WHO was with him?
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
1 Peter 3:13-22; Mark 1:9-15
It was a Sunday- a Sunday in February, to be exact, a Sunday following a very wet, heavy snow and I took the long way to church- the way that took me onto the interstate, and I drove past the county fairgrounds, and my jaw dropped.
It was 28 years ago- almost half of a lifetime- and it seems like yesterday. I drove by the fairgrounds, and I saw that the large Quonset hut, the so-called hut that was more like a coliseum, it was so big, had collapsed under the weight of the snow.
It was crushed.
How many synonyms can I share? DEMOLISHED is what it was.
Now, this was a very big deal to me, because I was an officer in the Maryland Sheep Breeders association, and we used that building every May, for a festival that was, and still is, one of the largest events of its kind anywhere in America.
We worked it out that year, we did without. But the fairgrounds management eventually had to build a different building, a stronger building using steel girders, one that would not crush.
But buildings aren’t the only things that crush. Human beings will crush, too, and so will our spirits. In fact, our spirits will crush sometimes before our bodies will.
Our spirits will crush beneath the weight of the things that we’re afraid of.
They’ll crush beside our anxieties.
They will crush form the things that tempt us to go the wrong way in life
They will crush, because we live in a world that tempts us in so many ways NOT to trust in the LORD,
NOT to believe that God is on our side,
NOT to believe that God has joy in store for us,
If we will only trust, if we will persevere, if we will be patient.
I have friend- one of my sister Eva’s BEXT friends- and I’m really only barely in touch, but I saw a prayer request that came from her.
Her brother has cancer, and all the pain and torment and suffering that he is going through, it’s HARD on her soul.
I can imagine- and yet, I can’t.
But here’s the thing- those temptations drive us every week to church. Yet year by year, they drive others AWAY from God.
So look at our passage this morning- the Spirit DROVE Jesus into a place where he would experience that sort of suffering, a place where God’s goodness was not immediately in evidence, a place where he would either have to trust in God- or in his own wits, a place where the trusting was HARD,
And the wild beasts were with him.
I wondered about those beasts. What were they?
Yes, and more.
I had nightmares, waiting to preach this sermon.
But I looked up those wild beasts. Only Mark mentions them, and it is just quickly enough to make us want to rush by them. But you can’t rush by wild beasts, not in the wilderness.
The one night I slept out on our mountain- the mountain above Carlanna Lake- I slept with one ear open. Just in case.
So there are two theories on those wild beast that were with him, out in the wilderness.
One is that Mark included them because when this Gospel was being written, the Christians in Rome were being taken to the coliseum, and thrown into the arena, with wild beasts.
Lions and panthers and boars.
They were with Jesus, too, wrote Mark.
And another scholar, he reminded me- those beast in the wilderness- they keep the human being who is lost out there ON THE RUN. You can’t sit down, you can’t so, and you can’t sleep, because those things that tempt you to NOT trust in God, they want you.
I can relate. And I think about the building that I saw, crushed flat beneath the snow.
The answer there was to build a stronger, more rigid building. That answer worked, for a building. But stronger and more rigid isn’t always the answer.
A remember and airplane that crashed, with hundreds of death, because of something called metal fatigue. Our hearts get fatigued, too, and lives get ruined. So the psychologist are talking about a different way of survival for human beings.
Resilience won’t keep you from being crushed. But it WILL help you get back up again.
Because life is determined to crush us,
But our faith is this: God is for us.
Jesus loved us
And died for us-
Crushed like that building-
And yet- Christ rose again, all for us.
So the secret to surviving-
The secret to thriving-
Is not to be stronger.
The secret is to try, and fail, and learn again that God is our strength.
The other Gospels tell details about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. They make it sound like Jesus endured because he was strong, and clever. And maybe he was.
But what we learn here is something different: The Spirit drove him there, and life takes us there, and the pressures of life are indeed wild beasts, and it took angels to minster to Jesus after they chased him.
But it takes Jesus to minster to us.
There’s a true-life story about resilience. It involves a woman who was jogging in New York, and evil men attacked her and beat her and raped her.
Every inch of her body was bruised, her brain was damaged, and they gave her the last rights of the Catholic Church. But she survived.
She did more than survive, though.
Her name is Meili, and she did more than prosper.
She still has double vision.
She has trouble following complex thoughts, or multiple story lines in TV shows.
But she’s happy.
In her own words,
Her life is rewarding.
Because she was crushed in the wilderness,
And got back up.
Now, part of that is because somewhere along the line she learned to set goals, and keep trying even when something interferes.
But there is a secret code written into that sentence: to say, “Keep trying when something interferes” acknowledges that, YES, things will interfere.
In fact, if a screenwriter doesn’t throw some chaos into the plot, well the movies is a fraud and a dud. Because we KNOW-
But it will crush us, if we give in.
But if we get back up, it changes us.
So here’s the thing: Jesus got back up, and the angels ministered to him.
And we get back up, because he’s there-
He’s there, holding out his hand and saying,
“Let me help.”
Now, there are three keys that helped Meili and people like her:
One, she doesn’t wallow in what happened.
She got up, and moved on.
And did you notice- that’s what Mark does.
He moves on. Okay, what’s next?
Jesus went out and preached.
Seriously, Mark is about what’s RIGHT NOW,
Not what happened yesterday.
And Mark is about what’s being BUILT,
Not what’s been crushed.
Except for this-
Mark said the wild beasts were there, but he was writing to remind those Christians in the Coliseum- Satan, the tempter, he has already been beaten.
Satan is old news, because Jesus is Good News.
So move on, look up, and take his hand.
The second key is this:
There is a phrase form our Confession of 1967- a phrase I memorized.
Repeat it after me:
Life is a gift
To be received with gratitude
And a task
To be pursued with courage.
The bravery that Meili learned is to look trouble square in the face.
If you were here Wednesday night, you heard Mary talk about art of the crucifixion. And there was one painting that fascinated me.
It was a painting that showed the arrest of Jesus in the garden, and Judas kissing Jesus.
And in the painting, Jesus was looking Judas straight in the eye, form a distance of inches.
That’s bravery. But it’s a bravery of faith, not guts.
A bravery that knows what’s coming.
A bravery that knows God has bene there before,
And that God is there with you now.
Finally, there is a willingness to accept help.
Who ministered to Jesus?
Who ministers to us?
People who have been there, people who ARE there, people who are the hands and feet and very face of Jesus, right now.
How many times have I heard alcoholics say they don’t want to go to meetings because THEY WANT TO DO IT ON THEIR OWN?
I’ve heard it a lot, and I’ve seem those people fail.
“Meili took pride in always being the strong one but quickly saw that she couldn’t make it without throngs of helpers. She held on to all the outstretched hands, feeling gratitude.”
Here’s what the psychologists say: “The best copers readily reach out for support when they need it.” (USA Today, June 28, 2005)
So here’s what Meili came to believe, while she was in the wilderness of recovery:
God’s grace was at work.
Grace IS at work.
The Kingdom of God is at hand-
Repent, and believe the good news.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.