Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Gospel of Mark: Introducing Jesus

One of my favorite memories of my children is when they were young, they watched those annoying (I mean very cute) children’s shows on TV. One of those shows featured a three-ring circus. An announcer would come to center stage and introduce the next act: “Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the lion tamer… the acrobats… the man being shot from a cannon!” Our girls, especially, really latched on to this idea. So, they learned how to introduce each other. They would dress up in princess outfits or fairy costumes and one of them would walk to the fireplace in the living room and stand on the brick seat. She would say in a loud voice: “Ladies and gentlemen (which meant Kim and me), introducing the Crawford twins.” Then they would put on the show of the day. There was always a show of the day! After Luke was born, and when he was old enough to help, he became the announcer.

Have you ever stopped to wonder: “What is the purpose of an introduction?” This past Tuesday evening, President Trump spoke to a joint session of Congress for the first time. Just before he entered the room, the Sergeant of Arms entered the room and made the introduction. “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.” Or, think of the way a wedding ends. After the vows have been made, after the rings have been exchanged, the minister says, “Now I introduce to you for the first time, Mr. & Mrs. …” I suggest to you that the primary function of a good introduction is to prepare us for what is to come. Consider this introduction from the Bible. When the people of Israel were in Exile in Babylon, God spoke through Isaiah about a brighter day in the future.

Read Isaiah 40:1–11 CEB.

God said through Isaiah, a day is coming when God’s people will go home, and when that day arrives, a messenger (an angel) will go before them. That angel will announce: “Clear the path; God’s people are coming!” And every obstacle in their way will be removed. That angel’s job was to provide an excellent introduction and to prepare the path before them. The same thing happened in the Roman world when a victorious general returned to Rome. It was called a Roman Triumph. A long parade: horses, soldiers, dignitaries, and finally, the conquering general, and this long processional ahead of the general prepared the way for his arrival. It announced to everyone, this very important person is coming, get ready! The Gospel of Mark was written to Roman Christians, so the opening verses of this gospel would have made sounded very familiar to them.

Read Mark 1:1–9 CEB.

Since we just read Isaiah 40 together, you see the connection. Just as the messenger went ahead of Israel to prepare their path as they left Babylon, so, John goes ahead of Jesus to prepare the people for His arrival. In Isaiah, the angel removed all obstacles that might stand in their way. His proclamation was clear. “The exiles are returning!” Here in Mark, John announces the coming of Jesus. And his proclamation is also clear. “Because Jesus has arrived, the exiles, those separated from God because of sin and unbelief, they can come home now.” John’s responsibility was to introduce the world to Jesus. Did you know that we share that responsibility? John prepared the way for Jesus’ first advent. And the church is preparing the way for Jesus’ second advent. The earliest Christians saw this connection very clearly. That is why they called themselves “The Way.” Before they called themselves “the Church,” they called this gathered body of believers “the Way.” Because they understood that at the heart of our mission we are to join John in preparing the Way for Jesus.

So, let me ask you: What is the church doing to introduce the world to Jesus? What are we doing to prepare the Way for Jesus’ second advent?

The very best way we can prepare the Way for Jesus is to treat the world the same way Jesus treated the world, is to bring true Shalom into the world. That is to help make things the way they ought to be, the way God always intended for them to be. When we do that, we join John in the wilderness, preparing the Way for Jesus! Have you ever caught a glimpse of John in the wilderness? Sometimes we see evidence of John’s presence in little things.

A few months ago, Dewayne Manning went in the hospital for surgery. A scary time for him and for Cynthia. Many of us gathered in the hospital there with Cynthia, Darren, Carys, and the family. Joanna Neel was also there, but on that day, she looked a lot like John. Because she went around that hospital and found warm blankets. She brought those blankets and put them on Cynthia. Did you know that in that simple little act, Joanna Neel was preparing the Way for Jesus? Sometimes, we see glimpses of John in really big moments. Lance took a trip this past week through the Deep South. He visited Birmingham and Selma and Montgomery. He heard stories from people who were there with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and countless others. And in some symbolic way, those men and women joined John the Baptist, because there they all were in the wilderness telling the world: “God is no respecter of persons.” Telling the world: “We are all equal in God’s eyes.” Did you know that Movement helped prepare the Way for Jesus?

Some of you know this man. This is Samuel:

At least, this is the way Samuel looked about 2 ½ years ago when he walked into Gateway to Hope. Those who met him that day say, to be honest, they were a bit scared. Samuel was a meth addict. When he came in, he was high. He was filthy. He was hungry. He was itching uncontrollably. And he had these sores all over his body. A brief conversation with the folks there revealed that he had been living in the woods for 10 years! He had Celiac Disease. But he didn’t have any resources to get medical help. And he knew that any food with gluten only aggravated that disease. But, he didn’t have any choice. The only food he had access to, donated food or the food provided at the Salvation Army, had gluten. The people at Gateway to Hope (now HiWay 80 Mission) helped him. He entered a Discipleship Recovery program. They gave him food, shelter, medical attention, work therapy, and intense Bible study. Through their help, Samuel became a Christian. But Samuel still didn’t have any way to eat a gluten free diet. So, some ladies from Glenwood began providing that food for him. It changed his life! This is Samuel today:

He graduated from the Discipleship program. He is active member of a church in Longview. And in January, he married a wonderful young lady he met at church there and he is working for a construction contractor. Barbara Gilbreath recently told me about Samuel:

He is a new creation today because of the love of Christ shown through the volunteers at Gateway to Hope, HiWay80 Rescue Mission, through the church he attended in Longview and through the Glenwood ladies.

How are you preparing the Way for Jesus? Did you know that when you enter a circle where gossip is taking place and you encourage those people to practice love and understanding, you are preparing the Way. Did you know that when you see a homeless man on the street holding a sign asking for food, if you bring him food instead of wondering what he did to get himself in that situation, instead of driving ahead to make sure you do not miss the next event on your calendar, if you stop, you are preparing the Way for Jesus. When you forgive even when they do not deserve it, when you walk away when everything within you says, “Stay and fight to get your way,” when you love when everything within in you says that person (or that group of people) should be feared or hated or ignored—when you do these things, you are preparing the Way for Jesus.

Some may ask, “Why should we act so counter-cultural?” Why should we do these things when everyone else is acting so differently? Because we are the Way. You are the highway on which people will travel to find God. Like John the Baptist, we live in a wilderness, a place far from God. And we proclaim with our words and we proclaim with our actions that Jesus has already come and Jesus is coming again. What a moment that will be! And until then, we join John in the wilderness, introducing the world to Jesus.

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