Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sermon Mark 1

Sermon Mark 1:1-8

Today we have our favorite Wildman emerging from the dessert proclaiming the coming of Christ and offering baptism for the forgiveness of sins. According to the new world encyclopedia;

“John was a Nazirite/Nazarite from his birth (Luke 1:15)—refraining from wine and other strong drink—and the synoptics agree that he spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judea, in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Matt. 3:1-12). The Gospels add that he led a simple life, clothed only with camel's hair and a leather girdle around his loins, and eating little more than just locusts and wild honey (Matt. 3:4). The early church fathers John Chrysostom (347-407 C.E.) and Saint Jerome (c. 347-120 C.E.) believed that John had been brought up from his infancy in this manner, as Matthew 11:18 describes.” [1]

The leather strap was practical and basically saying he was dressed for hard labor and or work of some kind. The image at the start was of how to gird your loins in case you ever find the need. This says to me that there is work to be done and it is not light or easy.

I think what cries out to me today in this voice crying out in the desert. Saying “prepare the way” or “Make ready the way” or even more relevant “clear a straight path.” Make yourself easy access for the Lord who is to come into your life. Do not set up obstacles. Do not make the road turn sharply and unexpected, keep your path free of stones and rubble that may make it difficult to traverse. This season is a gentle reminder of why we choose to live a Christian life and how we are to go about doing it every day not just for the holiday season.

John is an interesting character and one who is spoken off fondly. Fred Craddock, a teacher and preacher of the utmost magnitude. , he was actually named by Newsweek as one of America’s top preachers, is a Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and new testament Emeritus at Candler School of Theology. He has written several books including Preaching which was a textbook in my homiletics class. This is what he says about this John;

There was something persuasive about him. Persuasive I think in his character; the rough grain of his character shown through clearly. And being in his presence made a radical difference. Luke says that huge crowds came and asked John. “Well, what are we to do in the view of the coming of God’s Christ?” and he said, “If you have two of anything, share one with

Someone who is poorer than you are. If you have two coats, you don’t need two coats. Give one of them to a person who is Cold and poor.”

Soldiers came, Roman soldiers came to hear him preach and at the end of his sermons, the soldiers gathered around and said, “Well, what are we to do?” And john said, “Don’t be violent. Don’t intimidate citizens. Don’t throw your weight around to subsidize your salary; be content with your wages.”

Tax Collectors came, surprising a lot of people. They lingered when the crowd began to move away and they asked John, “What are we to do?” And he said, “Do not collect any more tax than is your due. Don’t add on anything; keep yourself free of graft and corruption.” John talked to them real straight and apparently they wanted to hear it because they kept coming. [2]

Of course this is only part of a full length sermon on John but I believe Fred’s point is clear. Johns preaching and teaching were dangerous. He is asking people to prepare themselves inside and out for who is about to come. Get ready, do not cheat your neighbor; do not bully a friend nor a stranger. Do your job and do it well but, do it honestly and do not seek to raise yourself up by immoral means. Get ready for something is coming, someone is coming great than I. “One whom I am not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals.” Here John is stating that though he is a voice of God calling out, next to Christ, he is less than a slave for it is the slave’s job to untie the masters’ shoes.

But I wonder what voices are crying out today as the voice of John. Where are the cries to make our path less cluttered and easy to travel so that when the Christ comes we are easy to find? Might it be the voice of the ecumenical aids association who applauds a new agreement that will allow access to generic formulations of LPV/r in countries accounting for 98.9% of children living with HIV?

Maybe it is the voices of the Immigrant worker or their children who have lived in this country for years in fear of deportation taking jobs that pay less than minimum, accepting less than standard living situations in just the hope they may become American citizens.

I wonder if it is the voice of the democratic movement in Hong Kong who fear Chinas communist regime and the loss of freedom that they have known all their lives.

It may be the voice of children right here in our neighborhood who the only Christmas they may know is the one being thrown by the North Hollywood recreations center. It may be those at triangle square who have no family and the only gift and acknowledgement they will receive for the Holidays is a scarf made by one of our hookers. (It is always good when we mention Hookers in a sermon).

The voice in the desert is the voice of those living at Las Memorias who can’t go home because of stigmatization and fear. The voice calling out is the voice of the marginalized, the hungry, the disabled, and the lonely.

If one just takes the time to listen one can still hear that voice crying out …crying out see I have sent you a messenger and it is right here. Right now! This is the voice of many crying out asking us to feed the hungry, visit the lonely, and to seek justice alongside those who are seeking it for themselves.

Yes we often hear this message as a personal one but it is also a global message. The messages of the voice crying out has been coming down through the years. Every day, every generation, every century, the voice in the desert has continued to cry out.

