Bifocal Lents (sermon 2/22/15)

bifocals

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” – Genesis 9:8-17

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In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” – Mark 1:9-15

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 We’ve been talking about Lent any number of ways lately. We’ve written newsletter articles about it, and blog posts, and Facebook updates and newspaper articles, and we’ve designed a new series of Wednesday worship services for it. Now we’re in the midst of it, beginning this past week with Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes, and now this, the first Sunday in Lent. These forty days of reflection, solitude, and penitence are symbolically connected to the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism, which itself is symbolically connected to the forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness after they left Egypt, which also symbolically connected to the forty days of rain during the story of Noah and the flood. Each of these things has embedded within it a sense of being separated out; affording, maybe even demanding, a time of self-reflection, and especially causing an amplified focus and reliance on God.

The idea of observing Lent can be a hard sell for us today, for a number of reasons. To turn away from the distractions of our daily lives is a hard thing to do. It’s hard for us to stay focused on something for forty minutes, let alone forty days. Our lives move so much more quickly today than when people first thought about setting aside forty days for introspection and refocus. One of the things that was nice when I first went to Honduras about twelve years ago was that where we were going, there was no internet connection available. There was no cellphone coverage. To go to that orphanage meant that you were going to have to give up all the instant technology that you’d gotten so dependent upon, and I know that a number of us felt a kind of withdrawal for the first couple of days that we were there. But after getting through that, we began to really focus on what was really in front of us, and all around us. Getting to know and love the kids, the natural beauty, the very different culture. Coming to see the reality of corruption and civil unrest, and of poverty on a level never seen before. Letting these experiences speak to our hearts, and to change our hearts. We got to be in that experience, that “zone,” for less than a week, before heading back to the States, and our phones came back to life, and we were resubmerged in our own constantly on, constantly live, ultimately dispersed lives. Finding one’s self in that zone of intense focus, without the normal distractions, has been truly life-changing for hundreds of people who have gone through it, and that was just to experience it for less than a week. Imagine how a life could be transformed by truly experiencing it for forty days.

It is hard to consider sticking with a regimen of introspection and humbly turning ourselves over to God even more deeply for the whole period of Lent. But there’s another aspect of it that I think is even more significant.

When I was first studying preaching, we were supposed to prepare a sermon on a particular passage, and the most obvious message to draw out of the words, at least for most of us in the class, was that we need to be more giving of ourselves – we need to be less selfish and more emptying of ourselves to serve others, just as Christ emptied himself for us. That was all well and good, the instructor said, and maybe it’s a very relevant and important message that a lot of people need to hear. But if the person hearing your message is someone whose issue wasn’t too strong a sense of self, but rather, was too *weak* a one; if your message is heard by someone who’s given of themselves to others so much that there doesn’t seem to be any of her or him self actually surviving, then it’s a wrong and even dangerous message to encourage even more self-emptying and self-destruction in the name of serving others.

The instructor made a valid point. And Lent can face a similar problem. What Lent should mean to each of us can be very different, based on where we’re approaching it from. Yes, it’s probably true that for many, if not most of us, the struggle we need to deal with as we come into Lent is that of humbling ourselves in order to come into God’s presence and to hear God’s word for us, and to recommit our lives to God. We Americans don’t generally do “humble” well; in fact, humility is often held up as a sign of weakness or even moral failing. Whether we look at what our society tells us about what our personal lives, or our national and international posture should look like, being humble and not pressing ourselves onto others rarely rates very high on the charts. So if we find ourselves in that location, it’s good and important to see Lent through the lens of needing to humble ourselves in order to find God in this time.

But there are a lot of people in the world, in the country, in this city, in this congregation, who likely have another frame of reference. There are many people who don’t have any shortage of humility; who don’t think too highly of themselves. In fact, they think too little of themselves. Our communities and our families are full of people whose self-image, whose sense of self-worth has been completely battered to the point that it can be almost non-existent. That’s the point where humility becomes humiliation. They’re told in countless ways that they aren’t smart enough, or successful enough, or good-looking enough, or enough like the way society says they should be, and they live lives filled with the quiet despair of feeling they don’t measure up, feeling worthless, or at least worth little, and certainly less than God would ever want to love.

