Mark: Life Outside the Box
GET READY // Mark 1:1-8 // Sara Wolbrecht
Friends, we have had two eventful weeks together – if you have been here you know we had our official launch two weeks ago (photo from launch) on Palm Sunday, then celebrating Holy Week which culminated in Easter and Jesus’ resurrection last Sunday – ta-da!
Now here we are. Today. Just a regular Sunday. And what do we do? Well I’ll tell you: the real fun begins now. We get to begin to figure out together what this time on Sundays is like for us as a community. We do get to frame it through the lens of Easter, through what it means that Jesus is alive and the language we used last week is that we now live in new creation, and God is extending this invitation to us to unpack our heart, to live fully and freely in God’s love for us and the world, and engage in that together.
When it comes to snacks are you more of a salty or sweet kind of snacker? Maybe your response is a little slanted after the Easter-candy induced sugar coma many of us are experiencing.
When it comes to salty snacks, food, treats – do you have a go-to salty food of choice? I have a friend, Gwen, who could eat tortilla chips and salsa all day long. Any favorite salty snacks to shout out?
So as you know salt is something of significance here – and part of the reason we are called Salt House is because of what Jesus said in what we call the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus’ best known and most awesome teaching. It is in Matthew’s gospel. And one of the many beautiful, visionary things he says is: “You are salt of the earth….and you are light for the world.” (salt and light blackboard image). Jesus said it to his followers then and we hear it for us, too. This is who we are.
Our 4yo daughter will sneak salt, pour it in her hand, lick it and say, “Mmm. Delicious.” Do you do this? What you more likely do is add salt to the food you are cooking or eating. Why? Because salt brings out the flavors of the food. That's part of what Jesus is getting at when he calls us to be salt. We should enhance the flavors of the world. To live in a way that draws out the God-flavors in the people, places, circumstances we run into every day. And they’d go, “Mmm. Delicious.” And they'll crave more.
So this time that we share every week is infused with this call to be salt. And so we make this time about two things: remembering who we are. Then, figuring out together what the heck that actually means. The endless possibilities and ways we actually live that out and become salt and light for the world.
Hence, Salt House. And to begin to do all this TODAY we will start a journey of making our way through the gospel of Mark. We’re calling it Life Outside the Box – an opportunity for us to explore together what this Jesus-life is like and what we do once we’ve dumped our hearts out on the floor and God is making something of us. I’m going to take a few minutes to set this up, letting you know two assumptions we’re operating with, why we’re studying Mark, and why this is ridiculously awesome for us.
First, a question: in your opinion, experience, observation, does God communicate with us? With you. Do you experience God “speaking” to you in some way? Turn to someone near you and take one minute to respond.
I know people have varying experiences with this, so there is no wrong answer. First an assumption we’re working with is that Assumption: God is still speaking – God is involved and invested in our lives. Not in the sense that God is prescribing exactly what we do and controlling us, but that there is a dynamic relationship, an on-going dialogue, a deepening connection that continues and we get to grow into how it is we notice God and hear God in our lives. …And God communicates in so many ways – it is in those moments when we read something that we really needed to hear – in the bible, in an article, book, newspaper, etc, when we pick up on themes in our lives, God speaks through the words of friends. God also, yes, for some people speaks through actual audible words or even visions or images that people see while awake or asleep. A lot more we could say about that, and we will with time. But I want to name that assumption: God is speaking, and we’re trying to notice and listen. And if you’re someone who has never experienced this – we’ll keep coming back to that and explore that together. We’re all in different places and that diversity is a good, beautiful thing.
Second, part of why we’re doing this study of Mark is that we’ll get at this question: Um, what’s the deal with the bible? We’ll learn a bit about how to actually read the bible. Because let’s be honest: anyone ever read something from the bible and thought: this weird, wrong, doesn’t make sense, it’s oppressive, confusing, or unjust? Ever felt ANY of those things? Yes! So we’ll practice some tools for how to even open up the bible and get started.
The assumption we have that goes along with this is this: there is always more going on in what we read in the Bible than meets the eye Transformers Video snippet. Then: Assumption: Bible = more than meets the eye. Much like the transformers we know, at first read of something in the bible, we immediately tell ourselves, ok, there is more to it than this. We can absolutely read something and just say – wow that’s beautiful or speaks to me and that’s enough. But there are always layers (like the historical context behind it, gender issues, cultural issues, the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek words), there are different angles to consider (like who actually wrote it and the audience they are addressing), echoes from the past and the larger story of God at play.
