Lectionary Year B
March 12, 2000
Mark 1:9-15

Step VI: Contemporary Address


(JFC) I am disabled and therefore only substitute, supply and serve part-time and am not preaching the first Sunday in Lent. I can imagine this sermon could best be heard in one of my former parishes. It is a substantially resilient congregation, on Main Street of a state's capital city. As comfortable as the members are, they still, quite honestly, suffer an inferiority complex. They tend to forget that God blesses them unendingly and provides for them inestimably and leads them forward all through the community as well as the world to make a positive difference on the manner of life the faith inspires. They still think they have to earn God's blessings. This text's sermon addresses some of their forgetfulness and reminds them of God's free blessings.


(JFC) This text can supply us with images that can both comfort troubled folk and enable them to become more responsible disciples today, as surely Mark's Gospel attempted to enable first century believers to do. These verses can give people what they need to cope with every day tensions, pressures and stresses and to utilize God-given resources to become more faithful followers of Christ, as Mark's Gospel would have us do.


(JFC) Introduction
      This Gospel lesson is truly Good News. It tells us how God engages in and sympathizes with our plights as humans. It suggests ways we might be more able to endure the ventures we live as human beings. It gives us some powerful resources we might utilize to make a go of it to live more faithfully & more happily.

I. Jesus’ Baptism & Ours
A. Jesus’ Baptism shows how completely and totally incarnate He lived as God with us. He was immersed and He came up out of the water seeing a vision of God’s blessing Him and living in Him. His “baptism establishes the identity and the authority of the Gospel’s central character”, says Lamar Williamson, Jr., in Mark, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching. Thereby, we discover who Jesus is as God with us without limits.

B. Our Baptisms declare that we are God’s and that God blesses us, owns us and keeps us safe from the evil denounced in our Baptisms. Recalling our Baptisms reminds us of what our Books of Order, Books of Common Worship, Books of Confessions, etc., point out our Baptisms can mean. Bennett Serf notes somewhere, “You don’t have to be in Who’s Who to know what’s up”. We know what’s up. It is God who creates us, sustains us, owns us and provides for us and shows us, in Christ, how best to live and serve.

II. Jesus’ Wilderness Sojourn & Ours
A. Jesus trip into the wilderness sees Him encountering the Adversary, being tempted as the other synoptics tell and exiting having expected to have been ministered unto by angels. He faced the evil of the Adversary and won the battle.

B. We might describe our lives’ situations as “in shambles, in a jungle”, etc. We live in what we might call a spiritual wasteland. With Christ we can face evil and win the battles. God’s messengers (the angels) will help. Charlotte Church sings quite beautifully on a recently released CD, an English translation of Adelheid Wette,

“When at night I go to sleep, Fourteen angels watch do keep.
Two my head are guarding; two my feet are guiding;
Two are on my right hand; Two are on my left hand;
Two who warmly cover; Two who o’er me hover;
Two to whom ‘tis given To guide my steps to heaven.”

Serene sentiments. Jesus brings us peace and forgiveness, as noted in recent Gospel lessons, e.g., Mark 2:1-12. Thereafter, we want to respond faithfully.

III. Jesus’ Preaching to Us

A. How shall we respond? Jesus declares that the time is fulfilled and that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Do we engage, here, in discussing what kairos means?

B. We now may repent and believe the Gospel is Good News. Repenting is a major part of the Reformeds’ discipline during Lent. Believing is big all year. How, specifically, does Mark use the verb pisteuete?


God comes to us, experiences life’s pilgrimages into wildernesses with us and gives us substantial hope for living faithfully and rejoicingly.


      The congregation is very diverse and very transient. Most of the long-term membership comes from all areas of the city and becomes a part of the ministry of this church because of its intimacy and smaller size. The church has remained a congregation of about 230 members, with about 100 worshipping each week. Because of the transient nature of the membership people, many families come and go, but become a vital part of our ministry and church family while they are with the church. Much congregational grieving comes from these losses, although lately there have also been an inordinate number of cancer-related illnesses and other unusual diseases.

      Although it is small, this congregation has managed to build and finance a new pipe organ, and just recently dedicated a Parish Life Center with a relatively small debt to finance. They have been very active in various church-wide and local ministries and the congregation is experienced by most visitors as being a very open and friendly congregation--yet there has been little real growth success. The new center is expected to provide this church with space to open up its facilities to the community and offer new programs. There is a decided air of excitement about the potential in all of this.

      The occasion for this sermon is the Sunday after the dedication service for the new building. It may be helpful to know also that during the service, the wireless sound system was "invaded" by another local congregation's system on the same "network." This "invasion" causes pops and noises during the reading of Scripture. In addition the our organ decided to stick "on" so that the organist could not play the recessional hymn, but had to move to the piano. On inspection later, the organ worked fine, and no cause for the original problem could be located!


      The week of this sermon, three members who are ill with cancer all take a turn for the worse. Another fourth family's separation is looking more like it will lead to divorce. It seems as if there is not to be even one week of celebration for accomplishment. Once again, this church is faced with a "wilderness"that seems to have become all too familiar.

      It is a goal to familiarize the congregation over time with the Gospel of Mark as a whole. Though Mark needs to be read in its entirety to have its fullest impact, it is my goal to make the whole gospel the context from which each sermon is individually preached. The other lectionary readings for the day are incorporated into this sermon.