Here is a quote for you;

“Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed -- chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. ... It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods -- trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries ... God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools -- only Uncle Sam can do that.” [3]

Now who was this voice literally crying out in the wilderness? Anyone? John Muir literally a voice crying out in the contemporary wilderness and yet no one paid much attention till recently when days became dyer.

John the Baptists voice has been embodied in others as well. In the voice of Saint Francis;

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, harmony;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. [4]

A simple beautiful prayer and yet it can be disturbing. How you may wonder. This prayer is seeking to be the opposite, to break in and disrupt the norm. Where Hatred and Anger are the rule bless me lord that I may be the voice of Love and understanding when, perhaps, at that moment, none is desired.

The prayer says Lord when everything is in chaos and seems to be going wrong bless me that I may be the bringer of Truth and Light. Yet in those moments of Chaos and pain and darkness how often is it that the voice of reason is drowned out, beaten up or even Killed. Nelson Mandela who stood as a voice crying out was imprisoned for 27 years for speaking the truth.

There is always a voice crying out and when there isn’t sometimes we are called. Sometimes we are called to stand with people in need of Justice; “ Hands up don’t shoot”, “I can’t breathe” or the old standard “out of your homes and into the streets!” These are cries for Justice, cries for equality and we can all respond. We can respond by peacefully marching. We can respond by lighting candles and we can respond with prayer.

Speaking of movies, I want to give you another quote, I know I am using a lot of quotes today but I feel they are relevant, so here it is; “ ‘ There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the spirit, ‘who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, Pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’ [5]

There are many things on this Earth done in the name of Christ or Christianity, or in the name of the Prophet Mohammed (May peace be upon him), or Yahweh or Buddha….you name it and humanity has committed atrocities in the name of the religion that have nothing to do with religion. In the case of the previous quote we hear the Ghost of Christmas present stating that places being closed on Sundays, mainly those that feed the poor, have nothing to do with the spirit of Christmas nor care for the poor.

John the Baptists voice is still ringing out in the desert, Prepare ye the way. But how will you prepare the way. This month has been hard. Bad news in the headlines, Teachers stabbed, bombs planted, children shot. Yet and Yet Johns cries are being answered. Every day through charity, compassion and yes even justice.

A classmate of mine, Rev. David Miller, who serves the UU fellowship of San Dieguito said this in his Facebook post yesterday;

Today I worked hard to digest the incredible dichotomy coming through social media and the news. This included the deep pain being felt by so many overwhelmed with the need for reflection and action in a torn and hurting country/world and the intense desire to offset that with some sort of joy, connection and community. It mirrors what is happening in my own soul and I am feeling the tug of war that pulls me in one direction or another. How can we live balanced lives when so much is happening to throw our balance off, how can we address all the imbalance while trying to maintain our equilibrium?

I have always seen the holiday season as a time to bring us together in shared ritual and reminders of what can be best in us all and this holiday season we do that in the context of Ferguson, New York and countless other tears in our communal fabric. I will read what so many others are writing, I will do what I can to act where I can, and I will and I must not lose sight of that which is joyful, that which connects me, and that which must continue to breathe hope into a tired and at times overwhelmed soul. [6]

I believe David sums up some of the overwhelming emotions that arise when one seems to be bombarded with bad news everywhere and all the time. If you are feeling overwhelmed get out! Go to a movie. Read a book. Sit, be still, light a candle and put on some Christmas music.

If you just take the time to breathe into the season. Go downtown or walk around your neighborhood take in the lights. Greet your neighbor or a person on the street with happy holiday. Just offering a bit of the love that is this season, and it will come back to you, is all one truly needs to do to answer the voice in the desert.

In the news this week there was a story of the boy with cerebral Palsey who had is custom made wheel chair stolen, but thanks to a Good Samaritan and a good company they are replacing the chair in two days. In skid row anywhere between 5 and 8000 people are served every day with medical needs, food, shelter and clothing. We are collecting toys for the kids in North Hollywood who may not have a Christmas except for the celebration at the Recreation center. The socks for the homeless. The hats and the scarves we made to go out. All of this is answering that cry in the desert.

So Let us prepare the way for the Lord in your Heart, Mind and in your actions this year. Do not let the world get you down but choose to respond with care and compassion and through it all care for yourself physically and spiritually.

[1] New world encyclopedia, John the Baptist, (accessed December 3, 2014).

[2] Fred B. Craddock, The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 112.

[3] John Muir, Our National Parks (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1901).

[4] St Francis, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace (Ann Arbor, MI: Word of God, 1975), 229.

[5] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Writings (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), 78.

[6] David Miller, “Facebook,” entry posted 12/4/2014, http://

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