Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:9-15 Part 2
In Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Identity the hero Jason Bourne is involved in a fight for his life aboard a trawler in a stormy sea. He is shot in the head, jumps overboard, and is picked out of the water the next morning by some French fishermen. He is taken to Ile de Port Noir where a drunken English doctor operates to save his life. But Jason Bourne awakes with no memory of who he is. The novel narrates the attempts Jason Bourne makes to discover who he is. In seeking to discover his identity he often comes face to face with Carlos, an international assassin. Carlos tries frequently to kill Bourne and his friends. In seeking to discover who he is Bourne is placed in conflict against forces of evil that seek to destroy him.1
Unlike Jason Bourne most of us know who we are, or at least our identity. Someone has told us who we are: our parents, our peers, our friends. Even God has told us who we are in our baptism. We are declared and made God's person in the waters of baptism. We have been brought from being nobody to being God's person, from not having received mercy to now having received mercy (1 Pet 2:10). We have been identified by God and named child of God.
In Mark Jesus' baptism is a private, personal epiphany where God declares Jesus to be the Son of God with whom God is well-pleased. Only Jesus and the reader of Mark's Gospel know who Jesus is. The Spirit descended upon Jesus indicating that Jesus is mightier than John the Baptizer. Jesus is identified and empowered by the Spirit.
Surprise! Surprise! There is no nice, warm, cozy life with God for Jesus. Immediately the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, the place of Godforsakenness and the location of evil forces opposed to God. Here Jesus is tested by Satan. The temptation is not a temptation to sin but is rather a test of strength. Jesus engages in a conflict, a struggle with Satan. If Jesus is the Son of God, empowered by the Spirit and mightier than John then now he is put to the test. Here is an overture of the struggle between Jesus and the forces of chaos and evil which Mark narrates in his gospel.
Is it any different with us as baptized Christians? We are identified as God's people and commissioned to be God's agents for ministry and conflict almost always meets us as we struggle for faithfulness to whose we are. God's rule and dominion produce hostile opposition from forces that seek their own self-interest and to exercise power to control and imprison other people. And the tragedy is that even persons and structures in religious institutions that claim to belong to God are often part of those forces arrayed against God and God's people.
What are the tests, the conflicts in which God's people are engaged? What are the powers of evil that meet and struggle with you and God's people with whom you serve? How do we wrestle against forces that deny life as God intends it for people, both physical life on this planet and the life of faith in relationship to God? Are we tested by forces that act politically to corrupt and cheat people? Are unfair economic and labor practices evil forces that test God's people? Are we tested in the struggle to combat injustice and unrighteousness manifested in racism and sexism? Do those who claim that there is no meaning and purpose to life except the eternal treadmill of nothingness threaten us? Is the Church tested by powers, both external and internal, that would seduce us away from our identity as God's people who are called to be faithful servants as agents of reconciliation, justice and love for all people? Does the allure of greed or sex or self-glorification instead of being servants of all test us and our identity? What are the realities and powers in your situation that put to the test god's people in the struggle to be the people God has made?
However, neither Jesus nor we are left alone and to our own devices in the time of testing. It is the Spirit who drives Jesus into the wilderness and the angels who minister to him there. God's providential care is present to sustain and strengthen God's people in their struggle with the forces opposed to God. Unlike Jason Bourne in his struggle against Carlos, we are not left to our own resources and wisdom to battle evil. The Spirit and the Word of God strengthen and sustain us.
The testing foes not end for Jesus, nor for us, once he and we leave the wilderness.The arrest of John the Baptizer prefigures the arrest of Jesus at the hands of forces hostile to him and the rule of God which Jesus announces and brings in his own person and ministry. This First Sunday in Lent finds us already on our journey toward the final struggle between Jesus and Satan on Golgotha. On the cross is the ultimate test of Jesus where God's Son defeats death and evil by dying a suffering and horrible death. God's dominion and rule have been victorious, but the struggle and the testing of God's people continues until the ultimate and final manifestation of God's lordship over all powers opposed to God. This is the promise that sustains and encourages God's people as they struggle in the conflict with and against evil.
Another possible approach for preaching on this text would be to focus on the movement of Jesus from Nazareth to the Jordan River to the wilderness to Galilee as a paradigm for the Church in its Lenten journey and its journey as God's people.The places to which Jesus travels are not the expected places where God would manifest the divine presence and power. Would not God more normally operate in Jerusalem rather than in the muddy river? Would God actually be at work in the wilderness? And can anything good come out of Galilee? But it is the surprise of God that in just such unexpected places God is at work to do God's thing: to identify God's Son, to engage in conflict with Satan, and to announce and bring in the divine rule. Does such a perspective open possibilities of reflection and illumination concerning the places where God calls and places us and meets us on our journeys as the people of God?
1. Robert Ludlum,The Bourne Identity (New York: Richard Marek Publishers, 1980).