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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

What Does KOG Mean Anyway (REMIX) - 02/21/2021

I don’t know if you’ e notice, but for weeks now verse 15 from our gospel reading today has been finding its way into our sermons on Mark. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:15)

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” – there are no details on how this “Satan” 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, who we should love, who or what we should trust or distrust.

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. Or how about the temptation of placing dollars or politics or just plain weariness over the well being and protection of all God’s people in this pandemic?

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 oue 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. The Mark and Luke 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 “sandwiching” is no accident, as we heard a couple of weeks ago. 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 or characters go through. The scenes are often accompanied by great soundtrack music with a driving beat. The characters are focused, they look strong and determined. Drama and anticipation build and then someone says something that represents freedom and the hard work and possible sacrifice 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 Christian 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 one of the most inhospitable and deadly places on the planet.

From there we quickly move to John the Baptist being 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.

On both sides of Jesus proclamation of this good news are efforts to shut the message down. But it’s not going to work. Jesus has already said it. “The time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and believe in the good news!”

It's Good News that rings out like a battle cry in the ears of Satan and Satan’s agents … demons and unclean spirits, tyrants, those who snatch up the word of God where ever it is sown, even his own disciple Peter will have to be rebuked by Jesus. “Get behind me, Satan,” (Mk 8.33) Jesus will tell Peter as they journey to Jerusalem and the cross.   

Through these rapid scenes we come to understand that God is serious, decisive and relentless in that divine choice to make the Kingdom of God come near our reality. It's that persistent covenantal God who began to establish this sacred relationship with Noah, and then Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, and 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 Mark’s 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 our 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 get out from under this pandemic.

It's our reality now as we come together around the sacred Word, 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” – it’s 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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