Preaching : Mark 1:9-15
In his Gospel account of Jesus' life, Mark is off to a running start. We have barely begun reading his account when we encounter Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by his forerunner, John the Baptist. Today's scripture passage is only seven verses long, but it is one that is packed full and gives us something to get our teeth into on this First Sunday in Lent if we want to take full advantage of this season as a call to renewed living or re-evaluation of our direction in life. Water and the covenant, affirmation and testing, the wilderness and temptations, a new era, and news requiring a response are a few of the possible directions open to preachers as they consider this text.
Water and the covenant.
Particularly if one chooses to develop their sermon in this direction, one may want to link the Gospel reading with that of the Old Testatment for today, Gen 9:8-17, which the epistle reading (1 Peter 3:18-22) does. The Genesis text is a description of what took place in the aftermath of the flood, God's words to Noah establishing the Lord's covenant with him, his descendants and all creation, giving the rainbow as a sign of this everlasting covenant. What is a covenant and what is the relationship between the participants, would be helpful content to cover, perhaps going from a discussion of the marriage covenant to that of the covenant of baptism. Such a consideration of covenant on this First Sunday in Lent sets the broad backdrop of God's gracious move towards us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Lent is a most appropriate time to think about God's covenant with us and the response it calls for from us.
Affirmation and testing.
How often have you heard people in difficult times, especially hard times that don't let up, question whether they are being punished by God? Just recently a woman in a nursing home setting said to me that she couldn't believe she had done anything so bad that she deserved what she was going through now. While in good or relatively stable times many Christians might not make such a connection between their external circumstances and God's judgment, "bad" times seem to make this an almost normal emotional reaction. These two verses, 11 and 12, show that what must have been a high point for Jesus—clear affirmation by his Heavenly Father—is closely followed by a time of trial. (Use of the word immediately on the heels of these good words from his Father emphasizes this.) These verses offer an opportunity to explore this as a normal course of events, or at least, not surprising or unusual.
The wilderness and temptations.
It is somewhat amazing that Mark is able to pack into one verse what Matthew and Luke take eleven and thirteen verses to cover! Where, how long, who, what and "then what" are all included. The details are left to the reader's imagination to fill in. Does the lack of explication make this seem LESS significant, or less of a struggle? Verse 12, with its statement that the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness conveys quite clearly (at least to me) that this was not a desirable nor to be sought after experience. He was with the wild beasts also conveys the dangers inherent in the situation. But there is still part four of this verse: following all this, the angels come to wait on Jesus. He has come through the worst and is ministered to by God's very own messengers. This can serve as a basis of hope for us when we go through difficult times.
A new era.
With the words: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, something new, a new era, is introduced: John the baptizer is out of the picture, and it is now Jesus who proclaims the good news.
News requiring a response.
Right here, early on in Mark's Gospel, we are told that a response is needed to Jesus' proclamation of good news: repent and believe. Hearing alone and continuation with the status quo will not do. Jesus' good news demands a response. To choose to ignore his news, to not turn around, to not believe, is a response.
Barbara Ann Hedin