SERMON FOR LENT 1 SUNDAY 18 Feb 18. Mark 1.9-15

Given by Jeff at Gordon Chapel
May God grant us a greater understanding of his Holy Word.   +

Mark tells this story briskly and briefly using dramatic language.  Jesus was baptised, the Spirit descended on him like a dove and God said “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.  The heavens were parting, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was tempted by Satan, dwelt with wild animals, and was attended to by angels – I would love to know more about those angels and what they did.

God often puts people to the test. The Israelites were tempted during their 40yr wilderness journey – they often failed their tests – but Jesus will not fail his. He spent 40 days overcoming temptations – learning God’s will, only then was he equipped to set out on his ministry.   Jesus was being strengthened for what was to come, and having passed the test begins that ministry.   He preached “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News” . It was a short sermon, but Jesus managed to pack everything into it.

He was saying that it was time for the coming of a new age, time to become a new people – that the kingdom was there for them. And it’s there for us. It will come – but unless we’re prepared, its coming may have no effect on our lives.   The gift is free, but we have to receive it.

So Jesus says: “Repent, and believe in the Good News.”
Repentance is about change – turning around and going in a new direction but our natural inclination is to follow our own desires.   We may throw an angry fit when we don’t get what we want, when we want it. We want new clothes, cars and houses.  We want fun, promotion and recognition.  We’re in a hurry. – we want them now.  

But to paraphrase Christ, he says:   Stop. “Don’t be anxious, asking, ‘What will we eat, drink, wear?’ Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well”.

Christ calls us to see the world from a different perspective – to see it through his eyes.  He calls us to care less about things and more about people and God.  Less about self and more about others. That’s what repentance means – a change of mind – a change of heart – a change of direction.  

You may say, nothing to do with me – I’m OK, I’m not a sinner! Are you sure? Most of don’t really think we are sinners.  Most of us want nothing to do with sinners either, or rather – those that we consider to be sinners. But Christ loved them. mmBilly Graham said: “The men who followed Christ…turned the world upside down – because their hearts had been turned right side up.”

But what about us?  What about those of us who already believe?  What about the church hierarchy – bishops, priests, deacons and others, does Christ call them to change? Surely not, they’ve already done that – haven’t they?     The answer’s in the religious people of Jesus’ day.  It’s ironic that when we hear the phrase “scribes and Pharisees,” we think of bad people.  But they weren’t – they were good, religious people.  Like our bishops,  priests, deacons.  They were the best of the best – and they knew it. Believing that they were good, upright people meant that they didn’t think they needed to repent.  They weren’t open to change, and so they were opposed to Christ and resented him.  

It’s precisely those who think that they need no repentance who most need it.  And so Jesus calls us – all of us – from church hierarchy to the occasional attender – “Repent, and believe in the Good News.” That’s not easy for us to hear.  

As Christians, we’re tempted to believe that we don’t need to repent, or change and ask for forgiveness.  We resent any serious call to do that.   Do you have anything in your life that you need to change?    Lots to think about perhaps – well, Lent’s a good time to do that!  

It helps to know Jesus identifies with us right from the start, for when we are baptised – become Christians, we are identifying with him, taking on all that he stands for: the kingdom of God, mercy, love, forgiveness, service to others.

To understand what we need to do to enter the Kingdom of God, we must study the Word of God and that’s not always easy, we often need help.

+Mark, when Rector in Elgin, often gave me a difficult text – a good way to learn he said. So one Sunday I preached about Jesus’ words on divorce.

A divorced member of the congregation was furious that I’d preached on the subject – but that was the text that Sunday.  It brought home to me just how offensive and difficult some of the scriptures can be for many people.

Does that mean that we should not read those difficult scriptures in worship? No, for perhaps the most offensive scriptures are those we need to hear most – no one can escape this.

