There are some weeks, perhaps most weeks, where I hardly know where or how to begin my reflection! How do I make ancient words relevant in the very different world we live in? A world that includes racist and ignorant remarks from the president of the United States. A world that includes ever increasing and widespread accounts of sexual harassment. A world that includes death of loved ones. And of course, a world that includes the excitement of a new marriage. A world that includes thanksgiving for a new baby. And a world in which we can and do make a difference.
Our reading is from the first chapter in Marks’s gospel. And while it is the second book in order in the new or second testament, Mark is considered to be the gospel that was written the earliest. Mark does not provide us with an account of Jesus’ birth. I know some of you were shocked last week when I said that Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas Day and the Wise Men didn’t show up that night OR 12 days later.
Today I am going to tell you that some scholars believe that the birth accounts in Mathew and Luke are later additions to justify Jesus’ Messiahship. And again, it doesn’t matter to me. What the shock some of you expressed pointed out to me is that I have to do a better job of exploring the biblical text with you… its historical context, to whom it was written and so on, along with its message for us today. Mark begins his account of Jesus’ life and ministry with his baptism. Let’s listen closely to this account as written in Mark 1: 4-11
1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (NRSV)
Do you remember who John is? He is Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son, born in their old age, Jesus’ cousin. It is he who ‘leapt’ in Elizabeth’s womb when she met Mary, pregnant with Jesus. He comes from a priestly line, but hasn’t followed his father into temple leadership. Instead he spends time in the wilderness and comes out preaching a message of repentance! Imagine the conversations in that household! A respected leader of the temple with a son who is at best unusual. But he must be charismatic… he must have a message that resonates with people, for it is written that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:5)
At this time, according to Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, we know nothing of Jesus. He was simply one of the gathered crowd, who was seeking to be baptized. But apparently, something amazing happened. There was a shining, shimmering moment of spirit descending… and a voice declaring Jesus to be beloved. For those of us who are baptized, have you heard the story of your baptism? Did your parents tell you? Or do you remember you own baptism? Was there a voice from God calling you beloved? No? So then, how do we know that we are one of God’s beloved?
An on-line colleague, the Rev. Rachel Keefe writes this, “As if to remind us of that overwhelming joy, the voice of God echoing through Jesus’ baptism speaks a powerful truth. Jesus is God’s Beloved and we would do well listen up. We, too, are God’s Beloved and we are called to incarnate Love just as Jesus did. How did Jesus respond to Herod and the Temple Authorities, with an outrageous, truth-telling love. Mostly, Jesus didn’t deal with them. He focused his attention on empowering people, building community, and modeling the way of compassion. He tried so hard to get people to see that the Kingdom of God is built with love, not the romantic, feel-good kind of love. That kind of love won’t bring liberation to the captives or set prisoners free. Jesus demonstrated the hard, enduring agape kind of love. This love reveals the presence of God in the here and now. It also fills those who embody it with overwhelming joy in spite of the Herod’s and Temple Authorities who thrive on fear, hatred, and oppression.” You can read more of what she wrote here.
It’s wonderful to feel that shimmering, shining love and I hope you feel it at times. The other kind of love, best translated as agape, or love for others, is not so much a feeling as an action. One of the ways in which we embody that kind of love is through supporting the United Church’s Mission and Service Fund. I am happy to report that in 2017, our two churches gave over $8000 to help fulfill Matthew 25, “For I was hungry and you made sure that food was available, I was thirsty and you made sure I had access to clean water, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and imprisoned by systems and you freed me.”
The needs of the world can be overwhelming… I feel it too. I so often forget that we are not called to mend the whole world! It is the task of all Christians and people of other faiths.
Sally McFague, one of my favourite, contemporary theologians compared the practice of mending the world to a group of woman making a patchwork quilt. She writes, “Nobody is responsible for the whole quilt, rather it is a product of a whole host of people working together. The important thing is for each of us to do our patch.” Sometimes our patch is in our own neighbourhood, sometimes it is the other side of the world.
For those of you who have email, you will already have received the latest issue of Transition Times… for those of you who don’t, there are some on the magnetic board to take. It outlines the plans for the coming year, which includes hosting a Community Round Table, in which we will invite members of the community in to see how we might become better connected to the community. I know that many of you are active in the community in a variety of ways as individuals, but not so much as a community of faith. I have no idea what the outcome of that Round Table will be, but I hope we will find new possibilities together.
There is a quote in The Talmud, which says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
As we undertake the ongoing ministry and mission of Jesus, let us remember our baptism. This morning, as some reflective music is played, you are invited to come and dip your hands in the baptismal font, whether you are baptised or not, remembering that you a beloved child of God!
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus, amen.
Mark 1: 4-11
January 14, 2018
Riverview and Nine Mile River United Churches