Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
January 7th, 2018
Mark 1: 1-13
“Now It Begins”
“Today, we shall begin at the beginning of the story, as told in the first gospel written, the gospel according to Mark, chapter one, verses one thru thirteen.”
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 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.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
“This writing has set the stage for us, as we now consider how the ministry of the man Jesus began so long ago. From here we can begin again to enter into a new time and a new chapter in our lives, as individuals and as a church.”
The season of winter is surely upon us and our northern friends are assuredly feeling the full wrath of winters icy touch with winds of cold arctic air, with a brush of white snow and ice, in many areas. We must keep them in our prayers as these types of harsh conditions can be as life threatening as a named storm like Irma or Matthew. The weather has, however, invoked some past-memories for me of winters long past. As a child I remember the snow building up to my waist, on a regular basis, and the snow drifts and such which I could climb up upon and slide down with the aid of a simple piece of cardboard or a small plastic disk or tray.
Yes, there are several, and many more of these past and long forgotten winter storm stories which I can recall. Like the blizzard of 1978 in the Boston Massachusetts area. There was one of these harsh flare-ups, a blizzard actually, on a Monday, just after a bad storm had hit just a few days earlier, a Friday I believe. It was an insensitive, ruthless and dangerous storm. By mid-afternoon thousands of travelers had been stranded along the major routes around the Boston area. Over three feet of snow had fallen at a rapid rate stranding many in their cars as the travel slowed to a scrawl, then a stop. Cars ran out of gas and the governor had to declare a state of emergency. I had skipped work for fear of the storm.
I was stranded in my apartment for most of a week before the roads in Andover and Lawrence were opened. It took an army to clear the cars that were stranded on the highways. What a winter!
Not all winter memories are so traumatic. I remember being able to go sledding upon hard packed snows and some ice skating and a little bit of cross country skiing. Now skiing is a fascinating sport! My older sister took me skiing when I was in my early teens. That was the beginning of some fascinating adventures! Without even a lesson she took me up the ski lift to the top of a mountain in New Hampshire. It may have been Mount Snow or maybe not, I am unsure exactly, it was a long time ago! I am terrible at names of people, places and things! But, you all know that already! The only thing about that day of skiing with my older sister ‘Lois’, was she did not give me much instruction! Oh my, it just simple good luck I did not break a leg or worse! She just told me to head on down the slope and enjoy. What a thrill it was too, until I leaned the wrong way and went head over heal down the slope. But, I was young and the drama and thrill of it all kept me going. It was many years later before I took a couple lessons and started to have a more reasonable run down some slopes in Maine. Great memories.
All this talk of winter got into to my consciousness, and I found myself thinking about when I was a youth group leader, the year before I entered seminary. We had a small group of teens. A good group really. Well, that winter I helped them organize a ski trip into New Hampshire. My life was full, and I had not been skiing for well over ten years or more by that time. Well, that Saturday we got together, we met at the church, where it all began. Two car loads of teens arrived, and I rode with them and the Assistant Pastor, Elizabeth, came with us to give us the two chaperones we needed. Right off, I knew I was over my head so to speak. I was the only one who did not own my own skis and all the latest gear to go with them.
When we arrived at the resort I promptly ran off to rent my skis and such while they all headed for the slopes. They went up the gondolas before I got set up with my rented equipment. I remember that ‘gut feeling’ of being way out of my league. And I was!
I finally got on the gondola and headed up the mountain. It was way more than a hill! The assistant Pastor found me up there just kind of frozen in place unable to get myself headed down the trail. She saw that sheepish look of uncertainty in my eyes and she made a suggestion. “The best way to get back into skiing is just to push off down the slope and then quickly fall down. You do remember how to fall down don’t you Tim?” Well with her urging that is exactly what I did. I pushed off down the hill and after ten or fifteen yards I purposely feel down. There is a right and a wrong way to do that on skies, by the way. After I brushed myself off – the basics came back to me. By myself, now I began the rituals of the basic stuff, like remembering how to snow plow, a technic to slow your pace as you headed down the hill, and parallel skiing from, side to side, as I slowly skied down the slope. By the time I got down I was having a great time. I came down the mountain twice before I ran into the youth group. They were excited to see me upright on my skies and we then rode up the gondolas together.
Then it began. Taking me into the heart of my day and this accounting. My humanness overwhelmed me.
At the top of the slope these young vibrant and athletic young skiers, quickly picked out a trail and urged me to come with them. Feeling Over confident after my two slow runs down the beginners slope I accepted their invite. Everything was fine until we got around that second corner; it was then that I realized we were on one of the tougher trails… the field of what I call ‘moguls’ loomed and there was no way to avoid them. “Moguls are a series of bumps… formed when skiers push snow into mounds as they do sharp turns… Since skiing tends to be a series of linked turns, moguls form together to create a bump field. /Wikipedia/ I had no experience with this level of skiing and was getting very concerned. But there was no turning back. I was going fast and saw those near me fly over these mounds of snow. They handled them well… they were well experienced, and I was not. I made it over the first one. It was breath taking but when I hit the second one I was ill prepared and went flying, when I landed I tumbled and eventually found myself buried in a sea of snow. I think someone stopped to see if I survived but that was the last I saw of them for a while.
