hobble, or skip of the way!

 

And the second textual point of note is likewise fierce and furious, almost in an uncomfortable way. In verse 12 the NRSV reads, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” The Message interprets, “At once, the same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild.” In Greek the word is ekballein, which has the sense of the Spirit violently hurling, throwing, or ejecting Jesus into the wilderness. Commentator Scott Hoezee makes the comparison that this is the language we would use when a bouncer heaves an unwanted patron from a bar out onto the street. This is quite different from Matthew and Luke’s version, which uses the word we translate to “led” by the Spirit. (2) In this moment, if we take this scripture seriously, God tosses us into the wilderness.

 

And we feel this sometimes, don’t we? In the “dark night of the soul” we so often go into, in the “rough patches” of life or the “lonesome valley’s” we traverse, it feels as if God is the one doing this to us. If God is truly the God of all creation, then this divine one somehow, someway has to have had something instrumental to do with our being there! Now, I still maintain the fervent belief that God never does evil to us nor afflicts us. But what I do hear in this text is that God recognizes that when evil and hardship and difficult times happen, as they do in the natural course of a post-Eden life, then we will be compelled by God to go through them, for God, wise and wonderful God, knows that there really never is any successful way of getting around our problems, jumping over our adversities, nor pretending our wilderness places don’t exist. The only way to survive the wilderness is to go through it!

 

But here is where we have to hold these two textual notes together, in our backpack or luggage or picnic basket, as it were. Yes, God compels us, drives us, and tosses us on our keister to go into our wilderness places on the journey of life… BUT! But only after we have been blessed, only after we have been reminded in an equally forceful and passionate way that we are God’s beloved! The exquisite beauty of the simple and short gospel of Mark is that these two promises are jammed together side-by-side: “’You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Blessing and bouncing inextricably bound together. Now that is a combination that is both honest and life-giving.

 

And this, too, is why we need the Church and why we need to be in church!!!! It is so very easy to get mixed up and think that it is God who does evil to us, that it is God who is the author of all that is bad in our lives. We need a place of beauty and truth and righteousness and love to be reminded that God des not do these things to us, but, like the best parent we can imagine, God reminds us we will have to go through these things, and that there is a light, a divine light, on the other side of the wilderness. It is also so very easy to forget that we are blessed in a world of doubt, evil, and negativity. Because in the Church we receive the Word of God that forcefully reminds us that the ONLY way we can survive this hard journeying is because we know we are blessed by God, through Jesus Christ, as we go into, as we wander around, as we are tested in, and as we eventually leave the wilderness. The Church, at it’s best, is the place where we hear and remind one another that together, we are God’s beloved and we shall get through anything and everything with God’s help and the prayers of one another.

 

This is Good News for any and every wilderness journey we may be tossed into!

 

Amen

 

(1) Sermon Starters Of The Week, Mark 1:9-15, Lent 1B, Calvin Theological Seminary, Center For Excellence In Preaching, found online at http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-1b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

(2) Ibid.

 

Advertisements