Hi friends! I know it’s been awhile. We closed on our house at the beginning of the summer and then my computer crashed and then I just couldn’t pull it together to get my sermons uploaded. But I’m back and ready to try again! I really love connecting with everyone, so thank you for being patient with me!
Now onto Sunday’s sermon …
Back in mid-July we embarked on a year-long sermon series called The Year Of Mark. Inspired by my dear friend Jon Chapman, we literally started at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark and just steadily began to preach through it. It’s been amazing! I do have all of my Year Of Mark sermons (and I will at least post the text, if not the audio eventually!) and it will be fun to have that collection one day. But for the time begin, we’re picking up in the middle of it and talking about God’s signs. Enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 13, 2019
Looking For Signs
I feel like I have been on the longest non-vacation vacation of my life.
After a six-week, let’s call it a, “winter hiatus,” we are jumping back into the Year of Mark this morning.
For those of you who might be new around here, back in the middle of July (when it was not quite so cold outside), we embarked on a year-long sermon series through the entire Gospel of Mark. For the most part – with the exception of a few stories that we combined on certain Sundays because the themes were similar – we started at the very beginning and have just steadily worked our way through the Gospel, chapter by chapter. It has been a great way for us to see the narrative of Jesus’ life as a whole unit, all at once, so that we have a better understanding of scripture.
That being said, when Advent arrived, it made sense to hit the pause button the Year of Mark so we could just immerse ourselves in the magic of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
And so, for six weeks, instead of preaching out of Mark, I preached on some of my favorite passages that we often read on Christmas Eve, I reflected on the Advent season, I wrote a Christmas pageant, I made up the word, “Angeltude,” I led a New Year’s devotional that encouraged us to float our hopes and sink our fears and then, last week, not only shared my own star story, but also talked about Epiphany and what it means to let our star words guide us this year.
I don’t want to pat us on the back or anything, but I do think we had a wonderful extended holiday season here at the church. The church really was a safe place where we could come and experience allthe emotions that come with the holidays, and also know that we were and aresurrounded and upheld by a community built in God’s love – the Body of Christ.
And for that I am thankful. So – thank you to everyone who helped make the season what it was.
That being said – I have to admit, it was kind of weird to open up my commentary on the Gospel of Mark this week. It felt familiar, yet almost as if I was out of practice a little bit. I actually went back to the beginning of the Gospel to review what we had read up until this point so I could put this morning’s scripture in better context. It was really helpful; and I think might be for you all as well. So I am going to start this morning by doing an abbreviated version of that review, kind of like they do on TV shows after they come back from a hiatus.
SO – previously on the Year of Mark …
We began with a proclamation by John the Baptist and then Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, where, afterwards, he was immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit and tempted for 40 days. When Jesus came out of the wilderness, he went to Galilee to begin his public ministry. The first thing he did in Galilee was call his disciples.
“Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fish for people.”
Immediately, we saw the capacity Jesus had within him to heal through the many healing stories that are in this Gospel. Jesus healed people with unclean spirits, fevers and leprosy. It was because of Jesus that a paralyzed man was able to walk, a man with a withered hand was able to stretch out his hand and a girl whose family thought she was dead stood up and walked.
And who could forget the time Jesus cast a demon out of man and into a herd of pigs who, unfortunately for them, then met their demise when they fell off a cliff?
(I’m not sure any of us have completely recovered from that Sunday.)
Jesus spoke in parables as he taught; parables about sowing seeds in good soil, not hiding light under a bushel basket and what a small mustard seed can grow into. He calmed an angry sea not once, but twice, the second time actually walking on water towards the boat where his disciples were astonished.
And finally, Jesus fed his people. The Gospel of Mark contains not one, but two loaves and fishes story, the first where Jesus fed five thousand people and the second where he fed four thousand people, using mere morsels of bread and fish.
And this is where we pick up this morning; Jesus was in the district of Dalmanutha surrounded by Pharisees who were feeling argumentative and asking him for a sign from heaven. Frustrated at the request, Jesus sighed and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign?” Then Jesus left; he got into a boat and went across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
I think I should interject one more time and mention that one thing we have noticed throughout the Year of Mark is that sometimes the disciples – as well-intentioned as the are – just don’t quite get it. They don’t understand the parables, they miss the signs, they don’t recognize Jesus at times and they don’t believe in this capacity Jesus had within him OR the capacity they had within themselves to heal and to perform miracles.
Which brings me back to this morning’s scripture; Jesus, frustrated with the Pharisees, got in his boat to travel to Bethsaida and the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread to eat.
