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Mark 1:1-8

"God’s Peace"

Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the mystic presence of the Holy One. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.

In one of his daily meditations, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Friar and author, once wrote that; “The phrase “kingdom of God” on the lips of Jesus, means almost the opposite of what an American like me might assume, living in the richest, most powerful nation on earth. To a citizen of Western civilization like me, kingdom language suggests order, stability, government, policy, domination, control, maybe even vengeance on rebels and threats of banishment for the uncooperative. But on the lips of Jesus, those words describe the world of Caesar’s kingdom: God’s kingdom turns all of those associations upside down. (In the mind of Jesus) Order becomes opportunity, stability melts into movement and change, status-quo government gives way to a revolution of community and neighborliness, policy bows to love, domination descends to service and sacrifice, control morphs into influence and inspiration, and vengeance and threats are

transformed into forgiveness and blessing.”

So, it may seem a little odd that, as we get closer to Christmas, I would choose to preach a sermon on God’s peace, using the text of Mark 1. Here, we see John the Baptist talking about the coming of the Messiah. John was “baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” For the Nation of Israel, the wilderness or desert was, and still is, a place of stark contrasts. Think of a dark period in your own life, a desert place. Being in a desert wilderness can mean a turning away from God; or maybe even shaking our fist at God and turning our backs on God, as I think the Jewish People of ancient times had thought God’s back had been turned on them, during the Roman occupation. After all, it had been over 400 years since there had been a prophet speaking to them. But the desert could also mean a place of deliverance by God, as in John appearing in the wilderness and coming out of the desert and baptizing. So, right from the beginning of Mark, we are made aware that something special is about to happen; Emmanuel, God with us.

So, we must ask the question: who doesn’t want to experience and know God? Atheists and theists alike are able to read human history as a long search for, and often a wild fantasizing after, and about God. However, the atheist’s belief that there is no God is a less interesting thought than the biblical question of, “Who is the God who is here (?)”, and the answer to that question being, “I AM THAT I AM,” or, “I AM BECOMING WHAT I AM BECOMING”. Most of us already believe that God exists, but there are disagreements among us about the questions: “Why would God care about me?” Or “What does God expect of me?” Or “Just because we live in a Fallen world, why would God still allow some horrible thing to happen?” So, today is the day that John the Baptist begins the story of Jesus. He points to this Jew, this Jesus of Nazareth, who is actually a cousin of his and says, “This is the long-awaited Messiah.” “Here is God’s Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

We seem to be conditioned to ask big questions about the identity of God. Who is God? What is God like? Why would God care about me? One of the problems with this kind of thinking is that there are reasons having to do with the great gap between who God is, and who we are, that makes it impossible for us, on our own, to conceive of an answer. How can created creatures accurately perceive or imagine their Creator? Can finite minds understand the infinite? Does just thinking about God diminish the perceived reality of God? “And so, John (the Baptist) came, baptizing in the desert region, and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” So, right from the beginning, we are told that to be forgiven, we must, at least, be willing to repent of our sins.

Baptism by immersion is one of the two sacraments that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) observes. Communion is the other. We are reminded that when Jesus came to John for baptism, that "John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to “fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented." As an aside, I believe that part of what Jesus meant when he said to John that it is proper for us to do this to “fulfill all righteousness,” was for Jesus to show us, by example, the physical baptism we should have in order to experience the spiritual baptism by fire that John talks about Jesus bringing to us, as new creatures in Christ. This is the intersection of the earthly and the worldly with the heavenly and the holy.

As sinful human beings, who recognize our need for God’s love in our lives, we continually seek out and after God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. So, what must come between our faith, hope and love, and God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness? We have the answer in today’s scripture reading from the gospel of Mark: Repentance. The word Repentance, or Metanoia in the Greek, means a 180-degree turning around and back from where we’ve been headed: it’s us having a change of heart and mind, a turning back and away from the wide road of sin and destruction that we’ve been rocketing down. You know, God is calling each of us into the kingdom of

heaven. Think of Jesus Christ as having the keys to the kingdom and providing, through His baptism, an example for us to follow and not just into baptism, but also through all of life; fulfilling “all righteousness.”

Do you remember the joke that says, what do you get when you play a country-western song backwards (?). You get your wife back, your trailer back, your truck back, your job back and your dog back (Not necessarily in that order!)! And, if you take the Son of God as your Lord and Savior, you get everything else when you do, starting by getting your true self back. You get the grace, mercy and forgiveness that God provides to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Our repentance, our Metanoia, nurtures our faith-vision, gives us renewed hope, and gives our lives meaning and purpose! Why? Because the eyes of faith see God at work, when natural eyes see nothing.

By our repentance, God saves us and opens the doors to eternity itself. Jesus Christ is God’s Peace for each of us! YHWH God is the source of all peace, and that peace, or shalom, is a divine gift to all of us! Incidentally, the extended meaning of “shalom” or peace, is, “a complete peace…a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well being and harmony.” Authentic peace is more than merely a lack of discord; it is more than just a feeling of satisfaction. Authentic peace can only be attained through righteousness;

and what is righteousness? I believe it involves our sanctification, which is God setting us apart for the blessing and work that God has prepared for us.

In Biblical terms, YHWH God is taken to mean the complete embodiment of righteousness, and therefore God is able to sanctify, or set apart as righteous, whoever God deems to be righteous. True peace, then, can only be had where righteousness reigns. And righteousness reigns where God finds each of us in humble repentance and the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The peace of God, the peace that passes all understanding, God’s Shalom, is seen in the New Testament as available to us, right now, through Christ Jesus. Therefore, the attainment of our salvation hinges on our belief in Jesus Christ as Risen Lord. And even for those who don’t believe initially, we know that God has big arms that extend far beyond the realm of human logic and even life itself! So, we see in prayerful meditation, the manifestation of Godly attributes that point us to various aspects of God that will be a part of the coming of the Christ.

YHWH God is so merciful that He sent His Son into our midst to show us the way to heaven, because of the grace and tender mercy of God. The rising sun will come to us from heaven, and shine on those living in darkness, for the people living in darkness have seen a great light! Even in the shadow of death, God guides our feet onto the path of peaceful shalom. That’s why “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a

baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

So, in person or in spirit, if you run across someone wearing clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and eating locusts and wild honey, you’ll know that God is about to do a marvelous thing in your life! And even if you don’t, my experience tells me to know and accept that our wonderful YHWH God is always reaching out to you, always ready to receive you, always ready to love you, and ready to open the gates of heaven for you, right now! What is God’s peace? It is the living presence of God’s resurrected Son, Jesus Christ, standing before you, right now; inviting you, right now, to experience God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and salvation, right now, this day, and always! Amen? Amen.

 

Rev. Jan Ekstedt, MDiv

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