Category: Lectionary Yr B

The Lenten Journey: Into the Wilderness

The Temptation of Christ (detail) 6

Our services have been cancelled tomorrow — Sunday, February 22, 2015 — because of snow and ice. But, this week’s lectionary readings are so full of wonderful opportunities for reflection as we begin the Lenten season, that I wanted to share some of my sermon notes with you.

The Texts

The Gospel text for the Year B, the first Sunday of Lent, is Mark 1:9-15. This is Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit’s “thrusting” him into the wilderness where he was for “forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

Mark’s version is the shortest of the synoptic Gospels. Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are longer and contain much more detail, including the three temptations from the devil.

The Markan text covers three significant steps in Jesus early ministry: his baptism (v. 9-11), his 40 days in the desert (v. 12-13), and his initial proclamation of the kingdom of God (v. 14-15). A preacher could take off in any one, or all three, directions and not go wrong.

However, because Lent is often imagined as a journey, the desert experience is very appropriate for this first Sunday in Lent. Mark’s dynamic description of the movement from baptism by the Jordan to the desert describes the Spirit as “thrusting” Jesus into the wilderness.

Journey as a Universal Metaphor

The wilderness experience is not just a good opportunity for Jesus, and for us, to step back and reflect on our spiritual journeys, it is an archetypal experience known across cultures.

In his groundbreaking book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the universal metaphor of the “hero” and his or her mythic journey.  The hero’s journey typically involves three phases — the departure, the initiation, and his victorious return. For this text, we’re concerned with only the first phase, the departure.

Campbell believes that the hero’s movement from the relative safety of the status quo into a wild and scary land sets the stage for the journey. In his rather awkward prose, Campbell writes:

The folk mythologies populate with deceitful and dangerous presences every desert place outside the normal traffic of the village. (pg. 64)

In other words, when you leave home on an adventure into the unknown, it can be pretty scary! And on this journey into the desert, these “deceitful and dangerous presences” are often demons, devils, or human-like creatures that beguile, entice, and tempt. Campbell describes that one of the human-like creatures from Central Africa is said to try to entice the hero to fight. When the hero has the advantage of the ogre, the ogre bargains by saying, “Do not kill me, I will show you lots of medicines,” which means a kind of shamanic power. Sounds very much like what the devil offers to Jesus!

Now, let me be clear: I am not saying that the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is a myth. However, because the hero’s journey is a metaphor known across time and cultures, there must be something to the idea of a spiritual journey or quest.

And that thought brings us back to Lent. Jesus’ experience in the wilderness was necessary for the beginning of his ministry. Likewise, we as his followers also must face head-on the reality of our own demons, and all those spiritual powers that would distract, deceive, and derail our journey.

For years I did not like Lent because I thought it was generally dreary and depressing. But without the experience of victoriously battling our demons and resisting the siren-song of temptation, we cannot take the next steps in our journey. Jesus settled his allegiance to God in the wilderness, and so must we. Anyone can serve God in the bright light of day, but obedience to God when surrounded by darkness is a learned obedience.

I also like the scene in at the end of verse 13 — “He was with the wild animals and the angels attended him.” Not only do we see Jesus resisting the devil, but after he has done so, Mark gives us a hint of paradise restored. For the first time since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a human being dwells with the animals in peace, and God’s messengers shuttle back and forth between heaven and earth attending to him.

During these next weeks leading up to Easter, we must remember that the Lenten journey from baptism to resurrection runs right through the desert.

5 Questions We All Ask About Healing

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I preached from Mark 1:29-39, last Sunday, and chose to address the issue of healing. The 5 questions that I think we all ask about healing are:

  1. Why does illness and suffering exist?
  2. Why did Jesus heal?
  3. Does God still heal today?
  4. Why isn’t everyone healed?
  5. What can we do in the face of illness and suffering?

Here’s the podcast of that sermon where I attempt to answer these 5 questions —

Podcast: Everything Is Made New

In 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that one day each of them will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. In other words, it does matter how we live our lives in this world. While faith in Christ secures our eternal destiny, just as it did Paul’s, how we live determines our reward when we enter the presence of God. But we do not have to live our lives in our own strength, for if we are “in Christ” we made new by the power of Christ. Our lives are lived for others, in ways that are pleasing to Christ now and in eternity. Here’s the link to my sermon titled, Everything Is Made New.

Podcast: Life in the Spirit

Trinity Sunday offers an opportunity to examine Paul’s idea of life in the Spirit. According to Romans 8:12-17, living in the Spirit means that we don’t live by the “flesh” — which is a word Paul uses to identify that which is dying and passing away, that lifestyle to which we were slaves prior to coming to Christ.

