The Rev. Sarah Buteux
February 18, 2018
Lent 1, Year B, Mark 1:9-15


How many of you here this morning grew up Protestant?
And how many of you grew up Catholic?
Of those of you who grew up Catholic, how many of you observed Lent?
And Protestants, how many of you grew up observing Lent?
That’s what I thought.

When I was growing up “Lent” was simply as one more reason to loathe the late winter if you were Catholic and give thanks for the fact you weren’t Catholic if you were Protestant.

Lent was all about doing without. It was a time to eat fish on Fridays rather than meat; a time to give up chocolate or caffeine or some other guilty pleasure because pleasure is sinful and sin led Jesus to the cross.

So basically going without a snickers was the least you could do to thank Jesus for dying for your sins. At least that’s how my Catholic friends broke it all down for me at the back of the bus.

But over the last 20 years or so there’s been a real revival of ancient Christian practices within the mainline churches, and Lent…Lent is a thing again. In fact, for many of us, Lent has become one of the most profound and precious seasons in the church year.

The music, the rituals, the devotionals, and of course the question of what we’re going to give up, or take on, or do differently over these next 40 days: it all seems to get people really excited and super focused on their spiritual life.

As a pastor I see a real uptick, not just in attendance but in spiritual engagement. And I love it. Not only that, I think the people who get really into it love it to -myself included. Lent is, by far, my favorite time of the church year… which makes me a little nervous because I don’t think we’re supposed to enjoy it quite this much.

Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying Lent; with learning new practices and slowing down and giving up and doing all the other things that make this season so meaningful and fulfilling.

There is a wisdom to it, after all. Six weeks of fasting makes the feast of Easter that much sweeter. Six weeks of discipline makes the release of Easter that much more redolent with grace.

What gives me pause, though, is the fact that for so many of us, that is as long and deep as it goes. I think it’s all too easy for Lent to become nothing more than six weeks of me focused on me.

Six weeks for faithful people like you and me to focus on our own spiritual self-improvement.
Six weeks of morning prayer.
Six weeks without caffeine or carbs.
Six weeks of not eating out or buying anything new.
Six weeks to double down on that New Year’s Resolution we left in the dust at the end of January.

Six weeks of good healthy change, yes! But real transformation…not so much.

This makes me nervous, because I don’t think Jesus is just about change.
I think Jesus is about Transformation.

After all, any change we make can just as easily be changed back. We can change our minds. We can change our curtains. We can change our hair. We can change our habits. And after 6 weeks or so, we can just as easily revert back to normal.

But transformation leaves us different than it found us and there is no going back. Transformation opens our eyes to things we can’t unsee. It reveals truths to us that we can’t unlearn. Transformation upends and reorients our whole way of understanding and approaching the world such that we couldn’t go back to doing things the way we used to even if we wanted to.

I don’t think Jesus is just about change.
I think Jesus is about Transformation.

To put it bluntly: I don’t think Jesus came to live and die and rise again so you could lower your blood pressure or KonMari your house or drop 10 pounds between now and Easter. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Jesus came to live and die and rise again to transform us that we might transform the world.

That’s the gospel he comes up out of Nazareth preaching: a terrifying, exhilarating, upending call to transform all the earth by replacing the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ message is a revolutionary one in every sense of the word, but we are so good at sanitizing it as Christians that we rob it of it’s full power and potential. Much like Lent, we are so good at making the gospel all about us and our personal salvation, that we fail to see what’s really going on here.

We fail to see how deeply subversive the good news of Jesus really is. But take a look at this passage again with me right now and let’s see if I can’t show you. Go on and grab your bulletins, turn back to the scripture…

You got it? Good. Then tell me: When Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism who is he named and claimed as? God’s beloved son. Which sounds really nice, right? Except for the fact that there is someone else in Rome who has already claimed that title. Any one? Caesar.

