April 19, 2015 // Sara Wolbrecht // Voices // Mark 1: 9-13
Before we get started, just a reminder that we post the audio of the sermon each week on the website and podcasted on iTunes. If you miss out being here on Sunday you don’t have to miss what we did together here. I encourage you to find a rhythm to listen to the sermons during the week (even a second time if you need it) – I like to listen to sermons whenever I have a chance to jog, also in the car when I’m driving from place to place. That may work for you, too.
We will continue to build upon what we did the week before as we make our way through the gospel of Mark. So to get the most out of this experience and to hear what God is saying to us, you’ll want to be dialed in to what is happening each week, and I know it’s not possible to be here every time.
Our sermon series is: Life Outside the Box, taking a look at what we do as we hear this invitation to dump our whole selves out on the floor, to unpack our heart and let God make beautiful things of who we are, and the lives we have. What do we do when it is all outside the box?
Last week we began this journey with the first 8 verses of Mark’s gospel – John the Baptist spoke the words we need to live in, that GET READY for God to show up in our lives each day and live with expectancy that God is always up to something. For John, everybody came to the Jordan River for a big ol’ party in the water as they responded to this invitation to get ready for God to come. And today, Jesus joins the party in the river.
But before we get there, I want to set the stage for us a little bit. Let’s talk for a few minutes, about something that is true for all of us. I want to talk about voices.
We are each, always, telling ourselves a story, a story about who we are and who we are not. There is running commentary in our heads about what we’re doing, what we’re failing to do, a story about our worth, our value. We all have an inner voice, don’t we.
While these voices, ideas, messages and images can be extraordinarily life-giving and grounding, I have observed in most people, these voices are most often are ruthless, negative, gnawing voices. How many of you have that sense – that there is this story, this voice, these thoughts – about you, your intelligence, your habits, your body, your past, your future that are always there - Do you experience this voice? And who can admit that yes, this voice is often ruthless and negative?
The voices we hear can take various forms – but there are certain types that are particularly common. I want to name three of them I’ve observed.
In one form there is what I call the critic. This voice is always evaluating our performance and nothing is ever quite good enough – the critical voice looks back on that meeting at work, that presentation, that time we spent with friends, the thing you just said – and every time the critical voice says, well that could have been better. YOU could have been better. The critic is hard on us no matter what. No matter what we do it just keeps pushing. Keeps telling us you are not good enough, you have not worked hard enough, you are not thin enough, smart enough – the answer is always we need to do more, work harder, earn it, prove it. Be better. The critic.
There’s another voice that actually disguises itself as an inflated ego. It just keeps telling us how awesome we are. It’s pride. It bloats us, inflates us, it tells us we’re so great. But the truth is that voice does that by focusing on others and putting other people down. I’m so awesome! (And they are not). This ego voice is always picking at others, looking for any little failure, mistake, shortcoming someone else has –because if we can find it, puts us up just a slight bit. And we can keep the focus off of our own selves, our own insecurities, when we keep the finger pointed to someone else. That’s another form.
And the final voice I’ll mention is the stuck voice. The voice that tells you that nothing ever changes. You can never have a better life, move in a new direction, healthier, exercise more, eat better food, become more intentional about the words you say. The stuck voice creeps in when there is a sign of hope and says– you don’t think you can change that do you? The stuck voice says: tomorrow is going to be just like today.
There are other voices, too. Many are dark, evil voices that were formed in painful circumstances of our past, born out of abuse, addiction, fear, trauma. Others are simply formed by the messages engrained in us as children by our parents, teachers, coaches. Others we’ve internalized from the wider culture. They are the voices that often hound us, that shape our story of ourselves in particular and unhelpful ways. As you consider all of this, are you aware that you have voices, a story that you tell yourself? And do you hear echoes in what I describe of the familiar voices in your own head? I know I do.
Into this awareness of the voices we carry, of the story we are telling ourselves, we hear today this part of scripture. Here, is Jesus’ entry onto the scene. This is first appearance in Mark’s gospel – firsts are always important. Let’s see what happens.
