Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012, on Mark 9:2-9, “Numinous Luminosity: And?”

Numinous Luminosity: And?

Mark 9:2-9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured

.

before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

When I read the bible, I’m always asking myself: what was the point the author was making? Why did the author use this word?  Why recount this story?  Why tell it this way?  Why tell it here, surrounded by these other stories?

Some faiths claim that their sacred texts were recited by God directly into the ear of a listening person who merely transcribed what he heard, word for word.  Other faiths teach that their sacred texts came down from heaven, directly written by God.  Judaism and Christianity have never taught that.

The “finger of God” in two versions

The closest we have come is in the story of the ten commandments which, the text says, was written “by the finger of God.”  It says that in both versions of the ten commandments: the one in Exodus 20 and the one in Deuteronomy 5.

But these two versions are not the same.  The same ten commandments are given, but there are differences in things like the wording here and there, and differences in the reason for the commandment (especially the Sabbath commandment’s reason).  We can only conclude that we are expected to understand the “finger of God” as a non-literal metaphor; a way of saying how centrally important the commands are.  It’s not literal, but it is true, powerfully so.

The Story of Jesus – in 4 Versions

When we come to the story of Jesus, we have not one, but four versions of the story, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  They tell the same basic story, but with their own distinctive differences.  We believe that this is just how God wanted it to be.  And we believe that we can learn from all of them.  All of them are true, powerfully so.  How much to read literally is a different question.

All three of what we call the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke have this story of the the Transfiguration; we just read Mark’s version.  The story they tell is basically the same, but the details vary.  Even the words that the voice of God says from the cloud vary between the gospels. Most scholars believe that Mark’s story was written down first, and that Matthew and Luke used it as the basis for theirs, making their own creative edits.

So when we read Mark’s telling, we will ask: what is the point the author, Mark is trying to make?  What does this story mean for me, today?  And why did he tell it this way?

Oddities in the story

There are many odd things about this story, as we shall see, but one that is the most odd.  The most odd thing is that the most important point of the story, and

.

the one that is jump-right-off-the-page clear, is the one most often missed.  But this is crucial for our lives – we need this story, I believe, both the literal and the symbolic aspects of it, now more than ever.  So, let’s look at it.

It starts out like a story of a fishing trip – or perhaps a hiking trip – on a normal day with normal people.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John, men who have become his inner-circle, and goes up a mountain with them six days after his last recorded event, so this story takes place on the “seventh day” – as if it matters.

Uncanny Similarities 

In the bible, things happen on mountains.  Strange things.  Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, also with three named companions, in Exod. 24, and God appeared and spoke to him there.  In fact, Exodus tells us that the voice of God spoke to Moses on the seventh day.  One gets the feeling that Mark is intentionally telling his story of Jesus in a way that cannot help but recall this story of Moses on Sinai.

In Exodus 24, a cloud of the Glory of the the Lord comes down and covers the top of the mountain.  That sounds like Mark’s story too.  A bit later, in Exodus 34, God’s voice comes from the cloud, at which Moses, it says, “quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.”  (Exod 34:8)  The similarities are obvious.

The Shinning

The experience of being in God’s presence is transformative for Moses: it makes his face shine, so much so that it made the people afraid to come near him (Exod. 34:29).  In Mark we read that God’s presence on the mountain transforms Jesus so that his clothing shines with an un-earthy whiteness.  Nothing in Mark is said about Jesus’ face shining.  Interestingly, both Matthew and Luke add the detail that his face too shone, bringing their versions of the story closer to Exodus.

Living Dead People

In Mark’s story, Moses himself and Elijah appear with Jesus as he is transformed.  Mark tells us that they speak together, but he does not tell us what they say, so clearly the point must be their presence with Jesus.

Where did they come from?  They both lived hundreds of years ago.  They are now dead – or, we should say, they are in the state that one is in after death.  And Jesus is there with them, transformed into someone who can be at home in that state of after-death-existence.  Is this a foreshadowing of a future time in which Jesus will have been dead but is alive?  (there is much more going on here than we have time for).

We should note before we go on that Elijah too had an experience of meeting God on a mountain.  He hid in the crack in the rock as God’s terrifying presence passed by.  After an earthquake and a fire, Elijah met God in the sound of sheer silence.  Then God spoke to him.  Odd things happen on mountains, in the bible.

