“Drawn to Jesus”
A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on January 7, 2018
Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
January 7, 2018—Baptism of our Lord
Gen 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
Apparently the stage manager is on a bender again, because I could have sworn the scene was the Jordan River, but it seems to be running right through the stable. And John the Baptist is smoking out back with the wise men, and I’ve got one Jesus who needs his swaddling clothes changed and another who wandered off to find the kitchen. Just what is going on here?
Frankly, I just couldn’t resist. Though Mark jumps right to the Baptism of Jesus, I wanted to stop a moment at the Feast of the Epiphany, to hear about the arrival of the Magi. Because there is a connection, a connection between Epiphany (the idea of all nations, all people, being drawn to Jesus) and the Kingdom of God that is embodied in the baptism of Jesus. So we can’t just skip over the Magi.
There was a child. There was a star. And wise men, learned men, spiritual men from a long way away, found themselves drawn to this moment. Drawn the way we are when something momentous is happening: drawn to bear witness, drawn to see it for ourselves, to count ourselves among the number, to lend our hands and voices, to be a part of it all. They were drawn, and they came, in hope and trust and insanity. Who knows what arguments they had on the way … how many times they considered turning back. But they came, and their gifts tell us why.
This is who they thought Jesus was (and is and is to be): they brought gold and frankincense and myrrh. All of them, gifts fit for a king or a deity. Gold, an especially kingly gift. Frankincense with its priestly significance, as symbol of prayer and sacrifice. And Myrrh, for the anointing given to prophets and kings, at the same time as it quietly foreshadows the anointing before death.
He is a king. He is a god. He will bridge heaven and earth with his prayer, with his words, with his actions … and with his death. This is why the wise men came. This is what drew them.
The question is: What draws you? What brings you through these doors? What pulls you up the aisle to this altar? What attracts your heart to the Christ, what makes you open your heart to Jesus? Why are you here? Why do you want him, in here (inside you)?
What offering do you wish to lay at his feet? The wise men conveyed something with their gifts, expressing who they thought he was. But the journey itself was also part of their gift. They came a long way, and endured hardship (surely) and danger (at the end). They came, and after all that way, they were willing to walk into a stable and recognize that this was what they’d come for. No matter how absurd the gold must have seemed, how out of place the incense and oil would be amidst the stable funk. Still, they knew they had arrived in the right place: to meet a king, a god, a priest, a prophet … and a human baby who will someday die as we all die.
I ask again: what draws you to Jesus? What gift to do long to give him? What does that say about who you think he is, who you long for him to be, what you hope against hope that he can do in this world?
Whatever it is, I hope it’s something to knock your socks off, change everything, and turn the world upside down. Because that’s certainly what Mark tells us in today’s gospel. We’ve reached the moment of Jesus’ baptism, which is where it all begins for Mark. This is where the incarnation begins to speak, where the Word begins to be written across this world. The ministry of Jesus starts here, in the waters of the Jordan River, amidst a crowd of repentant sinners. There’s an eccentric prophet here too, but his role pales beside that of the heavens which are ripped apart, and the Spirit which descends like a dove, and the big old Monty Python voice of God that declares “You are my beloved son.”
All of this, it must be noted, is mirrored at the end of the story, at his death. On the cross, Jesus has a moment, calling out to God, asking why he has been forsaken. Can this truly have been the destiny his Baptism foretold? But then he breathes out his last breath (the same word as the Spirit); the curtain of the Temple is ripped in two; and a Centurion declares “This was truly God’s Son!”
The Spirit is alive in the world. God’s son walks among us. And the barrier between heaven and earth will be torn asunder, once and forever!
This is what the ministry of Jesus will look like. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like when it manifests in our midst. What had been hidden will be revealed. What had been hoarded will be scattered far and wide. The power of God will be loosed in the world, and evil will run scared.
The heavens are torn apart, and the veil of the temple will be ripped in two. The veil that had separated the people from the holy of holies. The symbolic barrier between the people of Israel and God, that only the chief priest was allowed to pass through. Yes, that barrier: the idea that the people of the world need a particular set of priests, a particular religious system to mediate their relationship with God. It was ripped in two. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection blew it to smithereens.
Which is to say that the Church should be wary, and willing to hear this passage with humility. We are often, in fact, in danger of setting ourselves up as the veil of the temple, the intermediary, the one true path between heaven and earth. In other words, we are in danger of wanting to be the very thing Jesus came to tear away.
We are in danger (as a church, and as individuals) of being drawn to Jesus, but not wanting to be drawn into his world-shattering ministry. Mark makes it clear, right from the beginning: this is the way it will be. The power of God will turn things upside down, break things open, crash through boundaries, and make mincemeat of evil powers and principalities. Buckle up, buttercup!
The whole gospel of Mark is written so that we can understand what Jesus is all about, and make the decision whether we wish to be baptized into his life and ministry. This is what it looks like, he warns us: It will be lived out in the midst of flesh and blood, bread and fish, wind and water. It will break through wherever there is illness, wherever there is hunger, wherever people are dispossessed and marginalized, wherever people and institutions are possessed and torn by evil spirits. This is where the Holy Spirit, the power of God, the mission of Christ will lead you. This is where the heavens break through to make the world new.
We are drawn to Jesus, drawn to this moment, drawn to this decision. There was a star (or, we thought there was a star?). Now there just seems to be a question, always the question: do we dare be bound up with him in this earth-shattering, world-mending life and mission? Let us enter the story, and find out. May it be so. Amen.