We all begin somewhere. My adventures with that youth group took on a different meaning after I survived the ski slopes. In our scripture lesson this morning the ministry of Jesus began at the river Jordan, with a wild evangelist named John the Baptist! What a beginning that was. If we ‘peel off’ the finery of the story teller, in the gospel of Mark, we will see a very rugged prophet living out in the wilderness. The Spirit of God was surely with him as he lived a harsh and weathered existence out by the river, proclaiming for all to hear, the coming of the kingdom of heaven. His message was simple. He was confronting the sins of humanity in this rugged setting, while warning everyone that they must repent their evil ways; repent their sinfulness and be baptized, be cleansed by him in the waters of the river… to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah.
He clarified in his wild way that the One who was to come was mightier than he and would baptize them with the Holy Spirit of God!
This is how this first gospel writer from Mark introduces us to the man Jesus. You scholars among us, you may have noticed that Mark doesn’t bother to tell us the of birth stories of the baby Jesus, as contained in the later gospels of Matthew and Luke! No, Mark wanted to get right into the beginning of the ministry of this the Son of God, this the Son of humankind! Only from the later gospel accounts do we learn how Jesus was born of Mary, the virgin, in Bethlehem; and how Jesus was raised in Nazareth as the son of a carpenter named Joseph! No, Mark brings us to the Jordan and introduces us to John the Baptist as he prepares the way, just as the story teller prepares us for the dramatic entry and the beginning of the ministry of Jesus! Perhaps, at The Spirit’s urging he wrote with such flare to catch the attention of Twenty-First century Christians whom are traumatized by ‘reality shows, the science fiction and dramatic story telling such as the epic “Star Wars” and Lord of the Rings” Trilogies!
Not only does Jesus arrive at the river where John was, Jesus asks the Baptizer to Baptism him! John of course is shocked, telling Jesus he is not worthy! But Jesus insists! Wow! Mark sure knew how to get folks to listen to this drama unfold! Yes, this is a dramatic moment! This isn’t a cuddly birth narrative! Nor the poetic stories of the three kings, the Magi, whom were heaven laden and travel wiry, as they followed a star, and found the baby in a manger, in Bethlehem, where they presented his parents with their expensive gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh! No, those stories aren’t even recorded for readers such as us to even read about in the gospel of Mark! No, Mark keeps the dramatic pace of this narrative moving ever forward! Once Jesus is baptized we hear how the heavens are torn asunder! Then, then in sharp contrast there is a dove, representing the Living Spirit of the Almighty himself coming and sitting upon Jesus’ shoulders! What a dramatic beginning! Mark wanted to be sure everyone gets it! The ministry of Jesus was meant to change everything! Yet, the symbol of the dove was meant to temper that and let us know that this man Jesus – would represent the fullness of God’s Love – for all of humanity!
This was only the beginning of the story! Yet, Mark continues the drama as we hear that the Spirit of God drove Jesus out into the wilderness to prepare him for the work, the ministry of his calling! That’s how it began!
As modern-day Christians we need to take a moment… and just breath this all in! Even Jesus, and clearly John the Baptist, had to endure the harsh realities of the all too real world in which they found themselves in. Our northern friends are experiencing the arctic cold of a harsh winter. John and Jesus were experiencing the hardness of the dry arid air and the dusty, hot desert wilderness! Life can be tough, and our gospel writer knew this. And therefore, wanted to be sure we were able to read into this passage that these men were not part of a beautifully scripted birth narrative. But rather in real human sweat and toil… they were ready to roll up their sleeves and tackle the real troubles of the society, the world in which they were born into! With this as the backdrop: now it begins!
The work of ministry is now on the story tellers table – ready for the ‘listeners’ like you and me… to listen. Listen and be attentive, for it is in the challenges, the moguls and the rough places of life, it is here, where the ministries of Jesus and the religious leaders that the early disciples represented, this is where it began! The work of ministry for we the family of this church, is now on the table! The resetting of new goals – for the new year ahead, is now being displayed for all who have ears to hear! The terrain we travel upon lays in front of us; not behind us! (That which is left behind is now just a history lesson, from which things can perhaps be learned from.) The Spirit of God is stirring and the time to begin has arrived! How will the story teller whom writes about this our community tell the tale? Surely, the time of testing and preparation are upon us, as we reorganize and re-plan, perhaps re-shaping how this ministry, which we are all a part of, shall serve this community, while following the will of God! Surely, the angels of heaven, the Living Spirit of Christ, shall tend to our needs as we prepare ourselves for the journey ahead!