Sermon; Lent 1B; Mark 1:9-15
This year we get Mark's version of Jesus' baptism, time in the wilderness, and beginning of his public ministry. We heard part of this same passage on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and the day we baptized Natalie. On that day I preached on almost this very same passage, but I think it bears repeating.
After Jesus is baptized he is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Mark says that Jesus was in the wilderness forty days and tempted by Satan. This account from Mark pretty much lines up with the accounts from Matthew and Luke, but there are a few key differences.
The first key difference between them is that Mark doesn't record how Jesus was tempted. He doesn't record a temptation of stones to bread, worldly power, or a ridiculous, no-win testing of God. He simply tells us that Jesus was tempted.
The second key difference, and one that is often overlooked, is that Satan never departs from Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus banishes the devil from his presence, much like he does to the demons in various healing stories. And in Luke, the devil leaves of his own volition only to return at “an opportune time.” But no such departure, either forced or voluntary, is recorded in Mark.
I think this is an important point and one that makes Jesus closer and more relatable to us.
We are now in the season of Lent. It began, as you know, last week on Ash Wednesday. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common question this time of year. We give up chocolate, or TV, or Facebook, or any number of things that are fashionable. Or maybe we take on something. We take on reading the Bible, or praying more regularly, or not missing church, or attending Evening Prayer. All of which are nice, but all of which can also miss the point; especially if these disciplines of abstinence or acquisition only last as long as the Lenten season. Remember, Easter isn't a celebration of returning to the way things were, it's a celebration of new life.
Our Lenten disciplines, whatever they may be, should be designed to bring us closer to God in body, mind, and soul. Our disciplines should be designed to help heal the world. Taking a good look at the Litany of Penitence would be a good place to start.
Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Or do we post hateful messages and “funny” memes designed to ridicule and tear down?
Do we look to help others? Or do we focus on collecting more toys than our neighbors?
Do we treat others with dignity and respect? Or do we attack them in thought, word, or deed because they differ from us?
Do we care for this earthly home which God has provided? Or do we misuse, ignore, and pollute it, leaving a vast wasteland for those who come after us?
All of these things, and more, are things we do that separate us from God – either intentionally or unintentionally. They are things that we do or don't do on a regular basis – sometimes on a daily basis.
We are tempted on a daily basis to stray from God's ways. We are tempted on a daily basis to love ourselves but not our neighbor. We are tempted on a daily basis to rationalize why our dislike or hatred for others is different and okay. And, anymore, we are tempted on a daily basis to rationalize, explain, and approve of a system that values the killing of innocent people more than we value the “sanctity of life.” So far in 2018, someone has successfully succumbed to the temptation to kill four or more people every 1.5 days.
Temptation is all around us every day of our lives. Some days we do better, some days we do worse. But every day brings its own challenges.
And this is why I think today's gospel passage is so important. It doesn't present Jesus as an omnipotent being who easily dispatches Satan. Instead, it presents Jesus as a man who faces temptation not only in the wilderness but well-beyond, since Satan never leaves his side.
This is also what makes Jesus so important. He is the perfect focal point for both God and us. In Christ we have a mediator and advocate. In Christ we have an example of what it looks like to be in perfect union with God. And also in Christ, God has the experience of walking in our shoes and facing daily temptation. Christ was the original Undercover Boss, gaining a greater understanding of his creation.
This is what it means when we say that Christ walks with us. And this is the example we try to follow.
This Lent, may our various disciplines not only challenge us, but may they set a behavior of facing down daily temptations while also bringing us to a new life that is closer to God.