Preached January 16, 2011
St. Mark 1:1–11
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The continuing manifestation of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ begins in a rather strange place this morning with a discussion of the ethics of the Christian life. In our Epistle lesson for the day, taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Apostle talks about the day–to–day application of the gifts of the Christian faith to life. He talks about the specific forms of ministry each is called upon to render to others and how they are to do it, recognizing that each has been given different gifts. We may pull out these two verses that summarize the whole passage: Romans 12:10-11 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; St. Paul is saying that we should be prepared to serve each other with a willing spirit, without hesitation or holding back but in the fullest measure, recognizing that when we do so, we are also serving the Lord.
We have seen some extreme examples of service in recent days in connection with the shootings in Tucson, AZ where a Federal judge and several others were murdered while attending a constituent meeting hosted by a member of Congress who was severely wounded. In that situation, we had an insane man with a gun, shooting wildly and the instinct for self–preservation would be to flee and to hide. That was not the reaction of all in the crowd, however. An elderly woman snatched away two ammunition magazines from the shooter as he was trying to reload. He was brought to the ground by several bystanders who simply threw themselves upon him to hold him down. In doing these things, it is clear that they were risking their own lives because he was still armed and still shooting until the point where one of those holding him down finally wrested the gun from the shooter. Other people rushed to the aid of the wounded, providing CPR and in the case of Representative Giffords, holding her upright so that she did not drown in her own blood. These are examples of people rising to the call to serve others in a critical moment.
Now move back in time to 1993, to South Africa, to St. James Church where Muzlims attacked during a Sunday evening service. There were approximately 1000 Christians at prayer when the Muzlims attacked with AK–47s, grenades, etc. Later on, one of the attackers admitted that their intent was to kill all of the worshippers. They were prevented by one man, a missionary Charl Van Wyk, who was armed with a .38 caliber pistol and began to return fire. When they met return fire, the Muzlims turned and fled. The final outcome was 11 churchgoers dead and 53 wounded, but it would no doubt have been far worse had the missionary not returned fire. He rose to the call, rather than simply looking to protect himself, he sought to protect others by standing up to fight back.
With the evil that is unfolding in the world today, I submit that we are going to see many more opportunities for Christian service of this sort where to serve is going to mean standing up and placing yourself in harms way to protect others. This is not a comfortable thought, but when you see (1) the intrusions of government itself into the private lives of our people, and (2) the way that government stands idly by and allows unions and other non–governmental agents to abuse citizens while the government looks the other way, it seems quite real for our times.
I do not want to imply that we should only think in terms of such dramatic forms of service at all. The quiet service that attracts no public notice at all is also still very much seen and valued in the eyes of God as well. I simply bring up these two examples because they both happened to be in the news that came to me this week.
Let us turn our attention also to the Gospel lesson for the day, the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Mark 1:2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. St. Mark is establishing the basis for the call of John the Baptist, the fact that this has been foretold by the prophets in ancient times. The Lord has said that he will send a herald prophet to announce the coming of His Messiah; this is what John is reminding his readers about so that background is already established when he then tells them the things that John is doing. Mark 1:3-4 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. When you think about what we know about John the Baptist, about his manner of life, living rough in the wilderness of Judea, eating locust and wild honey, wearing animal skins, it becomes fully apparent this is not a man who has found an easy life and pursues it for the luxuries and easy living that it affords him. On the contrary, it is evident that this is a man fully dedicated to his mission as the forerunner of Jesus Christ and allows nothing at all to interfere with that mission. St. John Baptist rose to the call.
Mark 1:5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. Here St. Mark tells us how effective St. John Baptist was, in that all the country side came out to hear him and to receive the baptism for forgiveness of sins. This is truly remarkable when you think about it. A lone, semi–wild man, in the wilderness of the banks of the Jordan, with no set schedule, no publicity, no fixed venue, none of the things we moderns would thing to be essential, and yet still he manages to reach larges numbers of the Jews with his message of repentance, the Messiah is coming.
Then, seemingly at the height of his fame, St. John Baptist makes this remarkable announcement, Mark 1:7b-8 There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. This is bound to have caused puzzlement among his hearers. St. John Baptist was certainly known for telling the truth, but what could he possibly be talking about here? What did he mean when he spoke of One whose shoes he was unworthy to untie? How could that be? What did he mean when he spoke of being baptized with the Holy Ghost? All of these questions must have must have caused considerable consternation to his hearers.
Then the great day arrived, Mark 1:9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. Even though Jesus was completely without sin, we may look at this as being somewhat like His circumcision, His taking the Law upon Himself, that He may be most completely, most fully man in making His Sacrificial Death for us. He is joining the ranks of men in yet one more way by being baptized by St. John Baptist. St. Matthew records that St. John Baptist objects, but Jesus insists that this be done in order to fulfill all things proper for the moment which accords with the idea of His taking upon Himself our humanity in yet one more way through this action.
And then we have the theophany, Mark 1:10-11 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. We have the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descending to rest upon Jesus as the voice from Heaven identifies Him with the words, Thou art my beloved Son, … This is most clearly the shining forth of the glory of the Lord, with the Lord God Himself speaking, telling us that Jesus is His Son in whom He is well pleased! What could possibly be more clear than that! God Himself speaks!! Surely all who witnessed the event must have been simply overwhelmed by what they saw. How could they possibly have any doubts at all?
It can be argued that this event is the first time that Jesus is fully aware of just who He is. Before this time, we really don’t know what Jesus knew about His status and His mission; we can only speculate because we really have no information. From this point on, it is clear that He knows because we have the witness of this account for evidence. From this point on, Jesus rises to the call.
As we live our lives, let us each rise to the call to serve each other as to the Lord. In some cases, these calls are going to become more extreme, more dangerous in the years ahead, but that does not in any way change our responsibility to respond. In countless other ways, there will continue to be the quiet, unobtrusive calls to service that have been present in our daily lives all along and continue to be just as important as they have always been. Let us keep before us the image of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, rising from the waters of baptism to life a life of service and sacrifice.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.