Saturday, 25 February 2012

Mark 1:9-15- lent

Mark 1:9-15 New International Version (NIV)

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:13 The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.

      Lent is a time when we reflect on our relationship with Jesus and determine what we could do to strengthen that relationship.  Ideally, as Christians, we want to be disciples of Jesus. The word "disciple" means 'learner'. To be a disciple is to be a kind of student, but not in the way we usually think of a 'student'. Usually when we say 'student' we mean someone who sits in a classroom and gains intellectual knowledge so that they can reproduce the answers in some kind of test, ... but that kind of learning might not have any effect on that student's life. The word 'disciple' means to be a student in a deeper sense. It is not just about intellectual knowledge, it is about learning to live and think in a particular way.  It isn't about learning a few statements of truth about reality. It is about living and thinking as the master lives and thinks. In this way 'disciple' might be more like 'apprentice'. 

            Disciples of Jesus have a difficult task. They are apprentices of God. They learn and work with Jesus to be more like him. The original disciples walked with him. They talked with him. They prayed with him. They spoke about God and the Scriptures with him. They ate with him. They watched him as he ministered to others. They learned to be more like Jesus. They learned his rhythm and his manner. Perhaps this is why Peter got out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus (in Matthew 14). Peter wanted to be like Jesus. All apprentices are aiming at becoming like their master.

            It is important for us to remember that there are certain things that are unique to Jesus. There are things only he is called to do- and only he can do. But, we are still called to follow him and imitate him. For example, we cannot die on a cross to save the world from sin, however, he does call us to pick up our cross and follow him.

            In our Gospel reading from Mark we see both these sides. We see both the uniqueness of Jesus and the call to follow him. In our passage Jesus was baptized, he endured temptation in the wilderness, and he returned declaring the reign of God in the world.

            First, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. The question that immediately comes to mind is, "why did he have to be baptized?" Jesus, the sinless one, was baptized? People came to John confessing their sin and seeking forgiveness, and Jesus came to him to be baptized?

            For us to understand this we have to first understand that John's baptism wasn't just about personal sin, though it was about that too. When the people entered the Jordan River to be baptized they were reenacting the entrance into the promised land after the Exodus from Egypt. They were reentering into the covenant between God and Israel. They were 'changing their minds' to focus back on that covenant they had with God as a people, and that's what repentance means. It means to refocus, to change your mind, or to fix your trajectory.

            My mother-in-law knows I have a bad sense of direction and so for Christmas this year she gave me a GPS for my car. It is like an electronic navigator. It will show you a map and tell how to get to any location I type in. Sometimes, even with this help, I miss my turn. Then my GPS will recalculate and tell me how to get back on track. That is repentance. When I follow the new recalculated directions I change my course- I repent. John the Baptist was Israel's GPS. He showed them the new recalculated course and Jesus led the way down the path that John prepared. 

            Jesus entered the Baptismal waters as the perfect representative of Israel, leading the way through the waters. Jesus was reenacting the history of Israel, (and of humanity). They left Egypt, walked through the waters, and entered the wilderness. Jesus, too, entered the waters to enter a new land. He left behind the ways of the world and the expectations people had of him in order to bring about another world. In Jesus' baptism a new reality comes into being. The heavens tear open and God's reality breaks into our world. The Spirit comes to Jesus and he hears the Father's voice declare, "you are my Son".

            As his disciples, we are to follow him. We evaluate where our thinking is and we change our mind to align it more with Jesus' thinking- that is repentance. We express our desire to follow him and to be disciples. We repent of the destructive ways of the world. We wash it off us. We wash off the false  and burdensome expectations others place on us. We wash ourselves of the desire to have a home that is bigger than we need it. We wash ourselves of our insatiable desire for "security", and to be entertained. We wash ourselves of the idea that indulging in our desires will bring us happiness. We wash ourselves of feeling like victims of the world, and we make a choice to follow Christ. In that moment of repentance, in that baptism, we become a son or daughter of God. Through Christ we are adopted into the family.

            In Romans Ch 8 (:14-17) Paul says, "14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

            This isn't something you earn after you've survived temptation and proved yourself by proclaiming the kingdom. This is the first step. You become the child of God by turning to Jesus (the Son of God). You leave behind the illusions of the world and enter into God's reality as His child. We enter into a life of repentance. We are committed to always seeking out God's will and aligning ourselves with it.

