Sermon: Where Do We Go From Here? (Mark 1:14-20)

I spent much of Wednesday morning watching t.v. again, as I suspect many people did.  

The inauguration was very moving to me – particularly so because there were so many ways in which religious faith was part of its texture. 

For me, that hit an important note.  

There were other notes, too. 

Amanda Gorman—the poet at the end.   

Senator Roy Blount’s remarks as one of the heads of the Joint Inaugural Committee I found to be especially gracious. 

But the hands down winner of the nation’s attention turned out to be Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont – a person who had no speaking role of any kind.  

You may need to be active on the Internet in order to appreciate it fully, but on the offhand chance that you are not, there was a photograph of Bernie Sanders at the inauguration that has launched 100,000 memes. 

On this day with so many layers and emotions and familiar faces gathered together, Bernie is sitting there, legs crossed, wearing his enormous puffy brown coat and some hand knit mittens and, of course, his mask, and yet still somehow conveying the exact look in his eyes that my Dad gets whenever my mom says she wants to duck into TJ Maxx.  

It has that same “o.k., fine, let’s just get through this” sort of quality that so many unrecorded human moments do.  

If you have not seen the picture, what you need to know is that over the next 72 hours, it began to appear everywhere.  

Here’s Bernie at your daughter’s dance recital. 

Here’s Bernie waiting for his number to be called at Zabar’s.  

Here’s Bernie sitting with FDR, Churchill and Stalin at the Yalta Conference.  

We even added Bernie and the mittens to a few pictures of life here at 2CC.  Those are on the church Facebook page, if you’re interested.  

Now, the way these things go, I’m sure the craze will not last long. 

Probably in another few hours, someone will decide that the joke is over, and it will become actually uncool to be keeping it going.  

But I’m interested that it took off at all.  

I’m interested that this is what so many people did in response to a day with so much emotion – so much history. 

I can’t help but wonder if future generations will even notice that the Internet was just awash in these photoshopped images of Bernie Sanders, his wonderful gloves, and his wonderfully grouchy eyes. 

After all, at the same occasion, Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem, and when she sang the line “that our flag was still there,” she pointed to the flag flying over the Capitol itself…. 

The symbolism of that is hard to miss.  

But I wonder if somehow, deep down, what is speaking to us now is an image of life at its most gloriously ordinary.  

There’s a story about another Vermonter, Vice-President Calvin Coolidge, who was back home helping his father during hay season on their small family farm when he received word that President Harding had died. 

It turns out that Coolidge’s father was also a federal judge, and the story circulated for years that Coolidge took the oath of office standing in the barn with his mucking boots on. 

That isn’t actually true, and yet, again, people loved the story.  

They loved how gloriously ordinary it somehow was — how “on brand” it was for the no-nonsense Coolidge, just like all these recent images of the rumpled and irascible Sanders were on brand for him. 

They remind us that somehow, humanity in all its idiosyncrasy, has a way of enduring. 

Those little foibles that make us who we are just seem to cut through all the other noise and static. 

They interrupt the dull scriptedness of so many momentous occasions, reminding us who we are – daring us to pretend that we are otherwise – even pushing us to embrace it. 

They show us that life would be better if it involved less pretending.  

II.

Certainly, Jesus seemed to think so.  

When his public ministry began, and he started talking about God and what it was to find a place in God’s kingdom, things seemed to take off pretty quickly. 

It wasn’t long before he began to draw listeners, even crowds.  

In Mark’s Gospel, it isn’t the pyrotechnical stuff that gets things started – there are no initial healings or exorcisms that bring a little street theater into the picture.  

There are just words…just this one sentence he says, in what is a four-point sermon all by itself.  

He says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent, and believe in the good news” (v. 15). 

It’s not unlike what John the Baptist had been saying, and there’s no question that Jesus is picking up the mantle of that proclamation in some ways.  

Mark tells us that Jesus starts his career after John has been arrested.  

Like John the Baptist, Jesus would have a tendency to get under a lot of people’s skin. 

They both made a lot of people remarkably uncomfortable, especially people in high places.

I’ve always felt that John the Baptist seemed to enjoy that more than Jesus did.  

It seems to me that John was almost daring people to come and admit that they were sinners in need of a new start. 

The higher up you were, the harder that was to do, and John was not prepared to soften that for you.  

Jesus seems to extend his hand a little more.  

Jesus calls us out of the boat to walk with him, where John sees us by the bank and wonders if we have the guts to jump in.  

