“The Time is Fulfilled”
First Sunday in Lent, Year B, February 18, 2018
Genesis 9:8-17 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark 1:9-15
First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho
Pastor Andy Kennaly
I was on Study Leave last weekend, so Bill Love was here preaching. This congregation makes it sort of hard for me to be gone in terms of preaching. It would be easier for me to come back into the swing of preaching if the pulpit supply had done a sketchy job and people were just relieved I was back. But from what I hear, those who fill the pulpit here do an amazing job as they allow God to speak through them. Ministry does not lack even though I may be gone, and so coming home I really take it to heart that the bar has been raised. Thank you, Bill, for preaching last week, and for everyone who supports this ministry as we proclaim the goodness and grace of God through Christ Jesus, who invites us to follow.
It takes a lot of work to put together a sermon. Maybe not so much in the writing or editing, but in the wrestling, in the listening that leads up to the writing. Preparing a sermon is a creative process that seems to heighten awareness during the week in experiential ways as the texts are internalized, mulled over, prayed through, and then reported back to the people gathered hopefully in a way that includes the same kinds of questions and struggles of the people in the pews. I am not up here preaching the Word of God from on high, sending a message down to you. Rather, we come together before God and learn through scripture story aspects of our faith and calling that we may not have noticed without intentionally allowing time and space for worship that includes the word read and proclaimed. The preacher’s wrestling with the text from week to week in done in service to Christ, on behalf of the people, so we all are strengthened in the journey of faith. But remember, strength is only given through adversity, so it’s no surprise that preaching is a challenging calling, just as Christian faith itself does not exempt us from trials and temptations and struggles. The more intense the suffering, the more God is glorified as we fall into grace, choosing love and peace over and over again.
By the way, sometimes when we think Christian faith is for the individual, and our struggles involve our personal lives, it’s refreshing to be reminded by passages such as Genesis chapter nine that God’s covenant is established with us, all future generations, and this even includes “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God is in relationship with the entirety of the earth as created matter carrying the divine promise. While it may be comforting to know on the one hand that Christ Jesus is with us on a personal level, it is also amazing to be reminded that we are not alone. As First Peter chapter three reminds us, “Christ suffered for sins once for all…” And that author comments about God’s transformative power and intimate relationship affecting everything from the cosmos to our conscience, and there is nothing that surpasses the creative power of God’s eternal presence and divine purposes.
As we see Mark writing in his Gospel to share this very thing expressed in the baptism, temptation, and proclamation of Jesus, we discover “the time is fulfilled” and the Christian message is nothing less than good news involving love, relationship, divine approval and acceptance, connection with the larger creation seen and unseen, and an invitation to direct our attention and focus to God.
In between the lines, we can read into the context some intensity shared by Mark regarding Christ’s ministry. He doesn’t sugar coat things or give lots of details in stories regarding Jesus being baptized or his time in the desert wilderness facing temptation. It’s short and to the point.
David Lose explores this intensity between the lines, for example, by inviting us to, “Consider that in Mark, the Spirit did not lead Jesus into the wilderness, but drove him there. Mark employs a verb that has a more violent sense than we might imagine and certainly more so than the one Matthew and Luke employ to characterize the Spirit’s guidance. Of course, perhaps we should not be surprised that the Spirit whose entrance rends the heavens to tatters now drives forth – even ‘kicks out’ – Jesus into the wilderness. This is a sober and, I think, helpful reminder that Christian faith is not a panacea, it’s not an answer to all of our questions and problems, and it’s certainly not an invitation to the easy life. Baptism into the Spirit of Christ is to be called to, indeed driven into, an adventure that will include testing, challenge, and temptation.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2018/02/lent-1-b-lenten-courage/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29)
On the Sabbatical one of the places Shawna and I stayed was the Hermitage at Glendalough. South of Dublin, Ireland, in the Wicklow Mountains, Saint Kevin became a hermit around the year 600. He was living on the edge of the Empire in a time Christianity was becoming more established within the power structures of the world. Yet he was an acetic, of the tradition more in tune with the desert fathers and mothers who left society’s mainstream between 300 and 600 because they could see where Christianity was heading as it became more institutionalized and formalized, losing its relational, intimate nature of connectedness with God’s presence in all things. Kevin lived in a cave on the shadow side of a lake, and as an acetic he took on physical hardship to come alongside Christ’s sufferings for the world.
