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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sermon Lent Week One Mark 1:9–15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news."


50th anniversaries represent incredible milestones.
Next year Trinity will celebrate its 50th anniversary and in 1935 another Lutheran church, Salem Lutheran in South Baltimore, was celebrating its 50th. For Salem, it didn’t look like there would be much to celebrate. As they approach their 50th year they were in between pastors. The church had been struggling. There was talk of it closing its doors. The Great Depression was at its height. Times were tough. People were focused on their very survival.

In a bold step of faith they called a 29 year old recent graduate from seminary, who spoke no German, meaning that their German language service would have to end. He re-organized their anniversary committee and instead of a funeral, the day provided a celebration. The Holy Spirit used that pastor to fill the people with a renewed faith and sense of calling. Their golden anniversary became a golden moment for God and God’s shining Kingdom. Later that spring in the early morning hours following Easter services, the organ caught fire. Between the fire, smoke and water damage, the building was a total loss.

Just as things had been looking up, it was as if someone had pulled the rug out from under them. People love to look at events as signs – to re
ad into events mystic power and draw their own conclusions. After 50 years, perhaps this was Salem’s sign with their golden anniversary their farewell song.

Jesus’ ministry begins ion an ominous note. He gets baptized by John at the Jordan, the heaven’s are torn asunder, The Holy Spirit descends, the voice of God speaks. Well and good. But then everything seems to go wrong. The Spirit drives Jesus out in to the wilderness where he faces 40 days of hunger and temptation and wild beasts. Not exactly a stroll through the park or a visit to the zoo. Then John the Baptist is arrested – the voice that had called the people to repentance – the one sent to prepare the way for Jesus – the one who pointed all of Jerusalem and Judea to Jesus as the ONE who was to come, the one that had waited so long for, the one to whom the prophets of old had testified - he was arrested. Could they be next? Could Jesus be next? If they followed Jesus could the lot of them find their fates no better than John? Were people now looking at Jesus think twice before throwing their allegiance behind him?

Within days, it wasn’t much longer than that, Salem quickly gathered as a congregation with one question on their minds. With the Great Depression still holding the nation in its mournful grip, time were more than tough – more than bleak- bad news upon more bad news – we can relate, can’t we? With the sanctuary a total loss, what was God calling them to do? What was God calling them to be? What was God’s message to them?

As word of John the Baptist’s arrest spread, casting a cloud of fear in its wake, Jesus, rather than beating feet out of town or going in to hiding, begins his very public ministry. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news."

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news."

At their meeting, with perhaps the acrid stench of smoke and char still clinging to their clothes if not their memories, the people of Salem, this working class church of South Baltimore, chose to rebuild. Turning their backs on the realities imposed by the greatest economic crisis of their lifetimes, if not several lifetimes, they made a decision that some would see as foolish, while others, perhaps, audacious. Where would the money come from? How could it be possible? Question after question could have been raised, might have been raised, but God’s message to them might have been no simpler than God’s message to us through Christ Jesus today:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news."

In the wake of John the Baptist’s arrest, with Jerusalem and all of Judea occupied by the most powerful nation in the world, knowing the at the trials and temptations were not over and that the road ahead would ultimately cost him his life, Jesus proclaims a moment of Kairos, the ultimate moment of Kairos, of opportune time Now is the time, Jesus declares. The Kingdom of God has come near. Change direction and believe the Good News.

Can we do any less today?
Isn’t today the time, isn’t today a moment of Kairos, of opportune time birthed from THE Moment of Kairos?

I just got back from a meeting as a member of the Florida-Bahamas Synod Council in which we spent hours discussing and praying over the synod’s soon to be birthed missional strategy called Together in Mission.

A snippet of this emerging strategy says that
Together, in the name of Jesus Christ, we shall…
(1) Invite each congregation of this synod: to become more powerfully a sign of the Lord’s presence in the midst of its community; to establish vital relationships in their community; and to meet human needs through bold and courageous witness to the Gospel message.
(2) Dedicate ourselves to prayer, Bible study and worship calling upon God’s Spirit to guide us in our mission to grow and expand God’s Kingdom in our communities.
(3) Encourage congregations to appoint and commission missional planning teams which will help guide congregations in rediscovering themselves as mission outposts and re-imagine what it means to be God’s Church in today’s world.

Our Bishop and the synodical staff and leadership firmly believe that this is a moment of Kairos. That this is the time to proclaim the Good News that we believe. That especially now the voice of the church must shout to the world that the Kingdom of God has come near, that it is time to change direction, that it is time to believe the Good News.

Almost 75 years after the fire destroyed their organ and challenged a church to renew their call to mission, Salem is still a faithful worshipping community. Dedicated to community outreach, faithful in worship, fervent in prayer they continue to try to meet the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel in an ever changing community. It has meant some hard times and difficult decisions, but bearing the Good News to the community continues to drive them.

What about us?
Isn’t today the time, isn’t today a moment of Kairos, of opportune time birthed from THE Moment of Kairos? The synod is challenging us to become even more powerfully a sign of the Lord’s presence in the midst of our community; to establish vital relationships in our community; and to meet even more human needs through bold and courageous witness to the Gospel message.

Is that what we want to be about? Is that who we are? Are we prepared to Dedicate ourselves to prayer, Bible study and worship calling upon God’s Spirit to guide us in our mission to grow and expand God’s Kingdom in our communities?

Are we prepared to back up our faith with action, bold and courageous, just as Jesus did, to proclaim the Good News?
Amen.

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