Peter’s Mistake

Peter then reacts to what is happening.  Mark tells us:

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings (or tents), one for you, one for Moses, and one for

.

Elijah.” 

Peter’s nervous suggestion that they should build three tent-shrines, one each for Moses, Elijah and Jesus is elegantly odd.  Clearly he gets the concept that Jesus too is at home in the after-death world – even though he has not died yet.  And certainly Peter is aware that Jesus fits within the context of the primary story of Israel – the story that includes the exodus from Egypt, the giving of Torah at Sinai, the experience of the prophets who spoke truth to power, as Elijah had done to Ahab.

But the point that Peter gets wrong is exactly the climax of the story.  The point he misses is the ‘so what?’  He has been moved by the glory of the numinous presence of God; he has been amazed by the luminosity of Jesus’ transformed clothing.  But what does he think is the implication?  Stay and worship.  Build a shrine.  Show devotion.

The Point of the Story – from the Voice

But the narrator, Mark, tells us this is a confusion.  The voice from the cloud, the voice of God himself, in the climactic moment, tells them, and us, what the point of this odd story is.  The voice of God says:

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Yes, it sounds like what Mark told us about Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel:

1:1   The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

And yes, it sounds even more like what the voice from heaven said at Jesus’ baptism:

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

But the voice from the cloud in this story goes one step further, telling us not only who Jesus is, but adding the crucial “so what”;  what to do about it:

“listen to him!”

This is so powerfully clear that it is often missed.

Getting the point

If Jesus is God’s Son in some unique way, what does that mean?  What does he want from us?  A new pilgrimage site?  A new place for worship and veneration as Peter mistakenly believed?  Maybe a three-temple complex?  None of these.

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 

.

The one, single and completely clear implication for us who believe that Jesus is uniquely God’s Son is that we are to “listen to him!”

We are to be “red-letter”  people.  We have been given the mandate from God to study Jesus.  To learn from Jesus.  To imitate Jesus.

The whole basis of our Christian theology is that Jesus shows us God.  Jesus shows us what God cares about, who God cares about, what God does about the issues he cares about.  In Jesus we see, know, and understand God.  Therefore, “listen to him!”

These words from the cloud are also, it turns out, taken right out of the story of Moses.  Moses himself makes a prediction and with it, puts a duty:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall listen to such a prophet.” (Deut. 18:15)

It should surprise no one that in Hebrew, the word “listen” and “obey” are the same.  To listen is to obey – no questions asked.

The Peter Mistake: Often made

There are two things that are very odd about this.  One is that people still are find it far more attractive to make the Peter-mistake than to do what the voice so clearly says.  People are more inclined to think that the point of this story is how God-like Jesus is, and therefore to worship him, than to, as the voice says “Listen to him.”

Remember watching shows like the Sopranos about people in the mafia? Those guys would kill, run protection rackets, organize crime of all kinds, and then go to church, dip their fingers in the holy water and cross themselves.  Is that what God wants?

““With what shall I come before the LORD,”  

and bow myself before God on high”   

the prophet Micah asks?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love mercy,

and to walk humbly with your God?

 “This is my Son, the Beloved” 

Don’t build another alter, rather, listen to him!”  Build a community of justice and mercy.

So, it is odd indeed that people today still make the mistake Peter made preferring veneration to obedience to Jesus’ teaching.

What teaching?

The other odd thing is that there is so little teaching Jesus does by words in the gospel of Mark.  There is no “Sermon on the Mount,” no beatitudes, and very few parables.  Most of what we learn from Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, we learn by watching what Jesus does.  In this way we “listen to him.”

And so what do we see Jesus doing that we should “listen to?”

Listen = Watch and learn

We see him repeatedly extending compassion to people in pain.  We see him concerned that there are people without enough to eat, and getting food to them.

.

We see Jesus stopping for people who are sick, and providing health care for them.

We see Jesus  even willing to break through the boundaries of culture and custom to extend God’s mercy to people in need – especially to people whom others have undervalued, like women and children, or excluded people, like lepers.