At Glendalough, which is now the Wicklow Mountains National Park, you can tour the remains of the monastery that sprung up around Kevin and his teaching in the Celtic tradition of the Christian way. One of the myth-stories involves Kevin standing waste deep in the cold waters of the lake, holding his hands open in prayer. He does this so long that a bird makes a nest in his hand, lays eggs, hatches chicks, and rears her young while the saint patiently waits for this life to unfold without interruption. Celtic spirituality is rather earthy as it recognizes the sacredness of creation, and how the elements carry aspects of the divine presence through their unique qualities, such as wind or fire or earth. Saint Kevin lived in an intense way this edgy trust in God’s living Presence, purging himself of all distractions and sin in order to focus more clearly on Christ. This attracted pilgrims fleeing violence in other parts of Europe and England, and Ireland’s Wicklow Way brought people seeking the peace of Christ through the wilderness journey.
Maybe this story in Mark, short and sweet, helps us realize that following Jesus promises the goodness of God, but includes the same dynamics that Jesus himself faces. His ministry begins, for example, only after John the Baptizer is arrested. Like Saint Kevin heading to a cave in the Wicklow Mountains, as the central places of authority increase their violent attempts to control, Jesus moves to the margin, going to Galilee after John’s arrest, and there begins to proclaim what is called Good News. He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” This is a call to trust, a celebration of God’s original blessing, an invitation to awareness as we turn to God who is always present; and it’s already happened and the effects of God’s reign are now experienced.
As we journey into this Lenten season with the image of coming alongside Jesus in his temptation and suffering, we can learn from those who have come before us even as we claim the present as where we experience God. We can learn from stories like the intense ones in Mark, that even sin and temptation have their place in the journey of faith. As Meister Eckart of the Thirteenth century reminds us, “You must know that when vices attack us, this is never for the just man without great profit and utility. […] Indeed, if a man thought rightly, and if he had the power to choose, he would not want to choose that his inclination to sin should die in him, because without it he would lack decision in everything and in all that he did he would be without care in these matters, and too, he would lose the honor of the battle and of the victory and of the reward; for it is the assault and the force of vice that bring virtue and the reward for striving. It is this inclination that makes a man ever more zealous to exercise himself valiantly in virtue and impels him mightily toward virtue, and it is a stern whip driving a man on to caution and virtue. For the weaker a man finds himself, the more should he protect himself with strength and victory. For virtue and vice, too, are a question of the will.” (Meister Eckhart, Selections from His Essential Writings, Harper Collins Spiritual Classics, Edited by Emilie Griffin, originally in 1957, then 1981, this one 2005 in English, Harper One Publishing, pp. 15 & 16).
Jesus shows us how to wrestle with our sin and the temptations of life’s struggles. Jesus shows us the deep need we have to submit our will to God, for in our weakness God is strong, and it’s fighting temptation itself that develops our virtue and gives God the glory. Thanks be to God that in Christ we are accompanied on this journey of faith even into the most difficult challenges of life and death. Thanks be to God that Good News and blessedness help us through sins struggles as our faith is nurtured and strengthened in Christ, who shows us the Way to life abundantly in God’s Presence. Sometimes it takes a wilderness, life on the edge, to teach us the most and help us let go of our fear, anger, and sin. But this cleansing creates virtue that welcomes us into the fulness of time as all things are fulfilled through Christ Jesus are Lord.
For the Lenten journey and beyond, may God be glorified, now and forever. Amen.