Forever the teacher, however, Jesus used this as a teachable moment to talk about the dangerous political power that was starting to rise up around them. “Watch out,” Jesus said, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”
Pop quiz: Does anybody think Jesus was actually talking about bread here? No!
However, bless their hearts, the disciples said to one another, “Oh, geeze, he’s talking about yeast because we forgot to bring the bread!”
Jesus was not talking about the bread; he was talking about a pervasively corrupt group of people that were threatening the ministry that they were doing.
What is funny to me about this story is that it never really gets resolved. Jesus is trying to get the disciples to understand that there are things happening in the world that are far greater than what they could tangibly see. He asked them about both the loaves and fishes stories: “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” he asked the disciples and they responded, “Twelve.” Then Jesus asked, “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you college?” and they answered, “Seven.” Then Jesus said, “Do you not yet understand?”
AND THAT IS WHERE THE STORY ENDS.
And – spoiler alert – we do not find out next week. I can only imagine the disciples all just kind of shrugged, looked at one another awkwardly and then just paddled faster.
So here is the ironic thing about this story, which I kind of think gives a lot of insight into the nature of who we all are, as human beings – Jesus seems just as frustrated at the Pharisees for asking him for a sign as he is at the disciples for not seeing the signs that are happening all around them; signs of healing, signs of nourishment, signs of an unexplainable grace.
And yet, how often do we, today, miss these same signs?
During the children’s sermon, we talked about physical road signs, signs that we can see when we are driving and immediately interpret their meaning.
But God’s signs are not as easy to interpret.
My Tuesday morning bible study is finishing up a session on Genesis and one of the things we have commented on is the fact that, in parts of this story, God is physically present, at least as we understand it. And how much easier would it be for us to do the right thing if God were here, in our face, telling us what to do?
(As it turns out, it doesn’t really help, but that’s a story for a sermon series on Genesis.)
The truth is, as people of faith, we have to pay attention for signs from God; signs that might not be tangible, signs that are rarely easy to spot, signs that we have to prayerfully interpret in our own lives. Sometimes these signs are physical – seeing a rainbow or a beautiful sunset or a cloud in a certain shape or a cardinal or even an object that might remind us of a loved one. Sometimes these signs come from music or from human interaction. Sometimes these signs simply come from that still, small voice that is within all of us; the voice that gives us pause before we do something that, perhaps, we should not, the voice that affirms us when we are making good choices, the voice that reminds us that we are loved, cherished and made in the image of God. Sometimes these signs encourage us to vote a certain way or volunteer for something new.
Sometimes these signs help us make big choices and sometimes these signs help us make the smaller, everyday choices.
Oftentimes these signs are very challenging to explain to other people.
But these signs are real; and they are all around us.
But we have to, as Jesus eluded to, open our eyes to see these signs and open our ears to hear them, as well. We have to pay attention to what we are being taught and understand the lessons behind the stories.
Now, here’s the deal: This is not easy. It is not like you can buy a bag of chocolates where signs from God are printed inside of the wrapper in easy-to-read catch phrases; it does not work like that (although I wish that it did). But we can try to structure our lives in a way that creates time and space for us to recognize and start to understand these signs.
Coming to church is one of the ways that we do this; every week we come to worship and we spend time singing and praying and reading scripture and listening so that we can be more aware of – or open to – the signs when they come upon us, whether they happen here or somewhere else.
Our monthly Taizé worship is another great way to create that time and space in your life. We spend 15 minutes in absolute silence at the end of every service.
Stepping away from technology, even for a day – even for an hour! – can be a transformational way of quieting the noise that is coming from all over the place and really be present in the moment. Journaling does the same thing – and also allows you to set intentions and document some of the signs you are noticing so you can go back later and see the progress that you have made.
Living life at a little bit of a slower pace means that we are not rushing past the signs that might be waiting for us, calling us into the grace of God.
The new year is upon us; a lot of us are setting new goals or, perhaps, re-setting old goals. Last week we received our star words for the year and so a lot of have been thinking about – perhaps looking for signs – what this word might mean for us this year. And so this morning I want to encourage you to pay attention. Signs of God’s miraculous and healing and transformational grace are all around us. Ask yourself these questions: What do these signs mean for me? Where will these signs lead me this year?
May you open your eyes so that you might see; open your ears so that you might hear; open your mind so that you might learn; and open your heart so that you might feel God’s loving presence.
Thanks be to God!
Mark 1:17, NRSV
Mark 1:21-34, 40-45, 2:1-12, 3:1-6, 5:21-43, 6:53-56
Mark 4:35-41, 6:45-56
Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-10
Mark 8:12, NRSV
Mark 8:15, NRSV
Mark 8:16, paraphrased from NRSV