Marked by Love
March 8 & 9, 2003
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 - faumc.org
Mark, as a gospel writer, writes in a hurry. He doesn't have time for Christmas stories so we don't hear about the shepherds or magi or stable. Mark simply jumps into the heart of Jesus' ministry of preaching and healing on the way to the cross and resurrection. Mark is always moving us on and in these six verses he covers a lot of territory. Let's slow Mark down a little and listen in.
"Jesus came from Nazareth." That seems pretty straight-forward. We are just talking geography. However, if you pay attention to other places in the Bible where Nazareth is mentioned one of the pieces of information you will find is this wonderful phrase, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
It sounds like Nazareth was on the wrong side of the tracks. If you came from Nazareth there was nothing expected of you. Jesus is coming out of that kind of a setting. From some of the other gospels we learn that Jesus spent his speech-learning years as a refugee in Egypt. Perhaps he has a slight foreign accent. Add this to coming from Nazareth and you might get the idea that Jesus has experienced a variety of kinds of discrimination. It wouldn't be unusual for someone in that position to be interested in a baptism or ritual that would lead to change.
What places might be the equivalent of Nazareth in our day. Can anything good come from Iraq? Can anything good come from France? Can anything good come from Korea? Can anything good come from Washington, D.C.? Who are the people from whom you wouldn't expect much or have an immediate question?
Mark moves us on to the Jordan River for Jesus to be baptized by John. Mark is very clear that Jesus was baptized - no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Other reports moderate that a little, "Well, he was from GOD so he really didn't need to be baptized." But Mark just comes out and says, "Yes, he was baptized with a baptism of repentance for his sins." Jesus here is fully human and comes out of Nazareth with nothing expected of him.
Jesus comes to be baptized with the expectation that there would be a change in his life - that there would be a change in his life.
As we hear this story we are moved along by Mark to this phrase, "...the moment he came out of the water..." We get a picture of an immersion and coming up sputtering. There is something about that first breath that is so wonderful. This strikes me as I am not a swimmer and have been yanked out twice (and I think that's enough). I do know that sense of an in-breath of fresh air that means I can live again.
As Jesus comes out of the water he sees the sky split open - a change beginning. From the new sky above descends a "dove" with these life-changing words: "You are my child, chosen and marked by my love."
These are words of assurance that make all the difference in the world, and in our life. It is this gift of assurance that is a turning point in Mark's gospel. It is this gift of assurance that that we are GOD's child that is a turning point in our own lives.
We need to hear this from the outside. Jesus heard it as he came up into a new world from the waters of baptism into, in sense, his own. We need to hear that word addressed to us.
I'm going to pause for just a moment. Some of you are beginning to catch on that I try to involve you all in the scriptures. Here's where you get involved this morning - you are going to be the "dove."
Go to one person, just one person, you are not sitting with, someone you don't know quite so well, and look them in the eye and slowly say, "You are GOD's child."
Did you take advantage of your opportunity to be a "dove"? Did you decide to sit with this person or did you go back to your old location?
A couple of questions about being told that you are GOD's child: Did you believe what you were told? Or was this just a cute exercise? Did you smile and shrug it off?
I hope you believed it because now it needs to be flipped around. We need to not only hear this affirmation, we need to begin to act it and understand it as being who we are.
Different folks grab that word of being GOD's child and respond to it in different ways. Some folks get really excited and want to shout it from the roof top: "I am GOD's child!; I am GOD's child!; I am GOD's child!!!!" If you are one of these kinds of folks would you join with me, "I am GOD's child!; I am GOD's child!; I am GOD's child!!!!"
For other folks it something that is much quieter. They simply receive it in their heart and reflect: "I am GOD's child; I am GOD's child'; I am GOD's child." If you are one of these kinds of folks would you join with me, "I am GOD's child; I am GOD's child'; I am GOD's child."
Whether you are the enthusiastic or meditative type, I hope you begin to catch on that you are GOD's child, that you have been marked by GOD's love.
There is a temptation to think that this is the end of the story - Jesus heard the word, accepted the word in his heart, that's all there is to it. "And they lived happily ever after." But Mark moves us on from here.
This very same spirit that brings the word that I am GOD's child pushed and shoved Jesus out into the wild places of life to be tempted by Satan, to test whether or not he was going to continue to say, "I am GOD's child" in the face of every temptation that comes along. Will Jesus continue to hear the echo of that "dove"? Will you here this next week the echo of the person who came to you and said, "You are GOD's child"?
Mark goes on to say Jesus lived with the wild animals. Yes, attended by angels, but living with wild animals. The story is not over with just the assurance of GOD's presence. The story of GOD's love in our life needs to be enacted time and time and time again.
In other gospels we hear the temptation story in some detail. The song we just sang (Jesus, tempted in the wilderness) is based on those specifics. Mark is in too much of hurry to dwell on the specifics of the temptations Jesus faced. And, guess what, you don't get any advance warning on what the temptations are going to be for you this next week. The question is whether we, like Jesus, will hear the echo that we are GOD's child and, hearing the echo, whether we will join with Jesus in touching and healing lives with our words and deeds.
Finally Jesus comes back out of the wilderness. Mark tells us that after John was arrested that Jesus went to Galilee. Galilee? Isn't that where Nazareth is? Where Jesus started? Where wild people are? People of no account? Can anything good come out of Nazareth, why go back there?
But, with Jesus, we are moving back to Galilee with a different understanding than we first left with. Nazareth was once the place where, "who could expect anything good to come from there?"
Now, with the assurance of GOD's love we can go back to the place where the dangers were. Where is that? Might it be West Bend? Are there some wild things going on here? Whenever I go home from church I go past the county jail. Earlier this week I left home and as I pulled out of the driveway to come to church there were two police cars kitty-corner from home with two police officers handcuffing a young man. I don't know what was going on. I didn't stop. I could be questioned about going on.
Where is the wild happening these days? Homes where abuse is going on? Where it hasn't been named yet or caught yet? But it's happening. Discouraged youth? Where is the wild happening? All the rumors of war? Where is the wild these days?
How do we take a sense of assurance that we have been marked by GOD's love and live out of that love, instead of simply being reactive to the world around us?
So Jesus went back to Galilee preaching the message of GOD. GOD's presence is here. Change your life. Believe GOD is with you, that you have been marked by GOD's love. How do we take that message forth? is the question before us as individuals, as a congregation. How do we begin to interact with the wild, with the places of no repute? Ask them to come here? Or, as in Jesus' case, return to your world. But to return to it differently than you left it, remembering again and again and again that you are marked by GOD's love. This mark is to make you different. When we hear rumors of war or rumors about somebody, we check it out instead of pass them on. We begin to use our heads. We don't just say, "Yeah." Where there is pain and suffering we don't turn away because it bothers us. But we ask the question, "What can be done to make a difference?"
We are marked by GOD's love to go back to Galilee, to go back to our lives, and make a difference. So, sisters and brothers of Christ, you are marked by GOD. Together, we are marked by GOD. Let's not let it go for nothing. Amen.