March 1, 2024

February 18, 2024, The First Sunday in Lent

February 18, 2024, The First Sunday in Lent

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

The Spirit that comes upon Jesus at his baptism sustains him when he is tested by Satan so that he might proclaim the good news of God’s reign.

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” These are the words uttered by Jesus when he reemerges from the wilderness after a time spent in both isolation and transformation. A transformation that began with his baptism in the Jordan river by John the Baptizer. This is his new beginning! He ended his old life as a simple, Galilean carpenter and took on the new identity of his ministry.  To further prove his point, the 40 days he spent in the wilderness echoes the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert after being freed from Egypt. Except, where Israel was sinful and rebellious during that time, Jesus was not. He transformed that story to have a new ending – an ending of turning to God as the perfect Creator who knows exactly what it is we need, instead of turning away from God by attempting to have complete control as imperfect human beings.

And Jesus says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Jesus is ready to go at this point! He is ready to tell those who would listen about this ‘kingdom of God’. But what is the kingdom of God? Jesus sure likes his parables, and that’s about as much of an answer as we get from him. We get sayings like ‘The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed’ or ‘like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough’ or ‘like treasure hidden in a field’ or ‘harder for a rich man to enter than a camel going through the eye of a needle’. I want you to think for a moment and imagine this kingdom. (pause)

What did you picture? Is it a large place or small? Is it here on earth or somewhere else? Are there buildings or open fields or forests? Is it bright or perhaps nighttime with constellations overhead? Is it quiet or loud? Do you hear music or people talking? Do you see God? What does he or she look like? What emotions do you feel? Is it a peaceful place, joyful, solemn? Who all is there? Is anyone missing?

For me, the term ‘kingdom’ conjures an image of medieval Europe, with big castles, knights in shining armor, farms dotted across rolling country sides, and powerful kings and queens sitting on thrones while peasants grovel before them. Or maybe the ‘kingdom’ is like the Roman Empire of Jesus’ time; mighty and dominating. A place where everyone knows there place and peace is kept through keeping everyone in line. But as romanticized as some of us make these ‘kingdoms’ out to be (not going to lie, I quite enjoy a good historical fiction set in a castle), the reality is this kind of kingdom requires you to be born in the right family or seize control using military force. There are social hierarchies and those who have too much while others have too little. In other words, our ideas and examples of ‘kingdoms’ highlight our corrupted humanity.

And that doesn’t sound anything like Jesus. If ruling a kingdom requires one to have all that, why in the world would God become an incarnate nobody from the middle of nowhere with not an ounce of political power, and no money to spare? Why choose that kind of life to spread God’s message? The answer is because Jesus is doing something radically different here, something completely new. Something completely opposite of what human beings thought the Messiah should do or be. Through his baptism, not only did Jesus experience the transformation of his old life to his new life, but he transformed the world’s idea of God and God’s kingdom.

Part of that transformation of thought is that the kingdom of God is not just this distant place and time, but is also something God is actively working on here and now and is something that is ongoing. The kingdom is God’s sovereign activity as he rules over creation and brings his plans to realization; plans of right relationship. It’s all about relationship! Relationship with God, relationship with one another and creation, and relationship with self. God strongly desires relationship with her creation, including each one of us. Despite the amount of times humanity has screwed up in our history and continues to screw up today, God is constantly seeking relationship with us. Look at the flood story. It’s a story of God promising to forgo his divine right to destroy creation for all time. God has given us all of these good gifts, but we keep using them to do harm. Why wouldn’t he pack in all in and start over? But God would rather bind Godself to humanity and creation despite its corruption. That is compassion! That is right relationship.

God wants to see that right relationship played out between each other too, to live in community with one another, caring for our neighbors, having conversation, understanding and uplifting, and forgiving when mistakes are made. Just as Jesus was transformed through baptism, so too are we each transformed in our baptisms. Our reading in First Peter defines baptism “as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” We are transformed to turn our eyes to the values of God represented in Christ, to do what is good and what is right. Just prior this this reading, Peter gives us examples of doing right – sympathy, love, unity of spirit, a tender heart, a humble mind. And we are not to retaliate when wrong is done to us. These qualities all lead to living in right relationship with each other.

Let me say that list again, but this time in reference to how you do right to your own self: sympathy, love, unity of spirit, a tender heart, a humble mind. For myself, and I’m sure many of you, our relationship with ourselves tends to be one of our hardest to deal with. Since the kingdom of God is ongoing, there will be setbacks on our part, meaning there will be moments when we do things that harm our relationships with God, each other, or ourselves. When Jesus implores us to “repent and hear the good news”, he is asking us to do the work to restore those relationships. It involves admitting to the wrong done and doing what is necessary to repair. When we live fully in right relationship, not perfectly but the best we can, then we live in the kingdom of God.

And the good news is that God’s grace is interlaced in all of this, because despite our imperfections, God’s relationship with us is perfect! Believing in the good news is trusting that when we experience setbacks, we will still experience God’s unconditional and ever-present love and forgiveness. When we recognize this, we are able to trust and have confidence to repent and work towards right relationship. Through our prayers, we listen and discern what God is telling us is the way to right relationship.

Think back to the kingdom you imagined earlier. Has this image changed at all? Is it bigger now? Are there more people there or less? How’s God doing? Is she close by or distant? What emotions are you feeling? How are you interacting with those around you?

Today, Jesus is inviting us to join him in transformation from what it is we humans think is best to what God knows is best. With all of this in mind, perhaps we can reword what Jesus says: “The time is fulfilled, and God’s loving community is both here now and is to come; do the work of maintaining right relationship, and trust when God says you are unconditionally loved and forgiven.” This Lent, let us work to live into this calling.  Amen!

Leave a Reply