Saturday, February 21, 2015

God is not finished with us

Mark 1: 9-15
In the 1970s, little posters were everywhere. One of my favorite’s was a drawing of a yellow bird, with the saying, “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.”  I no longer have the poster, but I still remember its message.
As we begin the season of Lent, we pastors often work with a theme, to help us and our parishioners make the Lenten journey to the cross together.  This year, I thought I’d try this: God isn’t finished with us yet.
Today’s Gospel text is short, and the portion of it that deals with Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness is amazingly brief. It’s two verses long, and contains very little description, especially when compared with Matthew and Luke, which describe three specific temptations.
Mark simply says, after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. He was there for forty days and Satan tempted him. The wild beasts were there, and the angels waited on him.
Throughout Mark there are stories of Jesus confronting someone, beginning with this episode in the wilderness. Here Jesus does spiritual battle with the evil forces represented by Satan. These are forces that challenge us to deny God’s right to be first in our lives. These are the forces that tell us that God doesn’t care about us and our welfare. These are forces that tell us that we are not good enough for God to love.
I have long believed that what happened in the wilderness was Jesus’ struggle to turn his entire focus to God’s plan and purposes. Here he took the time to accept that he would often be tempted to be the new King David, the new Moses. He took the time to beat down those human impulses and prepare himself to be a new kind of messiah.
Here in the wilderness he must have spent a lot of time in prayer. What would he teach? Who would he choose as disciples? How would he deal with those who ridiculed him and tried to shut him up? He knew that the closer he got to the cross, he would need to depend more and more on God for the courage to do what he came to do.
When we think about it, it’s pretty amazing 40 days were enough. But then, Jesus often went to a private place to pray, when he could escape the disciples and the crowds.
While he was in the wilderness, Mark tells us that the wild beasts were there with Jesus. Apparently, none of them harmed him. Was this like a return to the Garden of Eden, where God and humans walked among the animals and no one was afraid?
Also with Jesus in the wilderness were the angels. Angels are God’s messengers, and they must have helped Jesus by reminding him that he was God’s beloved Son.
Although Jesus may have been lonely for human companionship, he was never really alone. I think he learned from this experience that God was not finished with him, and would send him whatever he needed to get through his assignment on earth.
When we are ill, or in despair, or frustrated, or feeling guilty, it is comforting to know this same encouragement. God is never through with us, just as my old poster once declared. “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.”  God isn’t finished with any of us yet.
… On Blue Bloods TV show recently Vinnie was a man who was a serious criminal, hiding in the Midwest in the witness protection program. The detectives needed him to come out of hiding to testify against an even worse bad guy. Vinnie refused, until his granddaughter appealed to his sense of decency. In the end, he agreed to testify. Vinnie thought he was finished, but there was one more thing he needed to do. In the pursuit of justice, God was not finished with him either. (Yes, it’s just a TV story, but it is true in the sense that God can even use bad people to bring about good.)
… I pray weekly and daily for peace in Jerusalem and wherever there is no peace. This week, a bit of good news began to make its way around the internet and around the world. In Norway a Muslim teenager grew tired of all the comments declaring that Muslims hate Jews. She sent out a message inviting her Muslim friends to join her at the synagogue in Oslo on Saturday. While the Jews worship inside, the Muslim youth will stand guard outside. They say, if anyone wants to get inside to hurt the Jews, they will first have to get through over 600 Muslims.
The group says they intend to “extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslim. We think that after the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, it is the perfect time for us Muslims to distance ourselves from the harassment of Jews that is happening.” … And they say … “We Muslims wish to show that we take deep exception to all forms of hatred of Jews and that we are there to support them. This is why we shall be forming a human ring around the synagogue.”
As people around the world pray for peace, some young people are actually becoming peacemakers. They are living out their faith, whether they are Jews, Muslims or Christians. At times we despair of ever finding peace, but God has a different answer. “I am not finished with you yet.”
… Oliver Sacks is a well-known physician, author, and professor of neurology. He wrote the book Awakenings, which was made into a movie starring Robin Williams. He has recently learned that he has terminal cancer. Most of us would be devastated to learn this news. Of course, this news is not great, but Sacks’ response is so positive, it amazes me.
He has written an essay that was published in the New York Times on Friday announcing his diagnosis and his approach to his impending death. He intends to live in the deepest and richest way possible in the time left to him. While he knows he has little time left, whether it is months or years, he knows that God is not finished with him.
… When have you felt like God was done with you, or with the world? When have you felt like you were at the end of your rope? When have you felt so guilty you were afraid God wanted nothing to do with you? When have you put God close to the bottom of your priority list? When have you forgotten that you are God’s beloved child?
Mark tells us that the angels waited on Jesus while he was in the wilderness. In the same way, Jesus waits on us while we are in distress. Jesus is never finished with us.

Please pray with me. Merciful God, we need you, even when we don’t realize we need you. Thank you for being there with us, for caring for us, for never being finished with us. Amen