He reaches out across ethnic boundaries.  He reaches out to people consumed by evil – there is no one, who comes seeking it, whom Jesus rejects or from whom he withholds mercy.  No one.

Are you in pain this morning?  Are you suffering?  Do you need a loving, compassionate, inclusive embrace?  Jesus is here for you today doing exactly what he always does: offering God’s love and mercy to you.

And for all of us he is extending this mandate:  “listen to him”  Learn from him; obey him.  There is no one he does not love, no one he does not include, no one he is not willing to die for so that the cycle of violence can be stopped.

What is the point of transfiguration Sunday?  It is to commit ourselves to being people who “listen to Jesus” because he is God’s unique Son.  And the place to put it into action is not on a mountain shrine, but down the mountain, where the people are waiting.

Advertisements

“The “If” and The “I do” Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Epiphany B, Feb. 12, 2012, on Mark 1:40-45

The “If” and The “I do”

 Mark 1:40-45

James Tissot, French, 1836-1902

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Everybody knows that Jesus had conflicts, especially with the various kinds of religious leaders of his day.  Probably the most famous scene in the gospels, besides the crucifixion, is the cleansing of the temple, in which Jesus drove out the money-changers.

The picture of Jesus as a soft person, always either smiling or mystically day-dreaming, who never got angry, may be popular, but it does not come from the gospels.    There were reasons for getting angry, and Jesus sometimes got angry.  He was angry, remember, when the disciples tried to prevent the little children from coming to him for a blessing (Mark 10), and in this text that we read today, he is angry as well.

Puzzling Anger

The reason for Jesus’ anger in this text is puzzling; who is he angry with and what did they do wrong?  Because it’s puzzling,  from the beginning, the natural impulse was to soften the emotional tone of this story.  People who copied Mark’s gospel started to substitute words that made more sense to them, perhaps believing that the copy they were working from had mistakes that needed to be corrected.

So, in our printed bibles we read that Jesus was “moved with pity” (1:41) by the plight of the leper before him.  We would expect that of Jesus.  Several times Mark tells us that the plight of the crowds that came out to Jesus moved him to pity; to have compassion on them.

But the word Mark used to describe Jesus’ emotions was not “pity” but rather  it originally said that when the leper asked to be made clean “he became incensed”. (see Ched Myers, p. 153, Craig Evans, p. 75, and Joel Marcus p. 206)

There are two other sharp words that also show anger in this story.  After pronouncing him clean, Mark tells us that Jesus “sternly warned him” to go show himself to the priest without saying anything to anyone else.  That word “sternly warned” could be translated “silenced him” – but even that is too mild.  There was anger in Jesus’ voice.  But why?

The last word that clues us into the anger is the one that means “he sent him away” which Jesus did after the “stern warning.”  Sometimes the word is translated “cast him out” as in “cast out” a demon.   Here, it is so odd that some suggest it means “sent him back.”  (Myers)

Angry at whom?  Why?

Why would Jesus be angry?  Who was he angry with?  And if he was so angry, why did he do what the leper requested?   I believe that when we understand

.

what is happening in this story, we will also understand Jesus’ anger – probably we will be angry too – and we will see what this story has to do with us today, and how much we need its emotionally charged message.  So let’s look at the text together.

All three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke have this same story.  I’m sure most of us here know that the gospel writers felt free to arrange the story of Jesus’ life and deeds as they thought was best suited for their purposes.  We believe that the Spirit guided them, of course, but that they were free to be creative in the way they told the story.

Matthew put this story after the Sermon on the Mount.  But Mark puts it at the earliest point in Jesus’ ministry.  Nothing has happened yet to make Jesus mad at the religious leaders, but it soon will.  This story functions as a preview of what is coming.

The Priests

Soon in Mark’s gospel we will see Jesus in conflict with the priests who ran the temple.  Why?  Because it was not working the way it was intended at all.   Back in the days of Moses, the tribe of Levi was supposed to be the tribe of priests.  They were the tribe that received no territory in the promised land.  How would they survive? They were to live from the income of the tithes and sacrificial offerings collected at the temple.

That was hundreds of years earlier.  By the time of Jesus, the men of the high-priestly family that was controlling the temple were the elite class.  They were wealthy.  Many were large estate owners.