Scripture is amazing in this way for you will always hear something new when you are open to it and looking for it – even in the places you have read/heard before. This also means that whatever I or we say at any given time, it is just our best guess and our prayerful intentional unpacking of what God is saying and doing as we look at our lives through the lens of Scripture. But it is alive and changing and evolves even as we say, yes, this is the word of God. But we’re still learning how to listen to it.
And finally, why we chose Mark: we chose the gospel of Mark as the place in the Bible to do this for many reasons. The gospels are the biographies of Jesus – four perspectives of what Jesus did and said, what he was like. Mark was written first. And is the most straight-forward, brief, to the point, no fluff version of Jesus’ life. This makes it a great place for people to start, whether they’ve never read the bible or haven’t for a long time. (A great place for us to start).
Mark also, given its straightforward nature, also very succinctly lays out the foundational aspects of the life of Jesus – for us to see what Jesus and God are like, but also by laying the foundation for what a life following Jesus actually looks like. So for us: the bottom line for why we’re reading Why Mark? to see it as a pattern for us to follow Jesus. To say: THIS is what it looks like to be salt. THIS is how we unpack our heart and come and die with Jesus and rise again with new, beautiful possibilities for our lives. This is how we live in light of the new creation we’re a part of on the other side of Easter. So we’ll notice what Jesus does, we’ll get in to all these texts and roll around, ask questions, notice and pay attention, and listen for God speaking.
So now, finally, let’s see where this gospel of Mark begins. Notice: there is no baby Jesus in Mark’s gospel. We don’t start with Mary and Joseph and the first Christmas. We start 30 years later. And we begin with John the Baptist – who is actually Jesus’ cousin. And John is this wild guy, living in the wilderness who begins to get people ready for Jesus – notice what he says, notice what he is doing – notice too what Mark writes to set this up. Let’s hear…
Mark 1:1-8 (NIV)
Two things for us to notice and reflect on – first, notice that in the first sentence Mark immediately makes this a Throwback Thursday. We see Throwback Thursday in scripture A LOT (which is the quote of other scripture, or mentioning what has happened in the past). …What happens when we post pictures for Throwback Thursday? We go, Oh yeah, that was such a great time! Or wow, I forgot about that awful perm I had! And it connects us to the larger story of our lives, what has happened, who we’ve spent our lives with. And Throwback Thursday happens in scripture A LOT for a similar reason. Because: whatever we’re reading fits into the larger story of God’s people and what God has done and is doing. The point for us is this: 1.There’s always a bigger thing happening. So Mark writes this and says:
…as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” (Isaiah 40:3)
So there Mark quotes Isaiah, and this past promise of how God will send someone to prepare the people for God to come and be with God’s people. The frontrunner. AND then Mark goes right on to quote another old passage of scripture from Malachi, about who that frontrunner would be:
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’” (Malachi 3:1)
Mark says all this, and then the next sentence is: “And so, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness…” And so…So who is John the Baptist? He is this long-anticipated frontrunner.
So: there’s always a bigger thing happening. John was a part of this bigger thing of God coming to be with his people as was promised for centuries.
What is the heck is John the Baptist actually doing? That will lead us into our second point. So – he is baptizing, hence the name John the Baptist. BUT it aint’ your usual baptism.
I wonder have you ever been woken up in a rude or surprising way? Bucket of water over your dreaming head is the classic awful way to wake up. That’s what John the Baptist is doing here. You’re dreaming, someone suddenly bursts through the door and they shout, “Wake up! Wake up! You’re going to be late!” And to make the point they dump cold water on your face.
This is what John the Baptist was like to Jewish people of his day. Many were surprised as he burst on the scene. The Jewish world had been watching for a sign from God, but they hadn’t expected it to look like this. They were looking for a Messiah, someone from God, to lead them against the Romans (remember, we talked about that on Palm Sunday – the people who shouted Hosanna were asking for a political salvation, to be rescued from oppressive Roman leadership) so they were not anticipating a prophet calling them to repent.
And those who heard John would know that he was pointing them toward their great story of the past but with a new twist. The past two weeks we’ve talked about how every year, at Passover-time, they recited the story of the Exodus from Egypt, telling over and over how God rescued Israel from Pharaoh, bringing them through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, to their promised land. But instead of just retelling the story, John the Baptist is asking them to become a part of the story, to come through water again and be free.
That’s what is behind this thing John was doing: a baptism of repentance. John is inviting them to a baptism of repentance. Now, when I hear the word repent, I think of a dude on the street corner with a t-shirt that says, “Turn or Burn” as he shouts REPENT! Let’s be clear that this is not a helpful association for what repentance actually is.
Repentance in this case means to change direction, to turn around. John is calling the people to wake up and turn around, and to step into the Jordan River in a moment of significance that prepares them for what God is about to do. For God is about to show up, to walk into their lives in a present and real way, fulfilling all the promises of the past that God would come to be with them.
