Recasting Our Story

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And 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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

When I was in seminary, I knew a dear little church community, St. Chad’s, Loves Park. It was located about two hours outside of Chicago, a small, struggling congregation in a small, struggling, rust belt town. But they dreamt big dreams and they had big hearts to match and they approached their work and ministry with gusto!

Word came to their parish council from the bishop’s office itself, suggesting that the congregation needed to work on making itself more visible in the community. After meeting to discuss this direction from the bishop, they faithfully set out and cut down the trees around the church. And indeed, once they were done, you could see the church quite easily as you drove by.

Another time, the council faced a more internal problem. You see, St. Chad’s was quite small, not just in numbers, but physically. The sanctuary space was maybe a quarter of what we have here at St. Faith’s, if even that big. But its walls were occupied by an enormous crucifix, one designed for a space many times bigger than theirs. In its enormity and grimness, it was terrifying the children of the church. This, of course, is not the experience you want children to have of the church, so the council met to solve the problem. After some deliberation, they decided to move the monstrous crucifix from the sanctuary and hang it on the exterior of the church, the newly visible exterior of the church.

But, as it happens, the crucifix was not designed for the elements. It was a strictly indoor crucifix. The weather began taking its toll and one day, one of the church volunteers was mowing the lawn and discovered that Jesus’ feet had fallen off the cross. When the minister drove up to the church a little while later, she watched as the volunteer set about to nailing Jesus back to the cross. Where he belonged.

It was a community with the best of intentions. But the wires always seemed to get crossed somewhere, and they always seemed to miss the mark in the execution.


One of the most central stories of the Jewish faith, and by extension the Christian faith, is the story of God’s people in the wilderness. Moses led them from the suffering and bondage of Egypt, saving them from Pharoah’s wrath with miracles so enormous that they stretch the mind. Moses led them, and the people followed, from Egypt to God’s promised land, where they would hunger and suffer no more, and the land would be overflowing with milk and honey.

But between Egypt and the promised land was the wilderness. It was there, in the wilderness, between what was and what God promised would be, that the people wandered. For forty years. For forty years the relationship between God and God’s people was tested. The people would grumble against God, they would go astray from God’s commands, and God would become angry and frustrated with their stubbornness. With their inability to trust in God. And then they would be reconciled again.

Forty years is long for the life of an individual, but it pales in comparison to the great history of God’s people; what is forty years compared to forty centuries? But it is the archetype of our eternal struggle to be faithful, a struggle that has held true in every generation. We hear God’s call, but we fall apart in the execution. Our efforts come forth perverted and we fall short of who we are called to be. We are led astray in our wanderings by our own human desires, by our own ideas of what God wants, and by our own ideas of who God should be. Even when we have clearly seen, clearly heard, clearly known God’s presence and work within us and among us, our wires eventually get crossed and we miss the mark.


That is, until a certain man stepped in the Jordan to be baptized, and as he emerged, he saw the heavens torn open. The very boundary between the divine and the profane became porous, and God broke into our world. Not just into our world, into our history.

Unleashed in the world, what is the first thing that God does? The Spirit of God drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. In those forty days, Jesus retells and recreates the forty years that God’s people wandered in the wilderness. But where God’s people, where we, were tested but fell short, Jesus does not succumb to human desires, to human ambitions, to human ideas of who God should be. And where God’s angels cared for the people, cared for us, for forty years in the wilderness, sending manna from heaven and flocks of quail to feed them, sending forth overflowing streams of water in the desert to quench their thirst, and healing them when they grew sick, so too was Jesus waited upon.

But where our hearts hardened and our trust in God vanished, Jesus only grew in trust and relationship with God. In those forty days, Jesus rewrites our history; Jesus redeems it and completes it.

It is like another time, when something else would be torn in two, and Jesus would rewrite, not our history, but our present and future, as he showed that not even rejection, not even death upon the cross, could separate us from the love of God. But that is another story for another time. For now, it is enough that he completes what we cannot and heals what we have broken.

Because this is exactly what he does. Mark never explicitly states what happens to Jesus in those forty days, opting instead to reveal it implicitly in the rest of the gospel narrative. What Mark is clear about is that when Jesus emerges from the wilderness, he is proclaiming the good news that the times is fulfilled, that we are fulfilled, and that the new creation is at hand.

This is the good news we so desperately need to hear. We are all too aware of how we fall short, where we succumb. Indeed, that is the whole point of the season of Lent, to examine and embrace our need for Christ. Because I am aware of where I fall short, where I have fallen to human desires and ideas about who God should be, where I have witnessed God but have not grown in trust.

It would be a mistake, though, to hear that Jesus was tempted for forty days and make it all about ourselves, about our own individual failings. Jesus did not go into the wilderness to recast my own personal history, but our collective history.

Where have we as a community here at St. Faith’s, as the Church writ large, and as a society fallen short of God’s call? Where have we put our own desires first? Our desire for nothing to change and for new people who come in to be exactly like us? Our desire for growth, for stature, to be the national church in the eyes of society? Our desire to never rock the boat and make people uncomfortable? Our desire to control the land, to be rid of anything and anyone who gets in the way of what we want, whether it is a golf course or a development or a pipeline?

It is overwhelming when we stop and consider our collective failing. It is easy to despair, perhaps even right to despair, when we consider all that we have broken, all whom we have wounded.

But the heavens were torn open. Christ was driven into the wilderness. Our story is being recast, making whole all that we have broken and healing all whom we have wounded. The new creation is possible, and it is near, if we will only trust.


St. Chad’s in Loves Park, that little parish in a little town, got so much comically wrong, but they trusted God and they lived in deep faithfulness to the One who called them.

They struggled financially; they were located in an economically depressed area that had suffered as factory jobs slowly left town. Every month was an open question as to whether they would have enough to pay all their bills. But they knew they were not alone in this, the knew their neighbours struggled as much as they. Prayerfully, the whole congregation decided that they would put on a community meal so that all could come and be fed, body and spirit, even if it meant spending their last dollar.

So, that is what they did. At the end of the month, the parish emptied what was left in their chequing account and used it to buy food, and with it fed their community. But the funny thing was, the next month, more money came in. So again, at the end of the month, after they paid their bills, they emptied out their account and once again fed the community.

And so it was. Every month, St. Chad’s started with nothing, and with what was left, they fed everyone, and no one ever went away hungry.

I wish I could say that St. Chad’s was still around and thriving. But all things must come to an end, even the good ones.

But I am not sad. Because the Parish of St. Chad’s followed Christ through the wilderness, and in the faithfulness and trust that they found, shone with the brilliance of the new creation.

Preached by the Rev. Adam Yates