Mark 1:9-13 (NIV) At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
So for those who are new to reading this passage, let’s get the events of it in our heads a little bit. The who, what, when of it. This is known as the baptism and testing of Jesus. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. Then two things happen as Jesus is coming out of the water – first something descends on him. What is it? The Holy Spirit – that was a bit of a trick question – because the text says: Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove (Mark 1:10). And every artist who has painted or drawn a picture of Jesus’ baptism actually draws a dove (painting of Jesus’ baptism). I wore my bird shirt today in honor of this dove. But there actually was no dove (dove with an X). What the text literally says is: the Holy Spirit descended as a dove would descend. The Holy Spirit moves like, has a presence like a dove. How would you describe how a dove flies? Gently. Peacefully. Mark as he is writing this lets us know what the Holy Spirit is like. It is like a dove. I love that.
Next – and this is what I want us to really pay attention to – our text says that as the Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus, something else is heard – a voice! Whose voice is it? God’s voice. God says the most amazing thing to Jesus: You are my son, I love you; with you I am well pleased. God says: check this guy out – you are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted in you.
So: consider this. Did Jesus just heal someone? Teach a bunch of people? Call his disciples? Fly around and do something awesome to be all Jesusy? No. Jesus has had no public ministry yet. The text says, “Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized by John…” Jesus grew up in Nazareth and Mark is even making the point to say: he came straight there from his childhood upbringing to this moment of baptism. Jesus is now thirty years old. He has essentially done nothing “Jesusy” – nothing to earn approval, reward, a high five by typical Jesus standards. AND YET this happens. God says this before Jesus has done anything.
That phrase “with you I am well pleased,” which is a little Yoda-ish to me, literally means: you are the source of my delight. You cause me to feel great pleasure and joy. Because Jesus had earned that? No, God says – Just because you are you.
This is an incredibly defining moment – the moment that begins Mark’s gospel and begins Jesus’ ministry. And it does not begin with fireworks going off while Jesus is totally awesome and feeding 5000 people or walking on water. But again, Jesus hasn’t done anything – God is making it so clear to say, Jesus, my delight is not based on what you do. It is given freely and without condition or proof.
Can you see how surprising and striking and beautiful that is? …Not only is this moment so defining for Jesus, it is absolutely defining and revolutionary for us.
Have you ever wanted to hear God speak to you in a clear voice? Here it is. This is spoken just for you – God says this to you. You are a child of God, He loves you; God is well pleased with you, he delights in you. Before our feet hit the floor in the morning, before we have done anything, our value, our worth is summed up in this word from God. The whole of the Christian story can be summed up in this point: that when God looks at every one of us, he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day.
This is the voice God wants us to hear. It is always being spoken to us – in different ways, mediums, words – God wants us to hear this. AND YET – it can be so so hard to hear this voice over the other voices, the running commentary, the story we’re telling ourselves that’s trying to convince us we are something else and that we have something to prove. We continue to be told and taught by our wider culture that we need to relentlessly prove ourselves and earn approval.
Our text actually clues us in to how difficult it is to remember our identity. Did you notice what happens right after Jesus’ baptism? He is tested in the wilderness. The text says: Immediately the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Immediately after his baptism and this beautiful defining moment, Jesus is sent into the wilderness, and there Satan tempts him. The other gospels give us a little more detail about what happens there – how Satan tries to get Jesus to use his power to show off and by doing so Satan says Jesus will gain power, popularity, and prestige. Which are very tempting things. But untrue.
Similarly we, too, even as we have moments where we connect with and hear this voice from God and know that we’re beloved, we, too, find ourselves immediately hounded with other voices. Tested. Voices tempting us to believe things about who we are that are not true. Yeah, just work a little harder and then you’ll finally feel good about yourself …Oh, if you could just be a little thinner…or be in a relationship…or get a better job…
Jesus shows us that the voices will continue to barrage us. Did you hear that? We see here how our identity will be challenged by that barrage of other voices – like Jesus in the wilderness. It keeps coming.
So then: to live the life of Jesus, the most basic place we start is figuring out how we hear God’s voice, how we remember who we are. We don’t start out by setting the agenda about doing the right things or even serving people. In order to be salt for the world, first we need to know and remember that we are salt.
So for you, where, how, do you hear that voice of affirmation from God and know who you really are? How do YOU stop those other nagging voices? This is a huge, ongoing question for us to live in.
It has been for me. When I was 25 years old and in the midst of serving as a chaplain in a hospital in San Francisco as part of my seminary training, my supervisor helped me realize that I was always evaluating myself. Always critical, always looking back on what I’d done thinking it was not good enough. The critic. And this was shocking for me to hear – I never recognized that voice, never realized I had this commentary going. I always thought I was this nice person, but it turned out I was ruthless with myself. And that is a terrifying, painful way to live. Emerging out of that discovery, I was in two years of therapy to sort myself out – my perfectionism, my fear of failure. It was awesome to work through that stuff.
