Change is Good News?

Inspired by Mark 1:9-15

Welcome to Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter which began on Ash Wednesday a few days ago, but it is also so much more than that. Early in Christian history, the ancients of our faith recognized the importance of our Easter celebration, so much so that they quickly instituted a time of preparation for it, 40 days to be exact. Why 40? Well for a few reasons. The number 40 is an important number in scripture, and so it conjures up many stories to help set the mood of Lent:

the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after escaping Egyptian slavery, reclaiming their identity along the way; Noah and his family were in the ark while it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, giving them lots of time for contemplation; Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights receiving the Ten Commandments which would change the course of history as they knew it; and from today’s Gospel story, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, emerging from the wilderness with a very particular message, which we will get to in a minute.

But I’m not done with the number 40 yet. So, I’ve given you just a few of the many uses of the number 40 found throughout scripture. But it still begs the question, why 40? Why was 40 such an important number for Biblical authors? Many reasons have been given over the years as why that number keeps popping up in scripture. One of the most compelling reasons that I have come across, is the connection to how many weeks we are in our mother’s womb. And I find that compelling for two reasons: one, because of the incredible changes that we go through while we are in our mother’s womb beginning from fertilized egg to chubby little baby, and two, at the end of that 40, the ending result is a new birth.

Now, what does that have to do with Lent? Well, earlier I mentioned how Lent is so much more than just the 40 days that lead up to Easter, because of all that happens during these 40 days, or all that is supposed to be happening during these 40 days in our hearts. The idea is that we don’t come out of Lent the same people, but rather we come out on the other side as renewed, refreshed, recommitted Easter people! And that should be a reflection of our entire lives right? Are we not called to come out of our baptismal waters a different people—a renewed, rebirthed, reformed people? And Lent gives us this reminder year in and year out.

So with all of that in mind, let us now return to our Gospel story that we heard today form Mark. Now, we began our year in the Gospel of Mark back at the beginning of December and we are still in the first chapter. We have skipped ahead a couple times but we are essentially still in the first chapter. Today we heard the story of Jesus baptism, which we did read back in January, but this time we went further to include Jesus’ temptation.

The first Sunday in Lent should be called Temptation Sunday because we always read this story on this day, whether it’s from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. And it’s fitting isn’t it, after everything we’ve gone over about what Lent is. So, Jesus is baptized and immediately is thrown into the wilderness, immediately is thrown into a 40 day womb, immediately is thrown into a time of gestation, coming out on the other side ready to tackle the world as Christ our savior!

And tackle the world he does! Jesus comes out of his 40 days and utters his first words in the Gospel of Mark, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news! Now if you wrote a book, about one of the most famous people in the world, the first quote from that person that you used in your book would be a significant one. Right? Same goes for Biblical authors. The firsts are always important: the first story, the first lesson, the first miracle, the first words of Jesus. So, these words that comes out of his 40 days are significant and some have said that they sum up his entire ministry in the Gospel of Mark. He begins with “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom!” and let me just pause and share how I hear those words as your pastor.

I truly believe with all my heart that now is the time, that God’s kingdom is coming here. I truly believe with all my heart that amazing things can happen here, that there is potential, beyond our wildest dreams, for the new life of the kingdom to come here! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have accepted the call to be your pastor, nor would I continue to challenge you to be more than you are. And my annual reports would be bland and filled with meaningless platitudes.

Now if that’s the kind of pastor you want, you best let me know now, before we waste any more of eachother’s time. Because let me tell you, there are plenty of pastors out there that can deliver that to you, there are plenty of pastors out there that would be happy to just collect their paycheck, and not rock the boat, and just keep things status quo—but that’s not me, that’s not who I am. Otherwise, now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! And how do we prepare for that? Well, let me step out of the way and allow Jesus to continue with his first directive, “Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” Let that sink in for a minute.

The one that we call Lord and savior, just used the word “change” and “good news” in the same sentence! How in the world do you explain that! And you think changing our carpet or paint or coffee is challenging? Jesus goes right for the jugular and says change your hearts! Change your very lives! And then has the audacity to call that good news! And just so we’re clear, the phrase “good news” is also translated “gospel.” For all of you looking for the gospel every Sunday, well there it is, in all it’s glory! The directive to change your hearts and lives is what Jesus calls the gospel. How can that be?

Fertilized Human Egg
Let’s return to that number 40. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to be walking around looking like that! Nor would I still want to be a baby, or a teenager! Dear Lord, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to high school! Yuk! But transformation and change isn’t supposed to stop when we become an adult. The transformations and changes that we go through throughout our lives, are necessary and also what make us who we are today. And change can be uncomfortable at best—painful, hurtful at worse.

For you see, good news doesn’t always sound like good news. Gospel doesn’t always feel like gospel. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t. If the gospel doesn’t sound like good news to you then that might just mean it’s striking a chord in you. And I’m begging you to not turn away from it, but listen even closer to it. Because our temptation is this, to believe that if something is uncomfortable, then is must be wrong. Our temptation is to believe that if something doesn’t sound nice, then it must be wrong.

Our temptation is to believe that if something doesn’t feel good, then it must be wrong—and that we should stay away from such things. And when we fall to those temptations, the enemy wins. Because we stay right where we are, no change, no movement, but feeling very safe and secure. However, when we open ourselves up to the good news of change, to the gospel of change, we come out on the other end of our 40, renewed, reinvigorated, reborn, transformed, changed, and ready to tackle the world with Christ our savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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