The Peasants

By contrast, many of the common people had lost their inheritance of land.  They typically worked as day-laborers for the landed gentry, like the priests.  Poverty was rampant, and severe.

In the old tribal days, if you were a small farmer in Israel, raising goats, sheep, wheat and other crops, paying a tithe to the temple, that is, ten percent of your income, was not burdensome.  And if you had a skin disease that healed, you could afford to give the required lamb for sacrificing when your cleansing ritual was complete, as the Law of Moses required (Lev. 13-14).

But, things had radically changed.  In the time of Jesus, if you were a landless day-laborer, working for wages,  and having to exchange your currency at the

.

temple for temple-dollars with which to buy a whole lamb to sacrifice in order to be pronounced clean by the priest – well it was simply out of the question.  And who benefitted from the exchange rates, and who got part of the sacrificial lamb to eat for supper?  The wealthy land-owning priests did!

The tithe had become a temple tax.  The whole system kept enriching the priests at the expense of the peasants, whose daily life continually exposed them to things that made them ritually impure.  Even when they stayed healthy they were indebted to the temple to bring purification sacrifices.  Getting sick, especially with what they called “leprosy” – made matters even worse.

The Sense of Anger

So, with the knowledge of how the temple system worked, and who was benefitting from it, knowing that there will be conflicts ahead in the gospel of Mark, we are now prepared to understand how this story of Jesus’ anger makes sense.

A man comes to Jesus who has a skin disease that, in those days, they called leprosy, which made him religiously impure and isolated him from society.  He could not work as a day-laborer; he had to stay away from people.  Probably he had barely enough nutrition, on a daily basis, to keep himself alive.  Who knows how his family is surviving?

He comes to Jesus, humbly, and says,

1:40 ““If you choose, you can make me clean.””

Notice, he doesn’t say “if you choose you can heal me” (which he could have said) rather, he says “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Clean” means ritually, ceremonially pure.  If you were Jewish, this would mean he was asking Jesus to make the pronouncement that he had finished his cleansing rituals  and sacrifices, and was now ready to re-enter the society of friends, family, and the working world.

But only a priest could make such a pronouncement.  This means when he says, “if you choose” he is almost saying, “if you dare to.”  If you dare to assume you have authority that only a priest has, you can make the pronouncement yourself.” It’s a huge “if”.

“I do choose”

Jesus says, “I do choose.”  In effect, saying “I choose to engage in the “war of myths.”  “I choose to take on the whole system that has now become a source of pain rather than a source of healing.”   And he did.

1:41  “Being incensed, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 

.

Not only has Jesus challenged the temple-system by making the priest’s pronouncement, he has also challenged the purity-system by touching an un-touchable leper.   According to that system, now Jesus too should be considered “unclean.”

But Jesus has broken those systems.  The leper is now clean of his leprosy and has no ritual uncleanness to spread to Jesus or to anybody else.

Sending him back

So Jesus, still burning with anger, it says, “casts him out” – unless it means “sent him back.”  Which is exactly what Jesus does.  Back to whom?  Jesus sends the man, who is now clean, back to the priests  (“priests” is plural – all the priests) as a witnesses.  Not as a witness to them, but rather it says literally, “as a witness against them.” (This is exactly what the grammar means, cf. Evans, p. 77)

The leper has already been to the priests.  But he is poor; he could not pay the huge price of the lamb for his cleansing ritual. So they sent him way, unclean, unable to work, unable to associate with people, even with family.

Of course the whole thing made Jesus angry.  He was angry at the injustice.  He was angry at the inhumanity.  He was angry at the pretentious, self-righteous hypocrisy that was going on at the temple.  Angry at the suffering it was causing.

The Trajectory of Torah and Prophets

Jesus was angry because he had absorbed the message of Torah, and the trajectory of the message of the prophets.  He knew what was important to God and what wasn’t.  He knew, as Micah said, that no amount of sacrifices – not even thousands – could compensate for injustice and oppression.  Jesus believed and practiced what the prophet Micah had said:

“With what shall I come before the Lord?… Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams?…  He has shown you, O mortal what is good and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:6-8)

Meaning For us

What does this mean for us?

Fact number one for Christians is that we believe Jesus shows us God.  Jesus shows us what God cares about, what he values, and what God wants done.

