(listen along for a more enhanced sermon experience!)
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Good morning, Our Redeemer’s and a penitential Lent to you!
Do you ever have that thing where you read a story that you think you know, but for some reason, this time when you’re reading it, it sounds completely different, or you recognize a different character, or something new is uncovered that you hadn’t seen before? I have read this story of the baptism of Jesus a thousand times. In fact, this is the third time we’ve heard this passage this liturgical year since December. It’s true! So you’d think that I’d get it by now right? Well…
Jesus comes to his cousin John down by the Jordan river. As Jesus comes out of the water, the sky is ripped apart, and a giant bird – the Holy Spirit, descends on him, and a voice booms out “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Right? Right. We get that part. Strange, but yet at this point, familiar. It’s the next thing that happens that caught my ear.
Verse 12: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” In the past, it’s been easy to imagine Jesus having this deeply spiritual experience, being baptized by John and called out by God, and then saying, “You know what, I need to take a minute. I’m going to head out to the cabin in the woods and collect myself, and then I’ll be back.” But this time, when I read it, I feel like this ‘shoving’ to the story. Jesus comes up out of the water, and the Spirit-bird descends and there’s this overwhelming voice, and I can imagine Jesus being like, “What is all this?!?” And him taking off for the hills with the bird at his heels. Can you see it?
This image makes me ask this question: Do you think that Jesus went into the wilderness because he was motivated by his calling by God, and needed to gather himself before embarking on ministry, or do you think that Jesus up to this point had been a carpenter mostly minding his own business – albeit with an unsual birth narrative with angels and magi – who was then presented with a calling from God. And perhaps the overwhelming nature of the call freaked him out. Because I have to say, as a guitar slinger and wanna-be rockstar in my 20’s who experienced a pretty strange call from God to go to seminary and be a pastor (after all, I don’t see any of YOU lining up for seminary) – which is a far cry from being the Messiah, my friends – God’s call made me want to run as far and as fast away as I could.
And then next part – verse 13 “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Mark writes this stuff down and we all nod and say, “Uh huh…” like it’s some kind of regular thing. Like this isn’t maybe the strangest thing we’ve ever read. “Oh that Jesus, being tempted by Satan, and hanging out with the wild beasts and being waited on by angels… like ya do.” When I read this, the first thing I pictured was the Maurice Sendak “Where the Wild Things Are” book. Jesus high-tails it to the desert, and is greeted by these beasts. The beasts are fierce, and funny, but not malevolent. After all, the wild beasts in Mark don’t attack Jesus – they’re just kind of… there. Strange.
Think through your life, the things you are called to, the places where you’ve been in the wilderness, the wild beasts you’ve run across. Sometimes, the wilderness is literally that – a place away from civilization and the creature comforts. Sometimes, the wilderness is a place where you are alone emotionally, unsure of what’s next. Sometimes, the wilderness is a challenge – a place where your mettle is tested, where the rubber meets the road, or whatever less tired metaphor you can come up with. Sometimes in our lives, the wild beasts we encounter are literal, for sure! I mean, I was 20 feet from a black bear last summer at holden! He wasn’t malevolent, just cute. At least, from 20 feet away he was. Sometimes, the wild beasts are in your mind. Sometimes, the wild beasts are people in your path – those who would threaten you or make your life miserable. Sometimes, those wild beasts brandish AR-15’s.
40 days is a really long time. No, I mean, that when you come across the time span of 40 days in the Bible, it just means a really long time. We counted the days for a while and we lost track and so we’re just gonna call it 40. It felt like forever. That’s 40 days. Jesus was in the wilderness with the wild beasts forever. In some of the accounts of this story in the Bible, Jesus went out there to fast, and to pray. But here’s the thing. At least, this week it feels like the thing: remind me – what does Jesus do after he’s in the wilderness forever, fasting and praying and being tempted by Satan and so on? “After that, Jesus went back to Nazareth and built boats with his father in the family shop. The end.” No! After that, nothing was the same. After that, Jesus started preaching and teaching and healing and eating and laughing and crying and risking and dying for the Kingdom of God.
Time is fulfilled! The Kingdom is near! Repent!, says the Messiah, the one who is to save us.
This past week has torn me up, friends. Children, dying. AGAIN. Thoughts and prayers flying. AGAIN. Wild beasts, roaming the earth. The wilderness of this country seems deep and vast, with red flags and blue flags flying in horrible stagnation and no one getting anywhere.
I know we are just entering the penitential and introspective season of Lent, and maybe that’s a good thing. But I feel like we’ve been in the wilderness already for a while – I mean, Columbine was 19 years ago. And here we are, being tempted by Satan to sit on our hands and wait for someone else to come along and fix this mess. Satan must be doing a good job of tempting us because there’s so little forward movement and the children keep dying.
When Jesus says the time is fulfilled, he’s using a particular word – xairos. It’s loaded, that word. As opposed to chronos, or chronological time that goes in order, xairos means the opportune time – the time you’ve been waiting for, the time which God has set aside for things to happen, the time that may not be convenient for you, but this is the time that it is! This time is the xairos time, he says, and we need to seize it. The kingdom is near – the overlapping of God’s way and our way is happening, Jesus says. You have the ability right now to change directions – to repent – re-pent, to turn around and try something different. It doesn’t have to be this way, says Jesus, fresh out of the wilderness and away from the wild beasts and the temptations of Satan. This is no longer the children’s book, or the preparation, or the practice online course. This is the real deal! The time is coming, and it is now, to move beyond thoughts and prayers and try something else. Something tangible. Something scary.
For many of us, Lent is a time of giving things up – chocolate, or sex, or facebook. And this giving up of things we like puts us into the headspace of gratitude, and trying to understand what Jesus went through for us, and mindfulness of our relationship to God. And that’s great. Those are good things. But perhaps, a more bold Lenten challenge would be to live into the xairos, to truly re-pent into a new direction, to help move this country out of this wilderness time of violence and self-concern and fearfulness into a place of mutuality and peace and wholeness. What that living-into looks like is up to you. But if you’re like me, it feels like maybe the time if finally at hand. Might we be bold enough to risk whatever it takes to proclaim God’s reign of mercy and justice? Might we be ready to come out of the wilderness with our hearts open and our faces up, radiant in God’s strength and love to lift up the least of these? Oh my friends, I believe we might. Amen.