One of my favorite expressions from our time in the Maritimes is when someone would say, “Stay where you’re at until I come where you’re to.” This was rather strange language for my prairie ears, but it was a colorful way of expressing the reality of distance between two points. Last post we looked at the vision for congregational worship at CCC. This time, I’d like to explore how this foundation can help us move into the future in our worshipping lives together. The issue isn’t one of “what have we been doing wrong?” but one of “how can we take what we have been doing and make it even better?”
We are a diverse congregation, coming from many different Christian traditions – denominational and non-denominational. One unifying factor is that the majority of us come from churches in the free-church evangelical tradition. That is a pretty wide stream but it does have identifying characteristics that hold us together as far as what we expect in congregational worship (even though some of us come from more reserved backgrounds and some from more expressive ones). Most of us have practiced congregational worship in a style that dates back to 19th century revivalism. These were worship services that were expressly focused on proclaiming the gospel so that the unsaved would respond to the call to salvation. They were unapologetically evangelistic services. This was the era of the travelling evangelist and the evangelistic crusades or revival meetings. Churches gradually adopted this form of worship in their congregations and it has retained its preeminence all these years later. The revivalistic or evangelistic service was focused upon finding the lost which is definitely part of the church’s commission by Christ. There is more to worship, however, than evangelism and this is where the confusion is found. We have debated for years whether our worship services should be focused upon winning the lost or equipping the found. These two are mutually exclusive, but congregational worship needs to be more than an evangelistic revival service. If we depend upon getting the lost into earshot of the church in order for them to be saved, we’ve turned the Great Commission in its head and have not learned from the example of the earliest church.
I’m suggesting there is a basic difference between an evangelistic service and a regular congregational worship service. In the former we aim for people to respond to the gospel. In the latter, we aim for God’s people to be formed by the gospel. So worship must take the shape of the biblical story of redemption, simply expressed as: creation, fall, redemption and consummation. Congregational worship then begins by recognizing God as our Creator in his holiness and then recognizes our sinfulness in his presence before rejoicing in the gift of God’s salvation in Christ and then responding to the call on our lives as we await the return of Jesus. There is a rhythm and logic to this flow of worship that basically “re-presents” or “reenacts” the gospel. True worship shouldn’t only call us to salvation but also to respond to the many ways in which we may obediently respond to what God reveals of himself and his purposes. God not only saves us, but he satisfies us and sends us. Our worship needs to be big enough to engage all of that.
What remains for us to do is to find ways in which our worship services do greater justice to this full-bodied and glorious gospel. And this, with God’s help, we will do.
To address the issue of worship in a local church normally invites all kinds of responses – some helpful, some not, some informed by thoughtful theology, some by personal preferences. Before any of this has a chance to take root, let’s look at what is already in place at Caronport Community Church in terms of a worship vision and values.
Vision is a picture of our preferred future. What that means in practical terms is the vision isn’t reality – yet. That is the hope. We exist to catch up to our dreams so that God mighth be glorified in our corporate worship life as a church. Values can either accurately reflect our current practice or be more aspirational (wishful thinking, maybe) in nature. This is to say, here is what we have believed our worship life at CCC should and could look like.
This vision has been around for a decade or more in various editions so it’s not something hot off the press, to say the least. Give it a read-through and see what you think.
Vision Statement for Worship Ministry at CCC:
“Enabling our whole church family to offer worship that glorifies God”.
The worship ministry to Caronport Community Church seeks to facilitate the above vision statement in the planning and presentation of all worship gatherings. We would desire to use the full spectrum of the arts (the spoken word, music, visual arts, etc.) to enable the whole church family to participate in worship. We believe worship to be our heartfelt response to who God is and what He has done. It is not simply about what we receive from our worship, although we do benefit greatly, but, also about what we bring as offerings to our Lord and Saviour. God initiates worship – we respond to His working in our lives.
We value honoring God in all that we do and say.
