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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

The Kingdom Has Come Near

The Kingdom Has Come Near

Mark 1:9-15

I’m not sure why they ask us to come a couple hours early to the airport.  I know there are security issues, that long lines may happen during peak hours, but most often we arrive in plenty of time to sit and wait.  Waiting means, pacing back and forth from one end of the terminal to the other, maybe grabbing a bite to eat, checking out the other flights leaving and hearing but being able to tune out the endless rounds of announcements to not smoke, pages for people to meet their parties, not to leave our baggage unattended, and the latest flight ready to board and take off.  It’s a noisy place!  Lots of noise calls for our attention, but most of those often annoying announcements get tuned out after a period of time, until the flight we want is ready to board.  Then we are all ears waiting for our zone to board.

Many things we tune out in life.  We have an endless barrage of information coming into our lives through the medias of our times, tv, video, radio, tablets, computers, and i-phones.  We have learned how to tune much of it out, but every once in awhile something really catches our attention.  And we tune in with concentration, grabbing all the details we want.  It can be like that with our faith.  We get faith information, and when we are up on our faith, hungry for information about God, we tune in to written words, sermons, classes, tv shows, conversations that help us grow.  But we have times in our faith when we tune out some of the information and desire to know.  I don’t know how many times I have had to read the same paragraph over several times because my mind has been distracted by other input. 

The people of Jesus’ time may have become complacent in their faith in God.  They may have tuned God out because of the disturbing times they lived in.  Perhaps they needed a fresh voice to proclaim anew God’s faithfulness and their sinfulness and need to turn once again to the God who had shaped and formed them.  John the Baptist’s voice evoked a strong response from the people around him.  His message was one of turning around in repentance, turning in faith to the God who had been so much a part of their history in the past, and people listened.  His voice was the one that was different, the one to be paid attention to.  But his voice was limited.  It was the one who came after him whose voice would proclaim the coming of the kingdom of heaven.  It was Jesus who could demonstrate and proclaim the kingdom of God for the salvation of the people.  So we come to this time of Lent with our first lesson being the baptism and temptation of Jesus. God proclaims Jesus to be his beloved and then with his Spirit drives him out into the wilderness.  Why is this story so important at this time? 

This is the time we begin to look at ourselves and examine our own sinfulness and need for God to help us overcome our tendency to live in sin.  Jesus confronted human sinfulness in the testing in the wilderness.  We know the story of human sinfulness.  Adam and Eve were not able to overcome temptation in the Garden.  They are who we are, who we tend to be. 

The people who wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus failed the tests there as well.  Even though they saw the cloud on the mountain, and heard the thunder, they believed Moses had perished and asked Aaron to make them a golden calf idol they could worship.  Their testing in the wilderness, even with God’s presence, led to disobedience and distancing from God.  They looked for their own insurance policies against the many disasters around and ahead of them.

But when Jesus was in the wilderness, he did not fail the test!  He remained faithful to God and faithful to his calling.  Jesus not only was confronted by the human tendency to sin, but he overcame that tendency and remained without sin.  He did what no one else had been able to do.  He endured testing appropriate to his person, his powers, and his relation to God.  Because he was the son of God, because he had unique powers, he was tested with the best that Satan could offer.  Jesus not only overcame, but was then able to identify with the people of God who were and are tested in the wilderness.  And Jesus continued to be tempted in his ministry, in the struggles against demons (healing the demonic possessed man), against forces of nature (calming the storm), against opposing clergy (the scribes and Pharisees who wanted to get rid of him), against his closest friends (Judas’ betrayal) and his ultimate test when the time of the cross neared (in the garden the night before he was killed and on the cross). 

But through his testing the Spirit sustained him.  The angels were with him in the desert.  He found alone times to reconnect with God.  He showed that with his faith Satan’s power was limited.  Jesus showed us what it means to live in faith.  And what does that mean for us?

As people of faith we are children of God, so we can be expected to be driven out into the wilderness and tested at times.  We know that oh so well.  Yet as children of God we are not driven out alone.  God sustains us in our wilderness time.  How many times have we been down at low points and then we hear the announcement from God, like our flight getting ready to board, that we tune into, that calls us into a different pattern of thinking and responding to our wilderness experience.  As we attend to God’s announcements, renewed hope dawns within us, and we are set back on the right path.  Temptation to give in to despair or to find other ways than God’s way to deal with our wilderness does not grab a hold of us.  We are less tempted to give into non-productive ways of handling our difficulties.  And through the whole process our faith is strengthened and we see God a little differently. 

The success of Jesus in his time of testing makes him the one person who can proclaim with certainty that the kingdom of God had drawn near.  And when we walk successfully with him through our times of testing, we too can know that the kingdom of God is actually at work within us.  Where Jesus Christ is, there the rule, power, and Kingdom of God is actively at work.

And so we come to this time of Lent with Jesus’ words ringing in our ears, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”  In order for the kingdom of God to be seen it must be believed.  Jesus’ words call us into believing that what he tells us about the kingdom of God being present is true.  Jesus calls us into believing that he is the Son of God and that he has the key to being part of the kingdom of God.  Jesus calls us into believing that through him we can overcome our sinful nature, we can overcome temptations that call us into disobedience.  Jesus calls us into repentance, turning our lives around and following God.  But we can’t make ourselves believe!  Believing comes from the work of the Spirit.  We cannot “know” the truth without God giving us the truth through His work.

So this Lenten season we will walk with Jesus through his experiences and reflect on our sinful nature so that we will have a greater understanding of what the Easter experience is truly all about.  There was a reason Jesus offered himself up for us, there was a reason he was willing to suffer and die for us.  There is a reason he calls us to repent and believe.  There is a reason we don’t just follow Jesus, we believe Jesus! 

John Wesley was not satisfied with how his faith was going early on.  He followed the rules of his church.  He believed the doctrines of his church.  He practiced prayer and reading scripture and doing good and other spiritual means of developing faith.  He considered himself a pious, devout man.  But it was not enough.  Deep within he knew something was missing.  A sense of restlessness overcame him.  But one day he felt his heart strangely warmed and when that happened he began to know his Lord and savior as a real, living entity, deeply embedded in his whole being, not just his intellect.  It was then he believed Jesus’ words on a vital level, a deeper level.  It was then he began to practice his deeper faith in ways that began to change him and the world around him. 

And Jesus calls us to follow in the same way.  To come to “know” and believe Jesus through the Spirit within us and to tune into the announcements that help us board that way of living.  It is my hope that we will come to the Easter celebration in deeper faith, a knowing faith, that leads us to overcome temptations, reject the sinful life, and love the Lord our God with all our hearts.    

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