"Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him." - Matthew 3:13
When Jesus enters into Jerusalem, he is baptized again. This time by his suffering on the cross. He descends into hell and sets loose those who were held captive. Then on Easter he exits by way of the resurrection. This is our road map.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear... - Isaiah 11:3
It is possible for a roll of film to go a decade or two without being developed. During that time, the images are invisible. Any attempt to see what is on the film results in erasing the image. Only by carefully processing the film is the photographer’s art brought to light. Often things are hidden away until it is the right time for them to be revealed. A baby is hidden in womb until it is born...
"Today salvation has come to this house" --for Jesus came to save the lost
Being short – as in having less money than you need at the moment – and being up a tree, are expressions we use for those awkward or dangerous moments when our own stupidity is about the be rewarded. What about you? Are there personal potholes that you fall into? Traits that work against your desire to be on top of life?
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Here is the story. God emptied himself and was born into our world. One Friday, God made himself weak and vulnerable. He was betrayed, put on trial, mocked, beaten, made to carry his cross throughout all the streets of Jerusalem, he stumbles three times under its weight (imagine that, God being weak), and then arriving at the place of the skull, he is nailed to this cross. It is dropped into a hole. He is made to hang between heaven and earth. In agony for three hours. Then he dies. God’s envoy to this planet dies. This is the story.
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
A beautiful vase is made mostly of space. Without the emptiness inside it, a tennis ball won't bounce. We tend to think that religion is about what we do; the songs that we sing, the offerings that we bring, and the words that the preacher says. Religion is really about the meeting space, the doorway, the emptiness, the wilderness, and the mountaintop where people and God meet.
One key difference between Jesus and Herod the Great was that Jesus had a succession plan. Herod the Great seemed oblivious to the fact that he would die. Jesus came into the world in order to die for sinners. Herod considered anyone who challenged him to be disloyal and a threat. Jesus forgave his enemies and invited them into his kingdom.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.
How is Jesus like a refiner's fire or the fuller's wash-tub? In my own life Jesus appears as the refiner's fire when my problems and misdeeds have become too great for me to ignore. It is like what they say at AA, "I've come to believe that it will take a power greater than myself to restore me to sanity." That's when Malachi's Jesus becomes good news.
Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside
Important people often suffer from a disease. The important ends that they are engaged in, steals the meaningfulness of the moments along the way. They write a check to a charity. They don't stop to meet the people they are helping.
Jesus has to do some pretty silly stuff to get people to believe that he’s alive. In John 20, he lets Thomas poke him in the side. In Luke 24:36-48 he eats a bit of fish. Don’t think of a nice salmon broiled with butter. No. The disciples are poor folk in Jerusalem during the height of the tourist season. The city is three days away from the sea. The fish is likely to be boney. Think a pounded piece of perch from Galilee, dried on the dock, packed in salt — the bottom of the barrel. Jesus has a resurrected body. He’s not hungry. He does it so that they will believe.
So believing is really important. We need to believe that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus. That believing in Jesus has the power to change our lives. And that Jesus died, intentionally, to save us from our sins. And that Jesus is alive again, and promises to make us alive again when we die.
Yet believing seems to be something that we can’t control. God knows that real spirituality has to be cultivated slowly and diligently in our lives. He doesn’t overwhelm us with obvious “that’s got to be God” moments. He scatters a few spiritual ah-has over the years. Yet, we are commanded to believe.
While the moment of belief seems to be out of our control, we are responsible for putting ourselves in the right place. Most of the disciples hung together, even though it was difficult, after Jesus was crucified. The came back to the upper room, swimming upstream against their doubts. They put themselves in a place, and with a fellowship, where faith was possible.
Mark is the Tom Clancy of the New Testament. He is an action adventure writer. His gospel moves fast. His favorite word is “immediately.” He hates the passive voice. Jesus is always doing something. As a writer, myself, I recognize the writing problem that Mark gets himself into at the end of his first chapter. Mark wants to keep the story moving, but he also wants to give us details about how Jesus spent his days. The Bible’s other authors would have written a few paragraphs about what Jesus often did, or the nature of his habits. “Often” and “routine” are not in Mark’s adventure packed vocabulary.
Many Bible scholars think that Mark, also known as John-Mark, is Peter’s ghost writer. The impulsive fisherman didn’t have time to put words to paper. Mark didn’t want to waste the reader’s time, or attention span, with talk of what Jesus ate for breakfast or how often he went to the gym. Instead, he gives us a fast paced account of a single day. He implies that this is what its like to follow Jesus. We are left thinking that being a disciple is too high stress, 24/7, type A, a thing for our lives (not that I’m criticizing Mark). Yet, Mark is an antidote to the ho-hum, gentle and mild, church-is-boring, way we have settled into this Christianity thing.
Lent starts in another week and a half. We do well to remember that the reason Mark rips through the beginning of Jesus’ story is because he wants to take us to the cross. The event that reshapes all of human history doesn’t happen along the quaint Galilean shore, it’s in Jerusalem — bloody and passionate — and there, oddly enough, Mark slows down to bring our work-a-day world to a stop.
So every day with Jesus isn’t like the one described in Mark 1:21-39. But they all contain the same elements:
Last week I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico with my cousin, Ron. The Unitarian Church there always has something interesting on its marquee. Last week the sign had only three words, it read, “Spirituality without God.” My cousin Ron asks me what that sign meant. I said, “I think they’re just trying to being honest.” The UU church advertises itself as place where people can find spirituality without God. People who enter that church will probably find a warm and loving fellowship. They will find a pastor that listens to their problems and visits them in the hospital. They will find a rich educational program where there are activities for their children and youth. As a visitor to that church passes through the narthex they might see a place where the people drop off donations for the food bank and sign up for work trips and volunteer to knit items for the local nursing home — doing good is probably something that this church in Albuquerque does well.
What is missing? Is it really possible to have spirituality without God?
Jesus comes into Jericho and sees Zacchaeus up in a tree. As soon as Jesus speaks a kind word to this hardened tax collector, the man is changed. Zacchaeus becomes remarkably generous. His heart, like the Grinch’s, grows three sizes. If we (I say this with the collective royal “we”) as a congregation are Jesus in the world today, then this is how the god-forsaken should respond to us. Repentance is not held up by the stubbornness of the pagan’s heart, it is held up by the paucity of winsome examples of real goodness.
Last night I spoke with a woman who was going alone to South Dakota to attend a family reunion. It was the first time that a representative of her clan was attending the annual gathering organized by her far, distant, cousins, who long ago, had split off and added one letter to their name. She was apprehensive that she wouldn’t have anything in common with these people. We had this conversation fifteen minutes after a fairly homogenous group of board members for a local non-profit had nearly come to blows over a trivial issue. In Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-26, he asks the Father to provide a spirit that will unite his diverse followers into one. Jesus and the Father-God are one. They exhibit harmony and shared purpose. With the exception of Jesus’ 33 year stint on earth, they are eternally inseparable.