February 21, 2021 “That’s Our God Making It Real”

“That’s Our God Making It Real”

Isaiah 58:1-12

Mark 1:9-15

Now I need to be very careful how I say this, but my question is: “Have you ever came home with a piece of news but then found that when you shared this news, you were woefully lacking in information?” I’ll give you a made up example, and gentlemen, this is for you. Let’s say that you arrive at home and announce to your wife that you ran into her best friend at the grocery store. This might be the end of the story, right? But inevitably, you will get asked, “Well, did you talk to her.” If at this point you answer something like, “Yeah, we chatted for a bit,” then the next thing you might hear will be, “What did she say? How’s her Dad doing? Did their oldest boy get that job? Did she ask about me?” And then, depending on how much of a conversation you actually had, you will have to wrack your memory banks to bring up every little detail of this conversation that you have all but forgotten. The bottom line here is that details matter – and they matter much more to some of us than others.

Reading today’s gospel from Mark leaves me itching for details. I mean, in 6 short sentences Mark tells us of the baptism of Christ, of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and then the same Spirit leading him into the wilderness for 40 days; all this with a side mention of wild animals and angels. After this he spends 3 sentences informing us of the arrest of John the Baptist and the opening announcement of the ministry of Christ. That’s it! These are monumental events. We want details! We want information! It’s almost as if Mark assumes we know the story and he’s just mentioning these events to get us up to speed. All I can say is we can be thankful for the other 3 gospels to fill in the gaps.

So what do we do with this limited information? Well, like always we run with it; we let it speak to us however it can, and surprisingly I believe it has a lot to say, especially as we start the most unusual season of Lent that any of us have ever experienced in our lifetime – that is, next to last year which was when this whole thing started. But in honor of Mark’s gospel, let’s be brief and tell the story. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and the heavens tore open and he saw “the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” This is important; it’s an anointing, a rite of passage, a moment when the Spirit of God is alive and moving. It’s a moment when God’s Spirit changes things forever. Next, a voice from the heavens announces (vs 11) “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” All the gospel tell it the exact same way, but here’s the kicker: Mark then tells us, (vs 12)  At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness. “At once,” immediately, right away. Has it ever bothered any of you that the same Spirit who brought the blessings and the power and the majesty of God Almighty to the Son “whom I love,” is the very same Spirit that booted him into the middle of the desert to suffer? To be without food, to be without water, to be without comfort? And in that same weakened and vulnerable state, that very same Spirit sent the Son of God and the son of man to be tempted by the master of temptation. Ever puzzled over that? Ever wondered?

 

I know that I have. But if we look back, we might notice a pattern here. Abraham spent a lifetime waiting for the Lord to send him the blessing of a child. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, yet proved to be an example of God’s grace that we remember today. Moses, after numerous set-backs, was able to finally lead the nation of Israel out of slavery, only to be forced into the wilderness for 40 years. Elijah and the prophets, the Apostles, Paul – all of them, in a way, were blessed by the Spirit and then left to endure some pretty harsh stuff. You’d think that when God chooses his prophets – when God calls us to serve and to worship and to truly be the Christ in this world – you’d think he would (I don’t know) furnish us with glorious buildings and expense accounts and powerful connections and great lines of credit. You’d think – but history would prove you wrong. God calls all sorts to do his work here on this earth. There have been misfits and outlaws, statesmen and tradesmen. But no matter who or what or how or why, it seems to always boil down to one quality that God requires: a humble heart. A heart of compassion; a heart that can love the unlovable and is not afraid…a heart that is not afraid of a little discomfort now and then. That’s our God keeping it real. That’s our God keeping it real.

Our world has been gripped by a brand new disease for over a full year now. Thanks to some extraordinary and dedicated people, it looks as though a series of vaccines might be showing us the light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s a good thing. For some of us, the greatest hardship we’ve had to endure is the closures of schools, churches, and restaurants and the like. For others, it has been devastating. Throughout this time, I’ve tried to pay attention to how the people of God have “kept it real,” so to speak. There were many who dove in with both feet to take every precaution they could. They followed the guidelines and kept an eye out for the less fortunate who have been knocked to their knees by a failing economy. Others chose to look elsewhere for answers. We’ve heard talk like, “The whole thing is a hoax, it’ll take care of itself”, or “it’s not a bad as they say.” Conspiracy theories have been the order of the day and I’m still trying to figure out how a tracking chip can fit through a tiny little needle injected in your arm, but hey…anything’s possible, right? My point is, when we do come out on the other side of this, who are we going to be? Will the world see our Christian communities as a people, like Isaiah says, who pretend to want to learn the teachings of God? Or, again from Isaiah, will we be the ones who worked to (Is. 58:6) “liberate those tied down and held back by injustice.” Will we be the ones that the Spirit guided to seek those who were heavily burdened, who were oppressed? Time will tell, I guess. But it seems to me that if we are to remain messengers of goodness and carriers of justice in the eyes of God, then our first requirement is keeping it real. The 40 days of Lent are meant to symbolize the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness: a time of hardship and deprivation. You might say that that our Lent season began over 12 months ago. Nevertheless, we have remained faithful. We have remained strong. And we will get through this; with God’s grace, we’ll get through this. Hopefully, we will look back someday and realize this time has been many things. But for people of faith, it has been God keeping it real.

Amen & Shalom

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