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    • Feb21Wed

      Altered at the edge of belonging

      A sermon on Mark 1 February 21, 2024 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
      Filed Under:
      Pr. Sebastian

      Today is the first Sunday in Lent. 

      I’d like to begin by repeating my introduction from Ash Wednesday, 

      as it sets the scene for the upcoming weeks:

      The key word for the season is “Altered” 

      A-L-T-E-R not 

      A-L-T-A-R which is a table for performing sacrifices. (Point)

      The definition for A-L-T-E-R is to “change in character, typically in a comparatively small but significant manner”, 

      and I think that’s a great way to understand what Lent is all about.

      During Lent the hope is that we are altered, 

      changed in a small but significant way, 

      when we are called to repent and 

      “summoned to a different relationship with those around us” and with God.

      And so we ponder, what it means to be altered through Lent,

      To be changed and to prioritize our discipleship, 

      our following of Christ throughout the Lenten season.

      Lent is intended to be a holy disruption to our existence, 

      an otherworldly disturbance to our day-to-day living.

      It’s not just about a simplistic “giving up chocolate for Lent”

      It’s about change for us,

      And change with us

      So we are altered through the Spirit.

      In our Gospel reading this morning,

      We hear how Jesus is at the edge of belonging 

      and ponder how we can be altered at the edge of belonging as well.


      Jesus comes to the outskirts of society, to the Judean desert, 

      miles away from any city, to where John is baptizing in the river Jordan.

      John the Baptist has chosen this remote location at the margins of society, (the middle of nowhere) 

      because he’s calling from the outside to a new way of being. 

      A little later, John gets arrested and then killed, 

      further cementing the fact that he is an outsider, 

      a threat to the establishment, 

      someone who doesn’t belong in polite society and must be eliminated. Kind of like an Alexei Navalny figure..too dangerous as an opposition, who must be silenced by the authorities.

      After the baptism, Jesus is driven by the Spirit, 

      almost cursed in the process, into the wilderness for 40 days. 

      Jesus is forced into the edge of belonging, 

      into the no-man’s land of wandering, 

      he is tempted, challenged and tormented.

      The desert is the place of God-forsakenness and loneliness.

      As one of Jesus’s first acts of his ministry, 

      he participates in human suffering, 

      understanding firsthand what hunger, thirst and physical pain is about.

      But out of the crucible of this time of trial at the edges of civilization,

      Jesus comes out with renewed hope, power and authority, 

      proclaiming the good news of God: 

      “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near, 

      repent and believe in the Gospel!”

      Fresh out of the valley of the shadow of death, 

      Jesus shows that God’s purposes can begin, 

      with healings, liberations from bondage to evil, 

      announcements of forgiveness, and calls to follow God’s way.

      Out of the wasteland, the Edge of Belonging 

      there came transformation, calls to be altered,

      far from the cities and town, in the middle of nowhere, 

      God was active and people’s lives were being changed.

      Jesus was altered through his baptism and wilderness wanderings 

      at the Edge of Belonging, and we are too!

      From the get-go, Jesus showed that he was truly human.

      He suffered from the devil’s temptations, just like us!!

      And so Jesus can stand with us, when we are tested.

      Jesus was accompanied by the Holy Spirit and the angels,

      just like how we can rely on divine assistance in our time of trial.

      Let’s take a moment and ask:

      What does the Edge of Belonging mean to you?

      When did you feel like you just didn’t belong, 

      That you were in a time of spiritual and social wilderness

      but were hoping that someday you would belong?

      A time you were balanced on the edge?

      Perhaps you experienced the edge of belonging 

      When you moved to a new town, 

      Or started a new job,

      Or the year after you were freshly retired 

      and were wondering what to do with your time.

      One time I experienced the edge of belonging 

      Was when I first came to St. Matts 6 and a half years ago.

      I remember first seeing the hall of fame with the pictures 

      of the beloved pastors going back a century.

      The building history and organization was large and strange and complex,

      And there were myriad expectations.

      I wondered: will I ever feel like I belong?

      But out of the sense of being at the margins when I first began, 

      I took my fresh eyes, and new energy to tackle some of the challenges, seeking ways where the Spirit would move us a congregation 

      to a more embodied presence in this community.

      As we get further along in our journey to St. Matts 2.0, 

      from a self-sustaining and self-focussed Lutheran congregation

      to a church with partnerships through the community hub and beyond

      I wonder…

      Who in our community is considered an outsider?

      Some might say:

      The Out of the Cold guests

      Some might say:

      Those not baptized here, those who aren’t part of legacy families

      Perhaps people might consider those who don’t come down 

      for Coffee Hour or

      Non-voting members to be outsiders.

      Or looking broader: the other space users or our sister congregations who also worship here on weekends whom we barely know.

      As members of St. Matthews, 

      a place where community gathers and grows,

      We have to then think about:

      How we reach out to those at the edge of belonging:

      those who barely belong.

      We need to discover how we extend a hand both to the

      -invited and uninvited guests who come into our building.

      We need to find out how we can reach across aisles, identities, and categories,

      And build bridges with those with differing opinions about church issues,

      such as pew removal, parking availability and political persuasion.

      Just as we acknowledge 

      -how Jesus’ ministry began at the margins, how he left the comforts of power, his heavenly throne, to empty himself and live a human existence,

      -And how we remember how we ourselves have also sometimes been barely belonging and excluded, 

      We need to consider how we can welcome those who need welcoming,

      And see how the Spirit is working in those places of wilderness and dislocation.

      Perhaps one great local example came on CTV news this week 

      with the update about St. Mark’s Place in Kitchener, 

      Where the old St. Mark’s Lutheran Church building 

      has been transformed by Indwell to provide 40 affordable housing units, prioritizing those experiencing homelessness 

      or those precariously housed. 

      Over half of the units have now been filled, 

      and one of the new residents shared: 

      “It's been really positive. I enjoy the atmosphere 

      and living in Indwell has changed my life.”

      It’s wonderful to see how blessing can happen at the Edges of Society 

      and how the church can create a sense of belonging, 

      community and shelter for those most vulnerable.

      I’d like to end this sermon with another BREATH PRAYER

      You are invited to…

      Gently pause, make yourself comfortable in your seat

      Take a few moments of silence //////

      Soften your gaze or close your eyes////////

      Softly connect with your body and breath...

      As you inhale: Expand my edges of love

      As you exhale: Guide me through life-giving waters





      Lent in a Box Volume 3 (

      David Schnasa Jacobsen: Commentary on Mark 1:9-15 (

      Sunday Resources: 

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