And right after declaring that Jesus, not Caesar, is the beloved son of God, Jesus is sent into the wilderness for 40 days; a clear echo of …. Moses who freed the Israelites from their bondage to the empire of Egypt and Elijah who went up against Ahab and Jezebel.
So there’s a definite “face-off” vibe being set here…a face-off with the powers that be.

While in the wilderness Jesus is tempted and tried by Satan to no avail, and then left with the wild beasts and the angels. The wolves lie down with this lamb of God as he prepares himself for what is to come, portending the advent not just of a new kind of king, but a whole new kind of kingdom… Isaiah’s peaceable one.

And just in case you’re still not getting just how deeply political and ridiculously dangerous this all is, Mark lets it slip that John has been arrested, and we all know that will not end well.

So understand that when Jesus says, “the time is fulfilled,” when he says, “the kingdom of God has drawn near,” he’s putting the kingdoms of this world on notice. He’s telling the Caesars of this world that their time is up.

Jesus comes to disrupt the empire and transform all the systems that marginalize, imprison, orphan, and oppress God’s children.
He comes to free us from all those things that enslave us: our love of money, our faith in violence, and our fear of the other: materialism, militarism, racism.
He comes, not just to save you from your sins, but to save us all from the systemic sins and fears that bind us and blind us to the good news that there is another way to live and love right now, right here, upon this earth.
Jesus comes to leave us different than he found us,
open our eyes to things we can’t unsee,
reveal truths to us that we can’t unlearn,
upend and reorient our whole way of understanding and approaching the world such that we couldn’t go back to doing things the way we used to even if we wanted to.

And if you’re glazing over at this moment, then let me put it this way:

Are you sick and tired of violence? Of putting your children on the bus in the morning with the hope and a prayer that they will return to you safely?
Of that nagging fear that nuclear war might be right around the corner? Are you? Then let me hear you?

Are you sick and tired of an economy that privileges a wealthy few at the cost of so, so many.

Are you sick and tired of seemingly intractable evils like mass incarceration, racism, sexism, climate change, and homophobia?

Are you sick and tired of seeing your muslim neighbors profiled, your undocumented neighbors deported, your sick neighbors denied health care?

…sick and tired of feeling like you’re caught up in a system that is broken, complicit with a society that is doing irreparable harm, slave to an economy that has lost all sense of value?

Are you?

Then hear the good news.

Jesus comes to tell us that we are not powerless in the face of systemic sins that feel intractable.
Jesus comes to offer us an alternative to the ways of empire.
Jesus comes to show us that we don’t have to live this way any longer.
Jesus comes….
In the words of the good people at SALTproject:

“the very one with whom God is ‘well pleased,”’ (comes to us. He) gets in line with the rest of us (to be baptized)…an expression of the mind-bending humility and solidarity of the Incarnation; God (comes and) stands in line with sinners.  (Jesus shows us) how “repentance” can be communal, not just personal.  That…while it’s right and good to repent of our individual failings, it’s also fitting to take responsibility for those things our community has done or left undone that need changing.  After all, in the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us,” not merely “forgive me.”

Jesus comes and gets in line with the rest of us and asks us to get in line with one another. To repent, think again, turn ourselves around and together start living toward a better world, a world transformed, the world as God would have it be.

Which brings us to one of the most beautiful paradoxes of this Christian faith: it’s not about us, but you have to begin somewhere.

Dear ones, Lent is not just about you, anymore than the gospel is, but the transformation both promise begins with you. So enjoy these 40 days all you want. Delve deep into a new practice. Mark a fast to feed your soul. But don’t let it end there.

Commit yourself to something bigger than yourself. Practice a little creative disruption. Be an agent of compassionate dissonance. Use these 6 weeks to work at being the best version of whoever God has created you to be, but do so with your eyes open to the bigger picture, with your heart open to the possibility that there is a better way, your imagination inflamed by Jesus’ divine conspiracy to transform the world.

He lived and died for nothing less. We can too. Amen.