I’d like everyone to take one arm and stretch it out in front of you. Now take the other arm and stretch it out in front of you; take one hand and touch the other. Anyone not able to do that?
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 [is at hand]; repent, and believe in the good news.”
The kingdom is at hand. The translation you have in front of you says, “The kingdom has come near,” but the old King James Version that some of us grew up with and the Revised Standard Version that I grew up with read, “The kingdom is at hand.” I like that better!
Do you see? The kingdom at hand means God’s kingdom is so close you can touch it. You can feel it. You can experience it. You can grasp it. You can receive it!
I don’t know about you but when I think “Kingdom of God” it’s hard not to think future—some other time. Some other place. Well, God’s kingdom doesn’t exclude the future but it begins now.
What comes to mind when you think of God’s Kingdom? Maybe “heaven”? And what do you think of when you think of heaven? Joy. Peace. Love. Rest. Abundance. Confidence in God’s grace and love. All those wonderful things we long for in this life but experience imperfectly. So think about that. Jesus teaches that these things are not for other places or other times or other people. These things are within reach. These things we long for are here, and now, and for you!
Take your spiritual temperature right now. If God’s kingdom is about love, joy, peace, rest—how much of that are you experiencing today, right now? Maybe a lot. Maybe not so much. But if not, why not? And, what to do?
Each one of us experiences a whole range of circumstances in life, including stuff that leaves us frightened, hurt, angry or unhappy. Sometimes it’s because of choices we’ve made that didn’t turn out so great, even when we have the best intentions. Sometimes it’s just the stuff that life throws at us, the stuff that’s out of our control. People do things or say things that upset us. In that case, if we’re not experiencing joy or peace the temptation is to think that it’s somebody else’s fault. “They’re making me that way!”
But this is one of the great lies of human existence; it’s one of the great traps of the spiritual life. Many of life’s circumstances are out of our control. Other people are certainly out of our control. But how we respond to those circumstances is our choice! The kingdom of God is as close as the end of your hand—within reach!
Mark writes in today’s reading that Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan. If you were in the wilderness, what do you think you’d be tempted by? My wife and I go hiking a lot, sometimes in remote places. Hikers are always instructed to take what are called “The 10 Essentials” (think about how many of these Jesus might have had):
1. Navigation (map and compass)
2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen) 3. Insulation (extra clothing)
4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5. First-aid supplies
6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
7. Repair kit and tools
8. Nutrition (extra food)
9. Hydration (extra water)
10. Emergency shelter
Now, of those Ten Essentials, how many do you think Jesus had?
Maybe…zero? So the greatest temptation in the wilderness must have been to worry about what he didn’t have.
What are the wildernesses in your life? Where are you tempted to think about what you’ve lost, what you don’t have or what you’re afraid of losing. But Jesus said, Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives for my sake will find them . The temptation is to believe that joy is beyond reach. If only other people would change. Or, if only my circumstances were different. Or, if only I could change my past—then I would know joy, and peace.
And yet, Christ teaches, the kingdom of God is at hand. It’s within reach! It’s waiting for a response from us!
What is the response that Jesus calls us to? How do we lay hold of the kingdom? The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand—repent, and believe in the good news!
I don’t know about you but I don’t usually associate repentance with good news! Repentance sounds so negative, “good news” so positive! And besides that, we associate repentance with shame, guilt and bad behavior. But repentance at its deepest level is none of that. Repentance is simply making different choices, life-giving choices.
Another way to say it is: While it’s true that the kingdom of God is at hand, it’s also true that the kingdom of hell is also at hand! That sounds to me more like the kingdom of hell than the kingdom of God. Traditionally, people think of hell as a fiery place in the afterlife reserved for bad people. But probably all of us know that it’s possible to experience hell on earth. Hell can be a place of deep physical or mental anguish. It can be the experience of great emotional pain. But hell on earth can also be a fear of scarcity, rather than a confidence in God’s abundant generosity. Churches are as prone to this as individuals. Jesus knew this temptation very well. I might not get what’s mine. There might not be enough for me.
Take a personal inventory. Where are the wildernesses in your life? Where are those places of “not enough?” Where do you get dragged into fear of scarcity rather than a joyful confidence in God’s abundance?
Explore especially those empty places where there is anger, resentment, depression, worry, or fear. What are the circumstances that have led to those feelings? And how much control do you have over those circumstances? Probably not much.
So what might a change of direction look like? What might repentance look like? Jesus shows us in today’s reading that a repentant heart is at least two things. First, he remembered that he was beloved. A voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is God’s commitment to you. Do you believe it?
You are beloved of God. That’s the first lesson of repentance to remember in the wilderness. The second is remembering that we are not alone but part of a community. Jesus was among the wild beasts, we’re told. But, the angels waited on him. He was cared for by others. He allowed himself to be cared for by others.
So again, where are those wilderness places in your life? Where have you cut yourself off from God’s people? How’s that working for you? Are you feeling the joy, the peace, the confidence that you are loved?
Sometimes repentance is just reaching out from our isolation and accepting love from others, telling them what we need and where we hurt. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repentance is not about shame and guilt. It is a shift in our heart from one way of seeing to another. It is a shift from fear of scarcity to a confidence in God’s abundant love and generosity which is…at hand. During this Lenten season we remember that repentance is the key that unlocks the door to the kingdom of God on earth. It is as close as your hand. It’s as close as the person sitting next to you.
Repent, and believe in the good news!