Jan 11, 2009
Scripture: Mark 1:4-13
Sermon Title: "Where Wild Beasts Wait"
note: this sermon is an experiment in which members of the congregation are asked to act out three scenes from the Gospel of Mark: chapter 1, 15 and 6.
As we glide out of the Christmas Season, we glide into stories about Jesus found in Mark’s Gospel.
Currently, I’m reading the book "Provoking the Gospel of Mark" which encourages preachers to honor the surprises, risks and rhythms found in the Gospel. The author of the book works with the assumption that when it comes to sacred scripture we should wrestle with it the same way Israel wrestled with God.
Said to be the first of the four Gospels written, Mark was composed nearly 40 years after Jesus’ death. The Temple has been destroyed, mass unrest exists. Most Christians are lower-middle class to poor and those caught practicing this new form of religion can be arrested, tortured, killed.
This is not a time a time of peace or play, and it shows in Mark’s writing, a fast moving, rowdy story in which things happen quickly and Mark trying to say as much as he can in as few a words as possible. He limits the amount of stories Jesus says, focusing instead on what it is Jesus does.
The Gospel of Mark is a jagged piece of writing, with abrupt starts and stops, featuring stories inside of stories, confusing geography, and an original ending that leaves the reader hanging.
Turn to Mark for answers and you’ll get more questions. Turn to Mark for clarity, you’ll get a fogged up window. Expect Mark to spoon feed you faith and instead you’ll get a serving of foods you may not like.
Mark’s gospel has not been housebroken; it takes risks, doesn’t know now to behave. So, in the spirit of Mark, today will be a day of risks. Today is not about me giving a sermon and everyone else listening. Today does not have a clear message or a feel good bow at the end.
Instead, today is about us encountering the Bible in a different way, encountering the ministry of Christ in a new way, and encountering ourselves in a way we have not done before.
First I need a volunteer...You’re going to be Jesus. Put on this lovely robe so we know who you are.
Next, I need three people with big smiles. You have two parts today: first you’ll going be angels.
And for everyone else who didn’t volunteer, that’s Ok. There are parts for you as well: you’re going to create a zoo of animals noises. So, to begin, let’s have everyone move up closer.
Now, people over here, you’re going to be ravenous lions. Let me hear your best "roar!"
People over here: you’re birds of prey waiting to eat. Let me hear you "Caw! Caw!"
You over here are wild dogs. Not nice house pets, I’m talking hungry, mangy mutts with menacing teeth. Give me your best growl.
And over here, we have snakes; slithering, hissing, venomous snakes. Let me hear you hiss.
And our 3 angels: let’s see you put on your wings.
Very good. Now, let all of us step into the ragged, violent world that is Mark’s.
Mark begins by telling us that John the Baptist is preaching words of repentance and forgiveness of sins, baptizing people in the Jordan River.
Jesus arrives. He’s baptized and wow!-he sees the heavens rip apart. Then, Wow!-the Spirit like a dove comes down upon him and a voice: "You are my son, my beloved. In you I am well pleased."
And just like that! the spirit whisks Jesus into the wilderness for forty days where he is with wild animals and tempted by Satan.
If you recall, the wilderness is full of symbolism. It’s a place of loneliness and solitude. It can be a dangerous place in which demonic and holy battle it out.
Here’s where everyone comes in. Jesus: you’re alone in the wilderness, by yourself. Close your eyes, and don’t open them until I tell you.
Lions: let me hear you start roaring. Birds start cawing. Dogs: growling. Snakes: hissing.
Keep going, keep going [Pastor gathers angels, gives them baskets of food and drink and motions to them to smile]. Now Jesus, open up your eyes.
The angels, Mark tells us, took care of Jesus.
People: how did you feel making all those noises?
Angels: how did you feel knowing you were feeding Jesus?
Jesus, what was it like to hear all that noise? How was it to see the angels before you?
Next scene: the crucifixion. Jesus, walk over here with me. Angels-take your wings off and sit this one out.
People, good news. This time you don’t have to act like wild beasts. But there’s bad news: you’ll have to act like wild people.news:
People over here, shout "Save yourself". People over here say "He can’t even save himself."
Jesus, you have one line "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me."
Mark 15 tells us that after a mock trial in which Jesus was struck and spit on, they led him out to the place called Golgotha, a wilderness of sorts on the outskirts of town.
They gave him wine mixed with myrrh to drink, he would not take it. They stripped him of his clothes and gambled for it.
Sorry Jesus, I need your robe. [Take robe] Now I need you to close your eyes. Put out your hands.
They hung him between two bandits. And the people began to yell out to Jesus, shaking their heads, mocking him. People, say your lines....
And with a loud voice Jesus opened his eyes and cried out.....
After someone attempted to give Jesus a sip of vinegar, he cried out again, took his last breath and died.
Let’s all take a deep breath. Jesus, how did it feel to hear those words? How did it feel to say those words?
People, how did it feel to say those words?
Which was it harder to play: the wild beasts in the wilderness or the people who mocked Jesus in the outskirts of the city?
My former angels: how did it feel having to sit this one out, knowing this was nothing you could do?
The Gospel of Mark asks that we balance these two truths together. That Jesus could be in the wilderness for forty days amongst wild animals and is tended to by angels, but he will die in the outskirts of town surrounded by wild people yelling at him, with no angels to be found.
The Gospel of Mark asks us to believe that the God who spoke at his baptism could be silent when Jesus needs him most.
But there is one more story we need to share today. It is also a wilderness story.
Jesus, I need you to come here. My three angels, I will need your help, except now you’re disciples.
People, you have two words. "We’re hungry."
Disciples, you are to tell Jesus "They’re hungry."
Jesus, this time you get to make up your own lines. Ready?
In Mark 6 Jesus said to the disciples, come with me, let’s go into the wilderness so we can get some rest. They found a place in the desert to stop.
But the people followed them, and when Jesus looked upon them he was moved with compassion. So he taught them until it got very late. The people said...[point to the congregation] "We’re hungry."
The disciples came to Jesus and said [point to the disciples] "They’re hungry."
There were over 5,00 people. Jesus said "You feed them."
The disciples asked "With what? We have only five loaves and two fish."
Jesus ordered the people to sit down on the green grass.
Oh, and Jesus, before I forget, let me give you back your beautiful robe.
He took the bread, looked up to heaven and gave thanks. (Give Jesus bread to lift up)
Jesus, please say thanks with whatever words you wish.
And after giving thanks he gave the disciples the bread and fish to share with the people,[Give little cups with Swedish fish and crackers to the disciples to give to the people] and there was enough for everyone to eat.
Jesus, how did it feel to look out at the people and know they were hungry?
How was it knowing they were the same people who were yelling at you before?
Disciples, how did it feel to serve the people?
People: how did it feel to be fed?
Now why did we do this? This exercise is meant to make us think and to wrestle with the stories we read in the Bible. And it’s meant to make us ask questions, like "How can it be?"
How can it be that the one who is baptized and called the Beloved Son and is cared for by angels in the wilderness is the same one who is taken to the outskirts of the city where he will be crucified, ridiculed and feel forsaken by God?
How can it be that he is also the one who meets us in the wilderness and feeds us as we sit on the green grass?
The Gospel of Mark does not make things easy. It provokes more questions then is supplies answers. But in-between these questions and jagged bits of hopelessness, loss dreams and neglect are images of hope, promise, care and green, green grass.
And it is that In-between in which we live, and wrestle, wondering, and questioning, growing and being shaped by God.
How do we combine them with the middle, how do we hold onto the middle, how do we share the middle?
May God find a way to speak to you, may the Spirit comfort you and Christ lead you. Amen.