February 22, 2015 - Mark 1.9-15

“Don’t Fall Asleep While Sunbathing”

Mark 1:9-15

February 22, 2015

 

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

If you are going to be in the sun, and perhaps do some sunbathing, then there is one rule I can give you:  Don’t fall asleep while sunbathing.  You can get really nasty sunburn that way.  Also, if you have malicious friends around with sunscreen who find you asleep, you can end up with smiley faces, words or other drawings etched by the sun onto your face, back or other body parts.  Don’t fall asleep while sunbathing. 

In fact, the act of sunbathing is nothing short of courting danger.  It is playing chicken with sunburn, or even skin cancer.  If you are not careful, you will get burned.  A good tan is nothing more than getting close enough to a really dangerous event and getting out with your skin intact…more or less.

(Yes, I know it’s February and minus 10 degrees, but let’s think warm thoughts…)

 

Now, if you are asking yourself if you missed the sunburn reference in the text for today, don’t worry, you didn’t.  It’s not there.  What is there is a very interesting progression of events.  Jesus is baptized and the Spirit of God descends upon him.  Then, immediately, the Holy Spirit drives him into the desert, where he is tempted by Satan.  Stop there.

The thing about Mark is that Mark is very brief.  He uses a real economy of words.  Pay attention to these words in particular, so we don’t miss them.  Immediately.  Jesus is baptized and then immediately he is driven into the desert.  Drove. While his clothes are still dripping wet from his baptism, the Holy Spirit drove him into the desert to be tempted by Satan.  These are powerful words. 

It is a powerful thing for us to learn that even while our clothes are still dripping wet from our baptism that we are going to be confronted with evil and its unparalleled power to tempt us.   If Jesus can be driven to the wilderness to be tested immediately after his baptism, so can you.

Getting back to Mark’s vivid economy of words: Drove. While his clothes are still dripping wet from his baptism, the Holy Spirit drove him into the desert to be tempted by Satan.  These are powerful words.  It sounds almost like the Holy Spirit is some sort of cruel drill sergeant.  The Spirit didn’t lead him into the desert, nor did it invite Jesus into the desert.  It DROVE him. 

In C.S. Lewis’ The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Lion Aslan is an allegory of Jesus Christ.  The children in the story are dining with the Beaver family and ask about Aslan.  “Is he a tame lion?” they ask.  “Oh no, he is not tame.  But he is good.”  We sometime have this image of God in our head that God is tame, gentle, warm and fuzzy.  Perhaps that is the way we would like God to be, but that is not true.  God is passionate.  God can be ferocious – for all the right reasons.  He is not tame, but He is Good.

We think of the Holy Spirit as our Sustainer, our connection to God, and we get this idea in our head of the Holy Spirit descending as a dove, lighting on our shoulders, and cooing in our ear the sweet nothings of God.  Cooo-oooo.  But his text, with it’s “immediately” and “drove” makes the Holy Spirit sound less like a dove and more like a peregrine falcon, slamming into our shoulder with enough force to knock us off balance, sinking its talons into our shoulders and letting loose with a screech.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit will do that.  If Holy Spirit does, it’s a clear clue for you to obey.

Why would the Holy Spirit do that?  Jesus had just been baptized.  We baptize people and then we rejoice!  It’s time for a party.  It’s time to sit back, be glad that we’re saved, rejoice that Heaven is in our future, that Hell is a moot point, that we are now on the path to our salvation.  Sweet Jesus, our Lord.  Amen and Amen.

Jesus gets no such honeymoon.  It is time for his mettle to be tested.  He is thrown into the desert to see what he is made of.  Well, before our clothes are dry from our baptism, we are thrown into the real world, where our mettle will be tested, where we will succeed or fail as disciples of Christ.  Folks, the desert is not a metaphor for us, it is a reality and you’re sitting in it.  The desert is where Satan came to Jesus to distract him from his calling.  You are called to be Jesus’ disciple.  The desert will distract you and me the same way it tried to assault Jesus.

