God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Scriptures this morning are from the NRSV.

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

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.”

L:  The scriptures of God for the people of God.

A: Thanks be to God.       

Message – He Has Come Near*

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Did you ever compare the four gospels and how the authors told the story of Jesus? Like, for instance, three of the four gospels tell us that after his baptism, Jesus spent time in the wilderness. John’s more companionable and goal-oriented Jesus doesn’t have time to be alone; he’s got disciples to call and parties to attend, wine to make. But the other three are pretty clear that Jesus needed time to get things in order. At least that is what it seems like he is doing. What kind of Messiah is he going to be? Matthew and Luke describe the conversation with Satan in the wilderness, the temptations Jesus faced and turned down. They give us some background into the decisions facing Jesus as he launched his ministry. They provide lots of juicy details about what was going on there and lots of debate about the test.

But not Mark. Nope. Mark is a “just the facts, Jack,” kind of gospel writer. His is also the oldest of the four gospels, written around 50-60 AD. It would seem Mark, who sums up the trip to the wilderness in two verses, doesn’t itemize the temptation questions, and says nothing about the strenuousness or difficulties of surviving in the wilderness for 40 days just gives us a clay tablet PowerPoint version. Bullet point 1:  Jesus was there forty days. Bullet point 2: He was tempted by Satan.

Excuse me? How, professor, how was he tempted by Satan?

No time for questions. Moving on. Bullet point 3: He was with the wild beasts.

Whoa up! What do you mean “with the wild beasts”? Attacked by them? Surrounded by them? Fought them for food? Turned them into pets? What?

No time for questions. Moving on. Bullet point 4: He was waited upon by angels.

Waited on? What do you mean waited on? Like they placed the orders with Door Dash and Uber Eats? They mopped his brow and fanned him with big leaves? Or they stood on the edge of the wilderness and tapped their toes and checked their iPhones for the status texts from Jesus, ready to swoop in and rescue at a moment’s notice?

No questions. The lecture is over. Read the next chapter for tomorrow. There will be a test in about six weeks.

That’s Mark. Straight to the bullet points, not a lot of details. And that kind of makes sense. You see Matthew and Luke worked from a source document scholars call “Q” – a document that has long since been lost. Mark didn’t. He worked from the oral traditions of those who had taught him. Mark clearly felt no need to embellish the stories he’d been taught. From Mark’s perspective, the details aren’t that important. The important stuff is there in his verses. Back up, he says, look at the process. … What’s that saying everyone uses these days? Trust the process? The process was baptism, heavens torn open, gentle Spirit like a dove settles, and Jesus is blessed. Then gentle Spirit becomes an irresistible force driving Jesus out into the wilderness. Driving him. Temptation, wild animals, angels. That’s all you need to know. End of Lecture. Move on.

I’ve had times like that in my life. Times when I found myself driven or pulled in a direction only to be pulled into something I didn’t see coming, a world I wasn’t ready for, dealing with things for which I wasn’t prepared, wondering if I was going to survive whatever it was. Have you? Times when there were choices to be made, paths to follow; and not sure which is right, what will bring us back into the gentle blessing of the Spirit and what will drive us deeper into conflict with the adversary du jour. I’d look around at the situation and think, “What did I do wrong? How did I get off track?”

Mark’s brevity gives one plenty of room to wonder, and one wonders if Jesus had those thoughts while stumbling around the wilderness. “What did I do wrong? I just started. How can I be off track already.”

“Wait,” we think, “this is Jesus we’re talking about. He must have known what he was doing. It must have been his idea to go and spend some quiet time before diving into the busy years of his earthly ministry.” But then, why does it say, “the Spirit drove him out”? Doesn’t that sound like he didn’t want to go? Doesn’t that sound like some kind of punishment? Afterall, God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden. It sounds like getting rid of something you’re angry or dissatisfied with, something you don’t want. Or maybe it was a way for Jesus to test his own power. Afterall, Jesus himself would later drive out demons and drive out disease. Maybe it was a finals prep week exercise in getting obstacles out of the way. Remember that Jesus drove out the mourners when he wanted to rescue Jairus’s daughter from the grip of death.

The Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. The Spirit tore open the heavens and drove him into the wilderness. And in the middle, he was blessed with a gentle presence and loving words. He was tempted in the harsh wilderness for forty days; and in the midst of it, he was waited on by emissaries of God who claimed him at the river.

Again, there’s an echo of our own lives that seems to vacillate between moments of love and acceptance and moments of doubt and terror. We seem to be swallowed up in uncertainty, even as we are comforted by the blessings of those who love us.