And if that’s the place you’re standing in, then the worst possible thing you can hear, especially from a pulpit, is that you need to humble yourself even further. To be told that you’ve got to humble and debase yourself even further is a distorted, fatiguing, and even harmful message to get out of Lent. If that’s your vantage point, then you need to see Lent through a different lens. Understand that the humility that’s called for during Lent isn’t an end to itself, but rather, it’s meant to help you truly come into God’s presence and to feel God’s love. And it’s hard to hear God speaking into your heart if you believe that God wouldn’t speak to you at all.

We aren’t going through this season in some sort of masochistic love of beating ourselves up and wallowing in suffering for its own sake, as if suffering itself reconciles us with God. The main purpose of Lent is to feel and experience God’s love for us – especially as we see it illustrated through Jesus’ life and his journey to the cross and beyond. In order to be able to reflect on that love more deeply, some of us need to humble ourselves. But some of us will need to actually lift ourselves up. Some of us will need to allow ourselves to accept that we are good, and lovable, and worthy of God’s embrace, before we can hear God’s voice this season. All of us need to recognize that what’s important about Lent isn’t the details of how we get to the end point, but rather, that we actually get to it. And the end point is this: Just as we heard in our first reading, in the story of the flood, God loves us so much as to establish an everlasting covenant of love with us – one that completely overarches us and covers over us, just like the rainbow in the story that God said is a symbol of that covenant. And for the record: if, by chance, you find yourself in a place where you think you’re so worthless, you’re such flawed, damaged goods that your failings and shortcomings are too great to stay covered over by that covenant of love; that you’re going to poke through that protective rainbow, as it were – know that if you break through that one, that just like in our window, there’s another one just beyond it ready to cover over you and keep you within God’s love and care. And beyond that one is another one. And another one. And another one. You can’t ever exceed or escape God’s love and compassion for you. That’s the ultimate message behind meditating on Jesus and the cross during Lent, regardless of where you start your journey, regardless of your vantage point, regardless of what lens you need to see it through.

Thanks be to God.

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Ash Wednesday Meditation (2/18/15)

Ash-Wednesday-Forehead-1

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. … And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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Why do we do this? Why do we come together every year, and begin the season of Lent, by taking ashes and marking ourselves with the sign of the cross? What is it supposed to represent or symbolize?

In the Jewish tradition and in many other traditions too, the placement of ashes on a person’s body represented a spirit of humbleness in the presence of God that comes from recognizing our own human mortality and our brokenness. It was a way to symbolically profess what was in a person’s heart. And so it is with us, too. When we specifically place ashes on ourselves in the shape of the cross, we’re doing several things.

The first thing we’re doing is being part of a tradition that goes back almost to the very beginning of the faith. So by continuing this tradition we’re making a connection with all the community of believers, all the faithful of every time and place, similar to the way we connect with them through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But what we’re doing is more than just connecting with tradition.

When we mark ourselves with ashes, we’re making a public expression of our mortality and our humility, but when we do so making the sign of the cross, we’re making that profession specific to what we profess about Jesus Christ. We’re not only recognizing our brokenness, but we’re making a statement, to ourselves and to all who can see us, who our Lord and Savior is – who we’re professing our complete loyalty to. From the standpoint of humility, we’re saying that we’re willing to publicly look a little odd, with this funny-looking smudge on our foreheads for other people to see, in the name of professing the Lordship of Christ to our family, and friends, and neighbors. It’s a way of showing solidarity with the millions of Christians around the world who profess their loyalty to Christ at great danger, even to the point of being killed for their profession of faith. We’re blessed to live in a place where our life isn’t at stake because we follow Christ, and in some ways maybe it’s too easy for us to be Christians. Being willing to receive that silly little smudge, that will last only for this day, is at least one very small way to show that we’re serious about our faith, and being willing to at least put up with the smallest of consequences, of people looking at us funny, in the name of Christ. It’s a sign of us willing to show that we’re not ashamed of our faith.

But to say that we aren’t ashamed of our faith isn’t to say that we’re full of pride. We don’t mark ourselves with ashes in an attempt to say that we’re better than other people. We’re not doing it to call attention to what good or pious or enlightened people we are. We aren’t doing it for the self-serving reasons of the hypocrites Jesus talked about in this evening’s gospel passage. We aren’t doing it to call attention to us at all. We’re doing it to call attention to the one who died on the cross that we’re marked with, the one who died in order to show God’s love for all people. And we’re doing it with ashes, the timeless, universal symbol of humility. It’s customary during Lent to fast, or to “give up” something. If we don’t give up anything else, let’s allow receiving the ashes to be a sign of us giving up our pride or ego or vanity or being embarrassed to publicly profess our loyalty to Christ.