I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten the phone call or text that someone is going to come over, and then you say, “Ok, cool. No problem. See you in a few minutes.” But then you rush around like a maniac, putting things away, making your place look clean. What John is doing is kind of like that – he is saying 2. GET READY. Dumping the bucket water to wake them up, and also that phone call to help stop, look around and say, wait a minute, there are some things out of place, things out of order.
The text says – The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John. That’s like everybody. Everybody responded to this message to GET READY for what God was about to do.
So. …What the heck does this actually mean for us today, as we begin to unpack this life of Jesus and how we live it. Let’s take these two points and see what they mean for us.
First, Throwback Thursday in the Bible – that quoting of Old Testament scripture, is critically significant because it reminds us that God’s story has been unfolding throughout time. And how we live and move and function as Easter people, as people who live on this side of death and resurrection, is by living in this: There’s always a bigger thing happening.
One of my favorite things to say about God is that God is always up to something. We can never see the full picture of what God is doing in the world or in our lives. Please hear that with me: we can never see the full picture of what God is doing in our lives. It’s never a linear, oh look, that went wrong so God must not want that for me. There are so many moving pieces, so many layers, always a background story as well as a future to move into. A friend of mine trying to get into grad school, as he received a rejection letter from one school, he could say, “Well, I guess that means God doesn’t want me to go there.” Or. Another way to see it is that there is a bigger story here, which includes other people who ARE getting into that program, not to mention the opportunities that will rise up at a different program or at a job you’ll take while you wait to get into a program. We can’t see the bigger picture – and there is always a bigger picture. There’s always a bigger thing happening. Like John the Baptist: we are part of the larger story of God.
Part of how we live that reality is absolutely in these key words: GET READY. John was getting the people ready for Jesus to show up. And that was not a one-time event. As people who are trying to live this life of Jesus, this pattern of death and resurrection, this beautiful invitation to unpack our hearts and let God make extraordinary things out of every part of who we are – that begins with a posture of expectancy. A continual readiness. A daily getting ready for God to show up, to walk into our lives in a present and real way. The text says, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” These words are a reminder for us. We are people of preparation. People who go through the day ready. Because we believe God is still speaking, that God will show up in the details of our lives, that God will extend an invitation for us to do big and small things with Him as part of bringing about the new creation in and around us.
Awesome, big, stuff. And we’ll spend the next months figuring all this out. But here is a place for us to start. That there is always a bigger thing happening and we’re invited to get ready for those big things to happen.
And as we finish this time together, I want to briefly invite you into three ways to respond to what we’ve heard today:
First, try to grow your level of expectancy. To have a posture of GET READY – to try to live in that place. And a way to do this is to pray a simple prayer throughout your day. Something like: God, I’m ready. Help me see you. Pay attention to what happens – you may realize that there are thing that are in your way for noticing God in your life and you can tend to those things. You may recognize God in ways you never have before. So: practice being ready.
Second, read the gospel of Mark. We are going to go through this slowly, savoring the flavors we find. We’ll probably be in Mark until November. And if you commit to reading Mark – reading ahead, reading it a few times, really getting a feel for what happens in this gospel, can you imagine what an expert you’ll be by November? This may mean buying a Bible or, getting a Bible App. I use You Version. And I like the NIV translation, but I’m sure there are others out there. Have it there at your fingertips, and part of what you open up each day.
Third and final response: Show up. Here. Be here on Sundays for the journey we’ll share together – and if you miss a Sunday, you can listen to the podcast of the sermon. Come to the other events we hold and connect with others who are on this journey – and the great thing you’ll find is that there are people here who are not people just like you, which is a real gift when we’re with people different than us. Life lived together is part of what Jesus models for us, too, so try engaging with people who are on this journey. Show up. Be a part of Salt House and get to know folks as we get to know Jesus through Mark’s lens.
Ok? As we transition into a time of singing, I want to invite you to exhale. And to close your eyes and take a moment to be still. And in this quiet moment to ask, God, what are you saying to me? And as you ask that to pay attention to any nudges you have, from the stuff I just threw at you, as well as, whatever is on your heart and in your life right now.
God, we breathe deeply in this moment of your grace and mercy and the continual renewal and life you offer for us. God, we want to live a life outside the box, a life outside some of the culture rhythms and expectations that are out there. And specifically today we hear your invitation to a life that is intentional, a life where we get ready to see and experience you every day, a life that is dialed in to you and your great love for us and the world. So how do we do that? How to we prepare the way for you in our lives? Speak to us now in these quiet moments, as well as in the week to come, and give us a sense of what that looks like for each of us.