What follows is a rough manuscript of the sermon I preached yesterday at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, New York, a Spirit-filled church where I'm incredibly blessed to serve as pastor. It's primarily on the appointed Gospel passage for this Sunday, Mark 1: 1 - 8. Furthermore, it's also the second of a four part sermon series I'll be preaching throughout Advent called "God with Us." Here's what I'll be covering in the coming weeks:
- Advent 1: God with Us in the Face of the Stranger
- Advent 2: God with Us in Rotterdam
- Advent 3: God with Us at Work
- Advent 4: God with Us in Family
Finally, I'll guess it might be worth noting that I wrote this pretty rapidly this morning before church after discarding what I came up over the past week... there's thus a much more sense of immediacy to it, and I hope it still makes sense. Thanks so much, stay tuned for future installments, and I hope you find this helpful!
Let’s just revisit the first few verses of today’s gospel message again… “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 the 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. After being tempted by Satan, Jesus then begins preaching, healing and exorcising across the Galilean countryside, picking up a motley crew of disciples along the way, who continue to follow Jesus despite having no idea who He truly is. And this, as Saint Mark says, was “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
You know the rough shape of the rest of the story, right? Jesus isn’t accepted by his family in Nazareth, yet more and more folks seem to flock to him as he continues to heal, cast out demons, and teach in parables. While a demon knows Jesus Christ is the Son of God, yet even despite the transfiguration, ya know, that time when Jesus is on the top of a mountain and everything becomes all white and light and the voice of God says “this is my Son,” the disciples still can’t entirely figure out who Christ is. Even if the disciples couldn’t figure it out though, the people were healed, the people were fed across the Galilee, people learned about how God was active in their everyday lives, in the lives of their local community, in the lives of their families. And this, as Saint Mark calls it, was “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus eventually decides to move south, to Jerusalem, to the local seat of power, to where the temple is, to where God certainly should be! Jesus enters the city triumphantly, yes, but after foretelling the destruction of the temple, and cleansing it, and admonishing the scribes and all the official sounding folks in Jerusalem, all those high and mighty, supposedly super holy people in charge conspire to kill Jesus. And even despite everything that happened at the Last Supper, and all Jesus prayers in Gethsemane, all those super holy religious officials along with the Roman officials put Jesus to death, and this wasn’t like Superman Jesus just hanging out there up on the cross like he is in the Gospel of John. According to Mark, this is a painful, excruciating, all too human process… God in Christ experiences the worst of human suffering in a fully human sort of way, even to the point of crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The disciples continued to deny Jesus, yet at least one unlikely person, a Roman centurion, knew Christ was. And this too, as Saint Mark explains in today’s gospel passage, was also “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
While all the bros were hunkered down terrified of what had just taken place, Mary Magdalene, another Mary and another woman named Salome went to go attend to Christ’s body after the sabbath was over. But when the went to the tomb, Jesus’ body was not there… only a young man in white who said “Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will him, just as he told you.” Yet, at least according to the original ending of the Gospel of Mark, even these women, the most loyal of Christ’s disciples, dropped the ball… the very last sentence in the gospel reads “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Yet somehow, the word God out anyway… Jesus had indeed gone ahead to Galilee, and a seemingly radical, but in fact incredibly simple movement took shape. Increasing numbers of folks were healed, folks were fed from the local seat of power in Jerusalem, to the seat of global power in Rome, and folks learned about how God was active in their everyday lives, in the lives of their local communities, in the lives of their families. And this, as Saint Mark would characterize, was still only “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Now wow, despite countless martyrdoms, the sack of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers and conflicts with those same super holy religious authorities, predominately due to how well Christians care for the physical as well as spiritual needs of people, more people heard about Jesus, and eventually a few hundred years later, the entire Roman Empire converted! While good news in some ways, this also ensured that the Church, the body of Christ on Earth, would from that time forth tangled up in the political order of the day. Yet while the emperors and bishops and Christianity’s own supposedly "super holy people" argued about heresies and creeds, started all sorts of wars and schisms, folks were still healed, folks were fed, and folks learned how God was active in their everyday lives, in the lives of their local communities, in the lives of their families. And despite all the craziness, this too, my sisters and brothers, was still only “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
I know I’m skipping a few details, sure, but despite a ridiculous number of crusades and inquisitions, barbaric colonialism, the corrupt “super holy people” in charge and often silence in the face of immense injustice, somehow, folks were still healed, folks were still fed, folks still learned how God was active their everyday lives, in the lives of their local communities, in the lives of their families. Nearly ninety years ago, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ was founded on the outskirts of a small northern city that electrified and moved the world. Through depressions and wars, and crazy social changes, and immense layoffs and outsourcing, and deindustrialization and a massive loss in population, generations of folks were still healed, still fed and stilled learned how God was active in their everyday lives. Right when things were maybe looking up, 9/11 happened, some controversial wars happened, the Great Recession happened, local tragedies and struggles with pastoral leadership happened, sure. The “supposedly super holy people in charge” often had no idea where or who Jesus was, and still don't, but yet, somehow, folks were still healed, still fed and still learned how God was active in their everyday lives. Just this past week, despite all the craziness and extra commitments of the holiday season, when two of our own families here at Messiah were facing immense difficulties, countless prayers were said, phone calls were made, cards were sent, people were visited and meals were prepared. At the same time, funds were being raised, and quite rapidly actually, to make sure a needy family in Rotterdam had presents under the tree this Christmas. While this was amazing, and I personally have never have been so proud of how supportive and active so many members of this congregation have been over the last week, none of this really was very new. Folks were healed, folks were fed, folks learned how God is still active in their everyday lives. And this too, yes, my sisters and brothers, is only the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
I was thinking about it on a long ride from New Hampshire last night, and while I see how it happened, it seems like absolute hogwash that religion, or at least faith in Christ, is often thought of as this sort of lofty, academic, hard to understand, super complicated sort of thing, ya know? I mean anyone that’s taught their daughter or son a bedtime prayer, or visited a sick loved one in the hospital or served a meal to a hungry family, knows just as much about Jesus as the most highly credentialed pastor or professor. Sure, it’s absolutely necessary to sort of work through our experience of God with others in community, but in the end, Christ comes to us not predominately in ancient treatises or esoteric teachings, but in the regular stuff of everyday life, in caring for one another, in raising families, in learning and growing, in trying to make our local community a better place. And as we continue to journey together through this Advent season, as the days continue to get shorter and colder, amidst all the craziness this time of the year brings, yet as we still await Christ’s coming in hope and longing, my sisters and brothers, know that this too things too is only the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Amen.
Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.