Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Proclaiming, witnessing, repenting . . .

     As many have noticed, and as I have pointed out this liturgical year, Mark seems to be uninterested with some of the details which were captured by Luke and Matthew in their respective versions. Another great example of that simple truth can be found in this week’s readings. What are your favorite parts of Jesus’ baptism? John arguing that he should not baptize Jesus? The voice speaking to the crowd? The throng of people there to hear John and see Jesus’ baptism? The temptations by Satan that immediately followed? Notice, Mark relates none of those stories. Jesus is baptized by John. Jesus hears God’s voice. Then Jesus is driven into the wilderness where Satan tempts Him, He is with the wild animals, and the angels minister to Him. That’s it. Mark skips all of that and goes right to John’s imprisonment.
     Once John is imprisoned, Mark tells us, Jesus goes to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the good news!” Jesus’ proclamation is unique. Even John, for all of his noteworthiness and his faithfulness, only preaches. Jesus proclaims the good news of God and the nearness of His kingdom. John is teaching people that God is once again on the move and getting ready to act.  Jesus heralds that God has acted, that, to use words out of order in the Gospel narrative, it is finished.  Such should have been the desire of every single human being, to see God act, but especially those living in Israel at this time. They had seen their share of bad kings and tyrants. Now Rome had conquered them. Into that scene Jesus proclaims with certainty that God is coming to rule again. Yet how many choose to ignore the message? How many choose to ignore the Son of God?
     I will confess, as I have had to deal with people outside our congregation this past week, our Lord’s message seems easy to ignore. If God is King, why am I still suffering from the effects of this or that? If I am truly forgiven by God, why do these things happen to me? If the Church really is His bride, why don’t more people belong? Those kinds of questions, brothers and sisters, speak to the hurt that both we in the church often experience and those who are seeking to discover whether God exists and whether He could love them want answered but are sometimes unable or unwilling to give voice. It is those questions within us, however, which I believe can serve as the best witness to our faith and to the healing that Jesus offers. Why would I say that?
     Experience seems to teach us otherwise, and our brain often latches on to that teaching. We have been talking the past few weeks how our testimony to those around us about the healing that God has worked in our own lives is the most effective tool for sharing the Gospel with others. Books and books, articles and articles, and programs and programs have been written about how to go about the process of bringing people to Christ. While those efforts are noble, and some great tips are included from time to time, they fall short. What typically attracts people to God are the people already attracted. There’s a reason that so many of us around here work hard for a living, have a pretty good prayer life, enjoy serving food to others, are able to speak into failing marriages or blended families, and the like. It’s our story; it's all our stories. It is who we are. And we can tell others with authority how God has worked in our life and healed us. They see the joy and hope within us. Many want it.
     And, truth be told, we expect people to want it. Who would not want to be healed, we say to ourselves? But look at what Mark describes today. Jesus goes into Galilee proclaiming the time has come. Something important is happening, and Jesus calls attention to it. You and I, with the benefit of history, can look back on the events that we will remember in Holy Week and celebrate on Easter Sunday with the understanding of what Jesus meant. God acted, once and for all, for the salvation of human history. That Jesus was raised from the dead proved He was who He said He was and is. That is our first proclamation. God has won the battle!  God sits enthroned over everything.
     Next, Jesus tells the people that the Kingdom has come near! Part of the reason that I share so many stories about those conversations that take place during the week is because they fit into the readings so frequently. The other, though, far more important reason is that many of those stories give evidence to the truth of that first statement that God has acted once and for all! You and I can share stories about how a community around us has responded to a battered woman in its midst and embraced supporting a ministry which tries to help other women in the wider community experiencing the same terrible abuse. We can share stories about homeless people hugging us in public and proclaiming to those in the audience that “these people are truly Christians. They make homelessness seem pretty good.” We can share stories of God’s amazing healings, both in the hospital and in ourselves. And we can do so, knowing those doubts and questions and hurts and pains.
     Of course, for all our work, for all our efforts, the hearer must respond. Our Lord gave everyone the choice to accept or reject His offering. You and I need to remember that they are given a choice. Their rejection of God is not usually our fault, particularly if our stories are shared winsomely with those who ask us about the hope within us. How many heard the words unfiltered from our Lord’s mouth in Mark's accoun today, yet chose to reject Him? You should never expect to have greater success than He did. Two short verses. An amazing teaching about evangelism. Maybe Mark was not so much concerned about the details of what had already happened in history as much as he was concerned with preparing those in his flock to reach out into the wider world? Maybe, as we progress through Lent this season, we should endeavor to relate to others remembering Mark’s teaching. God has won! I can show in my life and in the lives of others! Repent, and join us! Simple words, but none more powerful nor life-giving.

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