We seek to exalt God, and, the revelation of Himself through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as we come together to worship. He is the reason for all that we do and the primary focus of our worship. (Deut. 10:12-12; Isa. 45:5-6; Mark 12:28-30)
We value the Word of God as the Authority for all teaching and training.
As our source of truth and wisdom, we desire that our songs, dramas, speech, and prayers be theologically sound. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Tim. 2:15; Col. 3:16; Heb. 4:12-13)
We value servanthood.
We believe that as followers of Christ we are called to be servants – to live out the reality of loving one another by putting others first. Servanthood is the result of genuine humility, and, is a profound mark of the truth of God taking hold in our hearts. We desire to work together with an attitude of service and ministry to each other and to the body. Teamwork is a priority. (Matt. 20:25-28; Phil. 2:3-4; Eph. 5:21)
We value the intergenerational nature of our church family.
We desire to minister to the entire church family from the children to the seniors. We would also desire to provide opportunities for ministry for the entire generational spectrum. (Mark 10:13-16; Prov. 16:31; Rom. 12:10; Eph. 6:1-4)
We value the diversity of the body of Christ.
God has provided every believer with a unique combination of gifts, talents, temperament and interests. When the church values differences, it honors God and liberates people. (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12)
We value the participation of the body in corporate worship.
Worship is a participatory event, not a spectator sport. We desire to provide multiple opportunities for each worshiper to actively engage in serving the Lord through worship. (1 Cor. 14:26)
We value integrity and authenticity in those giving leadership.
Leaders are to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and, in purity”. Their walk with the Lord and within the community must be authentic and above reproach. This honors God and encourages people to strive for personal holiness. (1 Tim. 4:12; Ps. 15; Ps. 24:3-4)
We value equipping those who give leadership in worship.
We desire to provide opportunities for ongoing learning and training so that they are able to fulfill their role. This honors God and provides resources so that leaders can equip and disciple others. (Eph.11-13)
We value relevance, both relationally and culturally.
Knowledge for the sake of knowledge only “puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Relationally, we study, pursue, and teach God’s truth in the context of how it enables us to grow in our relationship of love with Him and with each other. Culturally, we work at communicating sound doctrine in a way that is meaningful to our community and the student environment, without compromising the gospel in any way. (1Cor. 9:19-23; Acts 17:16-34)
We value excellence in all we do.
This does not mean perfection, but, that which we offer to God should be our best – the first fruits of our labors, not the leftovers. When the church does its very best with the talents, gifts and resources God has supplied, it honors God and inspires people. (Col. 3:23; Mal. 1:6-14)
Tension is not disagreement, argument and conflict. Tension is a healthy part of physical growth and development. Tension in worship is achieved by holding two opposing paradigms as simultaneously true. Even as the divine and human coexist without division or confusion in the nature of Christ, so a number of tensions exist in the theology and practice of worship. We acknowledge the need for awareness of the following tensions in our worship services:
edification (people-focused)/God focused
culturally accessible/culturally distinct
outreach (seeker-focused)/believer focused
transcendence of God/immanence of God
God as subject (He initiates worship)/object (He receives worship)
corporate worship/individual worship
Seeking “balance” between these opposing paradigms is elusive. A balance beam weigh scale is only “balanced” at one point. The majority of the beam’s oscillations are above or below that perfect point on the scale. If the target for worship is perfect balance, than success must be defined as ONE point, and, all other places in the spectrum are by definition “unsuccessful”. This is a tragedy for leadership, because the balance will be correct 1% of the time and wrong 99% of the time. The balance perspective is further complicated by asking “whose scale are we using?” The Lord abhors dishonest scales (Prov. 11:1), so which worshipper in the church family is sufficiently free of sin or can adequately set aside their own preference to judge when the worship is balanced?
“Marks of Ministry”
Mark 1:29-45 ESV
CCC January 22, 2012
“Mark: Keeping Up With the King”
29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed 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.
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
40 And a leper[b] came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus[c] sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
What do you do when you have two things that are different but you want to value them both? One way to do it is to somehow combine them together. So if you like peanut butter and you like chocolate, you could do what Reeses did and make a chocolate peanut butter cup (slide #1).
