1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

Show of hands: Who is excited that it’s Lent? (If you raised your hand, we need to talk about how best to repackage this season.) This is a season to give things up, to mourn our sins. We try not to be too cheery during Lent, just in case somebody around us is having a hard time without chocolate, sweets, or coffee. We want to get through this season and move on to Easter, but unlike with Advent, we don’t tend to do that. We tend to stick out Lent and save most of the Easter celebrations until the event comes. Maybe this is just because of how our school and work calendars line up. Maybe it’s because there’s something comfortingly familiar in the church being morose. Or maybe we really do have a sense that we should go through this process, because things will get worse before they get better.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better. That’s what the newspaper said on Friday, as if it needed saying. Did any of us here in this room, any of us living on the Iron Range, honestly think this economy was going to magically turn around just because we all thought it would be a good idea? Of course it’s going to get worse. This is the kind of time that makes it hard for us to clearly identify the line between defeatism and realism, especially those of us who feel like we’ve seen this all before and know it’s not pretty.

The paper could just save some ink and skip the bad news right now, couldn’t it? Never mind that it might make us feel better to ignore what’s lousy about the world right now, it just seems redundant to tell us that things are going poorly. It’s a little bit like the church preaching about sin, as if we need someone to stand up every week and tell us that we fall short of what God wants for us, that we live in a world that is far from what God desires. Do any of us doubt that? None of us can pretend that we haven’t wronged and been wronged by our neighbors or ourselves.
So here’s why I think we do it. Here’s at least one of the reasons that our tradition encourages us to say all over again that we and our world are not yet in line with God’s deepest desires for us: because the closer we get to that truth, the closer we can get to God. That’s one of the things Jesus was doing out there in the wilderness after his baptism, showing us that he is there even in our darkness, our sinfulness, and the incessant shortcomings of this world. It’s because Christ is already there with us that we are able to acknowledge our brokenness and begin anew.

Christ is already here with us, as the days get longer but the prospects seem to get bleaker, and he’s saying something incredible: “The kingdom of God is near! This is the right time for us to celebrate God’s presence in the world.” It wasn’t exactly springtime for Jesus in this story either. Jesus had more than only 40 days to live and minister, but John the Baptist had just been put in prison and Jesus knew he was in for violent opposition. And even then, God was with us, and it was time for humanity to begin living again.

It’s time to begin walking with Christ anew, even as the world’s news sounds more and more bleak. I can’t promise anything about the world’s news, but it’s a safe bet that it will still get worse before it gets better. It’s an even safer bet that Christ will be with us whatever happens, that God will continue to take on flesh in our human brothers and sisters while all this goes on. We will continue to be surrounded by people who love us and will give more than we thought we could ask to support us in our need. We’ll still be surrounded by people who need our love and support, the people Christ invites us to serve in his name. We’re still enfolded in the boundless love of God, even now.

I’ll be surprised if we don’t come through this economic problem, not necessarily praising God for every cent that disappears from our pockets, but with eyes even more open to the amazing things God can do in this community. This church is full of God’s love, and we can be full of God’s creative imagination for what can be done, even now. It’s going to take some creativity and certainly some great generosity on all our parts, but Christ is with us even in this wilderness, and what we learn while we’re here is going to give us a whole new set of ways to see God at work in our world. Amen.