Posts Tagged ‘Torn Apart’

Don’t Leave Me Hanging 1-11-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:1,4-11 which is the story of the Baptism of Jesus, I explore His baptism from Mark’s perspective. I look at the notion that the lack of detail makes important points, and that in our baptism we are connected to Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

A few days back, I was talking with my son, and the subject of homework came up. On this particular day, he was working on an assignment for his social studies class…one that required some online work, as well as answering the various question in a program on his computer.

As we chatted about his assignment, he made two comments. The first was “I really like social studies.” We’ll call that one a win…and the second was “Its nice doing homework on the computer.” I told him to remember that in a few years when he’s sitting there trying to crank out a 10 page paper for some assignment and getting nowhere with it.

As I think back to that conversation…I’m of course reminded of the multitude of writing that I’ve done. As a pastor I still do a fair share…weekly sermons…monthly newsletters…various devotions…and even the annual report earlier this week. And all this writing that goes on certainly reminds me of the various assignments that were required back in my seminary days…when hardly a week would go by that I wasn’t knocking out a 5-pager here…or a 15-there.

One major difference these days is that I rarely have a specific page count that I need to reach in order to complete the assignment…though that was certainly the case in school. I never really had too much trouble meeting the goal though…because as a classmate once pointed out to me…Scott…you can’t say hello in less than 100 words. (pause) And she’s right of course. (pause)

But there was also an ongoing joke with this particular classmate…a good friend of mine who is now a pastor out in North Carolina…that to fill out the requirement…it’s all in the adjectives. You can either say “God works in the world”…or you can fill up space by saying “The divine being that we call God began his extensive work at the beginning and it ever stopped but continues as He continues the ongoing work of creation within the realm that we call the physical world.” (pause) 5 words vs 37. (pause) 37 word statements get you to 15 pages a lot faster than 5…just sayin. (pause)

No perhaps you’re sitting there wondering just what this all has to do with anything here in worship…and I don’t blame you if you are…and so I’ll explain…today’s Gospel represents pretty much the polar opposite of my writing style. (pause)
Now admittedly, I’m excited today…because even though we’ve been in the Lectionary year B…the year that features the Gospel of Mark…for 7 Sundays now…my absence during the first Sunday of Advent means that I have yet to actually preach out of Mark’s gospel. (pause) And granted this is all understandable considering the seasons that we’ve gone through…Advent as we prepared for the coming Messiah and then Christmas as we celebrate his birth and then hear stories from infancy…and we can’t get those stories from Mark…because Mark doesn’t include them.

Its kinda funny how each of the gospels start…the way each author thought we needed to enter into the story that circles around this man named Jesus…this man who was also God. Luke thinks that a good starting point is just before birth…and we start off with the proclamation of the birth of both John and Jesus…and then there’s Matthew…who thinks we need to go back a little further…and so he dives in with a genealogy beginning ALL the way back with Abraham…oh and don’t forget about John who feel it necessary to begin the story of Jesus’ work in the world by taking us all the way back to the Beginning. (pause)

But Mark…well, not so much…Mark leaves out a lot of that extra stuff…because Mark is the polar opposite from me in terms of writing…while I like to heap on the detail…not unlike Matthew and Luke…Mark likes to cut to the chase…and just hit the important points…letting them speak for themselves.

And so today…here at the beginning of a new year…on our first day back into regular programming after our break…we find ourselves at the beginning of the assigned Gospel for the year…and you know what…that’s a pretty good place to start.

Now I love the opening verse of Mark 1…what many scholars believe to be just a title…The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…the Son of God. Short…to the point…but Mark leaves no confusion as to just what he’ll be talking about does he? This…is about Jesus…and we start at the beginning…and for Mark…the beginning of the gospel begins with a baptism. (pause) The baptism of Jesus…to be exact. (pause)

But in true Mark fashion…we don’t get much detail do we? We actually hear more about John than Jesus. We know John’s activity…baptizing…we know his message…repentance for the forgiveness of sins…we know his wardrobe…camel hair was all the rage in those days…and we hear about his typical menu. (pause)

But what about our Lord…you know him…the one that actually got baptized in today’s story…well all we hear about him is that he came from Galilee…and then in the mother load of all detail…we hear “and he was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (long pause)

