The Kingdom of God has come near! Repent!
Every lent starts with this question for me, what am I going to give up. Colleagues ask me, friends ask me, you ask me, and every year I start with the best of intentions, and always end up losing the battle. I pray and hope that when I give up something- it will bring me closer to God. What it ends up doing instead is making me incredibly unhappy, grumpy, and almost always fail. So here we gather, another year and another lent, hoping- wishing- leaning into the possibility that this is the year lent is unlocked for us. That this is the year where our wilderness is explained. That this is the year where we are given the answers, and instead we are given Mark.
The Kingdom of God has come near! Repent!
Mark is brief, too brief at times. Being our oldest gospel, it was written for a community which understood context and location within the stories without needing it unpacked. Mark is affectionately known as the legal gospel, not because of any laws but because of its focus on just the facts please. Jesus did this, was this, heard this, spoke this, lived there. There is no nice romantic soft lighting or robust back story. Our ears would hear and understand the details as part of our own stories, since we lived in the same region and drank the same water as Jesus did. Indeed, as our oral history was beginning to be written down through Mark, we would instantly remember the smells and sights of what this Kingdom experience was like that Mark is talking about. While the same story exists in Matthew and Luke, we do a disservice to try and fill in the gaps of Marks story. It is our human nature to want more details always, yet Mark is intentional about his silence between the actions of this morning's story. Jesus was baptized. Jesus was recognized by the father. Jesus was sent out into the wilderness. The kingdom of God has come near! Repent!
Lent feels like this hard and painful wilderness sandwiched between Christmas and Easter. We remove all the beauty of our space, shroud our icons and crosses, use wafers rather than real bread, sing less, in order to focus our attention solely on the passion of Christ at the cross. There are still sects of catholic believers who parade around their cities flogging themselves, and in one Philippine city- actually nail themselves to crosses, in order to feel closer to Christ in his wilderness present at the passion. You see, we are hardwired to experience. We want to know how it is we are to experience things. Mystery is annoying because it doesn't give us the language to explain how we feel, or see, to touch the things we believe. Yet mystery remains the thing on which our faith is grounded. Our whole life, a life of discipleship, is grounded in “the silent gazing upon God,” as Rowan Williams puts it, which necessitates reaching out into our wilderness and searching for God’s face in our midst. Lent, my friends, is not about pain- but about life. Lent is not about being miserable, but about re-turning our minds to God.
To repent means, from the Greek, to turn our minds God-ward. To turn towards God. To lift up our heads to see God. For many, repentance carries the weight of judgment, fear, pain and exclusion due to impossible standards set by others on our behaviour. Yet Mark this morning is talking about re-focusing our hearts and minds into the simplicity of God's world view to seek out his presence already among us- rather than through punishment. In this re-turning to god we seek a world where we are enough for who we are, that there is enough for everyone, all people are gifts and images of God, and where loving our neighbors as ourselves is no longer an ideal but a way of life. In our wilderness, an existence I suggest is lived when we turn away from God’s way in our lives- choosing our own desires and abilities over God’s, it is easier to think that God does not join us in the wilderness, that his silence means we need to listen harder, give up more, pray with my intensity. Yet mark this morning, in Marks frank presentation of the facts suggests its the opposite. For us this morning, it is about sitting in the silence of our wilderness, in the silence of our choices and listening for the lurking grace of God calling us to re-turn to him through our lifelong focus on Christ’s passion in our everyday lives. Lent is not a season friends, its a joyful way of life! The practice of this re-turning is grounded in the life-giving attributes of faith, community, and prayer, rather than the self denial and piety which only last six weeks. God, in lent, calls us to live into a life altering reality, to prepare ourselves not only for the Easter in six weeks, but the Easter encounter we make as we draw our last breath. Lent is a season to ponder the incredible mercy god shows us every single moment of our lives, to see his presence in everything we are and do, and to move into his vision of the kingdom by using the gifts he has given us to change the world in which we live.
I want to suggest three ways we can continue this work already begun among us this lent:
- Join a Lenten group. Come, listen and encounter Jesus on our journey as we deepen our spiritual tool boxes with the Anglican rosary and the society of St, John the evangelist. There is more information on both of those in your bulletin. Come and re-turn through prayer this lent.
- Get involved in the parish over the next two weeks as we look into our finances and elect leaders for our ministries. Stay today to hear more about our money from Heather, and next week for our elections. Come and re-turn through community this lent.
- Commit yourselves financially to the work of this parish. Whatever your income, consider making a commitment of your money to the work this parish continues to do because of the ministry you bring to it. This is not about keeping the vicar employed or the lights on in this place, it is about sharing the resources God has given us to the work of the Gospel in the world. Come and re-turn by seeing God’s place in your finances this lent.
The kingdom of God has come near in this place, through the daily re-turning you and I encounter here at this altar, in these pews, in the very stones of this parish. Lent gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on where God is calling us to lift up our heads and re-turn to Him who made us, cares for us, and desires to be so close to us that he became human among us. God is here, God is speaking, God is moving within us this lent to unveil before our eyes the kingdom fully present in Christ through his passion.
God is calling you to the silence of your wilderness, for the kingdom of God has come near! How will you re-turn and repent this Lent?