Sermon – December 29, 2019
Beginning today and going through Easter, the Sunday morning readings are centered on the gospel of Mark. Mark is considered to be the oldest, the first of the four gospels written. It is very similar in nature to Matthew and Luke.
Each of the four gospels begin very differently. The gospel of John begins with beautiful poetry about the Word of God coming into the world. If you remember just last year at this time when we were beginning the Gospel of Matthew we saw how Matthew chose to begin his gospel with a long lineage of ancestry – reminding us of where and from whom Jesus was descended. And both Luke and Mark begin by sharing about John the Baptist.
John the Baptist is a well-known figure of the new testament. He is known for several reasons. Partly because of his unusual appearance and habits. It was said that he dressed and ate very differently than most everyone else. And he acted differently than others as well – everything he did and said pointed other people toward someone else. He baptized Jesus in the Jordan. But this gospel doesn’t linger very long on John or on anything – it is the shortest gospel by far – in fact, it’s possible that this gospel was written so that it could be easily memorized and told aloud.
Mark was written for a wide audience. This gospel focuses on Jesus’ role as the suffering servant and son of God. While the other gospels contain long teachings and sermons of Jesus, Mark is all about action. This is where we see Jesus doing things, and then doing more things. Of the four gospels, Mark reads most like a story.
After eight verses about John the Baptist, chapter 1 of Mark takes us on a whirlwind – from Jesus’ time in the wilderness to the beginning of his ministry and then the calling of his disciples.
It’s very action-oriented – the word “immediately” shows up frequently – 44 times in the 16 short chapters of Mark.
In some ways I love the gospel of Mark – it’s kind of like the Cliff’s Notes of the gospels. You can read it fast and get the bulk of the story. But in other ways it is my least favorite because I love the rich imagery that we get to linger over in John and getting to hear the inside stories and details found in the other gospels.
But I think that’s because in general I’m tired of so many things being immediate all the time, trying to cram too many things into a day. I’m tired of telling my kids to “hurry up” constantly. It’s become a joke in our house – but kind of a sad joke, I think – because apparently I am forever telling my kids to hustle, and “there’s no time”. Like many, many families, it feels like we cram so much into our days that we are constantly rushing around from one thing to the next – feeling like there is so much to do and rarely feeling like we are doing a good job at any of it.
Immediately. Fortunately, though – even though it is a quick gospel – there’s a lot packed in there – And lucky you – because over the next three months you will get to hear a different perspective on this gospel from all sorts of different preachers! Twelve different preachers! You are going to have so much fun and learn so much. I’m so happy for you – even though I’m going to miss you.
And me, I get to shove that word “immediately” out of my mind for a little while. Or at least I will do my best.
Someone asked me shortly after our congregation received the Lilly Grant what a sabbatical is. It comes from the word sabbath – which means to rest. The intention of a sabbatical sometimes is to produce something – like sometimes professors will use the time to write a book – but in its purest form, a sabbatical is a time apart to rest with the intention that when you return, your mind and body will have had a chance to be renewed.
I hope that’s true. Even though I am only a couple days away from the beginning of my sabbatical, I still can’t imagine how it is going to feel to intentionally step away from work, but I know it will be good for me and for my family. I feel guilty because I know not everyone gets a gift like this – and I think everyone absolutely should. Rest is so important, time with family is so important. One of my main goals for these next weeks is to not rush. Unless we are about to miss a plane or something. Otherwise, I just want us to be. No ‘immediately’ for me. I know that is what I need. Down to my bones, I am certain that is what my life, my ministry, my family needs. And so I promise not to take a minute for granted of this time of rest. Pray for me that it will be a time for the Spirit to speak afresh into my heart so I can return to you energized for all that is yet ahead.
And I will pray for you, too. That these next months hold whatever you are needing, too. Is it healing you are needing? Is it more of peace? More of health? Less of worry? Whatever it is you are needing, please know I pray for that refreshment and renewal for you as well.
If there is anything I know, it is that our God is faithful and near. I think sometimes we get so busy or brokenhearted or hardened that maybe we forget or can’t see it – but that doesn’t make it any less true. God is faithful. God is near.
And I pray you feel that. Feel God’s Holy Spirit granting you the peace and wholeness you need, the unburdening you are craving, the grace and forgiveness God has promised. God is faithful. God is near. Remember that, dear friends.
Let us pray…