Driven to Follow

      Have you noticed that whenever the light of God is revealed, the darkness is not far behind? Last week we celebrated a great milestone in the life of this congregation as we dedicated our new Parish Life Center to the glory of God. What an amazing accomplishment that was. Years of waiting, and praying, and saving now have come to fulfillment. The voice crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord" now can be answered: "We have prepared..."
      But even before we could finish the service, the powers of darkness disturbed our celebration by sabotaging our organ. Before we could process to dedicate the building one of our own had to leave because the cemotherapy she has had to endure couldn't wait to ravage her body with chills and fever. In the midst of the thoughtfully prepared meal we were reminded of the darkness once again as another of our family came to share in a moment of celebration, now in a wheelchair and left with little hope from his doctors. This week our brother Ray was weakened further by his cancer and remains gravely ill at this moment.
      What's going on here? I thought this was suppose to be our happy time; our time when we could celebrate victory and success? And by the way, shouldn't the throngs of new seekers be coming in about now?
      We have done our part, God...we have provided for you a glorious place to make you known to the world. When are the heavens going to open for us? Is there no dove for us?--or at least a pigeon or two--to let us know your Spirit is upon us. Jesus gets a voice from heaven, we get the voice of an obnoxious preacher interrupting on his FM mic! Have we done something to deserve this? Or are we simply fooling ourselves to think that God really cares about what happens to a little insignificant congregation like us?
      In my Doc. of Min classes this session, we are studying the readings from the Gospel of Mark that are assigned for our Gospel readings this year. My professor says that Mark is a Gospel that should be read over and over again in its entirety until we understand it. When we read only parts of it each week, we miss its impact, and maybe even its point.
      In the spirit of this goal, let's take a look again, at what's happened in Mark so far. Mark says that the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ began with a solitary voice in a wilderness, crying: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." There are no angel announcements here, no shepherds proclaiming a miraculous birth, or Wisemen adoring a newborn king--only the solitary voice of one crying in the wilderness...
      Then the story reads: "John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance...saying: 'After me comes he who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit' And in those days Jesus came...and was baptized by John...and when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son with you I am well pleased." (And then there was a great celebration, and they killed the fatted calf and played the timberal and lyre--and the organ worked so they could sing great hymns....)
      That's not what happened, is it?
      The Gospel of Mark goes on to report that the spirit immediately drove him out, into the wilderness. We aren't even sure what kind of spirit it was. We assume it was the Holy Spirit, but the word "holy" is not there in the text. There Jesus was tempted by Satan; and he was with wild beasts; and angels ministered to him. It sounds like things weren't so right for Jesus either. Even in the moment of God's greatest blessing, the darkness drives him immediately into the wilderness.
      Then today, the text reads: "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is here... repent and believe."
      You have got to be kidding! This is it! This is what we have seen waiting for all these years, more times of wilderness living where even before the voice of God is silent we are immediately driven out--where temptation and wild beasts could consume us? Is there no time to admire the good we have done before we must face the wilderness again? Must everything fall apart around us before we can understand this gospel of God and the ministry of angels? It seems we may have signed on for more than we bargained for. We joined this club to find some peace for our lives. We were looking for something meaningful and fulfilling, not something that drives us into wildernesses and calls us away from our comfortable lives. Lord, you know we would do almost anything for you, but don't make us follow you into the wilderness, not again! We need peace, Lord, not more uncertainty and sorrow! We need truth, Lord, not more questions. We need some success here Lord, not more struggle to find ways to catch people for you.
      I was both amused and impressed by the reports I heard this week about the Green Bay Packers football fans. Hundreds had driven out in sub-zero weather to wait for hours so that they could have a chance at buying a section of the old football field sod for $10 a piece. They talk as if were holy ground that someday their grandchildren would inherit. (Hmmm...I wonder if anyone would pay $10 for our old Narthex tiles when we renovate? Probably not...)
      Paul says that we should be at least as excited as the Green Bay fans in knowing that we have been called to follow Christ. He says: "...the form of this world is passing away." Let those who have wives live as though they had none (And that goes for those who have husbands too), and those who mourn, live as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, that those who buy and sell in the world, let them live as though they had no dealings with it.
      What we do here as a congregation may even sometimes boarder on greatness, but it means nothing if we, like Jonah choose to flee the presence of the Lord who is calling us to go to wilderness city of Nineveh. The form of this world we have known is passing away. Satan is doing his best to convince us that it isn't. We are called--no, we are driven-- to follow the one himself, was driven out, beaten down, forsaken and crucified. Should it be any surprise then, that we should have a few trials along the way? It is the God of this age who would suggest to us that it should be any different.
      Being driven to follow, led Jonah to forsake any personal success, and for Simon and Andrew and the Zebedee brothers, it sure couldn't have been good for business. But the call that drove them to do what they did, and lead then to a peace they had never known, even in the middle of the raging sea of life. It lead them to stand in awe and wonder before an empty tomb and to know that Jesus was going before then to Galilee, and to wherever life, and the life to come, might lead.
      Is it not true that the time is fulfilled for us too, and that the kingdom of God has also come near? Have we not also heard the call to follow, and are, even now, being driven out, with Jesus, to go wherever that call might lead? ...Driven our immediately into the wilderness of life--to the uncertain place where wild beasts and demons dwell--to the frightening place where unclean spirits cry out against us--to the helpless place where people lay sick with fever, and lepers cry out for a healing touch--to the hopeless place where sins need forgiveness and demons casting out...to the wretched place where people are hungry and smelly...to the God-forsaken place where death has just done its proudest work...but finally to the place where God did one better....
      What more can we say then, but: "here am I, send me...." I lay aside my nets and all that I am, and offer it all for the sake of the One who brought the good news to answer the one who cried: "In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord...."

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