What if you want to save space in your bathroom? You need both a toilet and a sink but don’t have room for both…. (slide #2).
Or what if like both wheel chairs and shopping carts? (slide #3)
What if you like book shelves but also like having a stairway to the second floor? (slide #4)
Or what if you like video games and luxury cars? (slide #5)
You can appreciate the new Mercedes Benz SCL600 that drives with a joystick instead of a steering wheel. Maybe combining the two things together isn’t the only way to do it.
Maybe we could just add one to the other – kind of like a Buy One, Get One Free (slide #6)
like you can do with Senior Citizens at IHOP Restaurants.
Holding two good things together may not be as easy as we think. What about the words and deeds of Jesus? Mark already has shown us how Jesus has burst onto the scene back in the province of Galilee, performing all kinds of miraculous deeds and is preaching and teaching as well. To this point, at least, it seems like Mark is placing more emphasis on what Jesus does than on what he’s saying. How are we to understand how these two go together? Maybe some of us feel the miraculous deeds are the most important and that will affect how we think the church should be serving today. Others of us may feel it’s Jesus’ preaching that is primary and the miraculous deeds were just window dressing so he could gain a hearing.
Maybe we should ask what Mark thinks about this. We all might be a bit surprised.
Mark picks up where he left us last week – right after Jesus has cast out a demon in the Capernaum synagogue. There is no Soup and Bun Lunch after the service so Jesus goes home with his 4 new disciples to Simon and Andrew’s house. The noon meal on the Sabbath was the big meal of the day and so these 5 guys come crashing through the door ready to chow down. But they look around and there’s no fire in the oven. The only fire is in the cook – Peter’s mother-in-law! Back then they called a fever a fire – actually a divine fire because God had caused it and only God could take it away. So this woman is in big trouble. She is considered unclean because God has punished her with this fever. She’s not part of Jesus’ family. It’s the Sabbath. There are all kinds of reasons for Jesus to keep his distance from this lady.
Jesus, apparently does share these same reservations and does the unthinkable – he reaches down, takes her by the hand, lifts her up and BAM, she is healed! He’s crossed at least 3 lines that would get him in big trouble with the religious authorities. And what happens next? Simon’s mother-in-law gets up and serves them lunch.
So what do we make of this? Well, you might say Mark is telling us that woman’s place is in the kitchen and she is fulfilled in her serving. You might say that, but you’d be wrong.
By serving Jesus, Simon’s mother-in-law does the same thing the angels did when Jesus was being tempted in the desert and she seemed to understand more of Jesus’ mission than her son-in-law does, as we’ll see in just a minute. As a matter of fact, women seem to ‘get it’ more than guys do all through Mark’s gospel.
What Mark is saying is that Jesus has authority not only over unclean spirits but also over diseases.
The word gets out quickly, so that at sundown, in other words when Sabbath was over, Mark says the whole town shows up at the door. He’s exaggerating on purpose here – there’s about 10,000 people in Capernaum at the time. He’s saying ‘lots of people showed up’ – those with various diseases and those with demons.
And Jesus heals many – which is a Jewish way of saying everyone who came got what they came for. And the demons, when Jesus cast them out, were not allowed to speak because they knew who he was. It’s just the people who are in the dark. But they know enough to come to get what they want.
However you cut it, it was one roaring success. How does Jesus react? He gets up really early and goes to a deserted place to pray. These times of praying are pivotal times for Jesus in his ministry. His prayer retreat is interrupted by Simon and the guys who track him down like a blood hound, still wide-eyed from last night’s success. They are pumped. What an opportunity. Jesus is a hot commodity. These guys already had ideas to launch a website and maybe even a Jesus theme park or a condo development: Messiah Meadows. And if Jesus was going to use his spit to heal the blind they would gather it in bottles and sell it on their own TV show: just $19.95 and you too can get your own little bit of the holy spit! They say, “The crowds are seeking for you – they all want you, man. Give them what they want!”
