12/11/2017 10:44:18 AM
No Room (sermon manuscript)
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,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
My sermon from the Second Sunday of Advent (December 10, 2017) on Mark 1:1-8. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
So in my pre-pastor life, I worked as a web-developer. I built websites, web-based applications, and whatever odd bits of software my clients needed. And I say clients because I did this kind of work as a freelancer. I was my own small-business with only myself as the employee. And this worked out, for a few years at least. But there was a drawback to this kind of employment - especially during this time of year because my version of the corporate holiday party was a pretty lonely affair. I never really got to participate in that kind of ritual - I was only able to witness a version of them on tv and in movies. But that recently changed because my wife’s employer throws a big party every year. And they’re exactly what I always hoped they would be. The party is held in a large ballroom; I’m allowed to eat all the food I want; and there’s a DJ making sure the dance floor is filled up all night long. And since I don’t actually work with any of the people attending this holiday party, I’m a little carefree because I won’t see any of them Monday morning. And that feeling of being carefree extends to the photobooth setup by the dj stage, letting anyone take fun pictures of themselves or a group using a wide variety of props. If you want to wear a batman mask, a rainbow boa, and oversized pair of sunglasses all at the same time, you better be willing to have your picture taken. Anyone using that photobooth would snap the picture and then be able to email themselves a copy of that picture as a fun memento from the corporate holiday party. Everyone at Kate’s office makes sure to stop by the photobooth and take as many silly pictures as possible. And then, as the night goes on, the pictures get a little more wild and ridiculous. It’s fun to watch everyone make these pictures with their colleagues and their friends. They all laugh and smile, and then email these private moments only to themselves. Every person who gets a copy of that picture gets to choose who to share that with. But what would have if that wasn’t the case? What if something happened and the pictures weren’t emailed out like they were supposed to? And what if someone, realizing that the none of the pictures have names attached to them, decided that the best way to make sure those pictures get to the right person is by emailing every single picture to every single person in the company? Because that’s exactly what happened last year at my wife’s holiday party. Even the people who didn’t attend the party were able to witness everything that happened in that photobooth. I’m pretty sure, that come Monday morning, there were some… regrets in Kate’s office. But there were also a lot of confused people because, as they scrolled through the pictures, they kept seeing people they didn’t know. The party was full of spouses and significant others and friends - people the employees at Kate’s office would never pass by in the hallway or sit with during a meeting. The employees, by scrolling through these pictures, would meet these photobooth strangers as a specific moment in time in the middle of their specific life story. The strangers are people without beginnings, middles, or ends. They’re just there - and all the feelings, emotions, questions, energies, and thoughts that show up when we engage with the picture of a photobooth stranger that we are enticed by but do not know - everything about that moment is captured in our reading from the gospel of Mark today. Because, like those photobooth strangers, Mark introduces us to Jesus in the middle of his life story. Jesus is already an adult. He’s about 30 years old and he’s taking his first steps towards the cross. Jesus’ story begins right in the middle of the action which means, in Mark’s gospel, there’s no room for a birth story.
And that’s a strange beginning for us to be reading during our Advent season. Because most of us are, in some ways, totally focused on Jesus’ birth. Nativity sets are dotting our front yards. Christmas trees and being trimmed and decorated. Even our Sunday School here at the church is gearing up to share Jesus’ birth story next week in between worship services. We’re two weeks away from the moment we celebrate Jesus showing up in the form of a vulnerable, helpless, and very needy baby. The story we will tell then includes angels and shepherds and magi crossing borders to see this newborn babe. But that beginning is not where the gospel according to Mark starts. Instead, this gospel which scholars believe was written a decade or two before any of the other gospels were written, begins with a word about good news and shows us a scene where a guy named John is eating bugs in the wilderness. There’s no genealogy about Jesus’ parents here. There’s nothing about a census or a journey and Mary doesn’t sing song about how God empowers the poor over the rich. Instead, we start in the middle of the story - with a word that Jesus is coming - and that this Jesus changes everything.
I’m pretty sure everyone at last year’s holiday party wished they knew ahead of time that the pictures from the photobooth were going to be emailed out to everyone. If they had, they might have handled themselves differently. They might have been a little more cautious about the props and poses they used during their photobooth adventures. Everyone, I think, would have wanted their photobooth pictures to present the best side of themselves. That’s, usually, what we want everyone around us to see. But today’s gospel reading, this beginning that starts in the middle of Jesus’ life story, shows us that God shows up in the middle of whatever our story might be. Even in the moments when we are unable to present our best selves - in those moments when our life and our future are shrouded in a shadow and we feel as if the story of our life that we want to tell is a story that no one will believe - even in those moments, in the middle of every one of our stories, Jesus shows up. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to decide when he can enter our lives. Instead, he just pops in, in the middle of our story because he wants to be there as our life story unfolds. And that’s why, I think, Mark starts in the middle of everything. As Jesus’ story unfolds through Mark’s words, we discover how our own story becomes new, and different, and more life-giving when we have Jesus in it. And this happens because Jesus isn’t a passive observer in the life we live. He is continually pushing us to imagine the world and our lives as he does: a world where every experience is told and believed; a life where the every vulnerable person is made safe and whole; a reality where the hungry are fed, the stranger is welcomed, the sick is cared for, and no one is ever left out in the cold. And Jesus also imagines a world where God’s promise to be with us always is a promise we actually believe. In the gospel according to Mark, the story begins in the middle of Jesus’ story with a guy named John and a promise of the Holy Spirit. And that promise is rooted in a presence and a relationship that will never end. Jesus doesn’t come to us only when we are picture perfect and ready to meet him. He comes to us in the middle of whatever story we’re current in. And that is truly good news.