So I invite you to receive this mark tonight. Receive this funny little smudge. Receive it to connect with all the faithful across time. Receive it to show that you’re at least willing to face public curiosity or ridicule in the name of your Lord. Receive it to show your thoughtfulness and humility, as you prepare to walk together with Christ during this season of Lent, on his cross-bound journey that has to lead to Good Friday and crucifixion and death, before it could get to Easter and resurrection and life. Amen.

Exhibitionist Jesus (sermon 2/15/15)

Foggy Day

A foggy morning at the Church of the Transfiguration at the top of Mount Tabor while visiting there in January 2012; supposed site of the story we hear in today’s gospel text

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Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. – Mark 9:2-9

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On a family vacation a long time ago, when Erica, my oldest daughter, was only three or maybe four years old, we were staying at a hotel that had a big plaza out back, with a number of picnic tables just outside the hotel door, and then some playground equipment, and then a nice, large swimming pool beyond that. One afternoon while we were there, we decided to hit the pool, and after a couple of hours it was time to find something to eat, so we gathered up our things, and we each took one of Erica’s hands, and with her between us, we started walking back to the hotel. As we walked, Lori and I were discussing where we might go to eat, and what we might do after dinner. And all the while, Erica was chattering a mile a minute about something, the way three-year olds do, but we were paying more attention to our own conversation at that moment. As we continued talking, and as we were getting closer to the door, I became slightly aware that there were two boys, maybe high-school age or so, sitting on one of the picnic tables, and they were laughing at something. I didn’t pay any attention to them; Lori and I kept talking, but as we were getting closer to them it became harder not to notice that the kids at the table were laughing, louder and louder; they were doubling over, almost crying from laughing so hard, and I admit that in the moment my mind strayed from our conversation and I wondered what these two kids were laughing at. And it was only then that gradually, my own daughter’s chattering came into focus in my brain, and I heard her going on and on at the top of her lungs, “Hey Mom, hey Dad, look at that guy over there – he’s really fat! Really, really, look at him! He’s so fat he might break that bench! Look! I think that’s the fattest man I ever saw, I mean, he’s really fat!!!”

And sure enough, I looked over, and sitting at another one of the picnic tables was a really, really large man. Between his angry, beet-red face at the one table, and the laughing teenagers at the other, all that my wife and I could do was to grab onto Erica and walk as fast as we could, with her feet barely touching the pavement, until we got inside the hotel doors, where we all collapsed into a pile of simultaneous embarrassment and laughter and scolding her not to say things like that.

In the midst of us focusing on our own priorities and trying to set our own pattern on things, we’d been missing the significance and meaning of what was really going on in the moment.

I think that’s part of the significance of this story of Jesus’ transfiguration, too. Jesus and these three disciples trek up a mountainside to get away from the distractions of daily life and to pray, to meditate, to re-center and refocus their relationship with God, to try to hear God’s word speaking within their hearts. It was something that they did fairly routinely as we read the gospels. But this time was different, with Jesus’ clothes suddenly appearing a dazzling white, radiating, almost glowing. The passage doesn’t really say that he himself starts to radiate, but I imagine that he does, if just from the brightness of his clothing. And all of a sudden Moses and Elijah appear along with him.

It’s a truly incredible scene. We try to imagine it, and we try to understand it, and we try to make some sense out of this completely incomprehensible event. What does it mean? What does it symbolize? Jesus blazing white, Moses and Elijah, the key representatives, the symbols, of the Law and the Prophets of holy scripture, all there together. Just what’s going on here? In the moment, Peter starts trying to put some meaning onto it. He tries to organize and categorize what he’s seeing, trying to put some overlay or a pattern to it; he’s trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. And the pattern that he seems to be using as he tries to apply his own meaning to the scene is that he may be looking at what’s going on and thinking it’s the end of the world. It’s what the Jews called “The Day of the Lord,” the final Judgment Day when the dead will be raised, and God will rule on the physical earth for all eternity. And in trying to make sense out of what he’s seeing in front of his eyes, Peter seems to think he’s standing at ground zero of the beginning of this Day of the Lord, especially because in Jewish religious thought of the time, the Day of the Lord was associated with Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, where the faithful set up small tentlike structures or booths outside and live inside them, symbolizing the time of the Exodus. It’s a tradition that many Jewish faithful observe today; this year the observance is in late September. Maybe you’ve experienced that if you have some Jewish friends. So Peter starts to blather on and on, saying they could make booths and live there. He goes on talking about this until the voice of God brings him back to focus, telling him to stop all that and to pay attention to Jesus.

