In pm's words
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December 11, 2017, 8:34 AM

the one about the fringe...


Sermon from December 10, 2017

Text: Mark 1:1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, the beginning of Mark’s gospel is a little strange to our ears isn’t it? This is the very beginning of the earliest written gospel. Yet, it doesn’t include the things we expect to find.

No inn.

No manger.

No baby.

None of the stuff that we usually attribute to this time of year and the lead up to the season and celebration of Christmas.

Instead, we’re given a beginning hard cut to a very odd individual. John the Baptist; a guy who appears to be a fringe upon the fringe of society. He comes crying out from the wilderness wearing animal skins and eating foods that many – even those on the fringes of society – would hold their noses at. He is the most unconventional speaker of God’s promise and presence that there is to find in all of scripture – except perhaps for that donkey in the book of Numbers.

John the Baptizer proclaimed a message that is both unconventional and needed. His message is pretty simple too – have faith, repent, be washed. I am more than certain that there were quite a few individuals who came to point, mock, and laugh at the weird guy saying the strange things. Now, we don’t know that for certain, but come on – we know how people are – it totally happened.

Yet still, this unconventional means in which to proclaim God’s truth was heard and craved for. It is written here that whole of the countryside were going to hear him, see him, and be baptized by him.

No matter the strangeness of what he said or how he looked, people began to know that this was a message that they needed to hear, and that this was a community, relationship, and more that they needed and wanted to be a part of. Here they were being told that God wanted to be in relationship with them, to be washed and welcomed into this community with God in a more literal way.

All this coming from a guy who didn’t hold to the (apparent) same cleanliness standard and modes of decorum of the culture of the day (or any day).

John the Baptizer is the epitome of unconventional. From the way he looked, the words he spoke, and even to the actions he took – it was all unconventional, strange, and atypical both for his day and even ours.

But, probably the most unconventional thing that the Baptizer did was his insistence that he was not the end. He was not the ultimate fulfilment of God’s prophecy. He was not the embodiment of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.

For all that the Baptizer did – calling for repentance, knowing forgiveness from God, and washing people in baptism – he did while pointing to the one who is to come. No matter what he did, he continually made known that he was not the answer, he was not the end. That there was another – more powerful than him – who would usher in the peace that God has promised and proclaimed.

If you took away that ‘point towards the messiah’ John the Baptist would begin to look no different than almost any and every politician, leader, or (at times) religious big heads in the world today. The ones who claim – some more boisterously than even the Baptizer – to have all the answers, the right ways, the right things, the right stuff in order to bring peace, wholeness, wellness.

All of them point to their work; their actions alone to be the only way that peace can be achieved. They point to themselves, and if they point to anyone else – it’s only people who appear to talk and act like them.

John the Baptizer is different because he points to God. He acknowledges that he doesn’t have all the answers – nor does he want to be the one who does. When others (as we see in other gospels) attempted to lift him to a higher stature than he was called to, he shut it down. There is someone else – more powerful than I – that one baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

So, what does that mean for us? What can we learn from the Baptizer named John?

Never think that because you’re on the ‘outside’ of what the culture considers ‘normal’ that it excludes you from God’s work. Here we see God use as the ‘voice of God’ one who is a fringe of the fringe. An odd guy – in more ways than one – who proclaimed God’s goodness and love to the world.

No matter who you are, how you dress, what you eat, or anything else – God can, and God does use and work through you to bring about God’s justice, mercy, and love to the world. Each and every one of us – and yes each and every person you meet (all of them even the ones you don’t agree with) – can and do proclaim God’s life and love through our words and actions in the world. You don’t need to have the fancy car, the big house, the pristine white teeth to proclaim God’s love to the world. In fact, its more likely that the more oddball you are considered by the culture at large, the more God might actually speak through your words and actions to bring about that love, forgiveness, and mercy for and towards everyone.

In all the work that you and I might do to proclaim God’s grace and love to the world, we do so as we point to the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Advent reminds us of this celebration of what God has done in Christ and what God will do through Christ. We point to the one who has come down to be with us, to live life among us, to experience the world as creation does. We point to the one who is to be born in a backwater hole in the countryside to unwed parents.

In our service to God and to neighbor, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, that we are not the culmination of God’s promise to the world, but we know where to find that promise. We find it in the promise of water and word in baptism – where we are washed and welcomed. Where we get to see in ourselves and in others what God already knows – that we are good – so repent because you are good!

We point to the promise in the meal that we share. The promise that in this bread and wine – this body and blood – that the messiah is fully and completely present in mystery. Where in this meal, God nourishes our faith, forgives sin, and calls us to be witnesses of the Gospel.

We point to the saints gathered in this place, the ministries that we participate in, the love that we share that brings wholeness, life, and justice to those with whom we serve and serve with.

We point outside ourselves to the one who is continually at work in us and through us. The one who was, who is, and who is to come.

Finally, because we are oddballs whom God works and speaks through, we know that we are not the end. We don’t have all the answers. We know that though our work is life-giving (to us and to those who we serve) we know that it is not ever complete. We are a work in progress working together as a part of a greater whole. Working towards an end we might never see. So, I share with you this poem – attributed in memory to the martyred archbishop Oscar Romero, but actually written by the Catholic Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, MI:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen.

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