Sermon: Beasts at the Crossroad

Beasts at the Crossroad
Mark 1:9-15

There was a problem recording audio this week. I hope to have the audio up later this week.

*****

Today is the first Sunday of this journey called Lent. During these 40 days we will walk along the crossroad of life – acutely aware of our humanity. Reminded on Ash Wednesday of our mortality – from dust you have come and to dust you will return – these journey on the crossroad is one in which we search ourselves. We confront the beasts that test us; come face to face with the fact that the things we feel strongest about are our things not God’s; we confront our idols; our inner darkness faces the light of God; we take stock of our lives; we shout hosanna; we cry crucify. During these 40 days on the crossroad – we look in the mirrors of our lives and are shocked by the cracks and wrinkles – we see ourselves in the bright light of this season.

But Lent isn’t just about us; no, it is about the fact that as we walk on this crossroad journey we walk with Jesus. We walk with God in human clothes. Jesus walks each step of this journey with us. Jesus faces the beasts; Jesus shows us what are God’s things; Jesus smashes our idols; Jesus shines the light of God’s love; Jesus rides on a donkey toward his death; Jesus comes in contact with mortality; Jesus walks along this crossroad with us – for us. This Lenten journey is not about us, but about Jesus with us. It leads to that day when Jesus is nailed to the cross and on him is laid all of our human brokenness – all of our pain, all of our fear, all of our doubt, all of our questions, all our our self deception, all of our pride, all of our ego. On that day at the top of the crossroad, Jesus is nailed to the cross and that is what the Lenten journey is about – Jesus taking all of us onto the cross – for us, because of us, with us.

And beloved – it is with Jesus that we begin our Lenten journey. A journey through these forty days.

This journey begins as many do, a day full of delight and joy. A Galillean carpenter is in the crowd as John is preparing the way for God’s messiah. Baptizing many into this apocalyptic hope, the carpenter listens and in his belly a fire begins to stir. He follows John up and down the Jordan, watching as the gathered repent and turn around – coming out of the water as new people. The fire continues to burn. The events of his life until now begin to makes sense. The odd things that set him apart from his peers; the way his mother would coddle him – even when it was embarrassing. Perhaps, he was meant to follow John – to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps we was meant to proclaim repentance; the call to turn around. Perhaps he was meant to become a disciple of John.

As the fire burns, the carpenter stands at a crossroad. Does he go home, back to Nazareth and continue to make his living carving beautiful bowls and stunning table? Does he follow John? At the crossroad the fire burns, and he hears the words of the preacher on the banks of the Jordan, “The one who comes after me is more powerful than me; I can’t untie his sandals. I baptize with water; but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” The fire burns. And the carpenter fells his feet beginning to move without his even thinking about it. He finds himself at the banks of the Jordan face to face with his teacher.

John takes Jesus by his hard, cracked and calloused hand and leads him into the water. Saying words that he has said many times, John raise his hands in the priestly blessing; grabs the arms of the carpenter and dips him under the water.

Deaf to all sounds, Jesus under the water opens his eyes and see the fire burning; a holy fire that burns but does not consume; a fire that washes over him; and as he emerges out of the water inhaling that first breath of new life; he looks up and sees the heavens opening. The veil between heaven and earth is torn and that Holy Fire breaks through like a dove and lands on him. He is there breathing this new breath and a voice speaks to him, “Your are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Joy and delight fill his being. Euphoric, he feels like he can walk on water. In his joy he turns to John, about to speak when suddenly the joy and delight are replaced by dread and fear. He fells as though he is being thrown out of the waters – the waters of joy and delight. He is thrown into the wilderness. The barren wasteland that is the Galillean desert. The lushness of the riverside is taken over by the shrubs and skulls of the arid plain.

What is going on? Thrown into the wilderness after the joy of baptism, the beasts begin to meet Jesus at the crossroad. They follow him for days. He finds no food, and begins a fast of forty days. Hoping, praying, that this nightmare will end. How could this be happening he had just said yes to the Holy Fire. And the beasts follow close behind, nipping at his heels. They seemed to be handled by the Adversary – Satan himself.

The beasts would surround him day and night, testing him. Questions, doubts, fears, anger, hate, they bit at him, but could not devour. He began to question his own call, his own self-worth, his own life. He began to doubt John, doubt the Law, doubt even God. Fear ate at him, would the beasts eat him, how would he find food, when would this end. Anger at God, at John, at himself began to bear its rabid teeth. The beasts on the crossroad tested him at every turn.

