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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

What Does KOG Mean Anyway - 02/18/2018

For weeks now verse 15 from our gospel reading today has been finding its way into every sermon on Mark. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:15)

[As I have said before,] this verse is the foundation on which the rest of Mark's story builds. Our reading for today gives us the opportunity to open that verse up a little more – particularly, to think and hear God speaking to us about what it means that the Kingdom of God has come near.

We say that, but do we say it enough or really listen to what that means? Do we speak this God truth of ours into our daily lives regularly so that we may come to understand more and more the monumental nature of this Good News? Do we live it and breathe it and trust it in ways that show it to others so they too may be drawn into this Good News?

The story of the temptation of Jesus is our traditional remembering for the 1st Sabbath of Lent. Mark's version of this story is quite bare compared to Matthew and Luke. There are no details on how Satan – a word that can also be understood as “the adversary” or “the enemy of God and God's people” –  actually tempts Jesus.

I think this is a brilliant tactic on the part of the gospel writer because it leaves it all open to the imaginations of the hearers – to all the ways we can imagine Jesus being tempted. And from there maybe we can begin to understand the significance of how the one we call Emmanuel – God with us – felt temptation in the wilderness in similar ways to how we feel temptation.

For instance, we may imagine into this scene the temptation to believe all the world has to say about how we should look, what we should eat and wear, or who is getting between us and the stuff we want, even though God tells us we are more precious than the sweet little birds and flowers of the meadow already, and that God's abundant and steadfast love pours over us in ways more lush and beautiful than Solomon's finest robe.

Perhaps Jesus experienced in the flesh what it was like to resist the persistent temptation that can come with addiction; the temptation of self harm in the face of loneliness or confusion or pain; or the temptation of furthering your career, gaining status in your community, increasing your bank account, or getting your way on the backs on those who suffer somehow in the process.

Maybe you think of Jesus out there in the wilderness fighting off the temptation to continue letting adversarial foes divide us in this tangled lie that we cannot have both responsible gun ownership and sensible firearm laws – even in the face of what has happened again in Parkland, FL.

Or what if Jesus was out there in the wilderness fighting off  temptation to believe something that is being implied a lot in these last few days … that we have to somehow choose between more research, treatment and integration of brain health and getting militarized weapons – created solely for killing many people quickly – out of the hands of violent people.

By leaving the experience of the temptation wide open to interpretation, we have the opportunity to color it in with our own experiences and perspectives, our own temptations, our own sinful tendencies to place power or riches, opinions or politics, and our own selfish needs above the commands we live by as Christian people … “ 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.'” (Mk 12:29-31)

Through this little gem of a temptation story, we have the opportunity to imagine Jesus going – in his human body – to do battle with our adversary and God's, knowing the temptations we all face. In the Kingdom of God come near, we no longer stand in the wilderness alone. The outcome of our battle with temptation isn't one we face alone.

The brevity of Mark's temptation narrative creates another noticeable difference between it and its counterparts in Matthew and Luke. Those two versions stand alone quite well and have plenty of material in and of themselves to write lots of sermons and speak into many, many situations.

Mark's, on the other hand, is crafted to be sandwiched between two other brief but creation-changing events. This is no accident. It is meant to show us something else about what it means that the Kingdom of God has come near.

It's a little like a montage in a movie – a series of scenes-of-preparation the main character/s go through. The scenes are often accompanied by great soundtrack music. The characters are focused, drama and anticipation build and then someone says something that represents freedom and the hard work ahead and the movie heads full steam toward its climactic point.

That's kind of like what happens here. Jesus is plunged into the waters of his baptism – the ritual that serves many of us as the entry point into our own human faith identities. As Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens tear open, a dove descends and he hears God speak to him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The scene is reminiscent of the prayer for forgiveness and mercy breathed to life by the prophet Isaiah. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence...” (Isa 64.1)

And then Jesus is immediately thrown into the wilderness for this battle with Satan. He resists temptation and survives this truly inhospitable, deadly part of the planet.

And then John is abruptly arrested, only Jesus is not going to let John's ministry and message be shut down so easily and he proclaims the Good News to launch his ministry.

It's Good News that rings out like a battle cry in the ears of the agents Satan works through … demons and unclean spirits, tyrants, those who snatch up the word of God where ever it is sown, even his own disciple who, in his human understanding of the ways of God, attempts to stand between God and God's will for Jesus' work here on Earth. After he told the disciples how he would suffer, be rejected and killed and after three days rise again, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke (Jesus). 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 8:32b-33)

Through these rapid scenes we come to understand that God is serious, decisive and relentless in that divine choice to make this our reality. It's that persistent covenantal God who began to establish this sacred relationship with us in Noah and continued to work that convental love through Abraham and Sarah, Moses, the prophets and now Jesus Christ, the long-promised Redeemer of the world – and all of this despite our inability to perfectly hold up our end of the covenant.

The Kingdom of God has come near.

Our response? Repent, and believe in the Good News.

And there is one other very powerful element of the way this story is presented in Mark. I'll warn you up front that my English major, journalism, writer nerd is about to come out, because this last point has to do with verb tense.

Throughout the story, we read it as an account of something that happened long ago, in the past – very separate in chronological time, culture, geography, etc. But what isn't so apparent when the Greek is translated into English is that the tense changes to what we call perfect tense when Jesus proclaims that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near. And when we get perfect tense in our scriptures, it often means we have entered into God time.

So while we understand these events in the life of Jesus to have taken place before, we should understand what Jesus is saying here about the Kingdom of God differently. Yes this happened in the past, but it is also happening now, and it will happen in all time to come. It's perfect.

And this perfect God-time is also why we can remain confident that the Kingdom of God is realty right now, as we begin that Lenten walk with Jesus to his passion, death and resurrection.

It's our reality now as we struggle and battle in our own wilderness and temptation.

It's our reality now as more and more of us rise up and demand we put aside politics and division to prevent the slaughter of our children.

It's our reality now as we come together at this table of the Lord, where we are all equal, all beloved, all forgiven.

“The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and believe in the good news” – its' our reality right now and in every moment to come. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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