The sermon from Sunday. January 7, 2018 on Mark 1:4-11 –
We have a number of things going on right in this moment, so let’s see if we can weave them together.
The season of Christmas is behind us. Whether you celebrate Christmas just on Christmas – or Christmas Eve – or whether you observe the 12 days of Christmas – either which way, the season is done.
Yesterday was January 6, which marks the Feast of the Epiphany. It is on that day that we remember the wise men followed the star and found an infant messiah.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that these people from the east stopped first to consult with King Herod. As the powers that be will do, he was quick to size up and threat and hope to destroy it.
The wise find the manger and the child – and after all that time traveling on faith, they worship and offer their gifts. And they listen to God and go home by another path, avoiding the peril of the moment.
With Epiphany we celebrate the commitment of faith, the triumph of wisdom, the importance of generosity, the inclusion of all in the great promise of Jesus, and the understanding that we must wander, we must listen, and we must heed the Spirit’s call on our paths.
Yet as Christmas ends, it’s easy to let the excitement of the days past, the eager anticipation of the birth of Jesus, slip into the malaise of January, the sense of time unfolding with bitter cold edges and few high points.
We known the hope and participated in the holy mystery, but we’ve let it slip away from us – as Auden says “Once again/As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed/To do more than entertain it as an agreeable Possibility, once again we have sent Him away.”
When you make your way upstairs you will see indeed that the tree is dismantled and the decorations are back in their boxes . . .
Craving the sensation but ignoring the cause.
It’s all too easy to come back to the life that we already live, where we make resolutions and promises to ourselves and others – and those last a minute or a day or a week.
We want the excitement, but it’s all too easy in our busy, noisy, angry world to forget the source of the meaning, the deeper lure of Spirit and hope and justice. It’s all to easy to forget the ways in which we are invited to participate not just at Christmas, but all year long.
We are invited to participate in the promise of Jesus and a ministry of healing, of shared food, of learning, and of relentless truth in a world that sits perpetually in the shadow of Empire’s deception and hard-sell exploitation of human life and the planet.
Moving into today’s Scripture, this passage from the book of Mark, gives us some ideas.
First of all, we begin here a year-long engagement with Mark’s Gospel. Our lectionary, the selection of readings that our church and many others follow, goes in a 3-year cycle. One year each that features Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with passages from John woven through each year.
So this year, we’ll be deep in Mark – and that’s a wonderful gift to us as we grapple with the bleakness of this season – its weather, its politics, its perpetual habits of oppression, its bills, its illnesses – ain’t just everybody you know sick?
Mark is an intense Gospel. The first written, the fastest paced.
One of my seminary professors used to say that this is the Gospel that was passed hand to hand in a smoky bar deep in the heart of the Roman Empire, to be read with urgency by people urgently seeking knowledge and answers and a better way to live.
There are no frills in Mark. It punches clean and it pulls no punches in its quest to challenge the corrupt, power-seeking culture and governance of the world of its time.
It will be most fitting to work our way through these 16 chapters that focus less on sermons and structures and more on describing the work of Jesus.
In our own lives, let us strip away all that keeps us from understanding the true nature of our own lives and of reality. Let us see clearly and act accordingly.
And we begin with this story here in the very beginning of Mark. Mark isn’t concerned like Matthew with setting up Jesus pedigree and lineage. Unlike the texts of Luke, Mark’s Gospel doesn’t dwell on the early signs of Jesus’ greatness.
Nope. We start right in the middle of the action
The passage tonight begins in the 1st chapter, the 4th verse – let’s take a look back at the first 3 verses –
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
From there we have the appearance of John, the messenger, and of Jesus, poised to begin his ministry.
The people have emptied their hearts of their burdens, their regrets, their mistakes, their pain through the symbols of repentance offered by John.
Having emptied their hearts, they are ready for the Holy Spirit to fill them.
This has to be a regular process for us these days. We empty our hearts of our pain and our regrets and our burdens and of all of the harm of the world – its callous disregard for ecosystems, the pricetag it puts on human life, the ways in which it relies on age-old forces to raise some people up and drag others down.
All that gets poured into our hearts with a funnel of misery.
Yet we have the opportunity to continually empty ourselves of that and fill our hearts with the hope and promise of the Holy Spirit – and the love, compassion, justice, and prophetic challenge embodied in the life of Jesus.
We do that daily, weekly, continuously. It is the active work of faith and the active hope of our calling as Jesus followers.
And there’s a particularly important clue here in this last verse – you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.
Over the history of this church, we’ve had a tendency to refer to one another as Beloveds. There is nothing wrong with that – it’s a beautiful salutation that reflects love and care.
But while individuals put themselves – or their children – to be baptized, we are baptized into community. It is not a solitary endeavor, even if it’s just you and the person baptizing you.
As a beloved soul you are baptized and invited – constantly – into beloved community.
It is a reflection and an instruction for how we carry ourselves in the world – knowing that we are beloved by God and that together we daily strive to create beloved community, not only here but in every aspect of our lives.
There are days when that will wear you out. But you’re not just doing it for yourself or by yourself. When you empty your heart out of its pain and its transgressions and of all the world’s harms and you fill yourself with the great love of God, you are a part of something greater than yourself.
You are not alone.
That’s some kind of gift, y’all. That’s the gift that keeps on giving, long after we’ve packed up the stockings and the tree and the ornaments. Long after the company goes home and we go back to work and school and daily routines. Long after we’ve paid the bills (no longer how long that takes). Long after the days have grown longer and the weather milder.
Long after we’ve run out of answers and are left with just questions.
You are not alone.