The Rev. Jay Lawlor
“The Urgency of God’s Reign”
1 Lent, Year B, February 18, 2018
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church – Indianapolis, IN
Mark’s gospel is about the urgency of getting to the work of God’s reign. It is why Mark presents us with much shorter narratives than the similar stories in Matthew or Luke. Today’s reading for the First Sunday in Lent is no different. Yet, for such a short narrative, this week’s passage from Mark’s Gospel includes three episodes: Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11), his temptation (Mark 1:12-13), and his inaugural preaching (Mark 1:14-15).
The three scenes are related and are instructive for us as Christian’s today. They individually and collectively speak to how the “kingdom (or reign) of God has come near” in Jesus. As one commentator wrote this week: “God’s kingdom — better, “kingship,” “reign,” “sovereignty” — is not a place but a power. It is God’s dynamic potency to put right all that is wrong in this world.” (C. Clifton Black, “Commentary on Mark 1:9-15” for Feb. 18, 2018, Working Preacher.org)
God’s reign is not a place but a power. God’s reign has come to put right all that is wrong in this world. Jesus announces God’s reign has “come near” – meaning it is with Jesus in the here and now. Jesus has come to lead his disciples to put right all that is wrong in this world.
Jesus was baptized as an inauguration of his public ministry and God’s revealing of Jesus’ nature and identity. As Mark writes of Jesus:
And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11 NRSV)
The word for “torn open” – schizo – used here for the heavens occurs again in Mark at Jesus’ crucifixion implying a connection between Jesus’ baptism and death. The water and the dove recall the creation story in Genesis 1. God’s announcement “you are my son” occurs here and two other times in Mark’s gospel: at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:7), and at the crucifixion (Mark 15:39). Jesus’ baptism was a revealing of who Jesus was, what he would accomplish for the world, and who Jesus is as the Christ for us today.
Jesus’ ministry would be about going to difficult places and confront those things that are wrong in this world. Before he even begins his public ministry, before he ever preaches his first sermon, Jesus is driven out into the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of desolation, loneliness, and danger. There he confronts the very nature of evil.
But Jesus is not alone. The power and presence of God are with him. Evil would not overcome Jesus and he will be set on his ministry to bring healing and wholeness; to proclaim God’s vision and purpose for the world.
After the wilderness Jesus learns John the Baptist was arrested and Jesus begins his public ministry. Mark writes: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15 NRSV)
Mark wants all to know Jesus is coming not to void the promises God made to Israel, but to fulfill them – to make them real for all God’s people. It is about a new way of living filled with God’s love, righteousness, and justice. It is a loving, liberating, life-giving movement. A movement rooted in reconciliation with God and neighbor. A movement – led by Jesus – of transforming power. A transforming power to put right all that is wrong in our world.
Good news – Gospel – would have been understood by those who first heard it as something to benefit the populace. The word repent meaning to turn around – 180 degrees. It is a turning back toward God. It is a turning around, and away, from all those things which keep us from the full relationship with God which God so desires for us. Repentance is liberation. It allows us to let go of all we are carrying around that weigh us down – repentance liberates us from burdens which prevent us from fully being embraced by the all encompassing love God has for each and every one of us.
The love of God has the power to transform our lives. The love of God has the power to transform the world. God sends Jesus to begin a movement which fulfills God’s promises to God’s people and leads us toward God’s loving and just reign.
Jesus would go wherever oppression and injustice reigned and announce those are not the way of God. Jesus would go wherever there was pain and suffering to bring comfort. Wherever there was tragedy, Jesus would show up.
Jesus announced that the Reign of God had come near. And it has never left. Jesus gathered disciples to carry the message that God’s reign is active to put right all that is wrong in our world. Followers of Jesus go with God wherever there is oppression and injustice to bring liberation and justice. Followers of Jesus go with God wherever there is suffering and pain to bring solace. Followers of Jesus go with God wherever there is violence and tragedy to bring love and peace.
Jesus came to announce the Reign of God. And the Reign of God is life with God at the center. Not Caesar, not Herod, not powerful interest groups who control politicians. Jesus comes to show what the Reign of God looks like: forgiveness, healing, justice, love, peace.
Lent is a time to reflect on and trust we are the beloved of God. We are loved by God and surrounded by God’s grace and mercy. Lent is a time to turn toward becoming the beloved community God visions for us; to fulfilling God’s purpose for the world. We are to love as Jesus loved.
Lent is a time for self-examination where we look at our life and the life of community and see those things we need to do differently. It is turning toward God and following in the direction where Jesus leads. Away from hate and toward love. Away from violence and toward peace.
What do we need to do differently in our own life, in our community, nation, world? How do we need to act differently in the face of another senseless act of gun violence which took seventeen innocent lives? We know the Way of Jesus is love, not hate. We know the way of Jesus is peace, not violence. We know the Way of Jesus is life, not death.
Jesus wants us to hear the good news that the Reign of God has come and Jesus is leading the way to put right all that is wrong in this world. How are we, as disciples of Jesus, going to follow?
Mark’s gospel is about the urgency of getting to the work of God’s reign. Jesus had no time to waste in taking action to heal, to bring liberation from oppression, to replace hate with love, and to replace violence with peace. In this moment, during this season of Lent, we need that same sense of urgency. Amen.