Our Continuing Mission

Inspired by Mark 1:1-8

Last week’s Gospel reading from Mark was about the end of all things, the end of time itself, which is always a strange way to begin Advent. And today’s Gospel reading from Mark is where we would have thought last week’s would be, at the beginning of the Gospel. And as we learned at our Christmas trivia game at our Advent party on Wednesday night, we do not find a nativity story here at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Mark skips all that and dives right into Jesus life.

You see, Mark, being the first Gospel written, and the best, in my opinion at least, we have a very human Jesus presented to us—a human doing some pretty amazing things to be sure, but a human nonetheless. It’s Matthew and Luke that explore the divine nature of Jesus, and by the time you get to John, the last Gospel written, you have a full blown God on earth. But again, that’s not where Mark is when he writes this story for us. For Mark, Jesus’ humanity was vital to the good news he was proclaiming. And this will be important in minute.

First, I want to talk about beginnings and endings, a dichotomy that I mentioned last week, one of many that we find during the season of Advent. Beginnings and endings are often on our minds at this time of year. The holidays bring out the nostalgia in all of us. And for those of us who have babies around us, whether they are our own, or grandchildren, or friend’s babies, their first Christmas is felt by all of us.

Even those of us who have a new puppy at home. You’d think we have a baby at home the we talk about her first this and her first that. And if you ask my wife she’d say yes, we do. And, as I mentioned last week, also on our minds are all those loved ones that have died, that will be on our minds this Christmas as well. Beginnings and endings, this time of year is full of both.

And for us personally here at Bethlehem, endings seem most prominent right now, as we have suffered the recent loss of three of our own, Joe and Delores Amaro, and Frank Gregersen, whose funerals were yesterday, and also tomorrow. This time of year seems like such a cruel time for families to suffer through a death in the family. And of course, these are not the only ones, as I have heard story after story of people in your lives suffering through deaths.

As I was preparing for yesterday’s Amaro funeral, I was given a word of hope, from beyond the grave, which helped to start me on the path that this sermon will take. Delores left me some detailed notes for yesterday’s funeral, which I’m sure doesn’t surprise anyone that knew her. And in those notes she shared some reflections, these one line thoughts from her faith. About death, she shared this, “Life has changed, not ended.”

What a beautiful thought, which, for anyone who knew Delores, doesn’t surprise us. And it’s also a thought that runs parallel with the mind of Mark in today’s Gospel reading. Mark’s first words are, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah.” The beginning of the good news—literally it reads, the beginning of the gospel. And I don’t think he is referring to his first sentence, anyone can see that this first sentence is the beginning of this book. He is referring to the whole book. In other words, this whole book you are about to read, is the beginning of the gospel, the beginning of the good news. And to find out how we know this, you have to skip to the end of the book.

The original ending! Not the endings that were added later that are usually in brackets at the end of the book. But before those brackets, this is how the Gospel of Mark, originally “ended”, “Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

That’s it! That’s how it ended! No post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. No Jesus walking through walls. No Thomas putting his finger in Jesus wounded side to see if he was a ghost. No road to Emmaus or fish by the sea shore—nothing—but the disciples fleeing in terror. Mark just stops, almost mid-thought. No proper ending. No nice neat closure provided. Why? Because Mark was a genius! I know, I know, I’m a bit biased, this is my favorite Gospel, but this is part of the reason why.

Scholars believe, that this was done on purpose—that Mark intentionally did not end his book. Why? Because you are supposed to continue it! And I don’t mean with pen and paper, but with your lives. Mark presents us with this amazing story of this amazing human being, who dies and is raised, and then leaves us with the cliff-hanger of all cliff-hangers, as if to look us dead in the eye to say, now go continue the story.

Like Captain Picard and the starship Enterprise, this is our continuing mission. Ok, you knew I was a geek when you called me to be your pastor right? Our continuing mission, to continue the story of God’s unconditional love for the world. Mark’s gospel is the beginning, but only the beginning, the rest is up to us. Now if you’re not feeling the weight of that right now, let me reiterate it this way. How we live our lives, for good or bad; how we treat others, with kindness or ill; how we welcome the stranger, those that are strange to us, or keep them out; how we serve those in need, or turn a blind eye; how we live out our callings as baptized children of God, are continuations of this Gospel from Mark that we will read this coming year—and are just as important, if not more, than the Gospel itself. Now if that doesn’t strike fear and dread in you as it did those disciples of old at the empty tomb, I don’t know what will. Either way, this season of Advent calls us to stay the course, not flee; to proclaim the good news with our words but especially our deeds, not fear; to continue this baptismal voyage—steady as she goes—with hope and courage, for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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