Clear the Pathway!

Posted: December 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

Clear the Pathway!

Before I begin this sermon, I want to acknowledge Thomas and Laura Truby whose thinking is encompassed in what follows. This suggests I think that sometimes what one wants to say has already been said and all one can do is try to put it into one’s own words and thinking in an attempt to include others. Tall order but if we accept the gospels, we read then its ok. Today we find that the writer of the Gospel of Mark tells us what the book is about in the first sentence.  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Very orthodox in its brevity it accepts the positive approach of Jesus the Gospel is good news) and the Romanization of the emperor. (The use of ‘Son of God; as descriptor). The first sentence is not even a complete sentence however as it is often noted that it is a “fragment, consider rewriting.”

It is however a clear statement.  The author is coming from a particular place.  There is no ambiguity about what he believes.  Right-off-the-bat we know this person, or this community for which he writes, have centered their lives in a relationship with a particular human being, Jesus Christ as “The Son of God.” 

It has the modern thinking as it sounds as though “Christ” is Jesus’ last name but we know that it really “Messiah” in the ancient Greek language, the language our author is using in his story.  So, we have a story, a gospel about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.  The people who wrote this story have experienced their relationship with Jesus as full of good news and the writer wants us to discover it.  We can wonder what this good news is and what it means for us to incorporate it into our thinking and consequently into our lives. 

Our sentence fragment says it is the “beginning.”  If it is the beginning what is the end?  It promises an answer and it suggests that this answer will be strange to our ears.  The end is the death and resurrection of Jesus and we are the beneficiaries of that end.  The story is about how this all came to be and how it already has and always will impact us.  

When the author wrote “the beginning” of the good news the reader already knew about the end.  It is all of one piece.  In the end is the beginning and in the beginning is the end.  The metaphor is that the cradle and cross are made of the same wood.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are all dimensions of this gospel good news and we are about to hear the story of how this all works. 

In year B, the year we are just beginning, we study Mark’s gospel and we look forward again to exploring all that we might learn from reading it. We have an entire year to absorb its wisdom and consequently be changed by its perspective.  The lectionary will have us focusing on the Gospel of Mark with a sprinkling of the Gospel of John from now until the end of November, 2021.  The hope is that we will have an even fresher and more vital understanding of “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, or the story of Yeshua of Nazareth who retold the story of humanity with promise, hope and an alternative way of living in the divine Way.  In the coming year I encourage you to read Mark’s gospel again and again.  Bathe yourself in its imagery and allow it to penetrate your imagination.

The second sentence after the “beginning of the good news” quotes Isaiah 40.  “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  The writer of Mark starts his story with a road straightener, a highway leveler; someone who goes ahead of the One coming, and pushes aside all artificial differences used to separate the high and mighty from the despised and lowly.

Here is the suggestion that there is always a time before, a different scene, We need to be careful here not to see it as a bad time about to be good for that is to reduce it to a behaviour story and it is more than that.

John the Baptizer, living outside, on the edge, recognizes no distinctions between people.  He is a wild man who wears camel hair clothing and a leather belt.  He eats grasshoppers and wild honey.  He is a combination of Crocodile Dundee and Billy Graham holding rallies in the wilderness, and people from the whole Judean countryside and lots of people of Jerusalem go out to him.  Proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins he baptizes hordes of people in the River Jordan.  All of them confessing their sins and wanting to start life anew. He appeals to the people who struggle. And John the Baptist appears to be a powerful attracter.  People are moved to try harder in their effort to straighten out their lives.  They want to be different than what they are and think that hooking their star to this fierce and rugged outsider will accomplish this.  They allow John to baptize them and hope their actions will move them toward a new day.  Even as we hear this story, we know how it ends, and it does not end well for either John or Jesus.

Then John makes a statement that seems strange with his success. He makes a proclamation: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  Even John the Baptist doesn’t understand the full import of what he is saying.  He knows he doesn’t have it in him to bear the full weight of all these people wanting to follow him.  Someone far stronger is needed; someone with a new way and a clearer vision.  He has given them all that he but more is needed. 

