As I was preparing for my sermon this morning, I started reading the Gospel for today. It’s another excerpt from “Chicken Little,” but at least the language is somewhat more expository than “I don’t know.” One of the things that theologians struggle with is that since Mark is the earliest written record chronologically (as in, Mark came first but is not the first gospel in the Bible), they’re not sure whether Mark is the gospel OF Jesus or the gospel ABOUT Jesus. There’s a difference, and even though it might be a millimeter of difference, theologians thrive on that millimeter for centuries. The practical application is tense. Is Jesus speaking in first person? Is Mark speaking in third-person omnipotent? We don’t know, but we try like hell to figure it out (pun intended).
In today’s reading, Mark focuses on the ministry of John the Baptist. John is historically representative of judgment and repentance. However, John leaves out the thing that Jesus can and will provide- salvation. Here is the difference in one conversation (Matthew 11:18-19):
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”
This is ancient language to describe an ongoing problem. If you set yourself apart in righteousness, you are seen as wholly other. People cannot relate to you. If you are the visionary that comes from the people, you are going to have a hard time overcoming their very real earthly impressions of you. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
No. No, it can’t.
You notice that Jesus was not a very popular preacher in his hometown until he was recognized everywhere else. Reminds me of preaching to Argo, Aaron, and Dana…. “been to Vegas twice, saw a tiger fly around the room. Your act ain’t nothin’ special, slick.”
John the Baptist preaches from the holy fire of judgment, but not his own. His God is old-school. Judgment does not rain down on you from him, but from the spirit through which he is strengthened. John is supposedly humble enough to know the difference, but I believe that both John and Jesus were also INFJ. The difference is that John’s emphasis is all J(udging), and Jesus’s is all F(eeling). To accept the ministry of John, you accept that you sin and you can’t help it… you give the power to God for accounting your works. To accept the ministry of Jesus, all you need to know is that the account is reconciled before you do anything else. In fact, what account? Any sin that you may have committed is already forgiven, which is why John is not shy about saying that someone is coming greater than he. It is as if he is saying quite plainly, “I only have the emotional ability to get thisfar, but someone is coming that can take you the rest of the way.”
As a writer and theologian, I feel this way daily. DAILY.
I can bring you the light of Christ, I can tell you what it means to me, but I am not stupid enough to think that there aren’t millions of ministers smarter and more capable than me… and not only that, I would prefer you seek them out. That way, I don’t have to be responsible for your emotional freakout when you discover that I am just as human as Jesus. I won’t be there to know when your mindset suddenly changes and you don’t think anything good can come out of Nazareth. You know it.
It is the conundrum of every good pastor in the world. “Please, God. Do not let me show my humanness because they think that since I am anointed with Christ’s light that I somehow have new superpowers that they don’t.” As a child of the Methodist church, my friends would apologize for cursing in front of me. I honestly think it created the tape that made me so vulgar now. Yes, you can have the mouth of a sailor and still be worthy of God’s love… no matter how holy I feel, it’s not going to stop me from saying “fuck” a lot. Sorry. Not gonna happen.
The day I stop cursing and telling outrageous jokes is the moment I set myself apart and start my “John the Baptist” crap. The people around John thought he was possessed by a demon because he wasn’t partying with them. People accepted Jesus because he was just a regular dude with an extraordinary calling… and it had been that way since he was a baby.
Last week, our Advent devotional was about waiting for the baby… preparing for the miracle of Advent to occur… when the preparation leads to permanent changes in how we react and respond, how we listen and how we talk to each other.
This week is no less an enormous change. This week, the buzz word is “watch.” We are waiting for the one John the Baptist calls “greater than himself.” We have met John, who is perfectly happy to preach as the preview to the movie. It is a sacramental interpretation- that baptism is a spiritual change from darkness into light. Where John trips is that he himself was not waiting for the baby, because he expected that the Messiah to come would reign in the fire he attributed to him long ago.
He wasn’t waiting for the baby, because he didn’t know he was supposed to.
But we do.
We have the benefit of four gospels that tell us exactly who that baby grows up to be. But John, like most Jews of the time, was waiting for the heavens to open up and for God to yell down and say, “THIS IS IT! HE’S HERE!” There were going to be signs and shit all over everywhere so that no Jew on earth would mistake the Messiah for anything else. The reason that there’s so much geneology in Matthew is because Matthew is literally screaming to get his Messiah recognized by the Jewish community at large. He is, in effect, walking around with a huge tome to factually argue everything to the last tooth and nail. Matthew is all, “he comes from the House of David, bitches.”
Please, for the love of God, make Matthew stop. Part of faith is not having to make people prove that they’re telling the truth. It’s fine to debate, but when you get down to the basest parts of yourself that say this is all crap, stop and remember that the gospel writers, John the Baptist, and even Jesus were just as human as you and I. They didn’t understand any better than we do right now. They had the same emotional tools and less in terms of research. We have had the benefit of thousands of years to think about it, and we’re still arguing like all this came down on our heads last night.
It doesn’t seem that belief in the gospel writers or even Jesus has real-world application, and yet, it does. If you are that analytical about your faith, are you that analytical about your life? What does it take for people to get you to believe? It doesn’t have anything to do with God at this point. When your kid comes to you and says, “I have a problem,” how long does it take you to believe them? How long does it take for belief to become action? How long does it take you to help them?
I am slow on the uptake a lot.
I am so analytical that it takes me twice as long to figure out a problem because I have to look at all 82 sides. It stops me from springing into action quickly, because I look before I leap. I have learned to spend the time and look after a whole swath of my life got eaten up in “don’t want to think about it.” I baptized myself in John’s name, because I wanted someone else to judge me as harshly as I do. I wasn’t ready for Jesus, yet. In order to be ready for Jesus, you have to believe that all your sins are worthy of being redeemed, and that it’s ok you keep on sinning, because there’s really no way around it.
This year has been a marked (Marked?) change in thought process as I wrote about waiting for the baby, and am now watching for the Messiah to come. I went to the pre-service concert, and I am tapping my wristwatch for the main event.
Come sit next to me. I need popcorn.