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Sermon Briefs : Mark 1:9-15

Frederick Buechner1 feels as though Mark is in a "terrible rush...to reach the place where he feels the Gospel really begins." There is no genealogy as in Matthew's gospel, no birth narrative of either John the Baptist or Jesus as we have in Luke, and the wilderness temptation only takes up two verses. Instead, John the Baptist appears on the scene proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark goes right to the punch, no holds barred, with Jesus' first recorded words, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news."
Buechner, in reflecting on "the time is fulfilled," feels that "time is up...the dark side of it anyway, saving the bright side of it till later...it is possible we are living in the last days." We have the human capability of completely obliterating ourselves. But we can't stop at fulfillment. We need to move on to the next portion of the phrase, "the kingdom of God has come near...," the time when we no longer live in danger of ourselves, but in the security of a world where God is in charge. The time, says Buechner, is ripe.
He tells the story of a day when, amidst the hustle and bustle of New York City, a woman walked by him and instead of just passing by, offered the words, Jesus loves you. Nothing was different, yet everything was different as he began to see the world not as it was but as it might be when the kingdom of God isn't just near, but here! Yet the kingdom of God is here insofar as it lives within each one of us, beginning with repentance as God works through us to replace hate with love, neglect with compassion, and cruelty with kindness.
Finally, "...believe in the good news." Believe, urges Buechner to believe the matter of fact, yet heart felt and believable words of that passerby, Jesus loves you. It'll make all the difference in the world.
Walter J. Burghardt, S.J.2 feels that Christians have given Lent a bad name. Repent is seen as giving up, rather than in a positive vein. Change can be positive when it involves "a change of mind and heart...new attitudes, fresh patterns of behavior...to turn, to be converted."
And with repentance comes the exhortation to believe—believe the good news. Believe in new life—Christ's in the resurrection, and ours in the here and now. Repent and believe, and live obediently yet free—free from "...the sin that diminishes our humanness and keeps us from realizing ourselves; the...laws that strangle religion; the self that glues our eyes and hearts to this earth's values..."
The positive side of Lenten repentance! Thanks be to God.
Michael Duduit3 likens these seven verses just after John the Baptist's proclamation to a time of preparation. Just as we would go about certain tasks, and adopt a certain mind set when going off on a vacation or a business trip, so Jesus prepared himself for his journey of ministry. After Jesus was baptized, and after Jesus endured the wilderness trials, he jumped right in with his profound announcement.
Duduit does well to remind us of Jesus' obedience, of God's provision against the trials and temptations, and of Jesus' action, reminding us that "the final preparation for effective ministry is to start ministering. We must step into action." We would do well to heed his reminder. The good news is that we have a model for ministry in Christ Jesus our Lord.
William Hordern4 is like-minded with Buechner in the swift movement of action from one event to another, events as different as night and day. But isn't that the way life is? Hordern suggests that wilderness on the heels of baptism "...goes against all of our presuppositions...It is natural for us to suppose that God, in his omnipotence, will protect his people from the pains, ills and problems that face the unbelievers. And so, if God's Son appears in the flesh, we assume that he will be exalted above the problems that beset the common run of humanity." Well, we all know what happens when we assume.
But what happens, as Hordern points out, is that God's love is revealed to and through Jesus Christ in the darndest places! Angels ministered to Jesus in the wilderness. And God's love is revealed through the people of God who minister to us in our wilderness wanderings. It's easy and comforting to look right to Easter, but especially during Lent we must pause at Good Friday. And while we pause, it is good to remember that the story doesn't end there and that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Elton P. Rlchards5 refers to Jesus' temptation time in the wilderness as sandwiched "between the who and the what to enable Jesus to sort out the how of his mission." Interesting! Jesus lost any life for himself in the wilderness which he might have been tempted to grasp to instead enable him to live it for God. Richards after posing these questions: "What do we want for ourselves? And how will we go about getting it?" suggests that "Lent is a good time to find our desert and consider dying to the self so that we might live to God. For when we die, we are able to `turn away from our sins and believe the Good News!'"
Norbert E. Kabelitz6 chooses not to focus on Jesus' baptism, but begins in verse 12 with Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, the storm after the calm, the low following the high. Jesus had just been baptized—in Kabelitz's words, a magnificent spiritual experience. Temptation, for Kabelitz, is the place "...where a struggle takes place, where faith wrestles against unbelief, where God-forsakenness and death are like a wasteland, a no-man's land, where God would once again establish his presence and power and promise... The wilderness experience... becomes either an opportunity to grow on, trusting God in the face of crisis—or a long fall and failure."
God doesn't keep us from wandering in the wilderness nor does God send us there. But what God does do is make God's presence known when we do wander, a presence which protects, guides, sustains, and overcomes! The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.
Barbara McGowan
NOTES
1. "The Kingdom of God," Best Sermons 5, James W. Cox, ed. (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), pp.101-108. 2. "Repent!," Still Proclaiming Your Wonders ( New York: Paulist Press, 1984), pp. 33-37. 3. "Preparing for the Journey," Sermon Briefs, Volume 3, Number 4, pp. 53-54. 4. "The Humanity of Christ And Our Lives," pp. 93-98. 5. "Death In the Wilderness," The Legacy of Love, Sermons for Lent and Easter, Cycle B, Gospel Texts (Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 1990), pp. 15-19. 6. "That the Wicked Foe May Have No Power Over Us," Augsburg Sermons 2,