But Jesus hasn’t been planning, he’s been praying, so he says, “Let’s hit the road, leave the crowds behind so I can preach in the other towns around here because that’s why I came.”
Now that’s sobering – Jesus came to preach, then. We look back to verses 14 and 15: “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled – the time promised by God has arrived – and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
So I guess we can expect to hear a whole lot more teaching from this point on and very little emphasis on miracles. It’s at this point that Matthew records the Sermon on the Mount. But not Mark. What does Jesus do? He goes out and preaches in the synagogues and casts out demons! And then he goes right into the account of healing the leper. What’s with that?
We can’t tell whether this leper is full of faith
or just desperate, but he invades Jesus’s space and does what lepers aren’t supposed to do – he leaves his imposed quarantine and begs for healing. Notice what he says, “If you want to, you can make me clean” – not ‘you can make me well’ but ‘you can make me clean.’ He was unclean – damaged goods. He was to stay away from everyone and shout out, “Unclean, unclean.” It was a lonely, cruel way to live. We just found out last summer of an episode in our own family when Hannah had a temporary case of exema and her brother Nathan had convinced her she had leprosy and made her yell, “unclean, unclean!” And now he is responsible for giving direction to the lives of high school students – God does have a sense of humour.
This leper’s case was real – he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been touched, when he last hugged his wife and held his children. Jesus does more than answer his request. He says, “Yes, I want to – be clean” but he reaches out and touches the untouchable. Jesus is not contaminated by touching him, but the leper is cleansed by Jesus’ healing touch.
Jesus sends him away quickly with 2 commands. Don’t tell anyone about this but just do what you need to do to show the priests so you can go back home.
What does this leper do? The demons obeyed and kept quiet but not him. Immediately he gets on his phone and texts everyone on his distribution list: OMJ, LOL (Lord ousts leprosy). And Jesus can’t go anywhere because of the big crowds in the towns and villages. He has to camp out in the sticks but still the crowds come seeking after him.
So what has Mark told us about Jesus’ ministry? Is Jesus a miracle-worker or is he a preacher? Actually he’s both and he’s neither. More than either or both of these things, Jesus is a King announcing his coming kingdom. And while he’s doing this announcing, he’s giving a bit of a taster of what life will be like “when his kingdom comes and his will is done here on earth as it is in heaven.” No more demons then. No more sickness then.
But the King runs into opposition as he does all this announcing and demonstrating. He runs into opposition from those he came to save. They want to turn him into the one who gives them what they want. They seek him because of what they get. And that doesn’t make them followers of Jesus, it makes them consumers. And Jesus will not be saying, “Go into all the world and make consumers of all nations.”
So if we are just seeking for a miracle, then we are simply a consumer not a disciple because we’re looking for what we want rather than for what Jesus says we need. We’re seeking for the wrong thing. We’re just like the seekers in Mark’s gospel, who are always seeking for the wrong thing. But if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, if we repent and believe in the gospel of the kingdom, then we see how Jesus’ preaching and his miracles come together in the service of the kingdom. Then we can watch out because the heavens might just open and we will see miracles like we could have never imagined. But it won’t be because we wanted them but because God in his grace has given them.
There is also a word here for our entire church. How will we serve Jesus? Will we be a market-focused church that gives people what they want? If they want food, we’ll feed them. If they want to be entertained, we’ll entertain them.
Or will we be a mission-focused church that is seeking the kingdom and desiring to obey Jesus’ call to make disciples of all the nations?
I think I know what Mark would vote for.
“First Steps of Ministry”
Mark 1:16-28 ESV
CCC January 15, 2012
“Mark: Keeping Up With the King”
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
There are movies to suit our every mood. If we’re feeling down and want to escape for a couple of hours, we can see a comedy. If we’re feeling the need for speed, we can watch “Top Gun.” Guys, if you’re feeling the need to impress your favorite girl, you can take her to a chick flick. If we want to be intellectually stimulated, we can go to a foreign film and wade our way through the English subtitles. But on those occasions when we just want to be riveted to our seats – to have non-stop action and no a whole lot of dialogue, where to do we go? We go to an action movie! Each action movie has its own hero. They don’t say much – mostly one liners: “Go ahead, make my day” or “I’ll be back.” They let their actions do the talking.