He stood at a crossroad.

The beasts at the crossroad are there at every turn. We try to run and hide from them, but every where we turn we run into them. From the joy and delight we feel from the moment of baptism; from the sweet gathering of a beloved community, it all disappears as the beasts seem to be stalking us; hunting us. Their yellow eyes burning into us.

The beats are always there. Testing us.

Violence. Every time we turn on the TV or read the newspaper it is on the front page. ISIS beheading 21 Christians, killing fellow Muslims, instilling a reign of terror. It is everywhere. The beast goes for our jugular, trying to bleed us of hope. It’s claws swipe at you when family dysfunction swings it’s ugly fist. It snaps when a lover slaps you and then masks in in the disguise of, “it’s for your own good.” The beast of violence tests us, led on his hellish leash by the Satan himself, when the economy slaughterers you with non-living wages. When gangs rule the streets. When you can’t get the medical care you need when the beast takes a sweeping blow. The beasts on the cross road test us.

Discrimination raises its ugly head from its slumber of complacency lovers are denied benefits. When a child is denied healthcare because she has two moms. When the law says you can’t love the person you love.

Its sister Racism leaps from the shadows as innocents are gunned down in the streets and the response is black on black crime. When prisons are built in knowledge that some will never have the opportunity for anything other than the three hots and a cot the offer. When the color of your skin determines whether or not you get pulled over while driving in certain neighborhoods. The beasts at the crossroad are there testing us.

The beasts on the crossroad are there circling us. And as they circle, minds begin to reel. Minds begin to peel. We remember the joy of the call. The beginning of the new life. The excitement and the passion and it is being drained from us. From you. Like Jesus, you stand at a crossroad. You are surrounded by beasts. Tested. Tempted. It would be easier just to give up. To give in. To let the beasts begin their feast.

At the crossroad something begins to stir in Jesus. That fire that was there at the shore of the Jordan begins to rekindle. The discipline of the forty days begins to remind him that even as the beasts are gathering he is not alone. He has made it through these forty days and beings to see that in the doubt and in the questions, there were angels waiting on him. That in the fear and in the dread, there were angels waiting on him. That through these forty days he was never alone. “You are my son, the beloved. In you I am well pleased.” That voice gives strength to the food weary legs. And as the voice begins to echo in his head and the smoldering fire rekindles; he makes his move along the crossroad. He moves past the beasts, through the beasts, knowing they will always be there; he moves on and makes it through the wilderness and begins to pick up the mantle laid down by John. He begins to say the words that he was meant to say. The call he felt all those days ago is renewed and having been brought through the wilderness he stands at a new crossroad. And there he proclaims for the first time, “Repent, turn around and see the world with God’s eyes. Repent. For the Reign of God is near.”

The beasts at the crossroad have no power of the voice that calls him beloved. The beasts at the crossroad tremble at the very sound of that voice.The beasts at the crossroad cower and hide when they hear the voice. The voice that calls to you, “beloved.” The voice that says to you in the wilderness, on the cross you are my beloved.

There on the crossroad as the beasts keep circle in their predatory dance, you feel alone; abandoned. There on the crossroad as the beasts threaten their attack, you are afraid. There you feel as though you have lost everything; the joy and excitement of the first kiss of the divine have long gone and you are surrounded by the beasts…and then comes to you the voice. The voice you heard at that first kiss, the voice that was there when you first held your baby, the voice that was there when you made it through the grief of loosing a loved one; that voice that was there when you found a community of friends that take you in and love you for who you are…that is the voice of God crying out to you. It is the voice of God crying out, “Beloved. Though the beasts be at the crossroads, you are not alone. You don’t have to fight the fight by yourself. You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.”

Dear Friends, the voice of God is crying out this Lenten season. It is crying out, “Beloved.” As we journey these forty days, as we make our way along the crossroad of life, there will be tests. There will be temptations. There will be attacks against us by the beasts, but know this…know this – Through your time in the wilderness, you are not alone. God will not leave you alone. God will not leave you for the beasts to devour, for you are God’s beloved.

You are God’s beloved.

You are God’s beloved.

Thanks be to God!

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