Hello and Happy Monday! I hope everyone that got slammed by this snow/ice/slush storm that tore through this weekend is thawing out. That storm was something else.
I hope this isn’t annoying, but I mentioned when I posted my sermon two weeks ago that we are in the middle of a year-long sermon series through the Gospel of Mark and I really want to have the whole series archived here, so I’m going to go back and post all of the sermons I missed while I was on my blogging and podcasting “hiatus”. I do have the audio recorded, but for the time being, I am just going to post the text.
So let’s start at the beginning, shall we??
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 15, 2018
Preparing Our Lives For The Gospel (Every Day)
A few weeks ago, I was trying to plan our summer worship and was feeling completely uninspired.
For the past seven years, I have used the Revised Common Lectionary in my worship planning and – with the exception of a special service here or there – have always chosen our scriptures for worship based on the four texts available each week in that cycle. I have always been a strong lectionary supporter, because it gave me the opportunity to preach through a variety of books of the bible and also bounce ideas off of my colleagues in ministry, many of whom were also preaching the lectionary. I also would purchase liturgy and worship resources based off of the lectionary and most weeks use the prayers and hymns suggestions out of them.
I had a pretty good system going – but I just felt as though, as a community, we needed a change. I think part of my issue was that, because it is a three-year cycle, I have now preached through the lectionary twice. I was desiring something new and unpredictable.
The lectionary was also starting to feel choppy to me. We would often move from one book of the bible to another from week to week and there was not a whole lot of continuity in what we were talking about. I spent a lot of time giving necessary context before I could really jump into the text, itself and by the time everyone understood what we were talking about, we were moving onto something else the following week.
The funny thing is that I have felt this way before when it comes to bible study. For a couple of years, we tried different curriculums based on themes and eventually, as a group, realized that we really just wanted to focus on one book at a time and read it from start to finish so we could delve into the whole story. And, I have to say, that once we made that switch, bible study took off.
A little over a year ago, I was having lunch with my friend Jon and he said, “I think we’re going to take a year and preach through the Gospel of Mark.” He went on to explain that his church had done a survey and one thing they got a lot of feedback on was everyone’s desire to become more biblically literate and familiarize themselves with the basic teachings of Jesus they learned (or, in same cases did not learn) when they were younger. So they gave it a shot.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago – they were finishing up their year around the same time I was feeling uninspired planning out our summer worship. So I asked Jon about his experience and his face lit up and he said, “You have to try it in Rehoboth.”
So here we are at the very beginning of the Year of Mark. I hope this year will give us a deeper understanding of Jesus as we narrow our focus on one book and familiarize ourselves with the stories we probably first learned as children. I am excited to look at this Gospel in a new light and really dig deeper into my faith and also what God is calling us to do here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.
I also hope that this might give people an added incentive to come to worship every week and stay caught up with what we are doing and where we are in the Gospel. I would encourage you to bring your own bibles to worship so you can follow along and take notes and maybe even refer back to them at a later date.
Two things to note before we jump into this morning’s text:
- You may have noticed that I put the scripture directly into the bulletin this morning. I hope doing this might make it easier for people – particularly guests in worship who might not be familiar with the bible – to find the scripture and follow along instead of having to page through the bible and then find it. I also think this will make it easier for everyone to refer back to the passage while I am preaching. And it is my hope that if a particular verse or passage strikes a chord with you, you will bring your bulletin home with you so you will not forget it.
- We will go “off” our Year of Mark from time to time, for things like Beatles Sunday, Advent, Christmas, Star Sunday, Easter, etc. I am still firming up the schedule, but hope to have that posted next week so you always know what is coming up (and can plan your vacations accordingly, of course!).
So here we go!
First of all – why Mark? Well, the simple answer is that it is the shortest of the four gospels, which makes it the most feasible to preach through in one year. The not-so-simple answer is that it is a really cool account of Jesus’ life.
The gospels are the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They tell the story of Jesus’ life. Mark was likely the first of the four Gospels to be written and is often thought to be the “spine” of Matthew and Luke, which both draw heavily from Mark.
The author of Mark is not necessarily known, although whoever wrote the book was certainly familiar with the oral teachings about Jesus. The style of the book, itself, is simple and effective (which might speak to who wrote it and who they were writing to), which makes it a great place for someone to start if they are reading the bible for the first time.