Life in the Spirit means we are God’s children, and as God’s children we form habits as we are led by the Spirit of God. Those habits will bring us into conflict with the world that lives by the “flesh” and we will suffer as Christ suffered because we are living by the Spirit. But, Paul reminds us that if we suffer with Christ, we will also be glorified with Christ, too. Here’s the link to Life in the Spirit. 

Podcast: Living in the Power of Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday is the last big Sunday in the liturgical year, but often churches that celebrate Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter fail to give equal emphasis to Pentecost. Pentecost is the culmination of the Christian Calendar, and has been called the “birthday of the church.” Without Pentecost, the Christian Year is incomplete because it is at Pentecost that Jesus fulfills his promise to send the Holy Spirit to empower, equip, enthuse, and embolden the apostles. It is also on Pentecost that the church launches it mission of taking the Gospel to the whole world.

Pentecost carries great significance for those early followers of Christ, and for us today. Here’s the sermon I preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 2012, titled Living in the Power of Pentecost.

Podcast: Living in Light of Easter

Now that Easter Sunday is behind us, what do we do next? How do we as followers of Jesus live in light of Easter’s message of hope and joy? In John 20:19-31 we read the story of Jesus’ first encounter with his disciples after his resurrection. This account is unique to John’s gospel and gives us insight into what Jesus intended for his disciples to do in light of his resurrection. The words of Jesus to his followers have implications for those of us who live in light of Easter, too. Here’s the link:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/02_Living_in_Light_of_Easter.mp3

Easter Podcast: The God We’ve Been Waiting For

On this Easter Sunday we hear the words of Isaiah 25:6-9, written over 600 years before the birth of Jesus. In Isaiah’s day, the nation of Judah believed that God has left them. Isaiah reminds them what will happen when the God they are waiting for returns. That promise is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, and in his death and resurrection.

Isaiah says that when God returns God will remove the shroud of death from over the nation, swallow up death itself, wipe every tear from their eyes, and throw a big banquet in celebration. All of these images foreshadow the coming of Christ, the kingdom of God, and the great banquet God is preparing. Here’s the link to the podcast —

http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/02_The_God_Weve_Been_Waiting_For.mp3

Easter Sermon: The God We’ve Been Waiting For

The God We’ve Been Waiting For

Isaiah 25:6-9 NRSV

25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

25:7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Waiting For Someone

Americans spend a lot of time waiting. So much so, that according to a Zogby poll

“Time spent waiting for in-home services and appointments cost American workers $37.7 billion in 2011.” And guess whom we wait the most for? You guessed it: the cable guy.

So, we’re not strangers to waiting. According to the same poll, the average American will spend 4.5 hours, at least 3 times a year, waiting for someone to come do something in their home. Which, again according to the poll, adds up to $37.7 billion dollars.

But, waiting half a day for the cable guy is nothing compared to what the nation of Israel had to do. They had to wait 600 years for someone – and then most of them didn’t recognize him when he showed up.

Of course, we have the advantage over our Hebrew friends who lived 2,400 years ago – we know who Jesus is, which is why we’ve gathered here today, on this Easter Sunday. But in Isaiah’s day, not only did they not know who Jesus was (because he hadn’t shown up yet), but they didn’t even think that God was present with them.

Waiting For God To Return

Isaiah the Old Testament prophet, carried out his ministry about 600 BC. Parts of Isaiah’s ministry overlap with the Babylonian captivity.

You remember that story – in 587 and 586 BC, the Babylonians overran the tiny nation of Judah. Judah was all that was left of King David’s unified kingdom that at one time had included the northern tribes of Israel, and the southern tribes living in Judah. David lived and reigned about 1000 BC, and his son Solomon followed him on the throne. After Solomon the united kingdom was divided by internal fighting and strife.

The separate kingdoms of Israel to the north, and Judah to the south were split apart, and governed by separate kings and governments. Jerusalem was located in Judah. That’s important, so hang on to that for just a minute.

In 722 BC, the northern kingdom was invaded by the Assyrians, and the northern tribes were dispersed throughout the Assyrian empire. That’s why they’re called the “lost tribes” of Israel. They literally were lost forever as a nation.

Less than 150 years later, the southern kingdom, Judah, was invaded as the Babylonians became the dominant military power in that part of the world. The Babylonians did what the Assyrians had done – they took most of the population captive, including the king and his court. They were all carted off to Babylon.

Oh, the most important thing that happened was that the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and along with the city, they destroyed the temple that Solomon had built.

So, the people of Judah, in exile in Babylon, were heart-broken. They interpreted their captivity, and the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem as punishment from God. And they were right.

The prophets, at least those faithful to God like Isaiah, had warned the nations of both Israel and Judah, that God was going to judge them, and punish them for their unfaithfulness to God.