They don’t even make my favorite kind of action movie anymore – the spaghetti western.
They were all the same – little dialogue, lots of action.
So we all can see this – the sleepy little town of Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The townspeople are just going about their business and then…we see him – the mysterious stranger striding into town [cue music from theme of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly].
Nobody knows who this new teacher is – but we do because Mark has already told us. But he’s not going to let any extra details get in the way. Here are the bare essentials of how Jesus begins his public ministry.
What’s the first thing Jesus does? He calls his first disciples, his first followers. Don’t let this streamlined story fool you – Mark is up to something here. If you can remember from last week, Mark is answering the question “who is this Jesus?”
And now he subtly lays another question just below it: “What do I do with him?”
So these two questions will be rattling around our heads all the way through the gospel of Mark. That’s amazing!
Jesus waltzes into town and heads right for these 4 fishermen – two sets of brothers. We love this story and that’s because most of us don’t know anything about being a commercial fisherman. We have romanticized being a fisherman because we know what Jesus is going to say. But we need to hit the pause button for a second to understand the significance of what Jesus is doing.
Being a fisherman was hard, dangerous work. Being in the Maritimes for 14 years taught me that much. I knew fishermen who died fishing. And back in Bible times fishing meant going out all night in waters that were prone to high winds and sudden storms. And what would you wear to protect yourselves from the elements? NOTHING!
So being a fisherman means you spend all night out in a rocky boat with a bunch of nude dudes praying the fish bite and the bugs don’t! Hardly a glamorous vocation!
There’s more! Earning your living from the sea means that you have a lot of liquid assets – you can’t refrigerate your fish so you exchange them for money right away. That made you sitting ducks for all the tax collectors just salivating to rip you off. Fishermen hated tax collectors. Wouldn’t it be funny if Jesus chose a tax collector to be one of his followers? Nah, that would never happen!
Mark keeps the details to a minimum. It sounds like Jesus comes into town, calls these 4 guys and they follow him. Other gospel accounts give us more background but not Mark. Jesus comes up to Simon and Andrew and it sounds like they don’t have a boat or a father. We know from other gospels that they do have a boat and their father is Jonah. Then Jesus comes to James and John.
They have a boat and a father, Zebedee and hired servants.
So Jesus comes to these 2 sets of brothers, the Zebedee brothers and the Jonah(s) brothers and says the same few words to each of them: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” That’s it.
What does he mean? He’s calling them to be his disciples, his followers. To be Jesus’ disciple means that you follow him above all others. For these guys, that was a literal following – leaving their boats, their families, their personal agendas behind. Kind of like their father Abraham centuries before.
And, if we look carefully, it also means calling others to this same following after Jesus. Jesus told them he would make them become fishers of men – they would ultimately be calling others just like Jesus was calling them. You see, men are like fish – either they’re caught or they’re not. Either we’re disciples or we’re not. It’s cut and dried, black and white.
It’s hard for us to come to grips with such an event – it’s happened so fast. Mark doesn’t give us time to catch our breath. He rushes us to the next scene.
Jesus takes his disciples to church – they go to the synagogue on the Sabbath and he starts to teach. Mark doesn’t even tell us what he is teaching but he records the reaction of the people who hear him.
The people are blown away by Jesus’ authority. They hadn’t seen anything like it. He wasn’t appealing to the comments of other rabbis or to a collection of parchments hanging from his wall – he didn’t have any parchments, he didn’t have any walls. His authority stemmed from who he was. The words rolled off his lips into their hearts and they were amazed. We’ll need to get used to this reaction. When Jesus teaches, the crowds are flabbergasted.
But they weren’t the only ones there that day.
