Thursday, January 08, 2015

Telling the Secret - Mark 1:4-11

Mark 1:1-11
John the baptizer appeared[a] 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[b] water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[d] with you I am well pleased.”

         One of the decisions that every story teller has to make is when to tell the story's secret to people. Every story has a secret, and the teller has to decide whether to let the listener know about the secret early in the story, or to surprise them with it at the end. 
         Mystery  writers  often  hold  back  the secret  until  the last chapter, keeping us eagerly turning the pages to  discover  who killed  Colonel Mustard in the Library with the knife.
   The same is true of soap operas.   "Will Herbert find happiness by marrying the mysterious woman from his past?   Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of 'Love for Today'."
         There are, however, some stories that are best told by letting the audience in on the secret at the beginning.
   Some mystery writers don't hold back the details of who-done-it.   They tell the listener of the story before the police in the story discover the body.   The old television series, Columbo, was a classic of that type.   The excitement of that show was not in our trying to figure out who done it.   We knew that from the beginning.  We knew the secret.   The excitement was in watching a scruffy police lieutenant named Columbo unravel the mystery that we already understood.
         In fact, the first stories we hear in life are like that.   We already know the secret in the fairy tails.
         "Oh Grand’ ma, what big eyes you have," says the innocent little girl with the red hood.    But we already know the secret of the ravenous destruction that lies under those covers.
         Or in another children’s tale, the "ugly duckling," is shunned because of the ugliness, but then finally emerges as the lovely swan, that WE always knew him to be.
In Princeton, New Jersey, there is a legendary tale about the famous scientist, Albert Einstein. He was walking in front of a local hotel and was mistaken by one of the travelers as a bell boy.   "Here, take these bags up to 214.   Hurry up flow, don't scratch the suit cases."   Einstein, who has been busy contemplating the secrets of the atom, picks up the suit cases and carries them up to 214.
When they arrive at the room,   the traveler hands Einstein a tip, along with some advice.   "Son, you're too old to be a bell hop.   You should make something of yourself.   Go back to school and get some vocational training."
         Then Einstein continues his walk and continues to unravel the mysteries of the universe.
We enjoy that story because we know the secret that the traveler in the story doesn't know.
         We enjoy that story because we know the secret that the traveler in the story does not know.
         We know the secret from the start.

          The Gospel of Mark is just such a Story

         The Gospel of Mark is just such a story. The secret of Mark's gospel is the identity of Jesus Christ. In the very first sentence of the story, Mark lifts the veil and tells us, "This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
         Jesus is the Son of God, that's the secret, and lest we miss it, this hidden truth is confirmed in the story's opening episode, when Jesus, coming up out of the waters of baptism, sees the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove from the heavens, which have been torn open like a piece of cloth, and hears the very voice of God telling the secret, "Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased."
         Only Jesus sees the Spirit; only Jesus hears the voice. This is, in the words of one commentator, "a secret epiphany."
         God knows the secret. Now Jesus knows the secret. And because Mark has let us in on it, we know the secret too.  Jesus is the Son of God. And now we watch with amazement as the story unfolds, because almost no one else seems to be able to discover and understand this simple secret.
         The authorities don't understand the secret.  They think Jesus is a troublemaker.
The People don't understand the secret.  They think Jesus is just another prophet.
Even his disciples fail to understand the secret and are blind to the full truth that He is in every way, the Son of the Living God.
Ironically, it is in the middle of the story of Mark’s Gospel that the demons come to discover and recognize that Jesus is the Son of God.

The thing is, he doesn't look like the Son of God.   Like the genius Einstein dragging the heavy suitcases of a wealthy woman up the steps of a hotel, Jesus does not look like who he really is.

Near the end of the Gospel, Jesus is crucified.    He looks   defeated.    Some messiah he turned out to be.   The whole crowd sees what SEEMS to be.  Someone, in a tasteless joke, makes a sign and writes, KING OF THE JEWS on it.  Another yells out,
"You said you could do great things, well do something great, come down and save yourself."
Another member of the crowd says in disgust, "He said he could save others. Why he can't even save himself."
     But ONE person in that crowd and doesn't see what SEEMS to be.  Beyond the appearance and sees REAL.  He glimpses the secret.
     One of the soldiers, one of the ones who is there to maintain order, to see the crowd doesn't get out of hand, that Jesus dies properly ...  looks sees Jesus breath his last.   And in a moment of truth, says, "Surely, this was the son of God."
     In a sense, the Gospel of Mark is a mirror image of the world.
     The world looks at Jesus and doesn't understand the secret, that He is the Son of God.
     Like the people in Mark, people today see Jesus as a trouble maker we need to keep out of our schools, as a prophet who said some nice things but nothing more, or as a historical figure who has become larger than life in the retelling of the stories.  
     But once in a while, there will be a man or woman who, like the Roman soldier, will take a good look at Jesus and suddenly realize, "Surely, this is the Son of God!"

     Our task is to become the story teller.
     We know the secret.
     Jesus is the Son of God.
     What we have to do with that secret is not keep it, but spread it and share it and help others to understand it. 
     We don't do enough of that in the church.  We don't share the Good News with others.
     Jesus once said that He would make His disciples fishers of men.  By that, He meant He wanted us to share the secret of who He was with the world and to bring others into the church.
     I don't know about you, but I like to go fishing.  My father and I used to do a lot of fishing, and the story I'm about to tell you is absolute, 100%, almost true.
     Dad and I were fishing in a lake and the fish were jumping and hoping.  You've seen fish do that in a lake before.
     Well, I every time I would see a fish jump up out of the water, I would reel in my line and cast my hook right were the fish had jumped.  My Dad told me I was wasting my time, because by the time I would have cast my line over there, the fish would have been gone.
     Lo and behold, it wasn't five minutes later that a fish actually jumped up out of the water and landed right smack in our boat.
     Now, that is the kind of fishers of men the church is today.
     We're sitting in our boats -- I mean our pews -- and we're waiting for the souls to just hop right in on their own.
     Wouldn't we be more effective if we would get up out of our pew and walk into the world around us and share the story, tell the secret --- "Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

Copyright 2015. 
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Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.