St JOHN’S WAIKOUAITI
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY (10th January) 2021
It is appropriate as I come to you for the first time in a new calendar year that we find ourselves reading of new beginnings in God. We are told of those who recognize the presence of God, and of those who become themselves to be the messengers of God.
Mark’s energized gospel-telling is of course not given to us for entertainment, but for imitation. Where are we to be in this story – in the first century in which he wrote or the twenty-first in which we read?
Mark constructs his gospel account carefully. He wants us to see – for spoilers are allowed twenty-one centuries later! – that when we encounter Christ, when we are seized by the one who transcends all oppression, even the oppression of execution and death, then we too can become like the once-frightened women who at the end of Mark’s gospel story will whisper that God-in-Christ has gone before us. Mark tells us that God-in-Christ is before us no matter where or when or how we encounter him, that God-in-Christ is the one who overthrows all oppression and despair.
Mark begins his story by telling about John the Baptist, who declares that Jesus is coming, has come, and will overthrow evil. He ends his story by telling of the women who, like John, cannot refrain from speaking of Good News even though they are afraid. In between these moments Mark will tells us all he believes we need to know of Jesus: he will tell us of the one who overthrows doubt and evil and oppression and fear, of the one who brings healing and comfort and hope and justice, of the one who touches and transforms the lives of lepers and Syrophoenician children and demoniacs and your life and mine and the lives of others we might touch with good news about him. Above all he challenges us to ask where we belong in the story.
Mark is careful in his construction: he opens his gospel-account by telling us that it is a beginning – John does the same in his gospel story that we will explore at times this year. It is the beginning of good news that is personal and corporate: good news that personal darkness in our own lives can be overthrown. It is good news that tells that corporate darkness in our community life can be overthrown: unemployment and bank closures and changing social norms are not the final word. It is good news that tells us that the mayhems of Trumpism and globalism of pandemic can and will be overthrown.
By use of the word “beginning” Mark carefully hints at the association between the story of Jesus and the story of Creation. The story of Jesus, he is telling us, is one with the story of the beginning of All Things – no matter whether we interpret and express that mythologically or scientifically. The story of Jesus, he is telling us, inseparably links all that Jesus is with all that the God of Creation is. From that he challenges us to extrapolate that this is universal, cosmic good news, that global mayhems of planetary warming and plastic sludge oceans and mass extinction and of all the darkness that bombards our news feeds can and will be and are overthrown.
Mark gives no details of the divine plan, except that it is embodied in the teachings and the life of the man that John the Baptiser recognizes and baptises in the wilderness. In the place of fear Mark tells of hope, and in the closing of the gospel we realize that in our being seized by the Christ story fear cannot silence us.
As we watched in recent days the chaotic fall of the Trumpian Empire, as we watch and read each day of the chaos of pandemic and a myriad other warnings of human fallibility, Mark challenges us to fix our hopes and our lives on a greater perspective. In the man who succumbs to John’s baptism we find a God who immerses the divine self into all human suffering and frailty, and there gives birth to a greater hope.
In the events that fill our news feed we see light and dark, good and evil: the message we will encounter in the person and work of Jesus Christ is that God will and does enter into all and will and does bring all into the glorious hope of resurrection: he is not here, he is risen. Our task is to immerse ourselves in the one who immersed himself in the waters of baptism, to immerse ourselves in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, to immerse ourselves in the knowledge and love of the Christ of compassion and justice who we find in prayer, liturgy, scripture and fellowship. May the Christ of water and Spirit help us so to do.
(Whangarei basin loop walk)
(Whangarei basin loop walk)