There was a demon-possessed man in attendance and he yells out at Jesus in defiance, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”
Isn’t it strange that a demon knows more about Jesus than anybody else so far? But it’s the kind of knowledge that doesn’t do him much good.
What does Jesus do? He rebukes the demon – a strong word, but you can rebuke if you have authority like Jesus. You don’t have to say much, no showmanship needed, no wind up, no follow through. Jesus says, “Be silent and come out of him!” “BUTTON IT AND BEAT IT BOZO!” It’s the demon that makes all the fuss.
And what is the crowd’s reaction? You guessed it – they’re amazed! And they make Jesus into a celebrity. They don’t know much about him but it’s enough for them all into paparazzi.
So we come back to Mark’s two questions:
“Who is this Jesus?”
This Jesus is one with authority – authority in what he says and authority in what he does. There is no-one like him. He demands to be heard.
And “what do we do with this Jesus?”
We’re called to be his disciples, his followers. And what does it mean to be his disciple? This action-packed story teaches us more about that than we were expecting. Mark tells us what a disciple is not: 1) being a disciple is not just going to church – because Satan comes to church. He probably has a better attendance record than any of us. 2) being a disciple is not knowing who Jesus is – again the demon knew that too. 3) being a disciple is not just being amazed by Jesus – that makes us part of the crowd, not one of his disciples.
To be Jesus’ disciple, we are to follow him – completely, no strings attached, no holds barred and we are to call others to join us on this life-long journey of following Jesus.
In all this, the focus is still on Jesus, and not on us. Here is this mysterious stranger who has walked into our lives – all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.
And what does this Jesus say to us? “Follow me!” “Bring others with you!” He knows this is a demanding request. He knows it may cost us a lot, a whole lot, just like those 4 fishermen. It may cost us our own agendas. It may cost us our jobs. Just a few months ago, Damian Goddard, who is a sportscaster, simply tweeted that he supported the traditional view of marriage and he was fired the next day. I heard him interviewed and they asked him, “Knowing the outcome of your actions, would you do it differently another time?” Damien said, “No, I would not. My life is not defined by my job. I am first a follower of Jesus Christ.”
So what are you going to do? You shouldn’t mess with an action hero. Because this same guy who says “Follow me” also says “I’ll be back!” And I don’t know about you but I don’t want to take that lightly.
“The Beginning of the Gospel”
Mark 1:1-15 ESV
CCC January 8, 2012
“Mark: Keeping Up With the King”
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Is it possible to know a story too well? What happens when we think we’ve mastered a story? We are entertained by knowing what is going to happen next and we cease to be surprised and the story doesn’t teach us anything anymore.
When he was back in high school, my oldest son memorized, word for word, that great film classic “Dumb and Dumber.” He quoted it so much that soon all of us, including him, were sick of it. It became too common – actually boring.
If we’re honest, we’ve all done this same thing too. I confess that at one time I did the same with all the Pink Panther movies. I knew everything line uttered by the strange Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau. But there are only so many occasions then you can say,
“Does your dog bite?” and so I soon lost interest and all those movies are just gathering dust down in the family room.
Have you ever wondered if we’ve done the same with Jesus? We think we know his story so well that it has become predictable, just part of the furniture. That there is nothing new in the well-worn stories of his birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection? Maybe, just maybe, we like domesticating the story of Jesus because that’s what brings us comfort – like a favorite blanket or sweat shirt.
We probably don’t want to admit this out loud but maybe it’s true. Especially in our community where so much of life surrounds the Bible, maybe, when we’re not looking, we can fall into the trap of trying to master the gospels and not opening ourselves to be mastered by them.
Here’s where Mark’s gospel comes in. It’s the gospel we know the least. Mark doesn’t have all the parts we know the best – no Christmas story, no Lord’s Prayer, no Beatitudes, no John 3:16, no parable of the prodigal son.
