Sermon transcript for February 22, 2015
Now Is the Time
Mark 1:9-15--First Sunday in Lent
Belmont UMC—February 22, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching
Here we are on the first Sunday of Lent and most of us have had quite a week dealing with ice, snow and cold. Some of us have had some time on our hands to ponder what the Lenten journey means to us. Some of us missed coming on Ash Wednesday for worship and we found guides to use at home and ways to honor that special day that reminds us of our humanity, our frailty and our deep need for God. Some of us are just glad to be able to get out of the house and be here in the fellowship of friends in faith.
This first Sunday of Lent begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism and then being forced into the wilderness by the Spirit. There he is tempted by Satan, he was among wild animals and the angels came to minister to him. As usual, Mark does not give us a lot of details. But Jesus comes out of this 40 day experience to say, “Now is the time! Here comes the kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust the good news.”
“Now is the time!” The announcement is about the coming of the kingdom of God. The announcement is often translated, “The time is fulfilled,” and I recall a seminary professor saying that the word “fulfill” comes from a word that means “to fill up” as in “to fill up with meaning.” What does it mean for us to fill the time of Lent with meaning? How will be mark the time of Lent so it is meaningful?
The wilderness becomes a metaphor for Lent, our 40 days to journey in faith toward Easter. And how shall we choose to experience this time in the wilderness of Lent?
We might think of all spiritual practices as ways of emptying our lives to make space for God. Shane Claiborne wrote in his blog that he heard a priest say something like this, “During Lent we choose to be a stick in the mud or a flute. A stick in the mud is full of itself, but a flute empties itself so it can make beautiful music.”
As I prepared for Lent I began to think about Lent in this way: it is a time of emptying, a time of laying aside, and a time of ceasing. It is also a time of filling, a time of picking up new things, and a time of embracing newness.
We make space for God in our lives as we engage the spiritual practices of our faith. We might decide to fast one meal a week and the time that we would have spent eating could be used for study, prayer, and meditation. I recall hearing Reverend Pat Barrett saying Lent is a time of becoming vacant for God.
Some of you will decide to give up or lay aside something for Lent. I’ve heard some folks who are giving up colas, chocolates, breads, desserts and even Facebook. Some have said they will give up ice and snow for Lent. It is about laying aside something that is special or something that takes up a big space in our lives but it also about making a space for God to be welcomed in.
Now is the time to change our hearts! Fitness experts tell us that we need to do something new and different to jar our bodies into a new response. I like to walk and run but my body needs something new to awaken it physically so I get on the bike, do some yoga or do strength training. Our spiritual lives need some new, soul jarring practices that awaken us to be fully available and open to what God has for us.
A few years ago I read Marva Dawn’s book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, because I thought Sabbath keeping would be a soul jarring practice for a person like me, who was raised with a strong work ethic. She reminds us that the word Sabbath literally means “ceasing.” In her words, Sabbath is to cease from work, “but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all.” (p. 3)
Marva Dawn reminds us that Sabbath is not merely ceasing work, but it is embracing. Practicing Sabbath allows us to embrace intentionality, time, values, our calling, peace, wholeness, and the world itself. Taking time away from our compelling schedules allows us to be attentive to the momentary experiences of grace that we might miss otherwise. Ceasing during Lent will make space in our lives for God and in that practice we are enabled to see what God is doing all around us. We might try a little Sabbath keeping to change our hearts.
In the scripture the wilderness is usually an untamed place of struggle. We picture Jacob, at Peniel, wrestling with God and wrestling with the truth about his self. We picture Elijah, who after defeating the prophets of Baal, runs for his life. Ahab and Jezebel have a contract out on his life. He almost gives up but an angel comes to him and feeds him and he journeys for 40 days and 40 nights until he reaches Mt. Horeb, and there he encounters God in the silence. We picture Jesus, in the wilderness among the wild animals, encountering Satan--those voices that entice us to take the easy road and the road to power and self aggrandizement.
Now is the time for the kingdom to come. The kingdom is for everyone. We find ourselves and our church at a crucial time in its history and its life. It is an important time and one in which I believe the Spirit is moving among us. For us at Belmont I encourage us to use the season of Lent as a time for deep prayer and discernment—a time to truly make space in our hearts for God.
One of the gifts Bishop Rueben Job gave the church before his recent death was his contribution to a book, written for the church, Finding Our Way, Love and Law in the United Methodist Church. He sent me several versions of this chapter to me to read as he prayed his way through the writing. The book focuses on the United Methodist Church’s struggle to find unity around the issue of sexual orientation and same-gender relationships.
Rueben’s chapter, “Trust God,” invites the church to find its way through honest prayer--prayer that doesn’t try to tell God what to do, but truly listens. Rueben believed that God wants to do a new thing in the church but we must make space in our hearts for that to happen. As we have found our way over the years to make changes, like ordaining women and overcoming our racism, so may we find our way again. This well loved and respected Bishop believed that Belmont had the potential for leading the way for the rest of the church, and so do I.
This is what he wrote about his beloved church community, Belmont UMC. “This congregation is in many ways like others in the denomination we love and serve. There are similar tensions and questions, but in most cases there is always an honest, robust, gentle, and protracted time of prayer, study, and reflection before any issue is considered ready for decision. Our congregation is extreme in its diversity and equally extreme in its love and welcome for all who gather for worship, study, prayer, reflection, food and community and then are sent out into the world to give themselves for others.” (p. 102)
Rueben used this writing to invite the church to a time of ceasing, but also to a time of honest and humble prayer. He modeled this way for us and during this season of Lent I hear him inviting us to live into it, as well.
Now is the time for good news! In the wilderness of Lent we do come to terms with some of the truth about ourselves. We see ourselves as God sees us and sometimes this is painful and troubling, because we discover the things of our lives that we need to lay aside in order to continue the journey with God. But there is good news because the most important aspect of our identity is that we are children of God, always loved and always forgiven.
And we do not make this journey alone, but with the God who loves us and meets us everyday and gives us strength. And in the wilderness of this Lenten season we will meet God. Now is the time!
Music Ministry Mission Statement
The music ministry of Belmont United Methodist Church strives to glorify God through music in all gatherings and presentations.
The music programs at Belmont offer opportunity for:
- Spiritual Growth
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
All choirs are voluntary, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, regardless of experience. All participants strive for excellence, dignity, reverence and integrity in all musical endeavors.
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Upcoming music events
February 15 - Nashville Children’s Choir concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary
March 1 - Reginald Smith Jr and Deron Johnson in concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary
April 13 - Lipscomb University choir/orchestra concert, 7:30 p.m. in the sanctuary
April 26 - Sanctuary Choir concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary
Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs