Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Let's Go Fishing: Mark 1:14-20
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
It is usually around this time of year that I realize that I am still writing the last year's date on things. On Tuesday, as I worked this week's bulletin, I realized that I labeled it January 25, 2014. I almost did the same thing when I was writing the date on my tithing check last week. I'll probably do it a few more times over the next couple weeks until sometime in mid-February when the lizard part of my brain that controls all of the little rote activities in my life finally realizes that, yes, in fact, it is a new year and, yes, I do need to write the correct date on things. In all likelihood, I'm not the only one who takes a little while to live into a new reality once the old reality has come to pass. I'm probably not the only one who gets stuck in old habits when new activities are called for. To be fair, given that I've been writing the date as 2014 for a whole year. I mean, don't they say, "Old habits die hard." Maybe six weeks is just about the right time to learn to do something new.
I mean, Jesus spent about 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. That's just a little more than six weeks. Out of the wilderness and into the fire, Jesus spread the word across Galilee. He followed the work of John, but also expanded upon it, not only telling people to repent, but telling them that, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near." In just six weeks, he went from the one being baptized to the one calling people to repentance. That is a big change. It kinda makes my struggle to get the date right look a little silly. I mean, in six weeks time, hopefully, I'll be able to correctly write a check. In six weeks, Jesus figured out how to be the Messiah and welcome the Kingdom of God into this world. Makes me feel like I've got some catching up to do.
Today's Gospel lesson shows us what happened when Jesus figured out what he was called to do and began his ministry. It appears that he realized that he couldn't do it alone. He began to call co-workers who would follow him. He went out into the rural areas of the community where he had been raised. First, he saw the fishermen, Simon and Andrew, hard at work. He invited them to join him, saying he would make them fish for people instead of haddock or smelt or whatever you fished for in the Sea of Galilee. And, they followed him. Next, Jesus saw James and John, you know, Zebedee's boys, who were also out working. He called to them, and they followed him too, leaving their dad in the middle of the boat with their hired man, surrounded by busted fishing nets and likely wondering what his boys were getting into.
Now, many sermons on these passages highlight the unexpectedness and strangeness of the disciples dropping everything to follow Jesus. It does seem pretty mysterious. It does seem like he just wanders in out of the blue, says, "follow me" and everybody says, "Ok." It's almost like they are hypnotized, like he does some kind of magic that gets them to find his invitation to be so compelling that they are willing to drop everything, to follow him. They left behind jobs, familial responsibilities, everything. What is perhaps most surprising is that Jesus didn't even give them any specifics. He just said, "Follow me." And, they did.
Now, some scholars will argue that is unlikely that these sets of brothers didn't know Jesus before he invited them to follow him. Some say that it is totally possible that they grew up together, or at least knew Jesus by reputation. There is also a good chance that they had heard John preaching. Remember, Mark told us that people traveled far and wide to hear him. Some suggest that the brothers may have believed John's word that God was preparing to do something new, and that they were just waiting for the opportune moment. When Jesus showed up, saying, "All that stuff John was talking about... that's happening now. Come and be a part of it," they could have already been ready to go. Maybe they had been preparing for just that time, and jumped when they were called into service. And, maybe, for some of us modern interpreters, it seems a little easier to understand the brothers' actions if they are following someone they knew, someone they trusted, into a mission that they already believed in, rather than that they dropped everything for a mysterious stranger.
I'll only speak for myself here, but I'm much more likely to follow someone I know than a stranger. If I hear a stranger telling me that the Kingdom of God is at hand, I'd probably ignore them. However, if a friend were to say to me, "I know that we have been waiting for some good news. I have finally heard it. God has come near... is present with us in a way that we've never experienced before... the Holy Spirit is running through my veins. Will you join me to make sure that everyone knows that creation belongs to God, not the forces who oppress us?," I'd be far more likely to take that person seriously. I might even, depending on who that friend is, consider that to be an invitation worth risking my well-being for. Simon, Andrew, James, and John, they felt like this invitation was worth trusting. Even though they didn't seem to have a plan, they knew what the end-game was and they were ready to work towards it, even though it would alter the course of their very lives. So, they dropped their nets, and walked away into the future with Jesus.
Now, you probably realized a long time ago that the church council is not Jesus. But, you have allowed them to serve as the leadership of this church, a position that calls for no little bit of trust on the congregation's part. Later today, the church council will be offering you an invitation. While I'm pretty sure that they aren't going to ask you to quit your jobs, they will invite you to continue doing the work of the Gospel.
In preparation for planning our future together, they, and other servants of this church, have taken some time collecting stories of how we have served and worshiped together over the last year. And, my, what a year it has been. This year, we lost some people who are near to our hearts, both in our church and in the broader community. We miss them and are thankful for the ways they blessed our lives. This year, we also welcomed new people into the church, through baptism, marriage, and transfer of membership. We have also had several people who had been away from this worshiping community find their way back. We are, right now, averaging about 10 more people in worship than last year.
You all celebrated the ministry of one pastor and called a new one. That in itself is a statement of trust in the Holy Spirit. Even as you have watched attendance and chunks of your ceiling fall, at this point last year, you decided that you felt called to find a new pastor, even if you could only pay her half-time. You stepped forward on faith, in hope that you could find someone with whom you could continue to serve God through this worshiping community. I am so glad that you felt that call. That's how I ended up here. And, you all have helped me do ministry in this place. You visit church members and make sure that I know when folks are sick. You explain to me how to say the names of all the little towns and make sure we have grape juice for communion. You put your carpentry, plumbing, lawn-care, and sewing skills into use, if not every week, most weeks. You read scripture and sing in the choir and occasionally show up with a euphonium. And, you make pies... 218 of them at last count.
In the short time that I've been here, I have learned that this congregation, while great in faith, has felt concerned about its' future. I have learned that stewardship and budget seasons have often been times of anxiety. I have learned that while you trust that you have a part in God's creation, you have not been sure how to keep this one little part of God's kingdom going. That kind of anxiety is also very often paired with both a very real sense of scarcity and concern that you won't have enough, as well as turn inwards towards self-preservation. What has made me hopeful for this church is that, despite the anxiety, you haven't completely turned inward. You still show up and welcome new people. You called a new pastor. You renovated the sanctuary. You supported missions outside of the walls of this congregation that you understand to further God's reign of love and compassion. You give hundreds of hours of time to keep our doors open and, this year, for the first time in a very long time, this church has a significant budget surplus. This last year, despite being worried that this church community is falling apart, you gave and worshiped and showed up to sing God's praise every week. Because of that, you gave far more than you expected to be giving one year ago. That speaks of great hope on your part, and for that we should celebrate.
Now, the church council hasn't been quite as free-wheeling as Jesus appears to have been when he called his first disciples. Given that they aren't Messiahs, with the help of the various boards of the church, they put together a plan to present to you before they ask you drop your nets and follow them. I think this plan reflects the renewed hope that this congregation has demonstrated over the last year. Now, my own personal hope is that this plan doesn't represent all that we do, but acts as the starting point for all of our service and worship over the next year. Because, no budget, no matter how thoughtful, can fully account for the Holy Spirit. It can't account for those times when Jesus shows up out of the blue and says, "Hey, God is near. Want to help me make sure people know?" This budget is the beginning of our work, but, by no means is it all of it.
So, please join us after worship today. Learn about last year. Make suggestions for new ministries to develop in the next year. Spend some good time in fellowship and maybe even eat some pie. But, also, prepare yourselves. I think the time is ripe. Jesus told us that God has drawn near. I think that means it's time to do some fishing.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulted while writing this sermon
Michael Rogness' Commentary on Mark 1:14-20: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2315
Karoline Lewis, "The Immediately of Epiphany": https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3500
Sermon Brainwave Podcast #398 Third Sunday After Epiphany:
Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth: John 1:43-51
I've spent this week trying to do some remembering. Not all of the stories are very clear, but I think I need to share them anyway. I don't remember the first time I ever heard someone use a racial slur. I think I don't remember because I heard them so often that they were hardly surprising. I'm pretty sure that I have a relative who had a black dog who's name was a racial slur. Now, 30 years later, and with the addition of three bi-racial members to our family, they call the dog something else when they tell stories about him. Now, they call him Black Dog. Now, I'm not totally sure about this. I was so little when this dog was alive. But, I don't think his name was really Black Dog. We lived in a community called Kodak. Mostly working class or poor, rural, southern, nearly all white. Maybe when I tell you that about the place I grew up, you understand why people would think it's ok to name a dog after a racial slur. Maybe you nod your head knowingly, and say, oh, of course. Can anything good really come out of Kodak?
I am young enough that Jim Crow laws were already part of history when I began school. But, I am just the right age to remember when the county we lived in realized that the schools were still deeply segregated, especially in the eastern part of the county and city. There was a strict divide between those of who lived in eastern Knox County, like my family, and those who lived on the East Side of the City of Knoxville. Some of the divide was due to cultural differences from living in the city versus living in the country. Most of the divide was about race. If you lived in the country, you were probably white. If you lived in East Knoxville, you were probably black.
If you were white and grew up in my community, this is what you learned about East Knoxville. There were lots of drugs there. Prostitutes roamed the main road that cut through the community. There were probably gangs there, too, though, to be fair, we were taught that there were gangs in the poor black parts of West Knoxville, too. We were also taught that the people who lived there would steal your things. If you drive by anyone on the street, especially a young black man, you better lock your doors. If you were white and from eastern Knox County, East Knoxville was nowhere where you wanted to be at night and you probably tried to avoid it in the day. I mean, can anything good really come out of East Knoxville?
In 1991, desegregation plans that developed as a result of a merger between the city and county school districts mandated that some students, predominantly black, began to be bussed out to middle and high school in my community. In computer class, I met a girl named Chalise. She lived in East Knoxville. I think we became friends because we liked to play the same kind of games when we were done with our assignments in computer class. She was faster on the keyboard than I was, so we decided she should do the typing so we could get to the games faster. When I went to her house, her mom warned us to be careful when we walked to the convenience store to get a soda. People didn't always like to see black kids and white kids walking together. My grandparents lived in a community called Tuckahoe. Once, she rode the school bus to their house with me. The next day, the school bus driver's son, who was about 8, called me a racial slur. He may have even sung a little song about it. He was definitely wearing a top hat. His father said nothing to stop him. Really, can anything good come out of Tuckahoe?
Once, in college, I found myself looking at a jail cell door. I had not been imprisoned in some wild, spring break escapade. I was in Birmingham, on a class trip. This door was no longer in a prison, but in a museum. There was a preacher who got arrested and spent some time behind this door. He wrote a letter in response to some critiques he received from white clergy colleagues. Here's a part of what he wrote: "Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture, but, as Reinhold Neibuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. We know through painful oppression that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must always be demanded by the oppressed." He also said, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."
I walked out of this museum and into the church across the street. I sat in the pews and was shown the corner of the church that was once blown away by the Klan's bomb. I read the name of the girls who were killed there: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair. When the bomb went off, Jesus' face was blown out of their big stained glass windows. After the church was rebuilt, the people of Wales, England, donated a new window; Jesus in a pose that is equal parts crucifixion and resurrection. Unlike the first window, this image of Jesus has brown skin. Both still adorn the sanctuary. After the church, we walked across the street to Kelly Ingram Park, an assembly point for the demonstrations throughout the city. When they left this park, the protestors would be beaten with nightsticks, attacked with police dogs, and pounded by high pressure water hoses. Children as young as six years old would be arrested. Can anything good come out of Birmingham?
The summer after I finished college, I interned at a women's day center in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington D.C. Most of our clients were homeless. Many suffered from severe mental illnesses, including delusions, paranoia, depression, and addiction. In several conversations with the regular employees, especially those who trained new volunteers, they described one particular occurrence that happened all too often and they hadn't yet figured out how to address it. Far too often, if new white volunteers encounter black or Latino staff who they had not had the chance to meet yet, they would presume that they were clients. If they encounters white people whom they hadn't met yet, they would presume that they were employees. It happened all the time. I nodded my head in exasperated agreement. I said I wasn't surprised. Of course new volunteers would rely on old stereotypes that told them that People of Color were more likely to need help than be employees. We enlightened people would then go on to talk about strategies for disabusing people of expectations that brown people need saving and that white people are the ones who will do the saving.
Early one morning, I was one of the folks serving breakfast. It was busy. The line was very long. A woman came in the door, passed up the line, and came to the area where I was serving. She looked around and asked what was for breakfast. What I wanted to say was, "why did you skip line? There's enough for everybody but you have to wait your turn." I don't think I said that out loud. I'm pretty sure that I looked at her funny. I think told her what we were serving, and suggested she wait. Then, it was her turn to look at me funny. That's when I saw her name badge and key card. I realized she was an employee.
I had been so confident in my goodness. I had done the work. I had built relationships. I had checked my privilege and learned so much about racist systems. And, yet, in the midst of a busy morning, the racist system that had shaped every part of my life up to that point, the very system that I had tried to hard to rid myself of, revealed itself to still be wrapped up in my bones. When I saw a brown face, rather than seeing a colleague, I only saw someone who needed charity. And, I was the good white person who would help her, but only if she did what I said and followed proper procedure. I was so embarrassed at what I had done. I didn't apologize. I just looked down and continued serving. I never told anyone. Can anything good come from that serving line in Logan Circle?
Sometimes we encounter the source of our salvation in the most unexpected places. Just as Nathanael, upon hearing Philip's praise of Jesus, said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?," it would be easy for me to ask if anything good can come from the isolated and insular community where I was raised... the community where my systemic racism first took hold... where I was first told to fear people of color even as we played games on the computer together and where calling a dog a racial slur was the funniest of jokes. I'm sure Dr. King was often asked the question, can anything good come from these demonstrations in Birmingham? Can anything good come from this march from Selma? Can anything good come from laying your body on the line and being will to die with each step you take? Tell me, can anything good come out of Nazareth?
If we're lucky, we have friends like Philip who say, "Come and see." If we're lucky, we have a community that reminds us that we are not bound to the terrible truths of "this is how things have always been" and pushes to see a new way that the world can be. If we're lucky, we will pay attention to those who are already on their way out of oppression and take their advice. When they invite us along, when they say, "Come and see," we will go, even if we are skeptical. In following Philip to meet Jesus, Nathanael is opened up to a whole new way of imagining the Messiah. I think we have some "Philips" in ours lives, too. We have people who can show us a world far beyond the oppression that exists right now. But, in order to get to that world, we have to go. We have to follow. We have to listen. We have to lead. We have to heal. And, we have to be willing to see the places where we still have work to do... where we still rely on hateful stereotypes and ways of thinking... where we still need to unwrap the tentacles of bigotry that have wound themselves into the deepest parts of ourselves.
It is only when we accept this invitation to "Come and see" that we can change. I hope that we are listening for it and willing to act on it when we hear it.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon
Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":
* During our service, we also watched this video, produced by the Salt Project. You can learn more about the Salt Project here: http://www.saltproject.org/.
How Do We Begin? Mark 1:4-11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
I don’t remember my own baptism. But I do remember pictures of it... or, at least one picture of it. There were two of us. I was the baby in a long white baptismal gown. My grandmother was holding me, her blond hair crowning her smiling face. Someone, probably my grandfather, had snapped the picture out in the parking lot just before I was baptized. It was a sunny day. I look pretty happy and so does my granny. I would soon be baptized in a honey-colored baptismal font in the midst of a modern, mid-70's sanctuary, complete with yellow glass-paned windows and angular pews. The water was clean and clear and probably made me cry. Pastor Glass, the man who baptized me, always wore a white robe and a black clergy shirt. As I think about my baptism, and, really, most of the baptisms that I have ever observed, and compare them to the baptism we heard about today, I am struck by the contrast.
Our scripture for today is Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism. You may remember some of the story from the second week in Advent, when we heard about John prophesying about the one who would come after him, the one who would baptize people in the Holy Spirt. I think that it would be hard to find a story of a baptism that is more different than my own. While I was baptized by a clean cut man in clerical garb, Jesus was baptized by a wild man clothed in camel hair. I was a child who had my head soak in a baptismal font. He was an adult who was dunked in the Jordan River. I wore a lacy gown that was roughly twice as long as I was. Jesus probably wasn’t wearing lace, though he might have been wearing white. And, also no story of my baptism ends with me hearing the voice of God and seeing the Holy Spirit descending on me. No, my baptism story probably ended with cookies and punch and a long drive back out to the country with a sleepy, slightly soggy baby.
Certainly, Jesus’ baptism story is a more colorful story than my own. I love a good story about a wild man dunking people in the water. And, yet, it is interesting that we are talking about Jesus' baptism here, three weeks after we celebrated his birth, using the same scripture with which we ushered in the early days of Advent. This story must be important enough for us to return to it five weeks after we last read it. While it's not quite the same set of scriptures... the Advent reading was primarily about the prophesy while this set balances the prophesy with the ritual act of Jesus' baptism... I think it matters that we have been invited to consider this set of scripture once again. I think that this mix of prophetic vision and ritual action can tell us something about how we enact the church together over the coming year. I think this story reminds us that it matters how we begin.
Mark does not begin Jesus’ story with an infancy narrative as we have in Matthew and Luke. Instead, the author began by describing the work of John the Baptist. As we remember from back in Advent, John was quite the character. Reminiscent of that other wild man prophet Elijah, and fulfilling the words of Isaiah, he was preparing the way of the Lord. He preached and offered the Jewish ritual of baptism for “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And, perhaps most importantly for Mark's Gospel, he spoke of one who would come after him. He said “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” John said that the baptism he offered was limited, but the baptism offered by the one who would follow him was more. He said “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” According to the Gospel writer, countless people traveled to the wilderness to be baptized at his hands.
Among those who travel into the wilderness is Jesus. The first place we see Jesus is in the hands of John, descending into the water. The description of his baptism is strikingly simple. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” No muss. No fuss. No lacey gowns or punch or cookies. And, the only commentary on the occasion would come from God. As Jesus rose from the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descend like a dove and then descend into him. As Jesus was being filled with the spirit, he heard, “You are my son, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.” What weight these words must have carried. Within Jewish tradition, the term Son of God not just a generic term like “We’re all God’s children.” Son of God, according to scholar Bart Ehrman, referred to someone who “had a particularly intimate relationship with God, who was chosen by God to perform a task, and who thereby mediated God’s will to the people on earth.” Kings were Sons of God. Miracle workers and exorcists were Sons of God. Random guys roaming around in the woods were not sons' of God. To hear this title applied to yourself would be to feel a great responsibility being placed on your shoulders.
The baptism is not the end of this part of the story even though that is where today's reading ended. There is a little more to this part of the story that I think is worth sharing. In the next part of the story, just after being baptized, Jesus was driven into the wilderness by God’s spirit and tempted by Satan. Like other sons of God, he would be in the wilderness for forty days and would be tended to by the angels. And, then John, the prophet who told us that Jesus would come, would be arrested. And, then, Jesus, who resisted Satan's temptations and accepted the care of the angels, came out of the wilderness and he began to preach. He would say that the reign of God had drawn near and it was time to repent and believe in the good news. This was the beginning of his public ministry. And, in the Gospel of Mark, this all started with his baptism.
As I read this story, I cannot help but realize how foreign it seems to me. It is not the baptisms that I have seen. And, I would hazard a guess, that this baptism that most people imagine. Who here would follow a strange man shouting prophecy out to the Cobboseecontee to be “cleansed?" Who here would be willing to be chased by God out into the wilds to struggle with the weight of God's calling on our lives? Who here would trust that the angels would come to our aid? The intensity of these few verses is quite the far cry from that sweet picture of me and my granny. In my picture, I see promise in that smiling baby face. In this scene of baptism, even as I rejoice in the presence of God, when I see Jesus driven into the wilderness, I sense something far more foreboding.
I am apparently not the only one that has found this story a bit troubling. This scene seems to have a long history of being theologically problematic for Jesus' followers. Even the other Gospel writers felt like they had to work harder to explain what was going on that Mark did. For example, in Matthew, which was written after Mark, John initially responded to Jesus with resistance. He said, “you should be baptizing me,” thereby giving Jesus the opportunity to say that John had to baptize him in order to fulfill the prophecy. And, in Luke, which was also written after Mark, the author chose to bypass the issue of who’s baptizing who by noting that Jesus was baptized but never saying who did it. The Gospel of John just omits the baptism as a whole.
One scholar offers a few explanations of why some might have found Jesus' baptism problematic. Some worried that if baptism was intended to symbolize repentance from sins, that meant that Jesus would appear to have sin, an image of Jesus that many would find troubling. Also, to be baptized was also to identify oneself as spiritually subordinate to the one doing the baptizing. Being baptized meant putting oneself in a very vulnerable position, at the mercy of the one officiating the ritual act. Placing anyone, even John, in a more powerful role than Jesus would have been unacceptable to some people, and possibly a scandal to the whole Christian movement.
It is interesting that the Gospel of Mark does not seem to share these concerns. The same scholar who explained why some people might have been scandalized by Jesus' baptism, Richard DeMaris, also has one theory about why the author of Mark isn't concerned at all. DeMaris says that it goes back to the power of ritual in community. The scholar notes that baptism would become a central ritual for the Christian community, and the manner in which one joins the community matters. How one participates in a ritual act indicates how one will later function in the community and shapes how members of the community interact with each other. As we have already discussed, one could view baptism as inherently subordinating. This is why so many people may have been uncomfortable with Jesus being baptized to begin with. But, Mark chose to show Jesus willing be in that place of vulnerability. While some might argue that Jesus would have difficulty being a leader if allowed himself to be treated himself as inferior. DeMaris argues that Mark has a different vision of leadership in mind.
As we will see over the next several weeks as we read through the book of Mark together, Jesus will do many things that are unexpected, starting with his baptism. Later in the book, well into his public ministry in chapter 9, when his disciples begin to argue over who was the greatest, Jesus will tell them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” In chapter 10, when James and John asked for seats of honor on either side of Jesus, he will say “ whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Jesus will never call on people to follow him so they can be superior to everyone else. He will not say “Follow me and everyone will do what you say and they will bring you punch and cookies.” He will say if you want to be first, you must be willing to be last. You must be willing to give up the place of privilege in order to feel the presence of God. Jesus first set the example for this kind of servant leadership when he allowed himself to be baptized by John. This was his first truly radical act in Mark’s eyes. This was the place where he began to redefine the role of Messiah.
I would hazard a guess that most of the people in this room had a baptism that looked more like mine. There probably was no wild man and the aftermath of your baptism may not have been so fraught with danger and angst. Even those of you who may have been baptized as adults would likely describe is as a comforting and loving event where being radical was the last thing on your mind. But, today, I encourage you to think of this ritual as a radical ritual act of vulnerability and servant leadership. I think we use this model of prophetic visioning and worshipful ritual as a model for our own life as a church community. We are in the time when we plan our budget and set forth our priorities for the coming year. As we plan our next year together, I hope that we can ask the question: how is our communal ritual life reflecting Jesus’ model of servant leadership? How can our own worship and service reflect this sense of vulnerability and willingness to forgo privilege in order to better serve God? What place of privilege are we being called to give up just as Jesus gave up some of his? And, are we prepared to be in a place of wilderness as we discern how to live this life of service and vulnerability?
These are not easy questions. They are certainly not the questions that were on my family's mind 35 years ago when they took me to be baptized. But, these questions matter. My prayer as we discern our next steps together is that we can hear this Gospel challenge and make it live in our worship and service together. Learning to live more fully into our Gospel calling... now that is certainly worth all the punch and cookies in the world.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulted while writing this sermon
Pulpit Fiction #97 Baptism of Jesus, After Epiphany 1B: http://www.pulpitfiction.us/show-notes/97-baptism-of-jesus-after-epiphany-1b
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.