Our twenties and thirties are these years where significant life events happen – like internships and chaplaincies, college graduation, grad school, dating, living on our own, figuring out how to be an adult, getting a “real” job, marriage, kids, finding our way in every way. Times where we really define who we are, on our own for the first time. These are awesome times, but can also be wilderness times – times of being on our own in a scary way. Also, a time where we begin to recognize the story we’re telling ourselves. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Jesus is 30 years old when this baptism moment happens – He needed to hear that voice from God as he was becoming who God created him to be. We need it too. Being an emerging adult is that time where we need to figure out how we’re going to hear this voice of God’s affirmation that defines who we are, and live that story.
I’ve been hinting at a few things that I want to make crystal clear about how we live this story. Because again – it is hard. It’s not just about hearing these words I’m saying but actually figuring out how to make this voice the voice you hear, and live in. Because think about it – how many times have you heard the words: God loves you. And yet, is that the voice you hear when you’re awake at night?
Changing the Voices:
1. Takes intention! (Be aware, notice, make time – here are some specifics…).
2. This may be a totally new concept for you, and you may be like me, nad have no idea what voices you’re playing (and if you’ve sat there the whole time thinking, oh, thankfully, I don’t have any of those voices in my head… Surprise! Guess again! You may have a shocker in store for you like I did. Notice, recognize, and name the other voices. (Friends, we’re all telling ourselves a story. Where do you get your sense of worth? Therapists are fantastic in helping with this work. We need other people, outside, real voices to help us recognize and name these voices. Find the therapist or trusted friend to help you).
3. Talk back to the (untrue) voices. Speak truth. (Try writing it down. I remember journaling the words Shut up! I am enough! Over and over again. Here, therapists can help, too).
4. Discover the ways you hear God’s delight and love. And make time, place for it. (Is it when you look out over the ocean, hike, read, sing, listen to sermons, receive Communion, in those quiet moments before you get out of bed. Pay attention to what feeds your identity and nurture that. One hint: we need a community of others).
Four ways to get started. So for us today, in this moment it seems important that we would create some space to hear God’s voice for us – to tune in to that radio station and tune out all the other stations that want to criticize us. To do that, I want to close with a video. This video is a beautiful testimony from my friend Bernita – who hates to be videotaped yet who graciously agreed to share her experience of God showing her how much she means to him and what her identity is in him.
VIDEO of Bernita Alfonzo
Isn’t that awesome? God knows everything about us (nothing is hidden), and loves everything about us. And like with Bernita, God wants us to know this deep in our bones. Would you be willing to close your eyes for a moment? Take a breath. And in this moment we let down our guard, we set aside the lists of things we have failed at this week, the lists of things we’ve done and have yet to do, we lay aside the opinions others are holding of us, we lay aside the heartache and pain we feel, and we open ourselves up to knowing in our hearts that we are God’s Beloved. That we are his delight. And this evening, like Bernita, we hear again that God looks at you and says: I love how I made you.
God is like a craftsman, a sculptor who has lovingly formed us, every curve of our bodies and every piece of our personality – and he steps back, smiles, catches his breath and says: I love how I made you. Yes, I have made billions of people – but I love how I made you. With that quirk and that unique quality. Just as you are. All of you. My delight is not based on what you do. It is given freely and without condition or proof. I love how I made you.
And God speaks truth to those other voices we hear. Instead of the critic we hear God say: what you did was enough. You are enough because I am enough. Instead of the voice telling us that we’re better than the guy next to us, God says, I made you to be you, and you are uniquely wonderful. Instead of the voice that keeps us stuck, God says – I am the God of hope, of resurrection. Not even death has the final word for us. Anything is possible, there is always a new day and endless possibilities. This is who God says we are. This is most certainly true.
You can just stay in that quiet place for a moment. The band will start us in our song of response, another Phillip Philips tune, a song sung from God’s perspective, a song about how the voices and demons in our head don’t need to be listened to. A song about how God is always creating a new home for us, to come and dwell with God in a place of belovedness to stay there as we go about the everyday stuff of our lives. It is a song about being at home in God’s voice. Please sing as you feel comfortable, or sit and let the words wash over you.