Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sermon; Lent 1B; Mark 1:9-15

It seems like we just heard this gospel passage.  Wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago that we heard the story of Jesus being baptized?  In reality, it was six weeks ago on the first Sunday after the Epiphany.  The difference between then and now is that now we get to hear about Jesus in the wilderness.

After his baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness.  In Matthew and Luke Jesus is led by the Spirit.  But in Mark, Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit.  This is a much more dynamic, some might say violent, view of how Jesus came to be in the wilderness.  That dynamism also plays a part in the temptations of Jesus.

The Spirit drives out Jesus, just as Jesus will later drive out demons and evil spirits from people possessed.  While in the wilderness he is confronted and tempted by Satan.  Question:  How many times was Jesus tempted?  Question:  What were those temptations?  The answer to both is, “It depends on which gospel you read.”

In Mark's gospel, the one we heard today, the answer to those questions is, “We don't know.”  One understanding of this passage is that Satan tempted Jesus for not only the entire forty days, but all the way up to his crucifixion.  That is significant.

In Eucharistic Prayer D, we recognize that Jesus “lived as one of us, yet without sin.”  This sentence confirms and upholds the orthodox doctrine that Jesus was fully human – he lived as one of us – and fully divine – yet without sin.  But I think that in the context of worship, especially in the context of Communion, we focus more on Christ’s divinity than we do on his humanity.  That's not bad, it just is; especially in worship.

So I want to focus on the humanity aspect for a bit.  An essential part of Church doctrine is Jesus' full humanity.  This, again, is reflected in that line from Eucharistic Prayer D, “He lived as one of us.”  It also shows up in Hebrews 4:15 when the author writes that Jesus was tempted, or tested, in every way as we are.  Or maybe I should say that the doctrine shows up in Hebrews and also in the BCP to avoid my Episcopal bias of elevating the BCP.  Either way, Jesus lived as a human and was tempted and tested as a human.

Abba Anthony once said, “This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.”  To expect temptation to our last breath.  In Mark, this would seem to be the case with Jesus.

Notice that Mark tells us Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.  Also notice that, unlike in Matthew and Luke who record Satan leaving Jesus after the three temptations, Mark never says that Satan departed from Jesus.  We can infer from this that Jesus experienced what Abba Anthony said we would experience – temptation to our last breath.

This gives new meaning to the Passion when we read that people were calling out to Jesus as he hung on the cross to come down and save himself.

We get that scene in all three synoptic gospels.  The difference in Mark's version, though, is that Jesus has been experiencing daily temptations, beginning in the wilderness up to his last breath on the cross.

Let that sink in: Jesus experienced daily temptations.  From the temptation to remain in one place and increase in popularity daily, to encouraging those healed to spread the news, to taking out his enemies, to coming down from the cross, Jesus was tempted in every way and every day until his last breath.  That is some hardcore spiritual battle.

But that battle isn't any different than the ones we face.  Every day we are tempted to make ourselves great at the expense of others.  Every day we are tempted to glorify ourselves.  Every day we are tempted to make excuses for our wrong and sinful actions.  Read through the Litany of Penitence on pages 267-268 in the BCP.  Every day we are overcome by at least one of those temptations.

And every day Jesus was confronted with those very same temptations.

The doctrine of fully human and fully divine has caused arguments and confusion for two thousand years.  But rather than trying to explain it or understand it, maybe we should just appreciate it and take comfort in it.

On Ash Wednesday I talked about Lenten disciplines and how every year it seems that I fail at keeping any number of promises and vows made, falling back into life as normal.  And when I fail, and when I beat myself up for being weak, there always comes a point when I hear these words:  I get it; I've been there; No, it's not easy, but all you can do is make an honest effort and try again; Make a right beginning.

Those words come because Jesus was fully human.  Those words come because he was tempted in every way as we are.  Those words come because, like us, he was tempted until his last breath.

This Lent, work to make a right beginning.
This Lent, know you are not alone.
This Lent, take comfort in the words of a Savior who can say, “I get it.”

Because even though we are tempted to our last breath, and even though Satan is with us every step of the way, so is Jesus.  And that is good news.



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