What had they done to deserve God’s punishment? Well, for starters they worshipped other gods, which if you remember the 10 Commandments, was strictly forbidden. They also worshipped idols, and if you remember this story from a few Sundays ago, they even worshipped the bronze serpent that Moses had made in the desert to save them. The short version of it is – they were continually unfaithful to God.

But they looked like they were doing all the right stuff. “After all,” they said, “we have the Temple of God in the midst of the city of Jerusalem. God will never let anything happen to that Temple.”

Right here we have to stop for a minute and think about the Temple in Jerusalem. Now we know that God doesn’t live here at church, even though we might call the church “God’s house” sometimes when we want to convey why this building is different. But we don’t believe that God lives here and only here.

But in the Old Testament, that’s exactly what they believed. And, they had good reason to believe that. When the Temple was dedicated, the presence of God filled the Temple, and everyone there knew that God was pleased that Solomon had built it, and had built it according to God’s instruction.

The Temple, you see, was a permanent version of the Tabernacle. God had commissioned Moses to built a moveable tent – a very fancy tent, but moveable nonetheless – and to set it up in the middle of the camp as they nation of Israel moved toward the Promised Land.

We don’t have time to go into all the details of the Tabernacle, but all of the design, materials, furnishings, and function of the Tabernacle had theological significance. In other words, the Tabernacle was a giant theological object lesson for the nation.

And, most importantly, the people of God believed that heaven met earth there in the Tabernacle.

They would think the same thing about the Temple. And so when God allows the Babylonians, not only to invade Judah, but to enter into, defile, and ultimately destroy the Temple, they were stunned.

The devastating effect the destruction of the Temple had on God’s people cannot be overstated. Do you remember how excited everyone got back in the 1950s when Madeleine Murray O’Hair sued to exclude state-written prayers from schools? And do you remember how that rumor that she was going to get all religious programming on TV banned just wouldn’t seem to die?

Well, if you take the outrage that Christians in the United States felt about that decision, and multiply that about 1,000 times and you might start to get some idea of how horrible it was for the nation of Judah, God’s people, to lose the Temple, the city of Jerusalem, and their homeland all at once.

They felt that God had abandoned them, that God was gone, and they wanted desperately for God to return to the nation, to God’s people.

But, even after they returned from Babylon about 70 years later, things weren’t the same. Even after they rebuilt the Temple, it was a pale version of the one Solomon had built. Even after they were resettled in their land again, they still pleaded for God’s return. For you see, not long before the Temple had been destroyed, God’s Spirit had left the Temple, just as dramatically as it had come when Solomon dedicated it.

The Promise of God’s Return

So, when Isaiah writes this passage, he is prophesying that one day, not only will God return, but when God does return, it will be glorious. It will be like a king coming home, Isaiah said.

God will throw a big party, an elaborate banquet. At this banquet there will be all the food you can eat, rich food, and great wine, fitting for the occasion. The best wine there could be, the best wine saved for last.

Okay, let me stop right here and give you a little preview of what I’m talking about. For that we turn to John’s Gospel, and the wedding at Cana of Galilee. This is the first thing that Jesus does, according to John. You remember this story – Jesus, his mother, and probably some friends are at a wedding of another friend. During the wedding, Mary realizes that the hosts have run out of wine. This, of course, would have brought disgrace on their family in the community. So, she approaches Jesus and says, “They’ve run out of wine.”

Jesus acts as though this does not concern him, but his mother realizes that Jesus is going to solve the problem. She instructs the servants attending to the food and drink to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.

Jesus has them fill 6 jars, which hold about 25-30 gallons each, with water. Then, without any fanfare or hocus pocus, he tells them to draw some out, and give it to the steward, who is the person in charge of the wine.

The steward tastes the wine, and is astounded. He doesn’t know where it came from, but he brags to the host, “Most people serve the good wine first, and then bring out the cheap wine when everyone is drunk, but you have saved the best til last.”

Now, do you see it? What Isaiah said about God throwing a big party, and serving great wine comes true in the wedding at Cana. Now I think that the wedding at Cana is not the final big party that Isaiah talks about, but I do think the miracle of Jesus turning water into great wine is just a little miracle to say to us, “Just wait, here’s a little preview of what God is going to do for everyone one day.”

But back to Isaiah:  Not only is God going to throw a big party when God returns to the nation of Israel, God is going to do away with the pall of death that has overshadowed the nation for far too long.

And for that we have to think back to how God gets the nation of Israel out of Egypt about 1000 years before Isaiah. Remember that God calls Moses, then God sends Moses to demand that Pharaoh release the Hebrews? Cecil B. DeMille made a great movie called The Ten Commandments about the Exodus, and the journey to the Promised Land.

