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 Preaching Mark 1:9-15

 

Hear the Word of God. Please! Hear the Word of God. The most critical first step I take in preparing to preach from a passage of scripture is to read it aloud. Our tendency is to rush to meaning. My plea is that we linger to hear.

The first challenge in reading the passage aloud is the first phrase, “In those days.”  It looks simple enough, but the trick is to utter the phrase so that it connects our attention back to what immediately precedes our passage. Try putting the emphasis on the preposition, the first word (which I rarely recommend—it is almost always best to de-emphasize prepositions), drop your pitch for the second word, “those,” and then slide back up for the third word, “days.” This is an alternative to the opposite, starting low in pitch on the preposition, going high and stressing “those,” and then dropping back down in pitch for “days.”  

What difference does this alternative emphasis make? It suggests a closer connection to the days in which John was out preaching and baptizing. It does not sound so much like verse 9 is the beginning of the story. It is not. It is the beginning of our passage but not the beginning of the story. Jesus comes on the scene with no ceremony whatsoever. Jesus comes to John to be baptized, and John does not argue with him as he does in Matthew. John simply baptizes Jesus as he does anyone else, and according to Mark, does not realize who Jesus is.

Read verse 10 with a sense of wonder. Read it as if for the first time. Do not remind us that the heavens were torn apart and he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove; rather, be humbled by it. Say it aloud from memory, looking towards the heavens, one hand sweeping the sky and then following with hand and eyes the descent of the dove. See it!

The Spirit came down like a dove; perhaps the voice was as quiet and peaceful as a dove.  We have no clues from Mark about Jesus’ self-consciousness. Mark does not tell us before this moment whether Jesus of Nazareth knows who he is. It is clear that the dove and voice are apparent only to Jesus. Take verse 11 slowly and reverently, even affectionately. As in last week’s text, it does not have to be a Charlton Heston voice. I do not suggest you fake a voice. You will, however, want to give the voice a quality that sets it aside from the other speech.  Is it loud? Is it news? Is it a voice that whispers in Jesus’ ear? Mark is not telling the whole countryside that Jesus is the beloved, chosen one. Jesus’ identity is still a secret. When you utter verse 11, do not make eye contact with your congregation! This is God speaking, not the narrator. You may do that later with greater effect, especially if your sermon takes the direction of confirming for your people that they are beloved children of God.

You want to build some wonder, awe, even suspense in the first three verses of the passage. A good, long, healthy pause may follow verse 11 because we really do not expect verse 12. It comes suddenly, immediately. We are in a state of awe and wonder at the end of verse 11, and then with a strong, clear voice, you announce with declarative sharpness that the Spirit immediately drove Jesus into the wilderness. The word “immediately” is important; it is the first movement following his baptism, yet it is the Spirit who drives Jesus into the wilderness. The same Spirit who descended on Jesus like a dove drives him into the wilderness. Read with emphasis on the Spirit and hear how it evokes thoughts about the work of the Spirit, not just what happened next.

For forty days Satan tempts Jesus as he lives amid the wild creatures. He is without creature comforts, but angels do attend to him. Jesus is in the wilderness but not forgotten. Jesus experiences hardship, perhaps even distance from God, but God provides through the attention of the angels. When we are in the wilderness, we do not know how long the wilderness journey will last or what is on the other side, but there seems a promise inherent in this passage that the wilderness is a time of preparation and is not for naught. The wilderness experience is preceded by the baptismal promise in which God claims us.

In verses 12-15 the pace of action increases. There is an urgency to get to the proclamation of the gospel. It is as though Mark wants to tell us only the basic details of the story because he needs to get to the important business: that Jesus came to proclaim the gospel.

Several sermon themes arise from this brief oral interpretive analysis. One, in our baptisms, God claims us—forever. Many fear God has abandoned them, or worse, that when a loved one wanders from God, we fear God lets them go. God does not let go. Whether your tradition baptizes infants, confessing adults, or both and anywhere in-between, we claim the promises of baptism and stand on them. At our baptisms, God makes us beloved children and never forsakes us.

A second theme is that being baptized children of God does not remove wilderness experiences but rather assures us in our wilderness experiences that God has not and will not abandon us.

A third theme is that our baptisms are not for our personal use, reassurance, or gratification. Our baptisms are our call to ministry, our ordination to the lifelong task of sharing the gospel message.

Fourth, there is an urgency to the gospel. If you have bread and there are hungry people around, will you stop to dangle your feet in the cool waters of the nearby river, or will you rush the bread to the hungry?

Nancy Lammers Gross

 

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See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street. Follow FestHomiletics on Twitter 

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