Sunday February 18 2018

Preacher: Mark 1:9-15

The Rev’d Kate Jamie, Diocese of Durham UK

You can listen to the Sermon online here:

Shakespeare wrote in the prologue to Henry V  “On your imaginary forces work”, and it is through the lens of the imagination[1] that I invite us to explore Mark’s Gospel today. To explore and to contemplate the wilderness that Jesus is sent to.

I wonder what the word ‘wilderness’ means for us?

Personally, my own mind is very resistant to it.  It reminds me of more difficult times in my life, or, indeed it feels unimaginable.  There is a sense of the abyss, an unknown about it: a place of chaos and isolation. Yet Jesus meets temptation in the wilderness, in the other Gospel accounts with strength, purpose and imagination; and the way Jesus meets it with imagination, a new way of living is what is so important, as for me the wilderness is a place that is about a lack of imagination, but Jesus shows us a different way.

At Christmas we celebrate Emmanuel ‘God with us’, but as we follow Jesus into the wilderness this lent, we discover  a God who is not willing to merely say,  ‘I imagine the human experience can include times of uncertainty, chaos, isolation and loneliness’, but  Jesus lives that experience in order to enter into the full lived experience of our humanity. Jesus in the wilderness means that when I am afraid of the ‘wilderness moments’ in my life, or in the life of the world where things are so unimaginable or difficult to contemplate, I am reminded that there is no part of my lived experience, of my own life, that Jesus has not entered into.

The story of the wilderness is important for us to fully enter into this Lent. It is our foundational story. It is in the story of Exodus when Israel works out who it is and in whose strength, it stands.[2] But this realisation wasn’t easy.  During the hardest moments and when the people of God were tempted to turn back, it seems that what happened is they lost their imagination for the promised land and what was ahead of them.  Can that too relate to our experience of wilderness? A place where we lack imagination: a place where we cannot see a different way of living. Going back to Egypt would be to give in to the Status Quo, and certainly not life giving.  But stepping into the unknown – into the wilderness – when all we have known falls apart around us needs new imagination… it needs God’s imagination. It needs our trust in God.

Such trust in God is how Jesus enacts the same story of Israel in the wilderness, …[3]  but he meets temptation with trust in God, showing us the way to live. He knows that there will be struggle, there will be the cross, but there will be new life. God’s imagination is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the creative heart of God who breathes life into us. The very same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in us[4].  That gift is already given – she is in us… and at work

Just last week, when I was thinking about Jenny’s Sermon, I thought about the struggle we will face to rid the world of plastic, and how tempting it is to think, “Well I won’t bother doing that…what difference will my individual contribution make?” Temptation leads us from the imagination of God’s world…it will be the road less travelled, it will take new imagination for me to live differently… but we are given this new imagination through the Holy Spirit and we can decide together how we want to live…

It’s interesting how the Gospel passage begins with Jesus’ baptism. This is where the Holy Spirit descends upon him; this is where Jesus hears the words “You are my son with whom I am well pleased”. So, too, it becomes important for us to hear these words of God over us: “You are my daughter, my son with whom I am well pleased.” This is the strength in which we stand, and it is the Holy Spirit with us that leads us away from being unimaginative or wanting to go back, just like the Israelites who wanted to go back to Egypt, but instead to meet temptation with a new vision for the world we want to live in. Which is life in all its fullness for each and every one of us.

This time of lent is very important for us, as in order to reimagine our world, we also need, like Jesus, to be rooted in human experience. We may imagine what it is like to live without water, or not enough bread, but in Lent we are encouraged to fast to be in solidarity with those who do not have enough bread or access to clean water.  Perhaps, instead of giving something up, we become more aware of what we have – so somehow this season of Lent enables us to earth our experiences and be in community with our brothers and sisters. Just as God delights and is well pleased with each and every one of us, so too is he with every person.  Every person is made in the image of God and a temple for the creative power of God.

Our calling into Baptism is to be one body, one community. It is through being in community with one another that we can help one another to discern God’s vision for our world. It’s tempting to think that individually we can do nothing, but as a community we can do so much. And by journeying thought Lent, we can open ourselves to be more aware of the lives of others; perhaps to hear different stories and allow ourselves to enter into the wilderness of our own lives and of others.

I wonder if any of those great visionaries, Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King, ever felt tempted as they struggled with their dream… did they ever have a moment where the future they were working towards was just too difficult?  Was that was ever a temptation? I don’t know, but they certainly followed Jesus closely enough to allow for his imagination to keep them going. But, I do feel that temptation in my own life,  that in the wilderness I can lack imagination and that is when I most need to hear the words of God, telling me I am loved by God and Jesus is with me.

However, we may name the struggle of the wilderness….

Which can linger as the uncertainty of our future,

The seemingly never-ending wait for results or for an all important correspondence,

To think of those who have suffered a level of violence that is unspeakable

The desperation of a prayer in a quiet Cathedral

Sitting beside a hospital bed in the wilderness of machines

To contemplate a future for a generation of children where home has been destroyed by war

But when we do that, we come into the community of our Baptism, and it is through community that we can work together for a better and fairer world. In community we can help one another not to be tempted to live any less than in the full glory of God.

In our Lent journey we earth our imagination in order to be in solidarity with others – just as Jesus in the wilderness stands in solidarity with us and tells us to continue to trust in God and to see a different world. If, this Lent, we give up bread or we fast, we are living through the wilderness of our brothers and sisters who do not have enough bread, and this experience gives us empathy and new imagination to live differently; if we pray every time we sip fresh water, we are living in the wilderness of those who do not have access to fresh water.  We not only then have gratitude for what we have, but these bonds of empathy mean that we cannot rest until fresh water is something all can have. Such new imagination does not come without struggle, without wandering in the wilderness, a place where we can easily lack imagination; but God is with us and leads us through.  We are not tempted by a deathly desire to simply live in a world or community that we know needs changing, but instead we meet such temptation with strength and purpose, and the desire to change.   This is the good news. The good news is Jesus himself, ‘God with us’, can be found in the Wilderness, giving us the new imagination we need and showing us what it is to be fully human.

[1] [1] See ideas by Walter Brugguemann on Prophetic Imagination

[2] Indebted to Rev’d Dr Sam Wells about Israel in the Wilderness

[3] See N.T Wright ‘Mark for Everyone’, SPCK, London, 2001

[4] Romans 8:11