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Sermon: Mark's Gospel - "Lots to do, must dash...!"

Date Preached: Sunday 30th August 2009

Bible Reference: Mark Chapter 7, verses 1 to 8; 14-15; 21-23

You might have noticed this morning that our lectionary leads us to change direction and pace (again) in our set readings as we return to Mark’s gospel. We’ve been considering in depth John’s account of Jesus’ discourse on the living bread from heaven – in all its power and depth and elegance – and Mark’s gospel is just so different.

Here’s ‘Mark in a minute’ written by an old mate of mine, Dave Kitchen from Cardiff – ex-Headmaster, poet, disc jockey and now established author. Years ago we used to do concerts together where I’d play some songs and he’d get people rolling in the aisles with his poetry.  Anyway here goes:

“Mark – written to get the information on paper.

Breakneck speed, lousy grammar, plenty of people name-checked.

First half full of stories, healings and arguments with the authorities;

Second half: the road to Skull Hill with a focus on the last week.

Not much by way of elegant introductions, absolutely no neat ending at all.

Untidy in a boy-in-a-hurry sort of way but gritty and believable.

Like the difference between the demo of a song and the final remix for radio. Gospel number one:

Not there to impress anyone with its style,

Just there…in case you want to know what it was really like”

(So) Mark’s book: text in a hurry with “immediately” stamped all over it.

Not pretty, but essential because this is where the gospels begin. The number one source for both Matthew and Luke,

Probably put together by John Mark,

Whose mum had a big house in Jerusalem

With an upstairs room that Jesus used

And whose uncle was (?) Barnabas, the missionary.

So, not important in himself, but well placed.”

(Great stuff eh? – so let’s hear what else Dave has to say about Mark as we begin to get back into his gospel, because he reminds us of the stories we’ve been considering recently – and hold on to your hats!)

“Now books get written for a reason and here it may well have been Nero. Once the emperor started throwing Christian to the lions or using them as torches at his barbecues, no one was safe.

What people like Peter had seen and heard needed to be down on paper. So Mark picks up a pen and the good news starts here

With a voice like thunder in the desert getting the world ready, John is baptising people, straightening out their lives. Because someone is coming who will turn them inside out.

When John baptises Jesus, you know who the ‘Someone’ is, because the Spirit comes like a dove to rest on him and a voice declares: “You are my son. I love you and I am glad to be your father.”

There’s 40 days preparation in the desert and then the first disciples get called,

The healings start and the message spreads like wildfire.

So fast, in fact, that Jesus is soon forced to hide out in quiet places just to have a chance for prayer.

With all this busy-ness, not everyone is convinced he’ll have time for them.

A man with leprosy asks to be healed “if you are willing”.

“Of course I’m willing,” Jesus tells him. And the miracle happens.

Now, the healings hit the spot, but the messages get mixed reactions.

A man who appears through the roof of a house

needs forgiveness as well as the ability to walk.

Jesus offers both, but the synagogue top dogs hate it.

“Who does he think he is?” they complain. “God?”

You can understand the religious bureaucrats not liking him; he appoints fishermen and tax inspectors instead of academics and insiders, he socialises with the wrong sort, is easy-going about religious regulation and frankly doesn’t seem anywhere as serious as John the Baptist.

So the nitpickers start looking for a way to catch him out.

Jesus challenges them about their narrow-mindedness

And, after he heals a man on their day off work, they want him out of the way. He’s beginning to look like a threat to their whole way of managing God.

But, for the moment, it’s crowds so large so that he nearly gets crushed and uses the first century equivalent of a getaway car at the stage door:

Escape by fishing boat.

The Big Twelve get chosen:

Not so that they can feel good but so they can do some of the work.

The celebrity-style fuss results in Jesus’ family trying to get him safely back home: you can have too much attention.

However, he is definitely not about to slip away quietly.

There are stories to tell. Like the farmer who sometimes gets it right when he sows seeds and other times isn’t so lucky. That’s what it’s like with people and God, Jesus explains to the twelve; many grow up to become something, but others…well… go their own way.

You need to be like lights, he tells them, and you can be.

Even if you start small like a mustard seed does.

Anyone can grow.

The words are paralleled by actions. On a stormy night on the lake, Jesus calms the waves, then heals a man who seems to be drowning in an army of dark spirits;

Next he cures a woman with bleeding even as he makes his way to help a synagogue leader’s daughter.

So much happening so fast.

More than once, Jesus asks for the miracles to be kept quiet. He knows that not all headlines are good headlines.

And reaction is mixed especially in his hometown where they remember him as Mary’s boy, the workman.

Time passes, teaching continues, the twelve go out to spread the message.

Word gets back to King Herod who has beheaded John.

The gossip is that Jesus is John returned from the dead. The reality is even stranger.

This is someone who can feed 5,000 by blessing a few loaves and fishes,

This is a man who walks on water.

Not a surprise then that even his closest followers don’t quite get it.

Now, while the disciples don’t get it, the Pharisees don’t like it.

They are Mr Tidy and Mr Clean with a vengeance

And Jesus’ disciples simply don’t come up to scratch.

Instead of apologising for them, Jesus goes on the attack.

“Your priorities are wrong”, he tells them.

The minor stuff, that makes you look good, you do;

The heart of the faith – helping each other – you avoid.

This is a time when Jesus is looking for privacy but it’s mighty hard to find.

He heals a Greek woman’s daughter, helps a man to hear and to speak.

Frankly, he wants it all kept low key

But you know how it is when you see something amazing.

So it’s over-enthusiasm for his miracle-working

And blank faces for the message.”

Phew – but this captures the urgency and the life-changing nature of the gospel – the good news – and its nature hasn’t changed, has it?!

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