November 22, 2015 // Mark's Greatest Hits: Life Outside the Box / Sara Wolbrecht / Mark 1:9-15
Friends, a question for you to consider as we get started. Think back to this last spring, to April. And mentally walk yourself through these past seven months. What has your life been like? What big and small things have shaped you? What good times, what hard times? What changes and loss have you weathered? What celebrations?
You see, today marks our 28th week looking at the gospel of Mark. In these past seven months, every Sunday except for three we have talked about what Jesus has been up to in Mark, holding it up and listening to how the word of God informs our lives here and now. And we’ve framed it all under this title: Life Outside the Box. We believe that Jesus invites us to step into this beautiful life where we let all of who we are get dumped out on the floor (out of the box) and offered up to the beautiful things God is doing in the world – and that the kinds of things we bravely do are very much not the kinds of things an ordinary, popular, inside-the-box kind of life in our culture would look like.
And I have to tell you – it has been such a joy for me to preach this gospel. Many of you have shared with me about what has spoken to you – and it is awesome to see how God is present in our young community. In this week of giving thanks – I give thanks for what God has done in us through the gospel Mark.
TODAY, this moment, is our final moment, our finale of Mark – and I thought – what the heck do you do with a finale of Mark’s gospel? Well here’s the thing – today is also a particular Sunday in the flow of the church calendar that most mainline churches follow. You see, next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, Advent being the four Sundays before Christmas (we’ll say a lot about Advent next week).
And the first Sunday of Advent, next Sunday is considered the beginning of the church year. Next Sunday is like New Year’s Day – which makes this Sunday, like what? It’s like New Year’s Eve! The last day of the church calendar year!
And if today is New Year’s Eve, do you know what we need to do? We need to do a review, look at the highlights. Look back, remember the good times, and the most important times. To help us lock in what we’ve learned and experienced over these past seven months, together.
As we do this you may not here something “new” but you will hear something in a fresh way, or you may hear something you missed. The glorious thing about the Bible and how God speaks to us is that even things we’ve heard before will hit us in a fresh way, intersecting our lives on this day, in these circumstances, given the week we’ve had, given the refugee crisis, and political banter, and power outages in our neighborhoods, and Thanksgiving this week.
Are you ready? To ground ourselves in scripture, we’re flipping back the pages to read from Mark 1, nine verses in as John the Baptist gets things ready for Jesus – and then Jesus shows up on the scene. This is our reading for today.
Mark 1:9-15 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
First words are always important. And for each of the four gospels, the first words Jesus speaks frame much of what that particular gospel is about. True for Mark. Where Jesus speaks and it is immediately clear that Jesus is on a mission. His mission? The Kingdom of God. Throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s people waiting for God to come and fix things, and although God is present with God’s people through the prophets and others, prophecy speaks of a time when God would come and save God’s people from the oppression and pain and suffering they face, in a final and definitive way. They have waited and waited for the Kingdom of God and the Messiah, and Jesus says – the time has come. It is now. The Kingdom of God, is here. It’s a big deal.
Everything Jesus does in Mark’s gospel we see through this filter of God’s Kingdom. That’s what he’s doing. So we lean in, to watch and live through it with him, learning about the Kingdom of God and what that means for us. This Life Outside the Box, the life of God is one that is all about the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom is the way things should be, the way this world was designed to be, the way this world will be again it is restored and renewed completely.
That’s his mission. One of the patterns we quickly noticed in Jesus’ life is that he has a way of balancing the relationships he has – that he makes time in his three primary relationships. Time up with God, in with his close friends, and then out in the world with those in need. Each relationship is so important – for him, and we see for us, too. And as Mark’s gospel unfolds we observe how the Kingdom of God comes to bear on those areas of our lives, and what it means for us. So to review the highlights of Mark’s gospel, let’s look through this lens of relationships Up, In, and Out.
