Today we have gathered to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Or perhaps more to the point, we have gathered here today to rehearse, to practice, and to find ways of living this gospel.
We have gathered to encounter Jesus Christ, the living word made known to us in scripture, in bread and wine and baptism, through tradition, experience, and through our encounters with one another. God is revealed to us in so many ways, and I take joy in this each and every week. I find this especially comforting on weeks I find myself preaching because it reminds me that this whole thing doesn’t rest on me. That I can be my own, imperfect self, even as I offer what I have to God.
I find it especially good news that at the end of the day, it’s about the word that will be made made flesh amongst us, the one who is calling us to follow him on a new journey to God knows what…
Over the course of the next year, we (along with many other churches around the world who follow the Revised Common Lectionary) are going to find ourselves in Mark’s gospel more often than not. We’ll find ourselves eavesdropping on the way Mark’s community would have heard this gospel, and wrestling with what it means for us today.
I don’t know how Mark’s gospel sounds to you, but to me, it often comes across as a stark, blunt, in-your-face call to discipleship. Mark doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to get out of its very practical implications. There’s not a lot of space to hyper-spiritualize Jesus’ message or reduce its to some sort of pop psychology emphasizing personal fulfilment.
Mark’s gospel is inherently political. That is to say, the gospel preached in Mark’s community – this very same gospel that our St. Brigids community will spend the next year wrestling with – demands much of us.
- It demands an examination of our own hearts, consciences and motives.
- It demand that we reflect on the world we live in – in all its beauty and chaos.
- It asks that we pay attention to the relationships amongst the whole community of creation – its power brokers, those pushed to the margins, and all in between.
The biggest most difficult piece it seems to me, is the way Mark’s gospel provokes us to bringing our whole selves and our whole community to wrestle through our response to God, one another, and the world God loves.
What does it mean to show up as our whole God-created selves? What might it mean to be in public the people we are in private? What does it mean to live out loud the whispered call God has placed on our lives?
Mark’s gospel is not just a story of a community long ago in a far away place. It is that, but it’s also our story. It’s a story for you, for me, and for our St. Brigids community. As we read, reflect on and respond to this gospel in the coming weeks, I have every confidence that it will continue wash over us, provoke questions amongst us, and will – in ways we can’t yet predict – become a part of our own community’s story.
There is so much going on in today’s text. There is so much to explore in Mark’s world. And yet this week, I’ve found myself particularly drawn to Jesus’ own baptism.
It seems like an obvious statement, but Jesus doesn’t emerge from nowhere. He emerges out of a tradition. The Jewish tradition yes, but also as the disciple of the nonviolent revolutionary we have come to know as John the Baptist. Jesus follows John into the wilderness, laying down his burdens at Jordan’s riverside, entering into the waters of repentance and forgiveness.
Like the others drawn from far and wide to the River, Jesus is baptized. To this day, questions still linger for me: What is Jesus repenting of? What forgiveness was he seeking?
We all carry burdens. For some of us, these are feelings of anxiety or inadequacy. There are things we regret. Big decisions that need to be made. We struggle with the ambiguities of life, and wrestle with our own uncertain identities. What do we do with the difference between our ideals and the way things turn out?
This week I had a moment of relief as I was listening to an interview with activists Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. They were discussing a new film based on Naomi’s book, “This Changes Everything,” an exploration of capitalism’s collusion in our current environmental crisis. In a question about the couple’s family, they talked about the joy of raising their son. And they smiled wryly as they shared how their son just loves playing with cars, trucks, and diggers, all emblems of our worst fossil fuel addiction.
I was reminded that even amongst those who stand for important causes, there is no such thing as perfection. Even they can’t force their perfection or ideals upon others.
This is why I found myself so drawn to the image of the dove descending upon Jesus this week. The spirit descends and these words break forth, words that I deeply and desperately needed to hear:
You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.
This is the starting point of Jesus’ ministry. And it’s our starting point too. In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth, land and ocean and sky, day and night, plants, animals and humankind. From the beginning, God declared our goodness.
Good. Good. Good.
Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
With each and every one of you, I am well pleased.
And down by the riverside, Jesus is anointed to live a God-bearing life. Jesus is anointed and he invites us to follow.
Mark’s gospel calls us to follow after Jesus, into the muck and filth of real life. And this very same gospel reminds us that we don’t do this on our own.
Like Jesus, we are God’s beloved. Like Jesus, we, the church have been gifted with God’s spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not magic, tho she is mysterious. Theologian Walter Brueggemann describes her this way:
Taken most simply, Holy Spirit refers to the intruding, invasive, energizing power from God that comes like the wind to blow us beyond ourselves, to take actions, to dare dreams, to run risks that in our accustomed powerlessness are well beyond us. The assurance of Jesus is that the wind of God will blow is to freedom and courage, in spite of our tired fearfulness.
So wherever we are today – ecstatic, joyful, fearful or tired – God is with us. And God is calling us into the river, and to the spirit-filled life that awaits us on the other side.