Messenger.

Mark 1:1-8

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

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

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way;

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared 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 water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

How many of you are ready for this virus to be over and done with?  I know I am.  

I know that I have to have patience and do all of the things that the CDC and our scientists say to do, but I’m tired of this…and, how many of you are tired of waiting for peace to come?  I mean, look at our horrible political discourse in this country!  Look at folks talking past each other.  And, then what about wars, famines, other pandemics and injustices that continue to separate us.

I know that I have to have patience and do all of the things that the CDC and our scientists say to do, but I’m tired of this…and, how many of you are tired of waiting for peace to come?  I mean, look at our horrible political discourse in this country!  Look at folks talking past each other.  And, then what about wars, famines, other pandemics and injustices that continue to separate us.

Yet, I’ve come to realize over the years, that takes time and patience to move forward towards peace.  Which is a good thing.  And, waiting can produce character and other benefits.  

Now, waiting doesn’t mean not finishing or moving something along.  There are markers, goals, and lists that can be checked off in moving towards the development of an idea or project.  

And, throughout the Bible, there is a sense of waiting.  John the Baptist was waiting, yet he was also proclaiming something that faithful Israelites had been waiting for.  

Hundreds of years before, in the book of Isaiah, this was said:

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Scriptures also tells that this Messiah would have good news for the poor, the oppressed, and would give release to those held in bondage, in captivity…and will bring peace, or shalom.

Now, it’s hard to be at peace with everyone.  Peace is a rare commodity, when we look at events in the world around us.  As I watched events unfold this past year around the pandemic and the political and civil unrest and other things that are dividing us, I couldn’t help but to wonder if peace can be possible.   

Yet, we are called to peace.  I am amazed at folks like Martin Luther King who were able to work towards justice while rejecting violence and seeking peace.

We also experience a lack of peace within ourselves.  We are filled with self-doubt, insecurities, and a sense that something is simply not right.  We often look around in a state of discontent that can lead us to question who we are and to wonder if there is something more.  Sometimes that discontent can lead us towards growth if handled in loving community with God and others.  But, oftentimes that discontent left on its own leads us to despair.  

As we embrace who we are in Jesus and identify with his example and live in obedience to him, we can experience true peace, even as we wait to see it play out in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  It is a peace that passes understanding.  We will also be able to extend that peace to others and work towards peace.  We may not be able to control what others do to us or to others or the circumstances around us, but we can live in Christ and strive to respond to others as Jesus would.  

As we embrace who we are in Jesus and identify with his example and live in obedience to him, we can experience true peace, even as we wait to see it play out in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  It is a peace that passes understanding.  We will also be able to extend that peace to others and work towards peace.  We may not be able to control what others do to us or to others or the circumstances around us, but we can live in Christ and strive to respond to others as Jesus would.  

In our gospel lesson, John comes along preaching this message of repentance, as well as hope and this peace…and sharing about the coming of Jesus.  

John was making a statement, I will live a simple life in order to make my message heard and simple as possible:  “Repent, have a change of heart and mind from the way you’ve always thought and lived.  Be baptized to symbolize that the old way of living is dead, be raised into new life in the way that God intended…living simply in love with others, serving all, especially those on the margins.  And, know that someone is coming after me who’s sandals I’m not worthy to tie”.  John doesn’t want anything to get in the way of his message pointing towards Christ.  It’s also interesting to note that John also did his ministry outside of the temple, outside of institutional norms and processes.

And, the people came in droves to hear him and be baptized.  It’s as if they knew that they needed change.  Yes, they had hopes for a Messiah, they knew that John was pointing them towards someone to come…yet, they were also ready for a change.  A change that would include everyone, that would be personal yet connectional to community. 

Friends, hear this clearly, John is reminding us that Jesus is coming, that this Jesus will show us how to love and will love us no matter what.  This Jesus is worth the wait, and while we are waiting, it’s a good thing to prepare by confessing our vulnerabilities and the ways that we have missed the mark of God’s loving intentions…and to prepare our hearts and minds to be receptive to God’s voice through Jesus in our lives.  

Something in us may need to die in order for us to hear God’s voice.  That also applies to us as a community.  God’s voice is rising up in us, what do we need to clear out of the way to hear what God is saying to us?  We cannot rest in our identity as church members or even as Christians, we have to ask ourselves what does it mean to receive Jesus into lives personally, and into our collective lives together as a church.  

As we do that, may we be reminded that this Jesus gives us courage and voice to ask the hard questions, first with ourselves, then with each other, and to wait, even as we work towards peace or shalom.  This Jesus, in his life and even now, because we are his body, reminds us through the taking of the elements of communion that we are bound together in him and that he is speaking deeply in and through us through the power of God’s Spirit, God is present with us!

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