In the midst of him focusing on his need to put his own meaning to what was happening, and trying to set his own pattern on things, Peter was missing the significance and meaning of what was really going on in the moment. Maybe this past week you saw the pictures online of the guy sitting on a sailboat during a whale-watching outing who was so wrapped up in staring at his phone and sending a text message that he completely missed the amazing sight of a humpback whale surfacing just a few feet away from him. Peter seems to have been having a similar moment, and God was telling him to stop texting and to pay attention to what was going on in front of him.

And what exactly was going on? Nothing less than Jesus making it absolutely, positively clear that he was God’s chosen, beloved, anointed one; the one in whom God was very pleased. That he was the Christ. Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus is constantly telling the disciples to not tell people that he’s the Christ, but now, here, in this scene, Jesus is practically an exhibitionist, making the point of who he is in blazing white neon and floodlighting.

It’s easy for us to want to always apply pattern, and reason, and meaning to things so we can understand them. We can put them into neat, manageable boxes and deal with them. But when we try to do the same thing with God – when we try to wring all the incomprehensibility and mystery and wonder out of God; when our rational minds demand to only seek God too decently and in good order; we’re likely closing our hearts and minds to experiencing God in the way that God is trying to speak to us.

Lent is a time when we’re supposed to not be like me and my wife on that vacation; or like the texting guy on the whale watch; or like Peter on the mountaintop. It’s a time when we’re called to put aside our demands for order and pattern, and to be open to God speaking to us in times and ways we’ve been blocking. That’s the reason behind the Wednesday evening services this Lenten season, to create a space for us to do that. That’s the reason why during those services, the chapel will be configured in ways different from the norm, to help break through the established, familiar patterns and to help make us able to hear God in new and unexpected ways.

This Lent, I really hope that we all try to do that. Just as this congregation is in an overall time of transition, let’s allow Lent to be a time of transition within our own hearts, too. Let’s be open to God breaking in and transforming, transfiguring our lives, in ways large and small, healing whatever our particular brokenness might be, speaking to whatever the particular longing is in our own souls. Let’s do that, because just as we’d be wise to pay attention to what a three-year old is trying to say to us, we’d be all the more wise to do the same with God.

Thanks be to God.

texting man misses whale

Silence! (sermon 2/1/15)

capernaum synagogue

The ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum, on a much sunnier day than when I visited it. This synagogue dates to the 4th century CE, after Jesus’ time, but is built on the foundations of the earlier synagogue, where Jesus would presumably have done what we read about in this gospel text.

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. – Mark 1:21-28

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When I was in seminary, I had a class where I had to translate a fairly lengthy portion of an Old Testament passage – a pronouncement from one of the prophets; I don’t remember which one – where, at one point in the translation in which God calls out “Silence!” And as I translated that, I couldn’t help but laugh because it made me think of something else. A lot of you are probably familiar with the ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, and his one character, Achmed the Dead Terrorist. If you are, you know that this particular ventriloquist dummy, this character, is just a comical-looking skeleton with wild eyes, a turban, and a beard. Achmed was supposedly a suicide bomber who ended up dying in an accident as he was building his bomb, and part of the routine is Achmed telling a number of pretty off-the-wall, politically incorrect jokes – and his one recurring, trademark bits is getting angry at the audience and yelling in his put-on accent, “Silence!…… I keel you!”

And try as I might, I just couldn’t get that stupid line out of my head as I translated this passage from the Old Testament. When I did the translation work for the professor, I had even written that line into the translation as a joke, and it was only at the last moment that I deleted it, worried that the professor wouldn’t have as much of a sense of humor as I did, and realizing that things that seemed like a good idea at two in the morning don’t always look so good in the light of day.