The cool thing about the Gospel of Mark is that it is really is a reality show of biblical times. The original Gospel starts at Jesus’ baptism and ends at the crucifixion – it only tells the stories of Jesus’ life, itself. An alternative ending that included the resurrection was added later (which we will talk about at the end of the year), but originally, there was no birth narrative and no resurrection narrative. Mark only talked about what happened when Jesus was alive, during his adult ministry. What I love about the baptism to death narrative is that it reminds me that, more often than not, my focus should be on Jesus’ life. Christmas and Easter are such huge celebrations in the life of the church, but what really matters is what happens in the middle. To be true disciples of Christ means to immerse ourselves into his life and teachings and model our own lives based on the way he lived and what he taught his disciples and the crowds who followed him.
So here we are, at the very beginning of Mark, with the proclamation of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. John – who was born to Zechariah and Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, a story that is told during the birth narrative in the Gospel of Luke – appeared in the wilderness and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He said, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
This text is actually typically read during Advent when we are following the lectionary, so it was kind of fun for me to think about it during the summer months. When I preach on John the Baptist during Advent, I often am drawn to think about ways we are preparing for the birth of Christ and how we balance that with our preparations for the oftentimes crazy season of Christmas that is happening all around us.
But here we are in the middle of July. We are not making lists and checking them twice. We are not frantically decorating our homes and running from one holiday party to the next. Radio stations are not playing Christmas music interrupted by commercials for the best gifts and others you-can’t-miss-this deals (although Amazon Prime Day is tomorrow, so don’t forget to do all of your shopping through Amazon Smile and select the Rehoboth Congregational Church as your charity!). Days are longer, the air is warmer and the general pace of life is a little bit slower.
The question is, of course, what, then, are we preparing for? December is five months away; the birth of Christ is not right around the corner. There is no event to prepare for right now, no finish line that we are trying to get to, no big Christmas celebration to look forward to.
But remember what I just said about the Gospel of Mark. Christmas and Easter are such huge celebrations in the life of the church, but what really matters is what happens in the middle. Our preparations for Jesus in our lives should not just happen before Christmas, they should happen every single day of our lives.
The way we live our lives matters – every single day, year-round. The choices we make, the words we speak, the people we interact with, the money we spend and the activities we get involved have the ability to create not only the people we seek to be, but also the people God is calling us to be.
But it takes effort; being a disciple of Christ is not just supposed to fit into the life you want, it is supposed to be something you work hard at every day, something you might make sacrifices for along the way. When John says that we are supposed to prepare for Christ, it does not mean we are supposed to prepare when we have time, it means these preparations need to be integral and intentional parts of our daily lives.
Sometimes it is a hard balance for me. I do not want to use guilt tactics to get people to come to church or give money or make them feel bad if they are not able to be around all the time, but I also believe that this is so important. We have to make our faith a priority, we have to structure our families around the values we learn from the Gospel and we have to be active and vibrant parts of the Body of Christ is that others will know of God’s undeniable love and redeeming grace.
There is a version of the bible called The Message, which is written in very contemporary language. I love the way it translates verse 7. The NRSV, which we read from in worship, says:
[John] proclaimed, “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.
The Message translates it like this:
As [John] preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life.
Jesus can and will change our lives. The message of the Gospel has the ability to transform even the hardest of situations, to shine light into even the darkest of moments.
But we have to be ready. We have to prepare ourselves and our lives to truly receive this message.
I have one quick story and then I am done. I have said many times before that I think grace happens around a dinner table and I think one of the ways we can seek to deepen our faith is to make family dinners more of a priority. But, of course, that is easier said than done. And what I have realized in trying to feed a toddler dinner in the mad rush between daycare pickup and bedtime when you and your spouse often work opposite schedules is that it is so much easier to eat standing up, leaning against the counter, while your kid is buckled into his high chair and you can simultaneously run around emptying lunch boxes and getting baths ready than it is to actually sit down for dinner.
But about three weeks ago, I started to try anyway. And it has been amazing. It is not always the three of us, but even if it is just Harrison and me, I always try to stop, put my phone away, sit down, say a prayer and then eat.
And it is not perfect – but it is not supposed to be. Verse 4 says that John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He knew we were going to screw up. But the point is that we need to try. We need to do everything we can to invite God into our lives. And not just at Christmas! All year long.
So this morning I invite you to think about one thing that you can do that might help you prepare your life to hear, receive and live out the Gospel. Believe that when John the Baptist proclaimed, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” he was not simply talking to those who had gathered in the wilderness, but to us, as well, as we seek to welcome Jesus and bring the Gospel into our world today.
Thanks be to God!