Going through temptation, learning the hard task of repentance (turning toward God), this is how we come to find the Good News of God Jesus found.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday in Lent, year B
Text: Mark 1:9-15
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s a rough entry into ministry for Jesus.
Wet from the water of baptism, the heady words from the Creator, whom Jesus calls Father, still warming his heart, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”, now Jesus is pushed out by the third Person of the Trinity. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” Mark says.
No gathering disciples, not yet. No preaching to the crowds, not yet. No signs and wonders, not yet. The Spirit says to the Son, “Get out there, into the bleak Judean desert.” Forty days without food. Temptation by the Great Accuser. Wild beasts all around.
But Jesus comes out of it, goes up to Galilee and it begins. He preaches: “The time is fulfilled, the reign of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News.”
Whatever happened in the temptation, the hunger and heat in the wilderness, Jesus comes out of it saying, “I’ve got good news for you to believe.”
Except there’s a little word that comes before believing: Repent.
That’s Jesus’ signature line, what the Gospels say he began with, and said throughout Galilee. It’s what drew followers to him, including the twelve. Repent, and believe in the Good News.
Turn your mind around. Turn your heart around. Turn your life around. That’s what he means. You can’t keep walking on the path you’re walking if you want to find the good news, Jesus says. Finding good news, believing good news, starts with repentance.
We don’t talk much about repentance with each other. Maybe it sounds too negative. Maybe it’s church-talk that we don’t really know what it means for our life anymore. But it was a cornerstone for Jesus’ preaching, the beginning to everything. Jesus comes and says “you’re going the wrong way! Turn around! Then you can believe in good news.”
There’s tremendous good news from God that Jesus brings. But Jesus had to go through the temptation in the wilderness to find it.
Temptation’s another word we’ve put aside. We usually draw it out only for our obsession and shaming around food. When did you last think of temptation in any context other than eating another doughnut or cupcake? When did you last have a serious discussion with someone about your struggles with real temptation?
Temptation of the order Jesus faced is real for us, and is tied to repentance. Temptation is the pull we have to take a path other than the path of Christ in our journey of faith. When Jesus calls us to turn our minds, hearts, and lives around, he’s revealing the temptation we face to keep our minds, hearts, and lives going the way we like.
We’ll only find God’s Good News if we go into the wilderness ourselves, like Jesus, and face our temptation.
Temptation as Jesus faced, as we face, is the challenge between what is easy and what is hard, between what is truth and what is lie.
Mark doesn’t include Jesus’ specific temptations. But let’s consider as an example the first one in Matthew and Luke. Jesus is fasting, really hungry, and is tempted to turn stones into bread. But he says no. You don’t live by bread alone.
Think about that. A famished Jesus says there are worse things than being hungry. For him, it’s using his power, his privilege, to benefit himself. So when he’s arrested and facing the cross, he has already learned here there are also worse things than dying. He sets aside his power.
So many things tempt us toward the lie, toward the easy. All the problems that plague our society – racism, poverty, oppression, systemic violence, climate change, and on and on – all these things can be changed by people taking difficult paths turned toward God’s way. The temptation is always to take the path that’s easy, the path that takes away our pain, the path that everyone else says is logical. To avoid changes in our way of life, to believe the lie that we’re not really able to make a difference. And the good news can’t be found.
We face these challenges every day. How often do we take the path of repentance, the turning toward God?
In the wake of the Florida school shooting, everyone is saying the same things they always do. We’re shocked, saddened, angry. We rage about impotent leaders who do nothing. People post on social media, shout with their friends. Of course, the leaders are also saying and doing nothing different. But that’s not who Jesus is interested in. He wonders about us.
Because ranting and being saddened and talking to our friends is little different from politicians offering “thoughts and prayers.” All of our anger has done nothing. Something like 80% of Americans want significant gun control. How don’t we have it?
Well, are we doing anything other than ranting? Are we pressuring our elected officials? Organizing with others for effective campaigns? Joining existing ones and putting our money, our letters, our votes where our mouth is?
This is the way temptation works: we’re always offered the easy way out. Turn these stones into bread. Rant about the idiots in Washington. But Jesus’ real path was setting power aside and letting us kill him. Our real path is getting off our high horses and actually working to make something change. If 80% of Americans finally rose up and said, “No more,” no gun lobby, no paid-off politicians could stand in the face of that. And the good news could be found.
This is our Lenten learning as we see Jesus come out of the wilderness with good news.
We learn that repentance, turning to God, is facing all the temptation we have to stay the same, to take the easy way, to live as we’ve always lived. We could think of hundreds more examples than just this one.
But we also learn from Jesus that through the trials and testing of temptation we find God’s good news. God’s time is fulfilled, Jesus says. God has come to rule and reign in our hearts and in the world. When we struggle with our temptations, and resist with God’s help, God’s love breaks out in our lives and heals the world. Change happens, hope happens, grace happens. Jesus dies, but rises from the dead and destroys death forever. We lose, we sacrifice, but life and hope come out on the other side.
Jesus’ resistance in the desert only looks easy because we read about it after the fact. In reality, it was 40 days of suffering and pain and challenge that he needed to learn the truth. We shouldn’t expect an easier path ourselves.
We can learn this Lent to embrace being in the wilderness, struggling to be faithful, dealing with temptation. It’s only through these challenges that we’ll find the good news. Only through learning what it is to lose ourselves for the sake of others will we find the joy of loving, true connection with others. Only through learning the pain of sacrificial love will we find the heartwarming truth of real, vulnerable, gracious love with others.
“Repent, and believe the Good News.”
That’s our path: to struggle through whatever is before us in order to turn our minds, our hearts, our lives toward God’s path of life and love and hope.
But Christ put us on this path together. Let’s risk telling each other of our temptations and challenges and fears. There’s so much more wisdom among us than any one of us can have alone, so let’s share it with each other. There’s so much more encouragement among us than any one of us can have alone, so let’s lift each other up.
And because God’s Spirit is in each of us, we are the angels Mark says ministered to Jesus during his trials. We are the love of God for each other as we learn what it is to turn around. We are the blessing of God for each other as we each face our particular temptations and struggles. God lives in and through us, so none of us are ever alone.
The time is fulfilled, Jesus says. God’s reign is now. Let’s walk this desert together, and find the good news that God will bring.
In the name of Jesus. Amen