What does Mark give us? – an action-packed adrenaline rush of Jesus rushing from one episode to another often told with vivid almost violent vocabulary. No scenic route to the cross here – Mark’s story of Jesus will give you whiplash. Right from the very first verse, Mark yells back to us from the front seat, “Buckle up, baby, let’s ride!”
If you think you’ve heard it all before or have ADD like me or get easily bored or love action or you’ve had 3 Red Bulls for breakfast, Mark is the guy who can introduce us to Jesus again for the first time. We can all find ourselves in there somewhere.
Mark does the same thing all the other gospel writers do, he just does it differently. Mark is out to answer the question, “WHO IS THIS JESUS?” By the time he’s done, we know, even though Mark lets us cheat a bit by telling us what the rest of the characters in this story have to figure out for themselves.
Mark gets right down to business from the very start. He skips everything right up to the ministry of John the Baptizer. Right from the beginning of the gospel, Mark is answering the question, WHO IS THIS JESUS?
HE DOES THIS BY RECORDING 3 VOICES AND 2 EVENTS THAT PREPARE JESUS FOR PUBLIC MINISTRY.
The first voice is Mark’s own voice – the voice of the story teller. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
He tells this to us right off the top. This Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – the Anointed One and he is the Son of God. Now that tells us a lot – a lot more than those right in the story know. But it doesn’t tell us everything. What does it mean to be the Messiah? What kind of Messiah is he? What does it mean to be the Son of God? There are still a lot of blanks to fill in but it gets us off to a good start. We can filter the whole story through this first verse.
Pity the people right in the story who don’t have this edge.
The second voice belongs to one of these characters: John the Baptizer. Mark tells us few things about this guy. First his ministry was foretold by the ancient Jewish prophets – he was the come to pave the way for the Messiah. Second, he helped Israel get ready for the Messiah by leading them to be baptized as an expression of their repentance and their need for One to deliver them. And third, he was very strange. He dressed like a wild man. His role model was the prophet Elijah who was always looking like a street person and was always railing against those in power. And for food, he ate locusts and wild honey – bug guts and bee barf. Obviously John didn’t know much about fashion or nutrition – he didn’t know all that much about Jesus either, but what he did know, he tells us: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (vv7 , 8) So we know Jesus is mightier than John – and hopefully a better dresser – and will baptize with the Holy Spirit – Whatever that means. So that’s our second voice. We still have questions but hopefully the third voice will lift the fog for us.
We’re in luck – the third voice is God’s. This should clear it up for us, right? Well, not so fast. Jesus comes to be baptized by John the Baptizer in the Jordan River and after he is baptized the heaven are literally ripped open and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon him. Then we hear God’s voice: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” That should settle it once for all, right? The problem is that this vision and the voice were only for Jesus and for us. They weren’t for John or anyone else gathered for the occasion. We’re left scratching our heads. If you’re going to rip open the sky wouldn’t you want to sell tickets? Why waste it on one person?
And we’re also left wondering, why does God love Jesus? And why is he well pleased with him?
Those are the 3 voices Mark records for us as Jesus prepares for his public ministry. The third voice also reminds us of the first event that helps prepare Jesus – his baptism by John in the Jordan. John was baptizing those who needed to change. What kind of self-respecting Son of God would feel the need to submit to a baptism of repentance? Maybe the kind who would walk alongside those he would deliver. Maybe the kind who would humble himself and receive the empowering of the Holy Spirit to perform the mission he was to accomplish.
The second event directly follows the first. The Holy Spirit who has just lighted upon him like a gentle dove takes Jesus by the collar and throws him out into the desert where he tangles with Satan for 40 days. Again, that seems a bit harsh for God’s Son. Until we realize the desert is a place of testing and of danger and God’s people Israel went through the desert for 40 years and didn’t do very well under pressure. Then we see how important it is for Israel’s Messiah to have faced and passed the desert test against Satan. What kind of Messiah would fold against that kind of pressure? Not one able to save. There he was out in the place of danger, among the wild animals and Satan himself and yet resisting and being helped by God’s own angels. Will that kind of Messiah be able to sympathize with us when we go through our own wilderness?
