What follows is a “bloggified” version of my sermon from last Sunday, June 3rd.
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Today we begin our summer sermon series entitled “Defiance: Challenging the Norm.” We will focus on Jesus’ radical, counter-cultural life and the ways he defied social norms, religious traditions, and theological expectations. We’ll be using for this exploration the gospel of Mark.
Mark will reveal to us a Jesus offering hope for the abundant life, convincing people that he was the promised Messiah, spending time with disreputable people, challenging the social conventions of his day, healing, teaching, eating and drinking, praying, and teaching his disciples to do the same.
So, when we hear the word “defiance,” what comes to mind?
The stubborn two-year-old who sits pouting, arms folded, at the kitchen table because he didn’t get his way?
The angry teenager who shouts, “I hate you!” just before slamming shut her bedroom door?
That guy who insists on his right to walk through the shopping mall, teaming with families, with an open carry pistol?
Or, conversely, the PC police, social justice warrior who shouts down a speaker at a university campus because she disagrees with the message?
All of the above? None of the above?
Maybe this is what we think?People rising up against their oppressors. Jesus did that, although in subtle, subversive ways. And, he starts from the inside out. His weapons of choice? Love and his own life.
Or perhaps this?Pealing back lies to reveal truth. Jesus did that. “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” “I Am the way, the truth, and the life…”
Or maybe this?Alone, or together, having the courage to speak truth to power? Jesus did that, too. “Woe to you blind guides…” “You brood of vipers…” You know, the kind of things you say to your grandparents at family dinner.
How about this?Here we see Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers. This is Jesus, in defiance of the business of faith: T-shirt, bumper-sticker religion.
The image we decided on for at least the first part of the series is this one.A little girl stands courageously against a raging bull. We see here the weak against the strong. The vulnerable against the bull-y (no extra charge for that one).
The dictionary defines “defiance” as follows:Let’s explore how this might apply to Jesus.
All four Gospels are unique. They are four unique authors speaking from unique perspectives saying unique things about the unique, but complex person of Jesus.
Matthew wrote primarily to the Jews. Matthew’s Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham and of all the Law and Prophets.
Luke, a doctor, presents us with Jesus, the son of Man, lover of the poor and downtrodden, the hated prodigals now welcomed into the presence of God through him.
John was the mystic. He was the closest friend of Jesus and had heard his very heartbeat. It has this scent of tender familiarity. John’s Jesus takes us deep into the loving heart of God.
And then there’s Mark.
In the space of fifteen verses we get:
- The proclamation of a wild man – John the Baptist.
- The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.
- A voice from heaven (freaky at the best of times).
- The temptation of Jesus, who Mark says was “driven” into the wilderness.
- The arrest of John. You know, the guy mentioned a couple sentences earlier!
- And, the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry!
Mark’s gospel reads like a Hollywood blockbuster that opens with a car chase. It’s the biblical equivalent of the Fast and Furious! He’s so excited to tell us about Jesus that he spares no time. He. Is. Focused. Let’s just git ‘r done!
My wife and I are both lit-geeks. But Rae is really more the story-teller. She says that, in any study of story, the question of pacing is incredibly important. Too fast and it can lack the heart, depth, and staying power of great storytelling. T o o s l o w and y o u r i s k l o s i n g y o u r audience.
Hence, even Mark’s very pacing teaches us. Something has happened that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world, and he can’t wait to tell us about it. There is no more waiting. It’s happening right here, right now, in real time. It is decisive, dramatic and begs a response.
But how does Mark’s Jesus illustrate defiance?
We can do that in a single verse. Mark 1:1 says,
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
How is this defiant, exactly? Well, this is a significant statement for many reasons.
What do we know of ancient Rome? It was a military occupation possessing a particular skill in “crowd control.” It was marked by its efficiency, technology, discipline, and finely-honed bureaucracy.
Rome was intimidating and ruled by means of the well-known adage – “the beatings shall continue until morale improves.” The Jews were all huddled up under the great shadow of Rome, longing for the promised Messiah to come and kick some Roman ass.
But what kind of Messiah did they get? Mark’s point is to convince them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, just not in the sense they wanted him to be.
Let’s read that statement again:
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
You may recall that Herod considered Jesus such a threat that he slaughtered an entire generation of Hebrew children. What was he so afraid of?
A child, rumoured to be king of the Jews, would have posed no small threat to a bumbling narcissist like Herod (sound familiar?).
Many Roman Caesars believed themselves to be God incarnate, a notion they were only too happy to enforce. For anyone other than Caesar to make such a claim would have been foolhardy in the extreme. To the Romans, for Jesus to be described as “the Son of God” was not a theological matter. It was a political threat.
And, guess what form of death was designed specifically for political dissidents?
Mark’s opening statement therefore is already a dangerously defiant one!
This Messiah does not set out to conquer. He sets out to suffer that the notion of conquering might come to an end. He doesn’t conquer Rome. He conquers death at Rome’s hands, forgiving them the whole time.
A defiant bait ‘n switch if ever there was one! His non-violent love defied – said ‘no’ – to blind hate and aggression and, through death, led ultimately to the freedom of all.
Jesus defied hatred with love.
He defied exclusion with invitation.
He defied the misguided hope for military salvation (take note America) and brought instead, freedom from sin and death.
He defied the kingdom of Caesar with the kingdom of God.
He defied everyone’s expectations, trading pride for humility.
Jesus should have baptized others. Instead, he allowed John to baptize him.
Jesus, Lord of the wilderness is, himself, driven there to starve and face down the archetypal temptations we all face. Why? That he might truly be one of us, in every way.
Jesus could have ruled a heavenly army. Instead, he says “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Let’s ask Mark to take us on a journey, shall we? A journey into the heart of God, a God who does not look like what we’d expect.
He looks like Good News.