Sermon Where the Wild Things Are
Good morning. I bet some of you are thinking, “didn’t we just hear this story?” And the answer is yes, sort of.
A few weeks ago, we heard verses 4-11. That is, we heard John the Baptist announcing the coming of Jesus, then we have the scene of Jesus’ baptism, which concludes with God telling Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This morning, the story begins with Jesus’ baptism, then we hear the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, including his temptation by Satan. This story also appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but their versions are much longer. In either version, Jesus has a dialogue with Satan. It’s a familiar story.
First Satan tells Jesus to turn some stones into loaves of bread. Then Jesus quotes some scripture and Satan backs off.
Next, Satan offers Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the Earth. Again, Jesus quotes some scripture and Satan backs off.
Finally, Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and dares Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle. One last time, Jesus quotes some scripture, and one last time, Satan backs off.
But we don’t get any of that in Mark’s version of the story; Mark’s version is maddeningly short. It’s so much more fun and entertaining when Jesus has all the snappy answers! It’s so satisfying when we see Satan testing Jesus, and Jesus winning the day. I think it’s safe to say that Jesus passes the test in Mark’s version of the story, too.
By leaving all those details out of the story, Mark focuses our attention on what Jesus does in verses 14 and 15:
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus proclaims the good news of God. That’s it! That’s Jesus’ response to his baptism, his time in the wilderness, and his test by Satan.
While this isn’t as dramatic as the versions in Matthew and Luke, maybe it doesn’t need to be. Maybe we need to be reminded of the constant call for repentance. This is no small thing.
The Greek word that we translate as repent is metanoia. We say that it means to turn around or turn away, and it does. But it has a deeper meaning than that. Repentance is first a radical changing or shifting of the mind or the heart. Metanoia is the inward change that precedes the outward change in behavior. It is a profound change. Even Jesus undergoes profound changes.
We believe that Jesus was the only human without sin. So, in that regard, he has no reason to repent. In our reading today, we see that moment of profound change. Mark doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ life before this moment. We can assume that the human Jesus was a faithful Jew. We can assume that he loved his family, kept all the commandments, and so forth. But Jesus’ public ministry did not begin until he had been baptized.
Then, the Holy Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.
In the Bible, the wilderness is a dangerous, scary place. It’s a place where wild animals live: lions, jackals, and venomous snakes. Lions and jackals hunt at night. Jesus has to sleep there. The wilderness is also the sort of place where you might meet Satan; where you might be tested. And it was the Holy Spirit that drove Jesus out into that dangerous, scary place.
Jesus is able to do this because the Holy Spirit is with him.
Jesus is able to do this because he knows who he is; he has heard the voice of God, telling him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.” As an added bonus, Jesus is attended by angels when he goes out into the wilderness. Yes, he went out among the wild things, but he was safe all along.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been preaching about the need to change—I don’t think we can just go back to the way things used to be. To do this, to move into a new reality, a new way of being the church, we need metanoia. I’m not talking about repenting from individual sins. What we need to do is reimagine how we might share the good news that Jesus proclaims.
This sort of repentance is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing, present reality. And it requires all of us to step out of our comfort zones and into the wilderness. That’s why we hear this story every year; that’s why it’s part of our journey during Lent.
Here’s the interesting thing about metanoia, while it is a radical change of the heart and mind, it doesn’t have to begin with a blinding flash of light. It doesn’t require God to rip open the heavens and tell you it’s time to change. Sometimes metanoia begins when we simply open ourselves up to new opportunities.
We heard a really interesting story in Koinonia this week, a story about a woman who opened herself up to change. The woman’s name is Ally Davidson and she had a dream to be on the TV show American Gladiator. Perhaps you’ve seen the show. If you haven’t, let’s just say it’s a physical-fitness game show in which contestants compete in weird and challenging obstacle courses. The contestants are seriously fit.
So, Ally signed up for a tryout.
There was only one problem: The tryout was on her wedding day!
Ally went ahead with the tryout! In fact, she qualified.
Ally went on to become the grand champion for that season. After a lot of prayer and reflection, Ally decided to use the prize money to start a fitness organization called Camp Gladiator. She wanted to help adults get fit. It was a ministry of sorts, and also a business.
As the business grew, Ally and her husband, Jeff, leased a building, but they were having difficulty paying their rent.
Out of the blue, a person approached them about using the Camp Gladiator building on Sunday mornings. That person was part of a new worshiping community and the group needed space for their church services. Camp Gladiator wasn’t open on Sunday mornings—Jeff and Ally wanted that time to be free so that they could go to church. So, the space at Camp Gladiator was available for this new congregation. And as an added bonus, the new congregation paid rent to Jeff and Ally—enough rent to keep Camp Gladiator afloat.
In the years since, Camp Gladiator has turned into a multi-million-dollar business. It began with a small, crazy idea. That idea was nurtured through prayer, reflection, and probably a lot of conversation, too. And then, one day, an opportunity came knocking.
The truth is, the Holy Spirit is always nudging us into action. It is always presenting opportunities for change, repentance, and renewal. Sometimes a big, huge change starts with a small change. And often, we don’t realize how big of a change we’ve made until we’re in it up to our knees. Sometimes we don’t know how far out into the wilderness we’ve journeyed.
Our reading from the Gospel of Mark is a reminder that we are baptized into this message of repentance and renewal. It’s a reminder that the Holy Spirit will go with us as we step out into the wilderness. We are part of Jesus’ baptism, too!
As you consider where or how you might participate in this process of change and renewal, pray for wisdom and discernment. Look and listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with your friends and family, especially your church family. They may help you discern this call more clearly.
Then get out there and proclaim the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Proclaim this in all things; use words, if necessary. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you go forth into the world, go boldly into the wilderness! Listen for the call of the Holy Spirit, the call to renew your heart and mind. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!