St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Lent 1, February 18

Signs, redemption, and authority. All these passages seem to have similar messages.

Noah and his family (8 people in total) are saved from destruction and God places a rainbow in the sky to not only remind Noah and his descendants of God’s promise to never destroy the Earth again with a flood-but to also remind God of the promise. Then, if we look closely, we see that Peter says that when Jesus died he went to proclaim to those who had died in that flood thousands of years before he became incarnate. “He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah…” These are not people of the Abrahamic Covenant, these are not people of the Mosaic Covenant-these are people of no covenant: descendants of Cain and Seth. Lost souls with no hope until Jesus comes fresh from the cross in the spirit and proclaims the good news that he came into the world that all might be saved-dead and alive, hopeless and hopeful.

Then Mark brings us the most dramatic (and earliest story) of Jesus’ baptism: “And just as he came 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 this vision drove him out into the wilderness on his own vision quest though this in itself was quite the vision.

Raj Nadella is an associate professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia and he has this to say: “Mark employs the verb schizo to describe the heavens splitting. [While the other synoptic Gospels depict this split as opening] schizo indicates a split that was pronounced and even violent. … Why does Mark employ such a wrenching image?”

… “There was rampant economic and political oppression. Herod Antipas was about to execute John the Baptist for challenging those oppressive structures. Jesus was baptized into this context, into a movement of national repentance initiated by John. When Jesus saw the heavens tear apart, he also saw the existing world order rip open-and the possibility of a new one. [This image] offers the promise of a grand divine intervention and assures the arrival of a new world that would be completely different in character from Rome.” This vision calls for quick action by all. “The new reign is of divine origin but depends upon humans to realize it. Jesus extends an invitation to realize the reign of God not to the most powerful people but to ordinary Galileans who were victims of the empire. … good news. He invites them to dream of the possibility of an alternate realm and to help facilitate it. They are active participants in bringing this good news alive.”

One wonders what those lost descendants of Cain and Seth thought when Jesus appeared to them in the spirit and told them they were free. And, they would not have been the only ones who heard his voice.

In Mark’s baptism story, there is no doubt that anyone gathered at the Jordan that day saw the sky rip open-even if they didn’t hear the voice or see the Spirit descending. Sometimes it would be really wonderful to have such a definitive sign to help make a decision, to decide who should be in charge, or even which town to live in-what to do next. And, even with this definitive message, Jesus does something that we see him do over and over: he heads out to be alone so he can talk to God with no distractions. “Okay, Dad, I’m the beloved-now what is next?” And, I guess he figured it out because the whole story unfolds from here. A ragtag band of Galileans in fellowship. Lots of walking around Galilee and down to Jerusalem, to Caesarea Philippi and even farther, healings, teachings, and rabble rousing. Jesus took his mission to heart-he was there to change the world order, to bring good news to the people.

Noah’s good news was no more massive destruction. The message to those lost in the flood was a release from prison. And, Jesus’s news was that it was time to begin the new world order.

What message can we receive? I think we can look around us and see who, like the Galileans, is being oppressed. Who can we help? What pain can we alleviate? As Professor Nadella writes, [God] invites [us] to dream of the possibility of an alternate realm and to help facilitate it.”