Now we’re ready to hear Jesus’ own voice as he hits his home province preaching the gospel of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”
These voices may not have told us everything we’d like to know about Jesus yet. There’s still some fuzziness there, like hearing the flight announcements in the airport (WestJet Flight 735 now arriving at Gate A). But at least they have our attention.
But when we hear the voice of Jesus, it is crystal clear. We know exactly what he wants us to do. He wants us to repent and believe the gospel.
He is calling for nothing less than a complete change and reorientation in our lives – from our toes to our nose. Our lives are to be completely overwhelmed by the gospel – we are never to be the same, we are never to recover. And that gospel or good news is wrapped up in this one that God has called his beloved Son.
The simple truth is we will never master this gospel but when we repent and believe in it, this gospel will master us and that’s the way it should be.
When we open the pages of this gospel, we are called to follow this One who is our master. And that journey will lead through the wilderness but it is a wilderness that has been conquered by Jesus. And that journey my lead us to suffering but it is a suffering made meaningful by Christ’s own cross. That’s why opening the gospel always leads us to the cross. And that’s where we end this morning – around the cross, seated at his table, obedient to his invitation to come and remember.
I would like to begin a rather long experiment. I would like to post the sermons I’ve preaached through the gospel of Mark at CCC for the last year 15 months. This may be too much for many – especially for those who had to sit through them the first time – but this is more for educational and dialogical purposes than anything else. This was my first attempt in over 30 years of ministry to preach straight through a gospel and I’m wondering if my experience (both the good and not-so-good) might be of help to others. So this series of posts (if indeed I persevere through until the end) will be entitled “Keeping Up with the King: One Preacher’s Journey Through Mark’s Gospel.”
So, what follows is an introduction to the posting of these sermons as time permits. I will try not to mess too much with the sermon manuscripts and will only touch up what I see as obvious typos and embarrassing gafs (although the latter of these happened more often in the preaching of the sermons than in their writing). I have tried to leave all the particularities of these sermons intact because all preaching happens in space and time. Any attempt to universalize them only strips them of their context. Obviously, no-one would preach these to their own congregation without a lot of work in contextualizing (not to mention exegesis). Each sermon will include the date preached as well as the biblical text read before each sermon.
The contextual bits are important. Our congregation serves a village dominated by a number of related Christian schools – high school through seminary. This results in a rather highly biblically-literate congregation in comparison to most and even influences the choice of English translation used. I have chosen to use the ESV given our context. Others who don’t preach to a congregation littered with Bible scholars might choose a translation a bit less wooden or ‘word for word.’
A word about textual form. I believe textual form has a great impact on how you preach those texts. Mark is gospel and mostly narrative pronouncement stories that are fast paced and heavy on action and lighter on teaching than the other gospels. This meant preaching these sermons with a intentional narrative slant. I have never preached so many narrative sermons in a row. Narrative sermons are difficult because they often speak indirectly and so make it hard to draw out specific, point-by-point direct applications. This makes it all the more important to develop storytelling skills to help communicate the message of these texts in the same way they were penned by the evangelist. This is definitely a work in progress for someone who has cut his teeth on matter-of-fact discursive, deductive preaching from epistolary texts.
So if I haven’t scared you off completely, I will try to find the time to post these homiletical offerings – some burnt and some half-baked – in hopes they can be useful in catalyzing a preaching conversation in your own experience.
This is my first attempt at doing what I thought I’d never do – write a blog. I’m not sure this hesitation is due to my inability to deal with all things technical or my less than flattering view of those who are more at home in this medium. Regardless, it does seem like a worthy experiment to see how this may help me formulate my own thoughts and help others do the same in the process.
I’m anticipating this blog to be a place where I communicate about what appeals to me most – ministry and the work of the church in these malleable times. That means posts on ministry, preaching and leadership with a few other matters thrown in. It might, perish the thought, be a place to upload sermons – ones that worked and ones that didn’t. Who knows? Here goes nothing.