The first temptation we face in the desert is the idea that is a great place.  We should just kick back and enjoy the sunshine.  Perhaps get a suntan.  After all, we’ve been baptized, we’re Christians now, what have we to fear?  The greatest fear for any of us is that we will fall asleep while spiritually sunbathing when we are supposed to be following Christ. 

It’s called “self-deceit”.   When one deceives oneself, one thinks, “I am a person of God; I have made some great sacrifices to be here.  I do a lot of good for a lot of people.  Everyone knows that I am a Christian.  There fore the rules are really made for other lesser mortals and not for me.”

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, there was no one seemingly more invincible than Smaug, the mighty dragon.  But then that unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins, found one small weak spot in Smaug’s underbelly.  That information, in the hands of a skilled marksman, was all it took to seal the doom of the presumptuous dragon.  Unaware of his weakness and underestimating his opponents, Smaug failed to protect himself.  An arrow pierced his heart, and the dragon was felled.  What is your weak spot as a disciple of Christ?

Tuning to the Lord means to turn away from all the voices calling to us to walk some other path.  The call to Jesus’ disciples is the same to us today.  We are to deny ourselves and follow Christ.  Among the most overly quoted but worth quoting quotations is from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman:  “There are two tragedies in life.  One is not to get your heart’s desire.  The other is to get it.”[1]  Such can be the stuff of temptation.  The desert can take the form of just what we want.  I am sure that among the temptations Jesus faced was the desire to just be a normal man, with a wife and kids, a nice carpentry business, no real amazing expectations of him.  No higher purpose for him, just to attend synagogue and be a good man.  The temptation to “just be happy.”  I thank God that Jesus never succumbed to that temptation. 

 

At Los Alamos in 1945, the night before the first atomic bomb was to be detonated, the physicists had a problem.  Robert Oppenheimer and the other physicists who had worked on the bomb worried that, in nuclear fission, perhaps the atmosphere would be ignited by such an explosion, thereby destroying the world.  The physicists debated the problem late into the night.  In exasperation, the general in charge of Los Alamos, General Gross, said to the debating physicists, “Gentlemen, we will go ahead.  I take full responsibility for whatever happens.”[2]

Now I do not wish take ay issue at all with the creation of the A-bomb.  I want us to examine the good General’s statement, made in exasperation though it was.  If the physicists’ fears had been realized, then what would it have mattered who was responsible, or who was willing to beheld accountable?  It would not have mattered at all. 

Do we ever do the same sort of thing?  Do we ever proceed with our plans, our habits, our lives without stopping to weigh what it is we are really doing?  Do we really think we can be responsible for whatever evil we might do?  Sin has consequences, and many times, those consequences are a lot bigger than the false nobility of our confessions that we are the parties responsible.  We should approach exposure to the sun of the desert as if our skin does not have the ability to recover from sunburn.  Being a disciple of Christ means facing temptation and walking away from it without getting sunburned.

In his Screwtape Letters, a master devil named Screwtape advises a younger, inexperienced devil on how to win a convert to their diabolic realm. Screwtape urges his apprentice devil to encourage all sorts of sinning, particularly small sins because even small sins are useful to winning a convert to evil:

You will say that these are very small sins: and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

 

Sometimes our sin does not burn our skin, and we think we have gotten away clean, only to have skin cancer show up years later, consequences we never were aware of, but real none the less.  Don’t let yourself get comfortable in the desert.  Don’t fall asleep in the warm sunshine.  We have work to do for the kingdom of God.  It’s possible that we might only fall asleep briefly, but we can never really know the consequences when we fail to follow Jesus. 

 

But don’t feel like we have to fail.  One of the reasons the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert was so that we could know that there is a way out.  All of us are led into the desert.  If you feel that you are in the desert, that the wilderness has you in its grip, that wild beasts are ready to devour surround you, there is a way out.  Follow Jesus.  He knows the way.

 

 

[1] By Martin Marty in Christian Century, May 3, 1995

[2] Willimon, William, Pulpit Resource, p. 43-44.

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