The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s098g12   First Sunday in Lent   26/2/2012

'the time is fulfilled .. '  Mark 1.15

My ‘normal’ sermon is about 1500 words but there are only 130 words in the whole of this gospel reading!  In Mark these six verses we cover the baptism of Jesus, his time in the wilderness and the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel.    The words referring to the time in the wilderness are but 33 words!   How to make a sermon from such a minuscule portion of scripture?  

Things happen quickly in Mark, one thing immediately after another.   There is no time to dawdle, after the 40 days of isolation and inactivity in the wilderness.   Indeed for Mark, Jesus’ time in the wilderness was of little importance.   The important thing for Mark was that that was over and that the time was fulfilled.

The time is fulfilled, but from the outsider’s perspective, nothing much has changed.   The various faith groups each compete with one another, saying that if only people follow their way they will find salvation.   In Jesus’ day the various religious factions made similar claims.   What has changed?   Just what has been fulfilled?

The time in the wilderness parallels the 40 years the tribes of Israel were in the wilderness before they came into the promised land under the leadership of Joshua.   He was one of the twelve spies  sent by Moses to explore and report on the land of Canaan.    The name 'Jesus' is the English of the Greek transliteration of 'Yahoshua' via Aramaic.    So the time in the wilderness was not the paradigm of the kingdom, the paradigm of the kingdom was in the promised land, with others.  

So the paradigm of the kingdom for us is not in isolation but in community.   And this is both personal and corporate.   It is when we as christians live our daily lives and work amongst others.   And it is when the church corporate live their life in equal partnership with secular society.  

I well remember a time when I was a chaplain at the Bloomfield Psychiatric Hospital, now part of the Orange Health Service.   I often attended the morning meeting in the admissions ward.   The activities nurse would begin the meeting with some variation of an ‘ice-breaker’, a ‘getting to know one another’ exercise.   This particular morning she invited us all to describe the most significant occasion in our lives.   One after another talked about experiences they had when they were alone, myself included.   I related as my significant moment the time I was by myself on the island of Iona and hearing the sound of bagpipes being played over the hills.   But after the exercise and the meeting was over I thought, isn’t that interesting!   Why did I not consider the occasion of my first kiss, my first experience of sexual intimacy, my wedding night?

On the other hand, it is important that we are able to be alone, for then we can be really in relationship.   We cannot expect to use a relationship to avoid being comfortable with ourselves.   Jesus was able to be alone, he wrestled with his own demons, as I guess I have to wrestle with my own demons.   Indeed I suspect that my and our creativity comes not when we have overcome our demons but as we wrestle with them.   I am enjoying reading ‘Between the Monster and the Saint’ by Richard Holloway and he notes that ‘Tennesee Williams said he was afraid to exorcise his demons in case he lost his angels’.   (p129)    As Jacob wrestled with a man - perhaps it was God, or perhaps it was his own demon - his life, along with his name, is changed forever.  (Genesis 32.24-32)

I have to wrestle with my demons.   I guess my demons are not particularly special.   The demon that masquerades behind the saying: ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ morphed into ‘young clergy are to be seen and not heard’ and ‘parishioners are to be seen and not heard’.   Is this demon of human origin, of divine origin, or demonic?   The question is real!   And this begs the question: do we ever know when that with which we wrestle is human, divine or demonic?   When Abraham travelled to Moriah in obedience to what he believed to be the divine command to sacrifice his only son Isaac, through whom he had been promised his descendants would be as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore - was this command of human, divine or demonic origin?   (Genesis 22)   When something is from outside us, are we ever entirely sure of its origin: human, divine or demonic?  Even when it is backed by scriptural quotations it does not help.   We all remember that in the other accounts of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, the devil quoted scripture accurately.

Let me give my answer to these important questions.   They might not be yours, but I have been given the task of interpreting these 33 words - to myself as much as to others.   If something lifts people to their feet, to stand before the Almighty rather than grovel, and to think rather than just comply, and to work towards others standing and thinking, then this is of God.   If something keeps people in subjection, physically and spiritually, and tries to keep others in subjection, this is of something other than God.   It may be of human or of demonic origin, in the end perhaps the difference doesn’t matter much.

This is ever a communal outcome, never a personal one, for all forms of physical and spiritual subjection imply a disparity between people.   If our self-esteem is at the expense of anyone else then we are still wrestling rather than loving.

The time is fulfilled, the kingdom is inaugurated and exemplified by Jesus leaving the wilderness and his wrestling with demons and entering society, associating with all.   And we enter the kingdom, not as we retreat into this or that holy huddle but as we too are incarnated into society, personally and corporately as the church.   The most important thing we do in worship is to leave and re-enter the world.

Recently I have been reflecting that the practical outcome of handing on undiminished the 'faith once delivered to the saints' is to do unto others as has already been done unto you.   It is a sad fact of life that the perpetrators of sexual violence are those who have suffered abuse themselves.   And while we consider that 'parishioners are to be seen and not heard' will we not pass on to future generations of 'christians' this same mantra when we have grown out of being in the pew?  

No, the time is fulfilled, and the command is to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' which maxim is the only one that holds out any hope of something better for humanity.  

The time is fulfilled, we are to enter society at large and 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.   If it is only a subset of society, what do we condemn those outside to? and would any 'god' worth worshipping be content with others being so condemned?   Indeed the time is fulfilled when we, like Jesus, enter society, doing unto others.   This world is different.

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