Sermon delivered by Heather Entrekin, pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, K.S., on Mar. 1, 2009.
Mark 1: 9-15
When two people come together to be married, they walk down the aisle, there are flowers and cameras flashing, big organ processional, everybody stands, and the first question, all-important question they are asked is this: “Do you take this person to be your wedded wife/husband?” and they answer, “I do.” And everybody rejoices because it is a wonderful thing to be taken above all others in the whole world as one’s beloved.
Mark’s gospel tells us that God takes us, chooses us. We see how it happens with Jesus. He comes out of the baptismal waters into the glow of God’s love: This is my beloved son. But what happens next we don’t think about at the wedding, at the baptism, on inauguration day.
According to Mark’s gospel, when God chooses you it is amazing and it is dangerous. When God calls, you are as liable to be persecuted as admired. Jesus goes straight from the River Jordan to the wilderness, a place of temptation and struggle. A liminal place.
“Liminal” comes from the Latin for “threshold.” Not every dictionary includes this wonderful word but I hope you’ll add it to your vocabulary because every Christian who claims God’s chosenness goes there. It is variously defined as an intermediate stage, between life and death, transitional, in-between, ambiguous and, from Victor Turner, a “realm of pure possibility” (About: What Is Liminality, C. LeShure, http://ww.liminality.org/about/whatisliminality/).
Mark does not give us all the details of this wilderness time as the other gospels do. He keeps it secret like a fraternity hazing. But this we know – the one who enters this liminal place and time does not come out the same person. (Like rite of passage – the candidate is singled out, taken away to a liminal place, goes back to the world in a new role.) Old identities dissolve and new ones are forged. When Jesus comes out of the wilderness, he is no longer the carpenter from Nazareth, he is the
Radical rabbi who will not be domesticated by conventional religion
The taboo violating toucher of lepers and bleeding women
Rule breaking healer on the Sabbath who eats with tax collectors and sinners
the anointed one who overcomes violence by refusing the way of violence.
And, his whole career becomes a kind of liminal space and time for every other gospel character, especially the disciples.
To lead a spiritual life – i.e. to respond by God’s grace to the inner stirring of the spirit of God, according to Henri Nouwen (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World), you have to start by understanding that God takes you to be God’s beloved son and daughter.
And then, the great spiritual battle begins. For the struggle, Henri Nouwen offers three spiritual practices. (You can try these at home, and church.)
- Unmask the world about you. Our economic problems confront us with some painful realities. One is that this is a manipulative, power-hungry, destructive world where Bernie Madoffs rip off their best friends. This world lies to you. It says that money can make you secure and that your value and your happiness are measured by the size of your bank account.
All of a sudden this myth of security is exposed and we realize our vulnerability. The truth is, we are always vulnerable but today it is slapping us in the face. The pain is painful. But the economic wilderness gives us a chance to see the world as it really is and remember who God takes us to be.
Instead of pushing a banker off a cliff, giving in to doubt and depression, and stressing over all we don’t have, this liminal place can show us that God is our true security, just like the dollar bills say. Those who are chosen by God are
people of infinite beauty and eternal value. People Magazine may not call to put you on their cover this month, but God chooses you oh person of infinite beauty and eternal value. “No one has lived your life or my life before, and no one will ever live them again.” They are priceless and irreplaceable. God looks upon us with the eyes of a parent holding the miracle of a newborn, this creature of infinite beauty and eternal value. God’s mind does not change about us, ever. Unmask the world about you.
- Look for people and places who tell you the truth about who you are, you remind you of your deepest identity, your best self as the chosen one. And for this, you have come to the right place. It’s not like speech class at KU where I told the students they had to say something positive in their critiques of one another but one student, complained, “But what if the speaker didn’t do anything well?” Church should surround you with people who do not measure and critique what you do but remind you who you are, precious in God’s eyes and in the eyes of God’s people. God has chosen us and we must speak this truth to one another.
- Celebrate your chosenness constantly. Thank God for choosing you and thank each one who reminds you how precious are with a kindness, a gesture of affection. We have a member of our staff whose husband is forever planting vases of roses on her desk for anniversaries and special occasions and sometimes for no reason at all that appears on a calendar, only in his heart. We decide whether to be grateful or bitter to the people in our lives. We decide to recognize our chosenness and others’ or focus on the difficulty and darkness of our lives. We can choose to live in fear in these economic times, or we can choose to be people of mercy, gratitude, generosity, justice.
Then we become the new creations Walter Rauschenbusch described, who substitute love for selfishness for the basis of human society (Dare We Be Christians, 1914, The Pilgrim Press, Boston) and transform the world, just a little, every day.