What Mark is trying to tell us is that Jesus is showing us how to lean into the Spirit, even when it blows us into uncharted territory. Even when it seems to be sending us out against our will. Lean into the uncertainty because Spirit won’t abandon you. And along the way, there will be moments of blessing. Remember them. Cling to them. Let them be sustaining in times of temptation and deprivation. Let those words, “You are my beloved,” ring in your ears over the weeping and moans of your own brokenness, and let the gentle Spirit be what drives you to embrace the suffering of the world to bring healing and wholeness and love.

But how can light and dark, gentleness and suffering, Satan and angels bring healing and wholeness and love? I mean, I get that tension, that daily struggle to hold on, that hope in the midst of despair, and the suffering that deepens love. But what about the animals? He was with the wild beasts? What kind of wild beasts? Who are they? Another danger? Another comfort? Another choice to turn away from or a responsibility to claim? Who are the wild beasts that Mark tells us about?

We are. We are the wild beasts that surrounded him. He was with the wild beasts. That’s all we get from Mark. Did they attack to rend limb from limb, or did they lie down to keep him warm in the cold desert nights? Yes. Maybe both. Maybe some attacked and some came alongside. Maybe some ran from him, and some ran toward him. We have that choice. We always have that choice. And we aren’t told what happened because it is still happening. Every day, we make the choice. Lean into the Spirit, it won’t let you down. And you’ll find resources to face whatever may come when you are facing the wilderness.

It’s out of this moment, out of this beastly, wilderness moment, that Jesus comes to announce that the Kingdom of God has come near. But near where? Here in the non-wilderness world? Or back there with the beasts and the wild and the temptations? Where is the kingdom nearest to us? Is it when we are safe and happy and everything is easy, or is it when we are wrestling, like Jacob at Jabbok’s ford? That’s the invitation of this passage from Mark, this Lenten season, this series … to feel the depths of love, the depths of presence, even when we are our most beastly.

The Kingdom of God has come near. He has come near.

Let’s pray:

Jesus says: “The time is ready, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.”

Lord and Shepherd of our journeys in the desert, we come to you during this Lenten season as servants of Jesus Christ. We remember how you liberated Moses and the Israelites; we remember also how you liberated the prophet Elijah in his journey to escape from a corrupt king.

Now, in our Lenten journey, we implore your direction, your patience, and your spiritual support. As you sent your angels to care for the Israelites, to the prophet Elijah in his journey, and to Jesus during his forty days in the desert, send them also to us in our earthly journeys.

Most holy God, we admit to you and each other that we are so dazzled by the false gods of this age, that we find it hard to recognize who we are, where we came from, or where we are going.

We easily become caught up in selfishness, seduced by cynicism, waylaid by glittering consumerism, and led by the nose along the highways and byways created by powerful, vested interests.

Please open our hearts that we may know ourselves more clearly and seek you more diligently.

Most loving God, arrest the false god’s that have diverted us, show us the deceits that have blurred our vision, unmask the poverty of our goals and longings, expose the cheap values that parade as virtues, save us from permitting a rift between Christ and us, and deliver is from cheap guilt and trivial remorse.

Please bring us to an honest repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and the renewal of our faith and love.

Through Christ Jesus our Savior, Amen!

Fellow travelers on the road to Easter, always remember that there is much more forgiveness in God than we could ever exhaust. Receive from God, through the grace of Christ, the blessing of sins forgiven, and a right relationship restored.

This is the good news of Christ our Lord!


  • Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
  • *Adapted in part or full from Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries Worship Planning Series.

Copyright Disclaimer: Under §107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for educational purposes. No copyright infringement is intended. All rights belong to their respective owners.

If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through our secure online service provided by It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove. Just visit and follow the instruction for making your offering. You may be prompted to create an account with them. There is no fee for the account or for making your offering through 

If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:

Union Grove UMC
1151 Lane Drive
Friendsville, TN 37737

Please be sure to make your checks payable to "Union Grove UMC Friendsville".

Please note that 100% of offerings received during or from Second Sunday Community of Faith gatherings are redistributed to relevant community and national organizations. If you are making an offering after viewing a Second Sunday gathering, please designate "Second Sunday" (from the drop down menu on or on the Memo line of your check) so we can ensure your offering is distributed accordingly.

For more information on how our offering receipts are used and our designated funds, please visit "For Those Who Are Able" on the menu bar at the top or bottom of this page.