Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jesus In The Desert & In Ministry (revised) -- A Homily from Mark 1:12-15 for Lent # 1.
1st Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 2.22.15
MARK 1:12-15
Year B 
revised fron a homily
first posted on 2.26.12

Today is the first Sunday of our Lenten journey. Today the church calendar confronts us with questions of discipleship-devotion and community-koinonia

Lenten questions are actually quite basic, really, but if asked correctly they hit us hard and right where we live: 

discipleship devotion -- 
  • Is our discipleship devoted and serious? 
  • Is our prayer life meaningful and ongoing? 
  • Is our character conforming to the image of the Christ? 

community koinonia -- 
  • Is our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ true & pure? 
  • Are we diligently praying daily and in earnest for our forever family? 

Said differently, the Lenten moment calls us back from the brink of hypocrisy. Lent reclaims our wayward hearts from a souring indifference. The Lenten season, therefore, must be seen as a gift, an opportunity, for a heart-felt repentance -- a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior. 

Today's Lectionary Gospel reading opens to us several important Lenten themes: 


After his baptism, Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, and he is led by that same Spirit into the desert, into the place of danger, the place of wild animals and dark spirits. 

Actually, the text is somewhat stronger: "The Spirit drove Jesus." 

The Expositors Greek New Testament is quick to tell us that this does not mean that Jesus was reluctant to be led by the Spirit, only that the Spirit offered Jesus an "intense preoccupation of the mind." [vol.i, pg.343) 

This would lead one to believe that the Spirit's leadership somehow, perhaps, spoke to Jesus through his thought life. This would seem to me how Jesus is led, at least. 

We can assume that this time of desert aloneness and testing toward which the Spirit is leading Jesus is a necessary precursor to his ministry, and will not be a once-and-for-all event. In fact, Jesus often practices this pattern of secreting away from the crowds in a deserted place to find time alone with his Abba, so that the Father might continue to speak and lead through the Spirit. 

Jesus’ practice is important and we must, I think, make this a pattern for ourselves as well. Part of the Lenten emphasis of following Jesus into the wilderness is so that we might divorce ourselves from the hubbub and hubris of a life without thought, a life that is busy, busy, busy, so that we might take time, real time, significant time, to spend alone with the LORD, listening, meditating and being led. For, we must remember that we too are being led by the Spirit, if we are the children of GOD: 
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God." (Romans 8:14)
It seem clear to me that to be led by the Spirit, of necessity, is to listen for the Spirit and in his movement in our mind, as he voices his callings and breaths his leanings. And we actually find this emphasis in Holy Scriptures, especially in St.Paul who is forever interested in where we place our minds: 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) 
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus," (Philippians 2:3-5a) 
But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16b)
"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)
Also, there’s the Philippian letter’s famous and controversial verses: 
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Taken together, I take these texts as important markers telling us that GOD, the Holy Spirit, is at work in the Christ-follower through the mind, helping to us work through and work out the calling to have the same mindset as that of the Christ. I know by experience that this is no easy task and that the opposite is surely possible. A wrong (evil) mindset is what we hear from Jesus as he calls out Peter: 
"But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." (Mark 8:33)


We should take note that Jesus is not only led into the desert for forty days, but he is also tempted there by the satan. (N.T. Wright) However, St. Mark is so brief and cryptic with his description that we have to wonder just what we are supposed to take from his account. 

Jesus, far from being completely alone in the wilderness is confronted both by the satan and by wild animals. I am trying to get my head around St. Mark's account, but without calling on the other synoptics, there just isn't much here with which to work. 

Still, just to know this small bit, just to know that Jesus, the truly human one, the Messiah of Israel and redeemer of his people and the world, faced the temper's snare offers such comfort to me. 

You see, I know about temptation, don't you? I know about its traps and lies. I know about its subtle, winsome promises, promises that are illusions, promises that only only serve to crush with its hidden teeth and claws. Jesus withstands what must have been just a horrid overwhelming onslaught. Even the other synoptic do not do the events justice. I simply cannot imagine. We do know from the other accounts that Jesus is primarily tempted to fulfill his mission, but in the wrong way, in the way the people expected, but not the way of his Heavenly Father’s design. But the temptation went to no avail; Jesus will have none of the enemy’s lies. 

The writer to the letter to the Hebrews is actually very helpful here: 
“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb. 2:18) [and part of his suffering was his ongoing temptation to react with fallen humanness] “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)
These texts show us that Jesus, in part because of what he experienced in the desert-time of temptation, is now clearly able to help us -- to come to our aid in our times of testing -- being able to understand and sympathize with us in temptation's grief. 

But the Hebrew letter also offer us a stiff warning concerning temptation:
Christ, however, was faithful over God's house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, "They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.' As in my anger I swore, "They will not enter my rest.' " Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Heb 3:6-12)
This, of course, describes that desperate day of provocation when this particular Hebrew generation hardened its heart. They too were in the wilderness and when offered the prospect of following through on their promises to follow Jehovah in mission as light to the world, unlike Jesus, they refused and they missed the promised land; they missed their moment. 

This should caution us. I sometimes think we presume on GOD’s grace. That is, while it is true that GOD suffers-long with us, and is not bullied by our sinful confusions, it is also true that in our freedom we are responsible for our own choices, even our sinful choices, which may mean we miss our moment whenever it comes just as these Old Testament Hebrews did, who are to be both pitied and remembered as a lesson. 


Finally, we see that after this desert time, this time of temptation and victory, Jesus is again led forth by the Spirit out of the desert and into his Messianic calling. 

One wonders what Jesus “worked though” out there in the desert. I think it is a mistake (not to mention heresy) to think of Jesus as some sort of docetic zen master, floating out there in the desert above it all. What I believe is that Jesus, in his gnawing hunger and in his solitude broken by temptation, is locked in a desperate struggle and actually needs the fellowship of the angels and the Holy Spirit. ("the angels ministered to him")  In fact, Jesus is in such solidarity with the Spirit that while in the desert each temptation, each hunger pang he is daily, hourly, preparing him for the task of euang√©lion

I have no doubt that some are led by the Spirit to spend their lives in the solitude of the metaphorical desert (and for some even a literal one), standing strong on their knees in solidarity with the church in the world. These ones are lights for the church as they make intercession for the world. But for most of us, like Jesus, even after a season of quietness, we are called back into the brokenness and fallenness of the this world at war with itself. 

What I appreciate of the pattern of Jesus' ministry is this movement in and out of solitude. His calling did not allow him to stay alone -- there was too much to do, but neither did is calling allow him to neglect his aloneness with his Abba. Both movements were important for his ministry. 

This description of movement will be important if we are to make a good Lent. You see, Lent will soon leave us in the rush of Resurrection Sunday. Soon, very soon, we will be on to other things. The challenge now is to allow this Lenten season to shape not only our preparation for Easter, but for the rest of ordinary time right up until Advent. 

That is, let us allow the movement of questioning and reflection, this time of contrition and repentance, to move us beyond a falseness of heart that presumes upon GOD’s grace, and leaves to chance the calling in which way to follow the Christ. Instead, let us move into a time of solitude and struggle so that on the other side we are again ready, prepared, to follow the Christ and share in his mission.