You remember that God sent plagues on the nation of Egypt, one after another to pressure Pharaoh to let God’s people go. There was the plague of boils, the plague of blood, the plague of gnats, flies, locusts, and the plague of darkness. But the final plague was the worst of all – the death angel would pass over Egypt and take the life of the first-born from each family. To protect themselves, the Hebrews were to take the blood of a lamb, smear it on their doorposts, and the angel of death would pass over them.

This night would be commemorated as the greatest story in the Hebrew faith – the story of the Passover.

But Isaiah has that story in mind when he says that when God returns, God will remove the shroud of death from the nation of Israel. Because the very people God had spared in the exodus from Egypt, had been punished by God. They were humiliated before the nations of the world because of their disobedience.

But when God comes back, Isaiah says, God will lift the death-shroud. Not only that, God will dry every tear from their eyes. There will be no more cause for mourning.

John picks that thought up in the New Testament book of Revelation, when he says,

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev. 21:1-4 NIV

So, when God comes back to God’s people, death will be swallowed up, the shroud of death lifted, every tear dried, and their reputation restored. In other words, when God comes back, everything will be as God intended. God’s will will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

The God We’ve Been Waiting For

You can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. Six hundred years after Isaiah said, “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and lifted up,” God comes to his people.

God comes to his people as one of them, as Jesus. And in Jesus everything that Isaiah promises to the nation of Judah 600 years before comes true.

Now for a while it looks like it might not come true. Jesus isn’t well-received, even in his hometown of Nazareth. The religious leaders who should have recognized him didn’t. The people whom he teaches, and feeds, and heals, also turn on him in the end.

By the time we come to the end of his short three-year ministry, it looks like Jesus is another failed messiah, another empty promise, another revolutionary who doesn’t live up to his billing.

And to top it off, the Romans crucify him. If there was ever any doubt that Jesus was a failure, his public humiliation and death at the hands of the most efficient and brutal Roman empire should erase that doubt.

The empire had done what it does best – it had enforced its rule by force. It had terrorized its subjects by the threat of death. It had made an example of Jesus by killing him publicly, viciously, and ignominiously.

But Isaiah wasn’t wrong. And Rome hadn’t counted on a god like the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A God who could raise the dead. A God who would swallow death itself, and spit out life in its place. A God who would burst the burial shroud that held Jesus, and by doing so, strip away the culture of death that hung over Judea and Jerusalem in the first century.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that Isaiah was right – God did return. And when God returned in the person of Jesus Christ, death was vanquished, once and for all.

In Oscar Wilde’s play, Salome, Herod Antipas hears about Jesus. He hears that Jesus is going around doing remarkable things – healing and feeding people. Herod Antipas is intrigued, and wants to meet Jesus, but then he hears the Jesus also raises the dead.

Oscar Wilde, certainly not a committed Christian, nevertheless understands the significance to King Herod of Jesus’ ability to raise the dead. He has Herod Antipas ask –

“He raises the dead?” and the servant replies, “Yes.”

Herod goes into a bluster, “I do not wish Him to do that. I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead.”

Herod knows that death is the last weapon he possesses. The Roman empire believes that death is their best threat to keep their subjects in line.

N. T. Wright puts it this way – “Now it is because Jesus has been raised from the dead that he was Messiah and Lord, the true King of the Jews, and the true Lord of this world.” (The Resurrection of Jesus, Kindle edition, location 392.)

This, then, is the God that Israel has been waiting for. This is the God we have all been waiting for.

Oh, we’ve allowed ourselves, just like the Jews did, to become distracted by other gods, gods that entertain us, gods we think will make us rich, gods that we pray will make us comfortable, gods that we make in our own image.

And just like those who came before us whether they lived in Jerusalem or in Chatham, we’ve seen all of those gods of our unfaithfulness and impatience fail us.

The god we’ve been waiting for is the God who saves us. The God who vanquishes death, not just once, but once and for all. The God who gives an only son to die, so we might live.

This is the God we’ve been waiting for, and his name is Jesus.

Easter Sermons From Past Years

As we approach Easter Sunday, here are the manuscripts of the sermons I have preached at Easter for the past five years. I hope you have a glorious Easter celebration this year!

Palm Sunday Podcast: Sharing in the Suffering of Jesus

In Mark 15:1-39 we read the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The descriptions of the suffering of Jesus remind us that we should not trivialize the sacrifice of Christ. The apostle Paul reminds Christians that we share in the suffering of Christ. This passage provides us the background for both understanding and living a life of sharing Christ’s suffering by sharing the suffering of others. Here’s the link — http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/02_Sharing_In_The_Suffering_of_Jesus.mp3