First, let’s talk about ourselves with God. We have read such beautiful, liberating things about who we are and how God sees us. And it begins in the very first thing Jesus does (we just read it). Before Jesus does anything miraculous or Jesusy, this happens. He is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on him, and God speaks this word of identity over Jesus: You are my son, I love you. I delight in you. For us, too, this is the word that is spoken over us, before we’ve done anything, before our feet hit the floor in the morning – we are the Beloved of God and nothing else defines who we are like this identity that is ours in Christ.
And we see Jesus throughout Mark’s gospel returning to a place where he can remember this, remember who he is – he finds a solitary place to pray and be tuned in to God. He goes away to a mountain to pray. He naps in the boat during the storm while the disciples freak out. We, too, discover this life-giving rhythm of rest and Sabbath, coming back to the places and spaces and activities and people who remind us of who we really are. That ground us. So many other voices in our heads, in our culture try to convince us that we have to prove ourselves. But all those voices are not true. Jesus shows us that we are the Beloved. And we follow his pattern to find ways to connect with God through Sabbath and people who ground us in our belovedness.
And also, Jesus invites us to choose to risk being vulnerable and real. And the word we used to name that is: Wholehearted. Jesus invites into the authentic, wholehearted life. Where we don’t have to pretend to do and be certain things. But we bravely feel all the things.
Which again, was a huge switch for people who encountered Jesus who considered themselves “religious.” We saw how at that time there was a complex system of rules and expectations that people followed to be religiously clean, pure. It was a lovely system, in that you always knew where you stood – you were in or out, based on whether you were doing the right things. Jesus pushes all that to the side. Jesus points to what God is up to in the world, and it is not about rules and behavior modification. God cares about the state of our heart. God wants to get all up in our business, and shine this light of love and acceptance on us – that then calls us to places of growth, and transformation and healing, dealing with all the shame and stuff that we try to hide. And from the place of belovedness, yeah, there are ways in which our behavior changes, right? But it all is birthed in our hearts, in the inward place of change and breakthrough. Wholeheartedness is not a destination, we never arrive, we never finish the work of becoming God’s wholehearted people. But we’re always a work in progress, graciously being formed. Wholehearted.
This life we have with God, Up, is an invitation to Come follow me: Belovedness + Sabbath + Wholeheartedness.
Second is what we learn about how to be with each other and close friends and family. And it is clear that the life of Jesus is a team sport. Life is better together – we know that as something we live as true (oh yeah, look, I like having other people around), and it is also a defining part of this Life Outside the Box. Life is lived together. Learning, playing, definitely eating, laughing, working, collaborating, dreaming, exploring, supporting, praying, loving. Life together. And in community we do that risky business of vulnerability. In community is where we dare to be wholehearted people who show up authentically. It’s a beautiful way to live, and it is hard.
But that is the pattern Jesus shows us. We see how Jesus calls together a team of friends. Twelve men to be his community, his support, his people. And also so that they would learn first-hand how to do the things Jesus does, and to learn his character by being so close to him. He intentionally sends them out to do the very things he has been doing. And so for us. We need each other. We need a place to be and belong. A place to eat with others because good and sacred things happen when we eat together. A place where we are invited into this learning relationship close to Jesus. We’re in it together, as we listen together and process our Kairos moments, the things we hear God saying in our lives. In relationships with others, we are invited into the community of Jesus where we Thrive: Growing + Playing + Going. As community, we live life together, we challenge and encourage each other to grow, AND we are sent together.
Which brings us to how we engage with the wider world. …As you know, we read in Mark how Jesus shows up on the scene and made it clear that he was only interested in the very holy people. The religiousy people. The people who follow all 600 temple laws and who hang out with Pharisees and shun anyone who is not as holy as they are – RIGHT?? Nope. And this was a shocker: that Jesus seeks out the outsiders. The despised. The annoying ones. He invites Levi to be one of his disciples – Levi, who is a tax collector, considered a traitor. Yeah, he’s in. And Jesus touches all of the untouchable people of the culture. People with leprosy, with all kinds of diseases. Even the Gerasene Demoniac – remember him? A man possessed by countless demons. Jesus even touches a girl who has died. You don’t do that, Jesus.
