Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer. Psalm 19:14
Our Gospel reading for today is again from the first chapter of Mark. The Gospel reading for Epiphany I at the beginning of January was about John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the baptism of Jesus. Today’s reading for Lent I begins again with the baptism of Jesus followed by forty days in the wilderness before Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. I find it curious that we have the story of Jesus’ baptism twice in two months. What did the lectionary committee find so important about Jesus’ baptism that they did not want us to miss? And another thing, if Jesus is perfect and without sin then why does Jesus need a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?
Jesus’ public baptism shows Jesus’ support for John’s ministry of baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ baptism is also a turning point in Jesus’ life. Mark has no nativity stories, no stories of Jesus’ childhood as found in Matthew and Luke. Jesus steps into the waters of the Jordan a man the son of Mary and Joseph, but when he rises up out of the waters of the Jordan Jesus rises as the Beloved Son of God with whom God is well pleased. If he didn’t know it before, Jesus now knows for sure who he is; he is the Son of God, the Beloved, the Christ. Have you ever wished for such clarity, to know who you are and your purpose in life? I know I have.
Mark tells us the heavens were torn apart, the veil which separates heaven from earth has been violently torn open and the divine has entered into space and time. Last week we had the story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) when almost the same thing happened only it was an affirmation for the disciples Peter, James and John of who Jesus is. Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah and they have it confirmed that this is true with Jesus blinding glory and the appearance of Moses and Elijah; with this experience the veil of doubt has been torn away; Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God the beloved.
Jesus knows that he is the Messiah. The disciples know that Jesus is the Son of God. Do we know who Jesus is; do you and I know that Jesus is the Christ, the beloved Son of God? In our worship, prayers and reading of Scripture have we come to know Jesus and who he is? Have we come to know who we are, the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God? Do we believe it?
Continuing with today’s Gospel reading Mark tells us that following his baptism, Jesus is immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit where he is tempted by Satan for forty days. If we want to know how Jesus struggled with hunger, issues of personal safety and power we need to go to Matthew. What is important for us to note in Mark’s story is that Jesus took a long period of time alone, in solitude with God, to pray, to talk, and to listen to God. The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness where Jesus internalized who he was and what his ministry would be before Jesus began his ministry proclaiming the good news of God. This story is appropriate for the beginning of Lent and our forty days leading up to Holy Week and the arrest, torture, death and resurrection of Jesus; a time for prayer, worship, fasting, quiet contemplation, listening for what God is saying to us.
I find it fascinating to find out how much Mark tells us with a few well-chosen words. There is the plain reading of the story, but with his careful choice of words he has added a fuller, deeper story to be discovered. With Jesus’ baptism in water does Mark intend for us to recall the story of Noah and the ark, of God’s destruction of evil in the waters of the flood and the new beginning with Noah and the eight surviving people and the pairs of animals they took with them on the ark. As God tears open the heavens and speaks to Jesus, our Old Testament reading tells us that God spoke to Noah and his family and to the animals on the ark and that God promised he would never again destroy the earth with a flood of water and as a reminder to himself and to Noah, God places the rainbow in the sky. Did Mark really intend for us to make this connection between the baptism of Jesus and the story of Noah and the ark and the rainbow? Those who set up our lectionary readings and the author of First Peter certainly thought so.
I told you a couple weeks ago how much I enjoyed reading the book “Mark as Story”. Jocelyn has suggested several other books to read on Mark. I am eager to learn more about the idea of Jesus being the thief who binds the Strong Man. What really happened when Jesus went out into the wilderness? Was Jesus one of the wild beasts that Mark refers to, refusing to be bound by the constraints of the accepted understanding of God in the established Synagogue of his time? The idea is that Satan is the Strong Man who rules the earth. When Jesus goes into the wilderness he struggles with Satan and wins. Mark 3:27 tells us “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” If Jesus is to cast out demons and illness and all that is evil in the world then he must first bind the ruler of the world Satan. This is a new idea for me. I can barely wait to read more about it and share this idea with you.
Today’s story from Mark ends with the arrest of John and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and the inauguration of the Rule of God. Saturday was the vestry retreat led by Canon Bill Spaid. He shared a lot of information with us on our role as the Vestry and Clergy, of what it means to be the leaders of St. James’ and the church in Albion. We spent some time in quiet listening for the word God would give us for ourselves and for St. James’. In order to hear God’s Word we must find a place of quiet solitude away from the noise and distractions of our life and society and listen. In order to build relationships with God and our neighbor we need to be able to quietly LISTEN. I invite you to a Holy Lent a time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving; a time for quiet contemplation, for solitude and silent listening to God and our neighbors. Amen.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer. Psalm 19:14
Please open your Bibles to Mark chapter 1 verse 1. Mark is the second book in the New Testament following Matthew, one of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark was probably the first gospel written and was probably written shortly after the first Jewish war with Rome which began in 66 CE and reached its climax with the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Mark is the primary gospel we will use this year, Year B, with additional readings from the Gospel of John.
Have you found Mark 1:1? <name> will you please read the first verse. So we know from the very beginning that this is a story about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one and that he is the Son of God. The disciples and the other characters in this story do not know this yet, but we know from the beginning that Jesus is an ambassador sent from God, that Jesus speaks and acts on behalf of God.