We see first that Jesus shows us that God cares deeply about human suffering.  This is constant and undeniable.  It shows up on every page of the gospels.  If you are suffering today, Jesus shows us that God cares.

If you are suffering as the result of other people’s actions, God cares deeply.  You can come to him, like that leper, and you can know that he is there to reach out his hand to you and touch you with his healing love.  Jesus shows us that God cares about suffering.

Jesus shows us that God hates injustice.  Jesus shows us how God feels about systems that keep people alienated, structures that keep people discriminated against, institutional inhumanity and oppression.  Jesus shows us that God hates it when people are made to be and to feel excluded, even when the whole society accepts it as simply “the way things are.”

Go, Tell, Do

Now, we are not like the clean leper in one way.  Mark used this story in this place also to show why Jesus stayed out of cities, sticking to the country-side.  After word got out that Jesus had intentionally subverted the priest’s control of the purity system and its debt structure, he was a marked man.  Announcing what Jesus was all about was not something that the leper was supposed to do.

But that moment is long gone.  Jesus has died and has risen again, showing us God’s vindication of his “beloved Son.”  So now, we are indeed charged with the mandate to go and tell the good news of the gospel!  The time is fulfilled.  Repent – change your thinking; the Kingdom of God is here.

And God is calling us all to be his agents of justice, mercy and cleansing.  The world is still making certain groups of people lepers and keeping them down.  We are called to take up where Jesus left off, extending our touch to every leper, ever situation of injustice, every system of oppression, every victim of inhumanity!

We will fight against unjust laws that humans make for the sake of their own advantage or their own prejudices.  We will join in solidarity with those who have been excluded as modern lepers, be they poor, or gay, or Hispanics or ex-cons, or addicted, or by someone’s definition, “disabled.”  And we will be the hands of Jesus, the hands of God, reaching out in healing love.

““Send Lawyers, Guns and Money” – Zevon, Sermon on Mark 1:29-39 for Epiphany 5B, Feb. 5, 2011

“Send Lawyers, Guns and Money” – Zevon

Mark 1:29-39

.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

There was a pop song that I liked, written and sung by Warren Zevon back in 1990, called “Send Lawyers Guns and Money” – its’s a musical joke.  One verse says:

.

“I was gambling in Havana

I took a little risk

Send lawyers, guns and money

Dad, get me out of this”

Implicit world-view

Implicit in this song is a world-view; a whole set of beliefs about the world and how it functions.  Gambling in Havana and taking unspecified risks tell us very little, but enough to get a picture of a rather self-indulgent and perhaps un-self-disciplined person.

Something happened and now he is in trouble.  But, he believes, the troubles of the world have solutions.  He asks his father to send him what he believes he needs to solve his particular trouble: “send lawyers, guns and money, Dad, get me out of this.”

The song never tells us how it turned out.  Sometimes lawyers, guns and money can fix things, sometimes not.  A bit further into the song we learn that he is “hiding in Honduras… a desperate man” – so perhaps not.

We all make assessments about what our needs are, and we all have beliefs about how to get our needs met.  We, who gather here in church, are people who have a strong sense that God is real, and we have a need to know him.  How do we know God?

Seeing God in Jesus

We Christians believe that the most reliable guide we have for knowing God, is Jesus.  We believe that what Jesus taught us about God is the truth about God.  In fact we believe that Jesus cares about what God cares about.  Jesus does what he does because that what God does.  Watching Jesus in action, we come to understand God’s nature and his will.

As we look at this text from Mark, we will be watching Jesus and asking: how does this show us God?  This is crucial for us, so let us look at the text.

It’s Still the Sabbath

Last week we saw Jesus in the synagogue on the sabbath confronting the power of evil itself – the demon-possessed man – that everyone else was apathetic about.  In the text we just read, it’s still the same day, the Sabbath.  Jesus and his disciples walk out the door of the synagogue in Capernaum over to “the house of Simon and Andrew,”

In the house we find Simon’s mother in law in bed with a fever.  If we see God when we see Jesus in action, what do we see?

.

31 “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.”