We who preach may receive various comments at the door or later, “That was a good sermon.”  Sometimes people are just being polite or don’t know what else to say. Perhaps it really was a good sermon – or at least one that the Holy Spirit used to touch their heart.

But sometimes
we hear, “That was a terrible sermon” – we know that they aren’t just making polite conversation, perhaps they’re right and God is using them to teach us something.  

Criticism can shake us – but it may be the most authentic word that was spoken, it may be a word from God to the preacher.  We are here to serve you, so we must listen for it and be ready to repent – to learn – to change – to prepare more carefully.

But there’s another possibility – that the preacher really did proclaim God’s Word well, and that it struck the other person’s heart like an arrow.  Perhaps they came to be comforted and instead felt uncomfortable, even accused or guilty. The Word of God comforts the afflicted, but it also afflicts the comfortable.

We may not want to hear it – that call to repent, change direction and become a new person. It’s not easy – but Christ says ‘do it, and do it now’!

It may be painful
, but there’s good news associated with it – that when we turn our lives over to Christ, he brings out something in us that we never knew was there.

Luther Burbank, was a great horticulturist, famous because of his work with plants.  He paid careful attention to the characteristics of different plant varieties – their strengths and weaknesses.  He bred new varieties that combined the best qualities of the various plants.  He developed hundreds of new plant varieties, and his work helped to feed the world and prevent starvation.   When asked what he considered to be his greatest contribution Burbank said: “If I have made any worthy contribution to the world, it is the advancement and proof of the great principle that a plant born a weed, or a plant degenerated by nature, needn’t remain that way….that there is no plant so great an outcast that it cannot with skill and care be redeemed.”

That makes sense in human terms too.  If there is one thing that Jesus proved, it’s that there is no person who cannot be redeemed.  There is no person so bad – and no person so good – that Christ cannot make a difference in their life.  We are neither so bad as to be hopeless, nor so good as to be beyond improvement.  It’s not our badness or goodness that counts, but only our willingness to place ourselves in Christ’s hands.  And so Jesus says to us again today:   “Repent, and believe in the Good News.”

But can we? We may be discouraged finding that God does not give us an easy life – or provide a golden ticket to a trouble free existence. In difficult times we must seek God, confident that he will help us to overcome our trials and temptations.

Lent is a good time for reflection and self-examination – to try and understand the ways we are being tempted, so that we can build up the resilience, to resist, and change our ways   and we have 40 days in which to do that.   But this Lent, take heart – it isn’t wrong to be tempted – it happens to us all the time.  I saw a notice on a car that read “ Lead me not into temptation, I can find it for myself’. We’re tempted to cut corners, use our tongue like a whip, be thoughtless and unkind.

Jesus knew what it was to be tempted and challenged, so when asked, he will help us.  To the lonely he whispers ‘I’ve been there’, to the tempted he says ‘I’ve been there’, to the despised and rejected he sighs, ‘I’ve been there’. Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we say “lead us not into temptation” and he will!

If you throw an apple on the ground the outside may look good but the inside begins to turn brown – the same is true of people we are negative towards.   Even Jesus needed encouragement.   After hearing God’s words at his baptism, Jesus faced his temptations and challenges knowing that he was approved of by God.  

God loves and encourages us, but at the same time drives us into the desert of life where we will grow.   In Lent we may enter a wilderness, a trial, of our own will.

Use this Lent to look at where you are, to reflect on what God wants you to do and to be. Yes, we may fail during Lent, and throughout the year but help is at hand from a man who has walked in our shoes.   It’s not just a Lent thing or a 40 day thing – it’s a lifelong thing – an eternal thing.

 Angels were with Jesus in the desert and they are with us too – they may not always be supernatural beings, but friends, even strangers who share our journey, providing help and support when we need it. You may never know who they are.    Perhaps you might ask yourself – are you an angel for others – whether they know it or not?

 When you leave here today to love and serve the Lord – will you allow others to be angels for you, and will you be an angel for them, in the name of Christ.    Amen.