“Going Against the Grain” June 3, 2018
“Going Against the Grain”
1 Samuel 3:1-20/ 2 Corinthians 4:5-12/ Mark 2:23-3:6
You know, I’ve said it before: “If you want the bare bones of the gospel, if you’re looking to learn about the life of Christ and his ministry on this earth, and what it means to you, and you are pressed for time, then the gospel of Mark is for you.” David Lose calls it a narrative whirlwind. For example, in the first chapter alone, Jesus is baptized, tempted in the desert, announces his ministry, calls his disciples, casts out an unclean spirit, heals a bunch of people gathered at Simon Peter’s home, goes on a preaching tour, and cleanses a leper. All in a mere 45 verses! And by the end of all this, his fame has spread so far and wide he finds it hard to even go out for bite to eat without getting mobbed by a crowd. So you get the idea; a narrative whirlwind.
Now, I’m telling you this because for the next 8 weeks we will be reading from the gospel of Mark, and so a little back story would be a good idea. Folks thought for years that Mark was written by John Mark who had traveled with the Apostle Paul for a short time, but scholars pretty much agree that’s not the case. We’re not really sure who wrote it, but we do know that Luke and Matthew both borrowed from it. The gospel of Mark, then – at least to me – has a certain air of authority to it, if for no other reason than it was written first. But there is more to it than that. Our study today takes us late into the 2nd chapter, and Jesus’ new found celebrity has put him crossways with – wouldn’t you know it – the authorities. And not just your regular run of the mill authorities; no, and this is the crux of our lesson today. I find it incredibly interesting that Jesus’ first confrontations aren’t with the Romans, or with the local politicians, or with those living on the fringes of society; but with those who are the most religious. And it goes without saying that these confrontations only gets worse until finally the Pharisees and Sadducees have the ultimate satisfaction of seeing Christ on a cross. Today’s brouhaha starts out innocent enough: it’s a fight over the Sabbath; a fight over who enforces the rules.
I have un-fond memories of working on Forest Service timber sales. The rules were hard and fast and woe to anyone who thinks they can ignore them. The date for the beginning of fire season, if I remember, was May 20th. After this date, all equipment had to have the proper fire safety tools or you were simply shut down. There were times when we considered putting anti-freeze in the water pumpers for fear of freezing, but by golly, we had them on site. After this date, all timber fallers were required to have spark arresters on their saws, carry a portable fire extinguisher on their person, (which was a pain) and pack a shovel. And so it was on that chilly morning of the opening day of fire season, I looked out at a foot of fresh snow and decided that packing extinguishers and buckets and shovels was not such a great idea. Needless to say, when the folks in green pickups showed up, they had other plans. We grumbled and we groused, but in the end we knew it was either follow the rules or go home.
But you know, we didn’t blame them for enforcing the rules. After all, they had to answer to their superiors who, in turn, answered to someone even higher up. My point is that our gospel story today is the much same thing – only different. And that’s what I love about the gospel of Mark: it’s all about Jesus. Let me explain.
You see, when I hear stories like this- stories of a Jesus who breaks the rules, stories of a Jesus who chooses compassion over protocol – I’m led to think and rethink my understanding of what Jesus means in my life. And each time I am reminded of my firm belief that Jesus is Lord and if I am to know the mind and heart of God, I don’t need to look any further than Christ. Our way to God is in Christ, our way to God is through Christ. It’s that simple. He is not the image of God, he was and is God in the flesh. One of my favorite Bishops in the Methodist Church, Will Willimon, writes saying, “Years ago, I heard a great biblical scholar say that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, insures that we are unable “to make God mean anything we would like God to be.” Time and again, in the church’s life, Jesus Christ has broken free of the clutches of those who have attempted to use him to bless their human schemes and programs.” I have to say that I agree. When you accept Jesus as Lord, it’s pretty near impossible to preach some sort of a “generic” God to justify behavior that is not rooted in love. And when you accept Jesus as the only means of salvation for this world, then the rules of the world aren’t quite so important. The gospel of Mark: it’s all about Jesus.
When I was a kid, my dad was always building stuff. I remember him trying to explain how you need to go with the grain of the wood when ripping or using a plane and I couldn’t figure out what he meant. Finally, he took a rough looking chunk of 2X4 and told me to rub my hand down the length of it. To my surprise, it was fairly smooth. Then he told me to rub the other direction and I let out a yelp as a nice, sharp splinter found its way into my finger. I guess some of us have to learn the hard way.
I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of our study of the Gospel of Mark. In a world where it seems we are constantly going against the grain, it is my hope that we can reclaim Jesus. It is my hope that we can come to know God as he intended; that we come to understand God as he was fully and perfectly revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Then perhaps we can get on with the important work of making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.
Amen & Shalom