9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:9-15 ESV)
I am close to finishing the first, rough draft of my novel, Kesslyn Runs. I say first rough draft, because this will be draft zero. I began this novel with one set of ideas in my head and as I wrote, the setting and the characters evolved. So, once I get the final chapter in place — I have three scenes left to write — I will go back and revise, update a few things, rewrite a few scenes, add, subtract, the usual work of getting to my real first draft.
The next scene I have to write is a baptism. It takes place in the waters of Moses Lake (there’s an actual lake here, twisting as it does snakelike through the scrubland; it’s kind of seasonal in nature, the amount of water being higher in the spring and summer irrigation seasons) during early May some years from now, and two of my characters are getting baptized. As I envision it, they will go under the water and come up with some idea that they are different people, that something profound has happened to them in the waters of Moses Lake. One of the characters has had some religious visions, but the other — a teenage girl, the Kesslyn has run away — is only beginning to wrap her mind and soul and heart around what she been invited to join.
I would like to have been baptized that way. Instead, I had water poured on my head as I leaned over a baptismal font in an ELCA church in Alexandria, Virginia.
And you only get baptized once.
I honestly had no idea what it was I was called to believe that day in September, 2001, when Jesus spoke to me. I know that very little has gone right, or according to plan, since then. I have no future with the institutional church, it has forsaken and abandoned me, cast me off, someone who is clearly beyond redemption and has no place among the called. I had this ministry, but a year ago I found out it was mostly a fraud, and while some real kids have found their way to me, it has been hard to tell the real from the fake. And it is hard to want to expend emotional energy caring about people who aren’t even real.
All I have left is this web site, which I have too long neglected. And this novel, about monks who rescue abused foster kids, about the failed pastor turned self-proclaimed abbot who leads them, about the girl whose escape plunges them all into chaos, how they live together, lives centered on daily worship, and how the liturgy and the eucharist helped them center their lives and find meaning.
It’s the community I want to live in. It’s the parish I want to pastor. It isn’t real, and it can’t exist, so I make it up, and hope … hope that this will speak to someone. Somewhere.
But this isn’t where I expected I would be 12 years ago, when I started seminary. It isn’t where I thought Jesus would lead me.
And yet here I am.
Jesus emerges from forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil, ministered to by angels (we don’t have that account, which is odd if you think about it), to speak to the people of home region. He proclaims what Mark calls “the gospel of God,” εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ, the good news of God. The time is fulfilled, Jesus says, the kingdom of God is at hand, so repent and believe in this good news.
We aren’t told here, however, what exactly this good news is.
It might be “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jonah got Ninevah to repent of its sin with far less, though he was threatening them, “Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!”
What time is fulfilled? What is the Kingdom of God?
This passage is about Jesus. We don’t see here how the people around him react to his being proclaimed “beloved Son” with whom God is well pleased. Or his pronouncements. We just have Jesus, wandering around Galilee, proclaiming something we are told is good news. That we should repent, turn, and believe in that good news.
But we aren’t really told what it is.
Because I’m not sure the Gospel is a thing, a set of ideas, a statement of truth that we can confess.
Jesus is the Gospel. He is this good news we are asked to believe in, have faith in, trust. He is the time fulfilled, the Kingdom at hand. I think Mark’s whole gospel account bears that out, as we witness Jesus calling and casting out and healing and teaching and feeding and entering Jerusalem and breaking bread and being betrayed and suffering and dying and finally rising from his tomb in a way that leaves us all utterly terrified.
He is the gospel. He is the good news. We follow him because that’s what trusting and believing in him means. He is the way, the truth, the light, the good news that all will eventually be overthrown and redeemed, restored and recreated.
Yet forty days, sisters and brothers, and we shall witness our salvation. The kingdom of God is at hand, calling us to follow, gathering us and leading us onward out of darkness and death and into life eternal. Repent, and trust in that good news.