But neither one of them has much time for pretense or showy expression of status.  

Who we are inside is what matters to them.   How we act out of our hearts is what gets their attention.  

Our humanity wasn’t something they wanted less of.  They wanted more of it.  

They wanted a world where there was more space for everyone’s humanity to come into its own, which is what Scripture tells us God wanted for us when we were created and placed in the Garden of Eden. 

Their ministries were about saying that there was still a way to build a world that worked like that.  

The way to the Garden might be foreclosed, but the vision of it – all that it stood for – was not gone forever – at least, it didn’t have to be. 

Our humanity was and is a glorious gift that we must not mistakenly squander. 

It’s strange to put it this way, but our humanity was far too holy – far too sacred – to treat that way.  

That’s what they understood.  

Sometimes, the Church has seemed to suggest that being human was something from which people need to recover

That’s not what Scripture teaches.  That’s not what Jesus shows us.  

They both saw something nobler in us—something nobler than we might well see in ourselves.  

The work of the Church is to offer the world its own chance catch sight of some of what God sees when God looks into our hearts. 

When that happens, that’s when the Kingdom of God is at hand.  

III.

In this morning’s Gospel, we see that as Jesus begins to call his disciples to join that work. 

He sees something in them that nobody else seems to have seen.  

He recognizes the difference they might make, and the depth of their hearts.  

Heaven knows they were far from perfect.  

That doesn’t bother him in the slightest.  

The point is that he sees more than the world typically sees, and he invites them to do the same.  

And the journey begins.  

Into the dull scriptedness of a fallen world, Jesus invites them to step out of their boats and live as people who could hold their heads high. 

How gloriously ordinary they all were – and how glorious the ordinary world would appear as some of their hope, their faith, and their love began to shake things up.  

IV.

The world has changed a lot since then, of course. 

But that part hasn’t.  

Hope, faith, and love still have the power to make our lives glorious. 

The Church sometimes gets in its own way—sometimes it seems to side with the Pharisees of its age—but it always comes back to these central truths about our hearts. 

It always finds its way again, hearing Jesus call us to come out of our boats and follow, to lay hold of our own capacity for good as we come to see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us.  

That always makes a difference.  

It’s especially important to remember that now. 

But it’s also especially important to acknowledge how hard we will have to work for it.  

Shutting down a Twitter account or changing administrations can’t shut down divisiveness.

They can’t repair what the oldest fears of some of us and ugliest history of all of us have seen fit to keep breaking long before now. 

What got us here required the collusion of all parties and almost every institution all along the way.  

That history hasn’t changed.  This is all our work. 

Remember: even the Devil knows how to lie low and wait for what Scripture calls “an opportune time.” 

He has before.  To pretend otherwise is silly.  

Loving one another right now…holding one another accountable right now…finding ways to build trust with one another right now…challenging those we consider our friends to do better, as well as those we don’t…this will not be for the faint of heart.   

It is an opportune time. 

As the worst in us takes a moment to regroup, as it takes a breath to wait and see, it is an opportune time. 

An opportune time for what’s best in us. 

It’s an opportune to claim who the Gospel tells us that we are.  

It’s the moment to get out there and do this work that we know needs to be done so desperately. 

“The time is fulfilled,” Jesus says, “…the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent, and believe in the good news”

Anything else is just pretending…another show.  

There is no script for where we’re going. 

God has no use for scripts like that.  

All along, God has been telling us that there is more to us than falling back on those.  

We know what it is to hunger for something so much more real.  Authentic. Personal.  

It delights us when we see it even for a moment. 

That should tell us something.  

It shouldn’t matter that getting there is going to be hard. 

What matters is remembering what Jesus shows us—that this is what new life is. 

This is the life that God knows it is in each of us to live, in all its glorious idiosyncrasy – with room enough for all good people. 

It’s a tall order, yes. 

But in our willingness to be nothing less than human…in our willingness to see nothing less than the humanity in one another…in our willingness to love and learn and serve and to move forward from this place, God is at work.

Yes, God is at work…and grace is nothing less than grace, glory is nothing less than glory, and once again, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  

Come out of the boat.  

The Lord has need of us.  

The time is now.  

Amen.

1 thought on “Sermon: Where Do We Go From Here? (Mark 1:14-20)

  1. Laura Fedolfi Marshall

    Max- I really liked your sermon and how you wove the very funny but real appeal of Bernie’s mitten meme to the yearning inside of us for authentic communion. And of God’s invitation to know this in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.

    Like

    Reply

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