Sermon for First Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2021
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie. Genesis 9:8–17 | 1 Peter 3:18–22 | Mark 1:9–15
Mark wins the prize here for the shortest baptism of Jesus, shortest story of testing in the wilderness and the best elevator speech- that is, a statement of purpose that you can quickly tell someone between floors in a high-rise: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”
First, we’ve heard a lot about the baptism of Jesus lately, so the one thing I’d point out here in Mark is this wonderful verb that the heavens are “torn” or “ripped” apart—(skidsomai—where we get schism or schizophrenia) and then, there’s the Spirit of God1 The imagery in this dramatic word is the first of two times it occurs, the second time being at the other end of the story of Jesus. Which happens when… (???) the veil in the temple that separates the people from the divine presence in the Holy of Holies- or the small room at the center of the temple—is “torn” or “ripped” apart. Apparently, this whole Jesus-thing is about taking down the barriers between humans and God. And the parenthesis encourage us to look at what lies between.
Which starts off with the Spirit -that is a byproduct of the rending of the heavens- that descends and—we might say as I mentioned a couple weeks ago—“possesses” Jesus. It then “drives” him into wilderness. The 40 days tell us that there is connection to the past and Israel’s time of formation that was also a story of salvation (from Egypt) and promise (to the Land of Canaan.) When Jesus then shows up in Galilee, it’s no surprise that thee first two parts of his elevator speech are about what God is doing vis a vis history: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.” Something like this has happened before. These promises smack of God’s covenant or agreement reiterated to Abraham and Noah and Moses and everyone with them- that God keeps moving toward creation through blessing a specific bunch SO THAT everyone and everything else can be blessed as well… Note that God’s reiterates 6 times by my count, that the promise is for the people from the ark and their descendants, but also “every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth.” Every living creature ALL flesh.
Far from being a hands-off deity, God keeps making the move toward and for us. And now that the “time has been fulfilled”, the effect of God’s presence on real life is called the “kingdom of God”—and it is near. God has done this. It is through no act of our own.
But the next two point of Jesus’ elevator speech make are directed at the people in Galilee and us, too. That is, “Repent”—do things differently; head in a different direction than the destructive one- AND “Believe in the good news.” This is also how the Kingdom or Realm of God becomes a part of reality; the tear opening wider: By us as humans practicing and trusting (which might be a better word than believing) that the good stuff that God keeps trying to give is near, and filling itself out in Jesus. Our part is part of the equation… Of course Jesus doesn’t just say dump the tasks on everyone and then walk off into the sunset. We’ll find between this tearing and the next tearing, we see what the elevator speech of Jesus actually looks like and feels like in the real world: That is, his ministry of healing people from physical, spiritual, mental and social illnesses; feeding, touching, forgiving, speaking truth.
And as we hear in 1 Peter 3:18 ff, we can add that Jesus suffers for everyone- the righteous and the unrighteous- in order to do what? In order “to bring you to God.” This is the whole point! Tear away the heavens and the veil. But how is this done? What works on us humans? I recently heard one interpretation on the death of Jesus as (Fr. Vincent Pizzuto) judgement on judgment. The opposite, I would assume then, would be bringing blessing to all- even those who made the world such an unbearable place in the time of Noah- as I Peter says Jesus does. Jesus suffers precisely because he challenges the wisdom that somehow only the deserving get salvation and promise. While these things are, in fact, for ALL. Jesus demonstrates in every thing he does, the love of God for the marginalized. His very living out of God’s ideal of justice and righteousness is the end of him. AND the tearing of the temple veil.
It appears as if it would make sense for us to figure out what is just and righteous in our world right now- and what is not. The promise of life lived abundantly is the promise of the covenant, and Jesus holds true to God’s own vision of bringing to wrongs what is right. We don’t even hear about the kinds of temptations Jesus faces in Mark, but we know it is a time of being galvanized for bringing to bear the reality of the promise- not unlike the Israelites wilderness time. When Jesus shows up now in the midst of suffering, hunger, destructive spirits and the hubris of the powerful, he is not fazed. The ill-forces at work have no power over him: In fact, they cannot keep their power over anyone when he is near. Jesus, who was with the wild beasts and somehow not overcome by them: Perhaps even living in a new order alongside them. Jesus, whom God loved and fed in the wilderness, will be God visible. This good news has become our elevator speech: Jesus does indeed save us and lead us into a promised “way of being.” Thanks be to God. Amen.