Sermon of the Week:
The Torn-Open Sky
Special Music: I Was There to hear your Borning Cry
Hymn: Baptized in Water
Keywords: Baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit, Democracy, Capitol Insurrection. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
In reading about the texts for today’s sermon,
Particularly this reading from Mark, about the baptism of Jesus,
I came across this fascinating question, posed by a pastor from Minneapolis
Named Elton Brown.
Pastor Brown asks: just how did that dove descend?
Let’s briefly recap everything:
All four of the gospel narratives tell us that Jesus began his adult ministry
here, at the Jordan river,
where Jesus presented himself to the wild and hairy personality that we call John the Baptist
And asked John to dunk him under the water too.
Mark is the oldest of the Gospels.
It was written first,
and as you read it you get the sense that Mark is in a hurry,
that he’s got all this stuff inside of him that he just has to get down on paper.
It makes those of us who fret over what to say a bit jealous,
Those of us who wonder where to find the right words,
Or toss and turn over what can be useful to talk about during a time of national crisis
(and take your pick, my friends, Covid or insurrection or nationalism or racism).
Mark was one of those creatives who was so full of content, so bursting with this story
That it feels like he simply erupted,
using short, staccato sentences in the Greek
favoring words like ‘immediately’ and ‘just then’
to stitch story to story.
One can imagine Mark just writing and writing and writing from start to finish
This narrative is just that important.
It is a short book…the shortest gospel
And it feels more like a sprint than a marathon—
A story of urgency.
As an aside, the other Gospel writers,
At least Matthew and Luke,
clearly had a copy of this text on their bookshelves.
They match Mark’s content and storyline quite closely
even as they seem to want to slow down,
to linger in their telling of the story.
They’ve had the benefit of hindsight
Maybe 10 or 15 years having passed
Since whatever incident or impetus prompted Mark to put pen to paper to get it all down.
Scholars think that it was probably a major disruption in the community—
Something like the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem
around the year 69 or 70 –
That must have been the catalyst for Mark,
maybe some feeling caused by that disruption
that the time was right to take all these stories about Jesus
that were being shared in oral form
person to person, mother to son, father to daughter, neighbor to neighbor
and to write them down,
to preserve them
to help them be shared more widely to people who desperately need to hear
what the overarching story had to say.
When I was a kid, I’m guessing 8 or 9 years old,
I lived in a small rural town called Atlantic, Iowa.
If you live here in Kansas City,
you can take 71 highway due north and drive through it just before you hit I-80.
I was out on my bike with a friend one afternoon,
And it felt like it was a long way away from home
Because it was out there where the town ended, where it just stopped,
Some concrete parking lots and strip malls and the discount store on one side of the highway
And on the other side was farmland for as far as the eye could see.
Atlantic isn’t all that big a town,
and I couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes from home on my bicycle
but like I said, I was 8 or 9
and it felt like I was about as far from home as I could get.
We were riding our bikes out there by those shops
And we could sense a storm coming
The way that you do, some summer afternoons
The wind shifting a bit
The skies darken
Birds start flying the other way.
And I remember looking out across the highway,
across some of that farmland
And seeing my very first tornado
Maybe three or four miles away
Clear cyclone shape as it touched the ground…
And what do you do?
Well, I freaked out.
I don’t think I said goodbye to my friend:
I just turned and pushed my bike to go home
as fast as my legs would get me there
Up the driveway
into the garage
And started telling my mom and my brother and anyone who would listen
That there was a tornado coming and it was crazy
And can you believe that I saw it
And were we in any danger
And what should we do
And how would we be able to handle it and someone grab the dog
You begin to get a sense of the immediacy of such things
When you’ve experienced the urgency of the now
A bona fide, real and present danger
Palpable and raw.
Tornadoes can do that, whether you’re 8 or an adult.
We were ok. The tornado didn’t come into town.
But I was thinking about that this week reading Mark
Taking in the news
Praying about all of the whirlwind of our lives and this crazy week.
As a church, since October we’ve been praying for wisdom, guidance,
and peace for our leaders, lifting up those of good will and the common good, that is,
the good of the lot of us, not just some of us. We’ve been praying for justice too.
And as a church, since mid November, we’ve modified that some,
praying for a peaceful transition amongst the same.
I’m still praying for that, even after five people were killed at the US Capitol this week
During a, what, a protest, a riot, an insurrection, an attempt to thwart our democracy?
There’s a feeling of urgency right now, of putting out a fire that was set ablaze
About wanting a rain shower to come and dampen the flames so that we can put it out
If we can agree enough about what to do in order to do that.
Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come and help us. [Read more…]