Sermon for B Lent 1 – February 18, 2018

Based on Mark 1:9-15
It is Lent. Ash Wednesday began early and ended painfully. Lent has been full of work and worry since. I recognized my own lack of sleep on Friday morning when I wetted my head in the shower but forgot to apply shampoo. Because of my inattention, I had a balding feeling the rest of the day. It wasn’t as bad as a couple of years ago, though, when I did wet my head and did add shampoo. But I grabbed the wrong bottle. It was the dog’s shampoo. The rest of that day I was scratching under my left arm with my right foot.

It is easy to overlook important details for healthy living when our lives are off-centered by extra demands. It is so dangerously easy to ignore things when assaulted by today’s 24/7 factual and alt news cycle. But that is no excuse for my mindlessness. It is surely no excuse for my faithlessness to God’s will for life with love.

After I imposed ashes this last Wednesday on infants and seniors and all in between, after Pastor Liebster and I took the same ashes to the street twice on Wednesday to tell Christians and non-Christians alike of our full dependence on God’s graces, I was heart-broken and viscerally angered by the news from Parkland, Florida. We’d seen it before. We’d come to expect cynically the “thoughts and prayers” with no action from our leaders.

But this time was different for me. Given my ordination vows, given that we baptized children of God all signed up to follow Jesus’ commands, given that so much has been claimed as Christian in recent decades that just isn’t so, I must speak and write when I would rather pretend that avoiding conflict is equal to peace-making. Maybe because it was the confluence of Ash Wednesday and the first sight of a young mother in agony, ashes on her forehead, not having imagined when she received them at her altar rail  that very same day she would lose her child. Rachel’s loss in Ramah echoed through the centuries into Parkland today. Pressed to tears by that picture, I could only think of how faithlessly I and the purportedly Christian part of our society so casually regard Christ’s two greatest commandments this beginning of Lent. We know them. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. And you are to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yes, it is illogical to command love. But that illogic applies to erotic love and maybe somewhat to friendship love. Attraction is more the driver than choice with those. But we Christians have been commanded to practice Christ’s divine love that Christ himself has given us. We have the goods. We’re commanded to use them. To love the Lord with all heart, and soul, and mind? What does that mean? It means that all of one’s compassion and all of one’s embodied personhood and all reason are to ally in love of God and every neighbor. That’s a tall order. We don’t see that much in public life; almost never in political life. Viscera and selfish position rule there. To give “thoughts and prayers” about a problem without being willing actively to resolve the problem is essentially hypocritical and disobedient. It doesn’t merge compassion and reason and bodies into action. To love God and neighbor fully as we are commanded means that we are to use all physical, intellectual, and spiritual resources God has given us to promote the good and to face down the evil. There is no separation between faith, prayer, action, personal behavior, and social policy. There is every clear God-intended connection between personal faith and public servanthood.

I’ve been prayerful lately about how many of us here are in risky situations of daily neighborly loving. In Parkland on Wednesday Coach Aaron Feis threw all of his heart and body and mind into evil’s way to save his students. Without second thought many others protected their charges too. It struck me anew how any of many of us here may have to love this way. It struck me anew how not one of us is exempt from love’s demand to use all we have been given to so serve before such crises arise. We are all now potential victims and heroes and sheroes; certainly our police; now more clearly our teachers and any of us who work in public spaces. The problem is not just the prevalence of guns or needless guns. The problem is not just mental illness. The problem includes both and more. And answers do not reduce to more guns with ironclad glock cleaning mat or less mental illness. The problem and answers require social and spiritual discernment. The problem and answers must be considered respectfully and reasonably. And the reach for understanding and resolution must be done collaboratively, not from private echo chambers, not with the insistence that one’s personal expertise negates all other perspectives, not in the “us or them” fashion of one lobby and its allies against all others. The problem needs us as Christian heroes and sheroes who will transform the space where no one will do anything. The problem begs for discerners of the Kingdom of God to commit our voices and bodies to the love of God that norms all reason and channels all compassion to action.

Consider how spare and urgently the gospel lesson from Mark describes the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ love of and from God is authorized at his baptism. Jesus’ obedient judgment is proven in the clarity of the wilderness, where the manipulations of the Evil One could not be hidden. And after the Baptizer’s execution, back in the thick of “civilization’s” daily buzz in which Evil hides, Jesus steps in and proclaims the Good News that the Kingdom of God is here! Turn from the ways of fear, he says. Do not weaken to the background anonymous powers that hide in the business of life and try to manipulate you with their lies, he says. Turn away from them, he says. Trust in God’s kingdom and God’s kindom instead, he says. In so doing, discover the joy filled and love-filled life that flows from the rule of God!

Look closely. Look now. Eternity has entered time, light into the darkness, the way of life right here into the middle of the world’s way of death. This is great news. Those who step with trust into this given kingdom bring back into the kingdom of this world urgent joy, not fear and not greed. We recognize the futility of mere worldly wisdom. With Eugene Peterson I cry, “Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit.” I add, ally me with the one who is both wise in the ways of the world and of God’s Spirit. In such examples are the two great commandments faithfully met.

I prize you all as faithful people moved by compassion, practiced with principled reason, and fueled with faith. Of course, we have our visceral moments. We’ve argued from heat more than light at times. We have forgotten what must be done while, as it were, thinking that we’re taking a shower. But we are here for no other reason, thank God, than that God’s Spirit has gathered us here and has given us what we need to be mutually forgiving and daily serving as agents of God’s grace from a church called Christ the King. His Kingdom is here, and beyond here! We trust Christ here because here we know deeply that Christ is solidly in front of us, in back of us, at each side, above, and under. This is good news on which we can and will act, and be like “rainbow signs” for the healing and joyful living of all neighbors.

Duane Larson         Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX                 February 18, 2018