In the kingdom of God, everyone is welcome. And Jesus is in the business of reaching the unreachable, touching the untouchable. Which informs the way we see every person in this world. Every person on the street, in the news, in our families. The messy, noisy neighbor we have. The annoying coworker. The sketchy, the friendless, the refugee, the terrorist. They are God’s beloved. We see them through those eyes of belovedness.
And we know that it doesn’t just stop there with seeing people in a certain way. Jesus, in Mark 12, when asked what the greatest, most important thing is for us to do he says what? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. Loving God and loving others are what life outside the box is about. And love is not just warm fuzzy feelings. Love is action.
We are sent to be people who love as we create space, room for conversation, we make room for the outsider, and yes, we step into places of pain and suffering and injustice, to use the power and responsibility Jesus gives us to heal, pray, support, stand up for the oppressed, and open up the places for God’s Kingdom to come here on earth. All of what we saw Jesus do, and his disciples, too, it becomes this pattern for our life, as well. Life outside the box is a life together with community – working together in the dynamic life of God.
…And that life is ultimately a life poured out – poured out in love, poured out unto death. Jesus warns his disciples three times in Mark’s gospel, about where this all was headed – that Jesus would not become the king on a throne they hoped for. But he would be arrested, tried, tortured, and hung on a cross as a traitor, left to die. And then three days later, he’d be back. Resurrection. A whole new world. The Kingdom of God, here.
Our own belovedness is grounded in God’s demonstration of life poured out for all in Jesus. And our life of love follows this pattern – we find ways to pour out our life for the sake of others. Go: A Life Poured Out (Leave all three on the screen until the end)
This beautiful life of living beyond ourselves. This beautiful life of dying and rising with Jesus over and over again. This beautiful life of Jesus, a life outside the box of anything we’ve ever dreamed possible.
And so for us, we keep living into this life. Knowing that it’s hard, that we’re imperfect, that there will be good days and bad days. And also knowing that there is always more to learn, to discover, to try. That we get to grow and change, and to risk and to love and to serve and find purpose and meaning in this world as we become a part of the Kingdom of God here and now.
And so my friends, as we close out Mark’s gospel we ask the questions we always ask – What is God saying to me? And what am I going to do about it?
We are poised here four days before Thanksgiving, and as you review this dynamic balance of relationships. …Where are those areas where you give thanks? And also: where are the areas where you are lacking or longing?
I know for me I am running a little low in all three – but especially in connecting to my belovedness – because it has been a really hard few weeks for my extended family, and I have been working really hard getting us ready for Advent and Christmas here at Salt House. I am loving it, and so so excited – but I’m so tired, too, not having had enough down time to rejuvenate. And also for me – I am just so stirred up by the Syrian refugee crisis – are you? This is the stuff of Jesus, right? To do something. To make a place for the outsider, the one in need. To come at all the fear-mongering with love. That is risky business for sure. So maybe God is saying something to you about the wider world. But what is God saying to you, this week of Thanksgiving?
One of the ways we as a community are stepping forward is in regards to the day-center for homeless families. We have a decision to make as to whether we move forward with housing a day center for homeless families in our basement. Today at 4pm we gathered to discuss whether this aligns with who we are and what God is saying to us. And we decided yes – yes, we want to explore it and see if all the logistics will work. Yes, this is for us. Yes, this is the Kingdom of God and we want to be a part of it. Our next step is to build a team of people to join the team at Holy Family Parish. We need to find out more. There are many questions and concerns and dreams we bring to the process – and we need each one of us to continue to listen and ask and be involved. It could turn out that it won’t work for some reason, and we’re open to that. But we feel God inviting us forward which is fabulously exciting – and yes, it feels very much like the Kingdom of God.
As the band comes up, I invite you to listen to your life – to where you give thanks, to where you are longing, and to take a few minutes to let the Kingdom of God reach you, be with you, draw you into what is next as we continue to follow Jesus into this Life Outside the Box, together. Amen…