In the ancient world, a fever was not considered a symptom; it was the disease itself.  If you cure the “fever” you are well.   Mark tells us:

“Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” 

If it’s still the same day, that means it’s the Sabbath, and both Jesus who lifted her up and Simon’s mother-in-law, who was serving, are breaking the Sabbath laws as they were understood by the majority. The Sabbath, which ends at Sundown, is the reason the others waited until then to come for healing.

Mark is subtly showing us a theme that will become  explicit soon: that God’s will to restore, to heal, to give life knows no bounds, certainly not the bounds of man-made limitations.  In Jesus, we see God’s face of compassion for people who are suffering.  We see his response.

The After-Sabbath Crowd

But the majority of the people don’t know that  yet, so, as Mark says, they wait until sundown when the Sabbath officially ends to come to Jesus seeking healing.

32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 

The whole city”?  Was everybody sick or possessed?

Yes, in some sense they are.  How?

In the way they have been defining their needs and solutions.  It’s like they have been saying, “Send lawyers, guns, and money, Dad, get me out of this.”

Perhaps we do the same thing.

Our World-view in our Prayers

What do we ask for prayer for?  Normally for physical problems, right?  Of course I am aware that we don’t want to share personal issues publicly, so we stick

.

to safe topics.  But I wonder if perhaps even in our private moments and in our personal prayers we don’t spend too much time asking God for lawyers, guns and money solutions.

Do we often pray for God’s help with our selfishness?  Our self-indulgence?  Our sense of entitlement?  Our materialism?  Our xenophobia?  Our dislike of people who are not like us?  Our unwillingness to change old habits?  And yet, is there anybody here who doesn’t struggle with all of these?  No fingers are being pointed: this is the universal human condition.  I don’t know exceptions; I know I’m included.

The Father and the Son

So, back to the story: yes, Jesus does show God’s compassionate face.  He heals sickness; he casts out demons – he overcomes evil with his goodness.  But then watch what happens.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

Jesus, who we already have been told by Mark and by the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism is God’s beloved son, takes time to nurture his relationship with his Heavenly Father.  We don’t get to hear his prayer, so the point is simply the practice itself.

This is one of several occasions in Mark’s gospel where he shows us Jesus pulling away from the group and going off to pray.  In Jesus we see that God is available and listening.  It is this powerfully bonded relationship between Father and Son that empowers and sustains Jesus, all the way to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mistaking the Agenda

But this is not what Peter and the others expected.  If physical conditions are the problem and healing is the solution – then Jesus shouldn’t be out of range of the cell tower; they should be able to reach him and tell him that the waiting room has more patients in it.  Peter says,

“Everyone is searching for you.”

But Jesus has defined the problem differently.  For him, it is not just physical, the problem is also spiritual.  He replies:

38 “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”  39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Message we need

There is no doubt about what the message is that Jesus wants so badly to go proclaim.   Mark has allowed us to hear exactly one message from Jesus so far, and it is this:

1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 

.

This is exactly the message we need to hear constantly.  God’s kingdom is here.  This means changing our minds about things – which is what “repent” means.  We have to change our minds about all kinds of things that “the whole town” at the door believes.  Like the way it defines the problems, and the solutions it looks for.

The Solution Defined 

We will not be saved by any amount of lawyers, guns or money.  We will be saved by  believing the gospel – that this is God’s kingdom.  God is at work here and now.  He is looking at suffering compassionately and responding.

God is present in his kingdom, and he has open office hours.  He is available for us to come to in prayer, to draw on his strength for every day.

God is powerfully present in his kingdom, casting out demons – taking on evil that is so deeply imbedded in us.  He is here to confront our human condition: our pride, our envy, our apathy, our greed, our lust, our malice, and our gluttony.

He is present in his kingdom to save us from the evil of thinking that we will be saved by lawyers, guns and money; politics, weapons and bank accounts.  This is what the majority are chasing.

Jesus is saying,

Repent, change your thinking about your needs and their solutions: the Kingdom of God is here!  Then, Come, follow me, and get to know God.”

Follow me as I find more people to deliver the message of the kingdom to.

Follow me as I confront evil inside of people.

Follow me as I heal the sick, feed the hungry, touch the lepers, and as I connect with my Heavenly Father in prayer.

Follow me as I refuse to return evil for evil, violence for violence.

Follow me as I give my life away.