The next two verses are a quotation from the Old Testament books of Isaiah 40:3, Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1. Then we are introduced to John the Baptizer who proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins which is a concern of the prophets as seen in Isaiah 1:10-10; 55:7; Jeremiah 31:34; Hosea 6:1; Joel 2:12-13; and Zechariah 1:4. John appears in the wilderness which reminds us of the Exodus and the forty years the Hebrew people spent in the desert with Moses when they escaped from the Egyptians. The description of John and especially how he is dressed makes the hearer of this story think of Elijah from several centuries earlier. Baptism may signify a fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:25-28 and the cleansing with water. John’s prediction that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit fulfills the expectation that God will pour out God’s spirit on God’s people in the last days. This story of Jesus Christ grows out of the stories from the Old Testament; Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, a continuation of the story. Every word and phrase that the author of the Gospel of Mark uses has meaning and significance for Mark’s story. His story is brief, even cryptic with sparse use of adjectives. Mark seems to be in a hurry to tell this story and repeatedly uses words like “immediately” and “at once”.
When Jesus is baptized by John the heavens are torn open and the Spirit descends like a dove on Jesus. God has broken into time and space, into the history of humanity and anointed Jesus with the Spirit of God. God strengthens and encourages Jesus, telling Jesus that he is his beloved Son and that he is proud of him. With this knowledge Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit and faces the challenges of God’s adversary, Satan, but Jesus is not alone, the angels are with him, God is with Jesus and supports Jesus and his ministry. I believe we can infer from this that God is also with us in our ministries.
<name> will you please read verses 14 and 15. John has been arrested and Jesus now begins his ministry in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Walking along the Sea of Galilee Jesus invites four fishermen, Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Come, follow me.”
Verse 21 begins a pericope or episode of Jesus teaching on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, with the authority given to him by God, an authority that astounds the hearers. Jesus’ also performs his first exorcism. The unclean spirit knows who Jesus is; he is the Holy One of God, but Jesus tells him to keep quiet and to come out of the man. Surprisingly Jesus even has authority over demons.
Today’s reading, beginning at verse 29, tells of Jesus leaving the synagogue and going to Simon and Andrew’s home with James and John and healing Simon’s mother-in-law who is sick with a fever. Simon is married. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. Then the fever leaves her and she begins to serve them. Jesus can heal and Jesus touches. Touch is so important in building relationships and community and for healing. Jesus touches the untouchable, the sick, the dying, women, lepers…, the outcasts of society. When I first heard this story I was outraged that this poor woman who has been very sick is now serving these men. Another way to look at this is that Simon’s mother-in-law is the church’s first deacon. She already understands what it means to follow Jesus, that it is a life of service for others. She is not focused on personal gain or fame, we don’t even know her name, or position, but is focused on a life of service.
With the sinking of the sun the Sabbath ends and the city of Capernaum bring their sick and those possessed by demons to Simon’s house. Jesus cures the sick and casts out demons. Jesus does not permit the demons to speak. In Mark’s story, Jesus needs to redefine what the role of the Messiah is, so the demons cannot tell the people Jesus’ identity before Jesus has had time to do this. The people’s expectation of the Messiah is very different from the reality, like a mighty warrior riding into town on a magnificent steed compared to a provincial preacher coming into town on a donkey; like the Roman Emperor as the Son of God verses Jesus as the Son of God.
Continuing with verse 35, Jesus gets up very early while it is still dark to pray alone in the quiet of the night. Simon and the others search for him and ask him what he is doing; he should be back at the house where I am sure there are others waiting to be healed. Jesus ignores Simon’s demand and says that they must be on their way to other towns and villages to proclaim the good news and to cast out demons. Chapter one ends with Jesus touching a leper and telling the leprosy to leave him. Jesus heals with touch and by command. Jesus tells the man healed of leprosy to go immediately to the priest to show that he has been cleaned, but instead he goes about telling everyone what Jesus has done. I am afraid that if I was healed of some horrible disease like COPD or Cancer, I too would tell everyone I knew. Jesus’ fame precedes him and he can no longer move freely about without being recognized and bombarded with requests for healing and exorcisms.
Mark wants us to know from the very beginning of the gospel that Jesus’ ministry is to proclaim and enact the good news of God or, as David Rhoads would say in “Mark as Story”, chapter one begins the inauguration of the Rule of God and Jesus begins to redefine what it means to be the Messiah, the Son of God.
It is astonishing how much we have learned about Jesus in just 45 verses and how much we can learn in an afternoon with a good study Bible and a commentary. Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, a teacher, a preacher, a healer, an exorcist; Jesus is compassionate; Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets; Jesus speaks with the authority of God and is God’s beloved.
Last Sunday I invited you to join me on a journey of Spiritual Growth. I am not suggesting we need to do more. We don’t. We are active in our community of Albion with GED, Community Suppers, Community Gardens, Citizens to Beautify Albion, Literacy Programs, American Legion, NAACP, etc. What I am suggesting is that I want to grow deeper in my spirituality, to understand why we are doing these things, to know that we are doing them as an outgrowth of our love for God, our love for our neighbors and our love for all of God’s creation and I am inviting you to join me. Spiritual Growth is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. A good place to start is by reading the Bible, of studying our sacred Scriptures so that we can come to know God and Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit grow into our image of God.
I don't know if you have seen all the information coming out for Lent about The Good Book Club. It's an invitation to all Episcopalians (and anyone interested) to read through the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible during Lent and Easter. Organizations from around the Church are creating materials to support individuals and groups in the process of reading through the Bible. UTO is offering a free downloadable booklet, Mission of Gratitude, for use on this Lenten journey. Each week, the booklet offers a short reflection on the readings, questions for contemplation or discussion, space to journal, and a story and a link to a video about a UTO grant site. There will be a downloadable Lent calendar with links to the websites of UTO grant recipients for each day of the month. St. James’ is featured for Monday, March 18 and the link shown for the diocese goes directly to our church website. We will share additional information as we get it.
Whether you join in reading Luke and Acts or start with the Gospel according to Mark, I invite you to spend some time reading your Bible, immersing yourself in God’s Story and our Story and getting to know Jesus and the God in whose image we are created. Amen.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
Posting of Weekly Sermons