That’s it? Umm…really? Wow…thanks Mark…you really paint a picture for us there. (pause)

Well okay…to be fair we do hear a little bit more…we hear that immediately after Jesus came out of the water the heavens were torn apart and a voice proclaims to Jesus…you are my son, the beloved…with you I am well pleased.” And that…is…it… (pause)

Perfect example of Mark’s writing style here. Lacking detail…and honestly…it really seems like a cliffhanger. We get a brief mention of the baptism itself…the Spirit comes down…God speaks up…and then nothing…and we are left hanging. (pause)

Now perhaps…just maybe Mark is doing for a specific reason…because we actually see the very same sort of thing again…we see here…at the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…and we’ll see it again 16 chapters from now…at the end…when Jesus has raised from the tomb…and the women find his grave empty…and they run off terrified and say nothing to anyone…

Talk about cliff hangers. (pause) Why would Mark do this? Why would Mark give us so little detail about these important stories…and why would he cut things off without properly explaining just what God’s up to in all this? (pause) That my friends…is a question that has been debated for centuries.

And while I’d love to provide you with some expert answer to that question…I can’t. And so perhaps all we can really do today is look at the details that Mark does give us…limited as they are…and while we do that, keep in mind that what he does tell us is probably pretty important.

First…the gospel begins as Jesus is baptized…the very same baptism that we ourselves share in. The same baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon us…and we are claimed by God as his beloved children. (pause) Hmm…maybe this is a little more significant than we realize. (pause)

And then maybe we better take a closer look at just what happens in the midst of this baptism. Mark loves the word “immediately.” He uses it all the time…now in our translation for today it says “just as he was coming from the water” and while that isn’t too far off…immediately really conveys the timing.

Jesus would have been under the water…fully submerged in the flowing water of the Jordan river…and we hear that immediately as he came up from the water…the instant…the second…the microsecond…that his head broke back through the surface of the water…the heavens were RIPPED APART…not just opened…like God popped open a window, or the spirit walked through a doorway…but literally ripped to pieces.

There is only one other place in Mark’s gospel where we hear this same wording…when Jesus dies and the curtain hanging in the temple…separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple…is ripped in two. (pause)

In that instant…the separation between God and humanity was eliminated…some might say that humanity could now access God…and that’s true…others might say that God was free to encounter humanity…and that’s also true…when the curtain was ripped open God was set loose in the world among us.

And today…in the instant of Jesus baptism, the heavens were ripped open…the heavens…the place where God is…the plane of existence which is totally separate from our reality…God destroyed it in order to get to his beloved child…God destroyed his reality in order to get to one that he loves.

What’s that say about God? (pause) What does that tell us about the lengths that God will go to in order to be with those that he loves…those that he cherishes. (pause).

And now what does that say about us? Because in our baptisms…we are also called beloved child of God. (pause) So maybe…just maybe…today, even though Mark fails to give us much in the way of details…and even though he cuts things off…seemingly right in the middle of this story…this story that serves as the beginning of the gospel of Christ…maybe today we are reminded that God is willing to tear heaven apart…God is willing to destroy the barrier between us and him for each and every one of us…simply because he loves us too much not to. (pause)

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ…this is the good news…that his life…his death…and his resurrection simply serve as evidence to the fact that there is no length that God will not go to for you. (pause)

And the truly remarkable thing about all this…is that God chooses to do it…its not up to us…God does it…God is the one taking action…making all of this possible. When someone is baptized…God does it. Its not the pastor or the parents…its not the sponsers…its not the grandma or the grandpa…and its certainly not the individual that’s taking the action…its God…it is the action of our creator who will go to any length to be with you…and so when the words are uttered that you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed in his love for ever…God’s the one doing the marking…God’s the one doing the sealing…and you can rest assured that the same Spirit which came upon Jesus in his baptism comes upon you in yours. (pause)

The beginning of the gospel is found in baptism…but it doesn’t end there…especially not in Mark’s gospel where we are seemingly left hanging…because the gospel goes on…and even when Mark stopped writing…the story wasn’t over yet…because the gospel is still going on…it didn’t end with Jesus death…it didn’t end with his resurrection…and it hasn’t ended now today…and because God’s story keeps going on…and because God desires for us to join with that same story…the gospel goes on…whether we’re paying attention or not…God’s not leaving us hanging. Amen.