I couldn’t help but remember that incident, and laugh all over again, when I read today’s gospel passage. I pictured Jesus, teaching there in the synagogue in Capernaum, and him calling out to the possessed man, “Silence!”…. and some smart alek calls out from a back pew in the synagogue, “… I keel you!” Well, not likely, I suppose. I need to say that I think it’s okay to allow ourselves to laugh about things like this; I believe that Jesus has a pretty well-developed sense of humor and I don’t think we’re going to be banished to hell for something in the Bible making us laugh, as long as we get through that layer and consider what’s really important, what’s really going on in this story and is there some significance for us in it?

This is the first story, the kickoff, of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s gospel, and that makes it an important signal of where the gospel is going to go; what it’s primary point or message about Jesus is going to go. The people who wrote the gospels were telling a story and trying to convey a particular overarching message. Just like when I sit down to write a sermon, the first thing I determine is the one, single point that I want to make, and then I’ll try to shape everything I do in the sermon to illustrate that point, shaping the content and tone and the rhythm of the sermon all to best convey that message. I might weave around the point a bit to get there, but the idea is to never stray too far from that overarching point. The writers of the gospels worked in much the same way. They were all starting from the facts of Jesus’ life, but each one of the writers shaped the story in a particular way, to emphasize a particular point. They chose how to arrange the story, how to sequence it, how to pace it, what words to use or what stories to include or not include, or how to enhance or shorten the stories, all to help them in their goal. They were storytellers, in the best sense of that term, rather than historians or news anchors, each trying to convey a slightly different overarching point about Jesus and the importance of his life and teaching. That’s why we end up with places where the gospels disagree with one another, and sometimes in ways that can’t just be easily explained. When the early church fathers decided to include the four gospels we have as part of our scriptures, they weren’t idiots. They recognized the inconsistencies in the stories; but the point was that perfect historical accuracy wasn’t the important point – the point being emphasized in the particular gospel, about Jesus and his message and his significance was the important point.

So in that light, we can look at the first thing that each gospel writer focuses on at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and find a signal of where that writer is going to go with Jesus’ story; what their emphasis is going to be. In Matthew, the first major event is the Sermon on the Mount. In this gospel, Jesus is going to be portrayed as the Great Teacher. In Luke, the story of Jesus’ ministry starts with him preaching in his hometown synagogue, talking about how God has anointed him to bring good news to the poor and outcast. In John, the story starts with Jesus miraculously turning water into wine, and a lot of it, as a sign that Jesus is the eternal God in the flesh. In each of these cases, that becomes the main theme of the gospel, the main point the author is driving at. Teacher, Friend of the Outcast, Cosmic God as Attested to by Miraculous Signs. And here, in Mark, Jesus’ first act is one that showcases his authority and power – power that changes in the entire world, power that shows God is a boundary-breaking God. Time and time again in this gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the incarnate God who breaks through every barrier set up for him, barriers that to Mark’s readers would seem to be impenetrable. The preacher Karoline Lewis has pointed out that through Jesus, God breaks through political, social, religious, ethnic, racial, sexual, and as we can see in this exorcism, even the cosmic forces of good and evil. A key message of Mark is that God is present in and beyond all of those barriers. That’s Mark’s way of understanding what the good news, the gospel, that Christ brings into the world is all about. Jesus is the barrier-breaker, showing people that God is present, God is here, even in all those places behind those supposed barriers, the places supposedly beyond God’s help and power, those places supposedly controlled by powers other than God. Through the authority and power that he shows over and over again in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is God’s “No!”, God’s “Silence!”, to those other powers.

The good news for us is that God is still yelling this “Silence!” to all the powers that would control our lives, too. Those things that we could say “possess” us, and prevent us from living that fullness, that contentedness and “at-peacedness” of life that our Jewish brothers and sisters simply call shalom. Powers like loss. Grief. Depression. Anxiety. Addiction. Illness. Disease. Mark’s message to us is that God is still here, with us, in the midst of all of those powers and more. God has not left us or forsaken us, and while sometimes it doesn’t seem true, we still can be reassured by Mark’s message that God is Here. God is Here. Walking with us, holding us up, and embracing us, through it all. And that God does have the power that some day, some way, all the pain and suffering that we all endure in our own ways will be wiped away, banished, exorcised by God. That was the hopeful way of explaining the gospel in this first gospel written, and it resonates to us even all these years later.

Thanks be to God.