                Second, after being baptized, Jesus was sent into the desert. While he was there we read that he was tempted by Satan. We don't know from Mark what the temptations were, but we read about them in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The temptations have to do with worldly power. Jesus was tempted to refocus, not on God, but on the earthly advantage. He was tempted to misuse his powers to feed his own bodily desires for bread. He was tempted to gain the people through military and political power. Jesus resists and is victorious.                   

            Where the people of Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeds. As one commentator said, "Israel in the wilderness stumbled and wandered for forty years in sin, rebellion, and distrust, longing again for the chains of slavery, Jesus withstands Satan's tests in the wilderness for forty days" (Stanley Sanders). The people of Israel stumbled and fell on their faces. They failed again and again when faced with temptation. Jesus, as Israel's perfect representative succeeds where they failed.

            We are called to follow him in the desert as well. The Christian life was not meant to be easy. It is joyous in that we are God's children, but that does not mean we will lead easy lives free from suffering. We will be tempted. We will be asked to undo our repentance. We will be asked to refocus our minds to more selfish ends. We will be tempted to glorify ourselves. We will be tempted to misuse our money. We will be tempted by lust and bodily pleasures outside of their proper contexts. We will be tempted to use  violence to get our way- to bully people. We will be tempted to manipulate people. We will be tempted to leave our gifts unused and distract ourselves with something else instead. We will fail in resisting these temptations on occasion, but when that happens we get up dust ourselves off and recommit ourselves to following Jesus who did not fall.  

            The desert is not only a place of temptation. It is also a place where angels minister to us, as they did to Jesus. It is a place where God feeds us and sustains us. It is a place where we are with God and transformed by him. It is here in the desert that we train. As disciples we are disciplined. We train for life in the world as God's children. We learn to be firm in our original focus on God and we learn to resist temptation. There are some things we can do by direct effort. We can lift a heavy box by just exerting more force- We just try harder. There are some things, however, that require training. We can't speak French by exerting more force in the moment. We can't play NHL level hockey by just trying harder. Certain activities require training, or discipline. It takes time and commitment. The spiritual life is no different. In the desert we learn to be who we are truly meant to be. We learn to leave slavery behind in Egypt. In the desert we learn to be free. We learn to live with our new identities as children of God.           

            Above all, this new life we learn in the desert looks like love. It is expressed in treating people with respect and kindness, in being generous to others, and in expressing our bodily desires in their proper contexts. We express love through our patience when we are wronged, through moderation and balance of life, and through being attentive to our commitments. That is who we would like to be, but we can't get there by direct effort. To get there we train with God, primarily through prayer and Bible study. We place ourselves in the position to receive His grace which then transforms us.   

            Third, Jesus returns from the desert proclaiming God's reign. "The time has come", he said "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news." Jesus rewrote the story of Israel. He walked through the waters into the wilderness and was victorious over every temptation, and now he returns as the light Israel was always meant to be. He returns and invites others to follow. He declares the reign of God as King. He is the kingdom present in the world, and he calls others to come under his reign. 

            We do not proclaim the reign of God as kings and queens- rather, we proclaim the Reign of our King as people who are learning to be free. We invite others to walk the path we ourselves are walking- in the footsteps of our king. We invite others into this new reality. We invite people to shift their thinking and living so they can be as free as they were created to be. This is the good news we proclaim. We proclaim that God loves them- he runs to them like a Father whose son has returned after squandering the family wealth and was left feeding slop to pigs. We proclaim that God rejoices over them when they return to him, like a woman who found her lost wallet. We proclaim the reign of God as returned prodigal children, and as those who were lost but who are now found.       

            As we live our Christian lives we will come back to these moments. We will notice that we have been led down a wrong path and we will have to repent and refocus on God and His ways. We train in the desert, facing temptation. Hopefully we become stronger in defeating them, but as we do, the temptations will become more subtle.  And we are always called to declare the reign of God.  As we declare the Reign, by God's grace, it will be seen in our own lives. We must also remember that we are not alone on this path. Jesus walked it and he walks it with each one of us now.

            May God guide you in repentance and align your will with His. May you always remember your baptism into the Body of Christ. May God give you strength to defeat temptation. May God train you as an athlete trains, and may you be a powerful force of transformation in our broken world. Amen.    

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