Be Loved. Belong.

Primary Scriptures: Mark 1:1-20, Isaiah 43:1-7

Sometime around December 20, as I was adding something to the family calendar on the refrigerator, it hit me.   2015 was practically over.

Then I went to add a meeting that was scheduled for January 9, yesterday. I flipped the page and found no January. You know that sound the record player used to make when you pulled the needle up?  Yeah…

Now, if I were a calendar maker, I would include some kind of grace page…At least 14 days of January on the back cover or the back of December or somewhere.  But this calendar offered no grace…

My inability to anticipate the end of the year makes more sense if you use a digital calendar like the one on my phone, which no longer requires me to “flip a page” to get from month to month or year to year. I just scroll right down into the next week or the next, barely noting the passing of the months, much less the approach of  a new year.  See in this design, days and weeks flow on, endlessly…

It’s like when we first moved to Florida, I couldn’t figure out when the seasons changed.  It stays so warm and green here for so much of the year that it was really discombobulating.

How can you tell when a season begins, if don’t know when the previous one ends?

Well, I can make at least one transition easy for you:  Today marks the midpoint of the year in our Narrative Lectionary, and a shift in focus from the Old to the New Testament.  

Remember last fall, we started at the beginning. Genesis 1.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters..

And then we  followed the story of how God’s love and grace was always calling people to come near. Sometimes the people listened and were blessed. Sometimes, God blessed them in spite of their stubbornness. And eventually, we saw how God’s favor – though never ever God’s love – God’s favor waned as the people or their leaders chose to break covenant with God.

Christmas brought us a new beginning.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

A new revelation. God as Emmanuel, a tiny, vulnerable God-Made-Flesh. Revealed to shepherds, revealed to the magi who saw the star announcing his arrival.   And now, just one week after Epiphany, we are at another beginning.

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

That is how Mark begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, which will be our focus now through Easter.

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

This is not the beginning of the good news of God’s care for the people of Israel.
God has been active and engaged with humankind from our very beginning.

This is also not the beginning of the good news of our hope for reconciliation with God.
Prophets from Jonah to Nahum and from Ezekiel to John the Baptist have offered that hope through calls to repent and return to God’s ways.

And this is not the story of the beginning of Jesus’ life.
The human genealogy and narratives related to his birth and childhood are in Matthew and Luke’s accounts. The poetic preamble about Jesus’ role in the creation of all things before time is in John’s gospel.

For Mark, these things are all gravy. Wonderful backstory, but not the meat of the story. In his view, the good news cannot begin until the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God actually begins.

And so, here in Mark’s telling, the stage is set with the last of the preparations for Jesus’ ministry. We meet John – not the fiery preacher or the leader of a movement with many followers that appears in other gospels.

Mark is focused on John as the Baptizer, the Forerunner. John is the one saying to the world – Repent and Get Ready – the one we’ve been waiting for is on the way.

And sure enough, Jesus arrives, fully grown, ready to submit to the baptism John offers. We don’t know why – but perhaps the way Mark describes the event gives us a hint… God tears open the heavens and sends down the Spirit in a physical form, like a dove, and then God speaks, aloud.

This is not an ordinary response to a baptism, so much as the beginning of an invasion. On this baptism day, God is tearing open the heavens – not slicing or neatly splitting open – but ripping apart the heavens, much like the temple veil is torn in two on the day of Jesus’ death. This language is purposeful and calls to mind powerful emotions….

As a parent myself, it isn’t a huge stretch to imagine acting on a strong desire to remove whatever is separating parent and child, Creator and Created.

God is bursting with love and overflowing with pent-up compassion and desire to come for us, to get going on the business of reconciliation, of grace-giving, of balance-restoring. Ready – after waiting for generations- to get started on the work of making all things new. That growing tension resides in the fullness of time and the fullness of God’s heart.

Now – Imagine all that power ripping open the heavens to say
You are Mine
You are Loved.
You Make me so Proud.

And then imagine all that love, creating out of nothing an embodiment of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit that was present in the void before time, before light, before the words were spoken
The Spirit that woke Samuel from his sleep so that he might say “Here I am Lord” and caused David to dance with abandon in the streets over God’s glory and provision of the ark.
The Spirit that came over Mary so that she might bear the child who grew to be this man

That embodied Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, so that Jesus might offer that same Spirit to all humankind. The power of the Spirit God sent was already at Jesus’ disposal, but this outward sign, much like the outward sign of the waters of baptism, makes clear the source of the Son of God’s power even before he encounters those who hold the power in this realm.  

As he faces temptations in the wilderness, God assures that Jesus is not alone. God’s messengers attend him and the Spirit with him for those forty days. He returns ready to begin the ministry that he was created to do. Ready to begin the life he was created to live.

Mark is letting us know in very clear terms that God is now on the loose in this world, in physical form, taking – or perhaps re-taking  – possession of the world.  All of creation is being re-possessed. The signs certainly make clear that this man name Jesus who seemed to live like most men- at least like observant Jewish men in Nazareth – is fully under the command and control of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

By extension, those who choose to follow in his way, those who answer the call to discipleship are possessed by, commanded and controlled by, the same power, that same Spirit. Those first disciples heard his voice – Simon, Andrew, James and John, they dropped their nets and went to fish for people. Immediately, Mark tells us.

They were just the beginning. Soon there were twelve. And they were followed by many many more. All of whom heard the same message:
You are loved.
You are mine.

That is the good news. Every single one of us – not just in this room – but every single messy,broken-hearted and sinful human can be loved.
Can belong.
Can believe.

But now thus says the Lord,
   he who created you, O Jacob,
   he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have called you by name, you are mine.

You have been created by God, redeemed by God, named by God, and claimed by God, the prophet Isaiah proclaims. And because you are mine, I will not leave you…

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
   and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
   the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I am… I am the Lord Your God and You are…

…you are precious in my sight,
   and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
   nations in exchange for your life.
everyone who is called by my name,
   whom I created for my glory,
   whom I formed and made.

Here God is speaking – but not like a king on a throne, making proclamations, giving orders, establishing edicts. God is speaking like a lover whose heart is bursting, one who has waited an eternity just to finally, loudly and unabashedly say the name of their beloved. One who might move heaven and earth, or at least rip the heavens open to do so.

And when God does speak the name of Israel, God both claims Israel and sets them free. For “You are mine” also means “I have ransomed you”.

Isaiah introduces God as Maker,
God as lover,
God as redeemer…

God, willing to pay any price and overcome every obstacle, willing to take on flesh, willing to be obedient to death, even death on a cross, all to be reunited with all those who are God’s own.  God so loved the world…

Are you hearing me today, friends?  Do you hear what the Word has for you today?

In the waters of baptism,
In the fires of temptation
God says…
You are my beloved.
You belong to me.

As you are rooted and grounded in the work of discipleship
As you are woven together into a community of faith, hope and witness…
Be loved by one another
Belong to one another.

Hear the word of God for the people of God:
Be not afraid.
Be Loved.
Belong.

That is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God
For you
For me
For us.
In this time
In this place.
Thanks be to God.

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