In any religious life one has to make some type of decision if it is primarily a private thing or a public thing. In fact I’d go so far as to say the world wants to force you to choose. In the Pagan world all religion was public. You could believe anything you wanted, so long as you did the correct public rites. Today, the state would grant you freedom of worship, by which they mean you can do anything you want privately, but it better not affect your public life which must be lived as if you were an atheist. This sermon ponders that split through the how Mark depicts the ministry of Jesus leading up to an emphatic statement as to why Jesus has come out. We are obviously not Jesus, but this still has meaning as we sort our own religious lives out in private and in public.
That title is the question of purpose; it is the specter of despair. It is also something that Jesus, in his time on this earth, experienced with us. And in his experience showed us how we should attempt to answer. As with all things Jesus it is so simple anyone could do it, yet not simplistic or limiting in any way. The sermon develops the role of that question in Jesus’ life, the thread of continuity found in the will of the Father through changes in purpose. It then develops that teaching for our lives.
The collection of texts assigned for today stuck me this week as wanting to talk about preaching. Jesus confronts himself with a question, what is the chief purpose of his ministry? And his answer set the paradigm of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not one that is advanced as the kingdoms of this world. Instead it is preached; it is proclaimed.
So, this sermon is a basic statement of the power and purpose of preaching. And the source of all preaching which is never the preacher, but the one who commands the message.
I slipped into something of a philosophical frame of mind this past week – I suppose I should apologize to the congregation for that. Some of it has to do with events and people. Some of it has to do with this year’s gospel – the gospel of Mark. If you are anything like most Christians your image of Jesus comes primarily from John – the good shepherd, the wise and all powerful Word. And we round out that picture from the Gospel of Matthew with the Sermon on the Mount. We bring in some parables from Luke like the Good Samaritan. Looking at Mark is sometimes like looking at a fun-house mirror. Many of the same stories are there, but they way more subversive. How Mark places them in context give meanings or allusions that are slightly different.
One of the big things about Mark that you notice is that unless you are directly healed by Jesus in the course of the narrative (like Simon’s mother-in-law), you end up way off course. You think you are following Jesus, but then you realize a mile has opened up between you. Mark seems to be a gospel for these post-modern times. Because ultimately it all rests upon Jesus, not an idea but a person. We’d like to stay as close as possible in that discipleship walk, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Ultimately it is Jesus that crosses that gap between the ideal and where we are at. It is Jesus who came to us – that is why he came, to preach. It is Jesus who has the authority. We might despair of knowing Truth in the way the gospel of John talks truth. We might be hopelessly misguided. But Jesus still has the authority. Jesus still heals and has cast out this worlds demons. The response is ours to figure out. And there are better responses. But the healing is pure grace, and it all rests upon Jesus.