Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Stage Right!

OUR STUDY begins with a lesson for the First Sunday of Lent as read from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. As a Master of Ceremonies would set the stage for the main course of a play, our author provided us with introduction for what was to come.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.
 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

A Playwrite Mark?
 We, who once again experience our walk through the Sundays of Lent leading us to the foot of our Lord’s cross, know the redemption story... and love its flow. But the community of Mark did not write to us just for our entertainment. Mark wrote for another definite purpose. The writers likely had gathered myriads of oral material for this text. They blended the witnesses of Peter and Mark… and proceeded to introduce the written story center stage. Therefore the story we read is primarily purposed for those who had not yet heard the good news.
 If we look closely at the beginning, we can see the seams in the beloved story. The Divine drama unfolds. First the topic was noted clearly, like a headline that is placed on a marquee or in the lobby of a theatre. As told by Mark 1:1, the purpose was revealed quickly. Hear the good news… the gospel… of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In rapid sequence then, as if supplied by an emcee who existed as an off-stage voice, a mind’s video presentation becomes anchored... introduced beginning with the text from Isaiah. Rooting the reader or listener in the familiar stage, the gospel record then quickly opened as related… “Behold!
 In our modern terms, the authors by the power of the Holy Spirit, said, “You see! Pay attention!” Effectively the writers announced that the prophets predicted that a messenger would tell of the Messiah’s appearance. That person was interpreted by the Markan playwright to be John the Baptist. John was thus quickly presented center stage only as a preparatory character, pictured not as the fulfillment of God’s promise, but as a sent witness. His purpose was to call the audience’s attention to our sinful human failures before God, and then to tell of the steadfast love of God provided. We cannot stay clean on our own! The literary stage was thus set in rather liquid fashion by Mark. The waters of the Jordan, like the waters of our baptism, provide us with needed backdrop for life.
 Familiar to many… to those who walk in the faith of the church both then and now… the curtain opened on the story of Jesus’ baptism as carried out by John. The writer, however, rooted us in the flow. This seems to be the real beginning of the story… for the author boldly uses historical terms, “In those days…” he says. Erroneously, we seated in sin, see this curtain opening and might deem it  as a familiar, “Once upon a time…” were it not anchored in reality. We witnesses know that the story is not fiction.
The drama is not a mystery! It does not address the uncertainty of, “Why would the sinless Son of God need to receive baptism for repentance?’ This was not at issue for Mark or his community, so uncertainty was not voiced. Instead the first scene unfolded.

Enter Stage Doubly “Right”
As so professed by some scriptural critics, the central message of the drama began right here. Jesus appeared as an adult on stage. He was rightly announced by John as the greater of the two, yet received baptism by John. Jesus appeared then without any discussion over his need for cleansing… since there was none. He was thus boldly presented. Jesus was described as the One who would baptize us with the Divine, special and set-apart Spirit.
 For Mark’s writer then, Jesus was the main, revealed character, to be presented by the subsequent story. The revelation written here thus pointed the audience toward Jesus alone as the Beloved. Jesus stood boldly before all who read or heard. If any of you should so desire, the topic of our Lord’s baptism and the Father’s exclusive announcement was explored by our readers previously. This was done during our celebration of the… “Baptism of Our Lord”. If you wish study of that topic, to reclaim that teaching you may go to…

 Here we see, however, that the Greek word ευθυς appears in Mark. Rendered in English as “immediately” or “straightaway”, we find that the word resounds frequently through the entire writing of Mark. The word occurred like the literal soft “click” of a slide projector control,  or “enter” button of a computerized video presentation. The word smoothly fades our attention to another scene. The word transitions us in faith therefore… moving us along toward the Truth.
 To illuminate this flow, please note that a quick change of scenery backdrop unfolds “immediately” in the gospel writing. Our author next related a statement, and little more, about Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. But our gospel does not allow us to remain there for very long. We cannot remain dwelling in a wilderness of doubt and testing. Quickly the story propelled us past the arrest of John the Baptist without further explanation, and brought the audience to the central purpose of Jesus’ arrival on the central stage of history.
 You see, according to Mark, the good news was not about John, nor the Satanic demonic in the wilderness as told by Matthew and Luke. The purpose was to boldly tell us that Jesus is the both Messenger and the Message. He is the good news! Jesus is both the evangelist and himself the sure arrival of the eternal Savior!
High Drama!
 Mark stated the gospel clearly, and concisely. Jesus said right away in Mark that the time in which he spoke the Word was a “now” time… as not in “chronological time, but in “right time”. In God’s eternal “right” time keeping, Mark stated to his readers… both the then and the now… that the time for us is still “now”.  I say to you that most certainly the kingdom of God was at hand then as our Lord spoke, and is yet at hand. Mark gave to those in his audience long ago, what he offers also to us. Mark gives to those who will witness the good news, the gospel… and instructions to believe and follow Jesus.
 Our Lord Jesus, who is the proven Son of God according to the witness of the Holy Spirit… gave us good news. All of humanity, those of us who have been sinfully immersed in writing our own scripts… are given clear direction for our lives.
 Repent! Turn! Scripture reveals that those who have been trapped… hidden behind the world’s dark stage lights… are called thus to squirm in our theatre seats. With the scriptural spot light thus lowered upon the center stage, we may face the brilliant love of our Father in heaven. Believe the good news we are told. Our gentle Lord stood, telling us… "for the kingdom of God is at hand."
 People of God gathered in the Divine theatre of creation, during the coming weeks of Lent let us consider just what that means for us. Let us study the Word together. And may the Peace of God that surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

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