He thinks the “moreness” has to do with power—power defined in the usual way of being able to impose one’s will on another.  He cannot imagine any other kind of force in this cruel world.  The thought of power through weakness and the strength to forgive does not enter his mind.  It is beyond and outside his view.  He is aware that his view is limited and he thinks the new guy has something. He suggests that this guy Jesus will reveal it. For John it will have to be an outside intervention.

Somehow John the Baptist knows that trying harder doesn’t get you where you want to go even though this has been the message he has been proclaiming!  Something more, something different is needed.  He goes ahead of Jesus and clears his way by decisively showing that trying harder doesn’t make it.  It can temporarily change actions but it does not get to the heart.  It temporarily curbs desire but does not reshape it at its effervescent source. 

So how do we change desire?  How do we claim certainty for our future? John’s, answer, “Someone more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” he will know how to change desire, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  The difference here is that John is about changing behavior, but Jesus is about changing the heart.  And Jesus changes the heart not by the same force of power but by something different, a power of love that is a weak power, a foolishness of power over and he suggests this might be in the forgiving of, the giving of, the service of,

John baptizes with water but this One who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  What is this Holy Spirit? Well! It will take the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to reveal it.  Its clearest expression will be from the cross when the Messiah, the saviour, the answer to everything is totally vulnerable to extinction and he says “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  The Holy Spirit is this way of weak power, this vulnerability, this desolate soul, in forgiveness. It is the way of weakness, that is the pathway of God’s power.

When we are “in the spirit” so to speak we live a life of constantly letting go of the hurts and revengeful impulses precisely because Jesus showed us how and did it himself in relation to us.  Yes, Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, the spirit of forgiveness.   Forgiveness has the capacity to change our hearts.  With the Holy Spirit within, we want to forgive for we know the depth to which we have been forgiven.  The artificial differences cease mattering.  We have freedom to live without worry, not because it doesn’t exist but because it can become turned around.

An attitude of forgiveness is when we feel forgiven and thus in tune with the universe and with that which we name God. This state of being anticipates the divine purpose.  It clears the pathways of our hearts.   Below is a poem written on Thanksgiving Day after clearing a path through the fallen maple leaves in front of a house.   The poet called it:  To a Passer-By on Thanksgiving Day in the USA. The poem explains what the author was doing with his heart when he cleared the sidewalk. 

Gentle Reader,

It is good that you have paused

Along your way, accepting

The silent invitation of these lines

For it was you I had in mind

When I sat to write these words,

You, holding a paper cup

Of lukewarm dark roast coffee

And a satchel filled with groceries,

Or you, clutching the dog’s leash

In one hand, with the other

Pushing a stroller around the corner,

And even you, whom I had not imagined in such precise terms

For you I drew my pen across the empty page

As earlier I drew my garden rake

Again and again through withered grass

And over the buried front walk,

Metal tines clawing wet concrete

Gathering sodden maple leaves,

Potent gift of high summer sun

Turning then returning now to earth

For you I cleared a solitary path

Prepared the way for your lonely passage

So that a mere moment of your journey

Through the detritus of this world

Might be blessed by an open space

Awaiting your arrival,

Conspicuous in its care,

This page inscribed in answer

To the ground now scraped bare.

In my memoir entitled “Almost” I explore this anticipation, this clearing the way as avoiding the potential of being trapped in a place of a fear driven power over world. I suggest that often naming something such as forgiveness, or love traps us in what is the current perception and the alternative image of the diving is more dynamic, living and time free than that. Below is my poem about the divine being found in the ‘Almost’ or perhaps in the spirit of what forgiveness seeks. The wonder beyond wonder so to speak. If one replaces the word almost with the word God or the words The Divine one sees the hope of walking a different path from what is, a more dynamic, moving, living way.

Almost is about something that is not yet

It is about to be but not yet

Its promise is in it’s all but

And its approximately

Almost is around and as good as

It is bordering on and close to

Always close upon and essentially about

for all practical purposes it is

and for the greatest part too.

Almost is in effect

And in the neighbourhood of

Assured to be in the vicinity of

Yet also just about and mostly

It is much to consider as

near to, nigh and not far from

Almost is not quite yet

on the brink of and at the edge of

It teeters on the point of

on the verge of practically and pretty near

relatively speaking it roughly describes

It substantially and virtually reveals

The well-nigh and within sight of

Mark has his story clearing a pathway for us, and this is just the beginning of the good news! Amen.

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