Beginnings                                                 Mark 1:1, 16-20                                      June 10, 2018 First Presbyterian, DeLand, Fl.                                                                          Dr. Radford Rader I know that school has just barely ended and some here today are in a summer black out mode for all things educational.  Still I need to offer a couple of things I learned in school which are important for what I want to speak about today.  Very early we were taught that the beginning of every paragraph or essay should have a sentence that summarize our main idea.  They called it the “topic sentence”.  In creative writing and public speaking, we were taught to capture the attention of the reader or listener quickly or risk losing them altogether.  In both matters, Mark is an excellent writer.  He starts out: “Beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Christ or Messiah, the Son of God.”  It is the summary and title for all that he will write.  Immediately, he hooks his first audience and many of us also with the hope of good news.  Here is something we will want to hear.  Here is something which is good for us.  From the beginning, he declares Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the anointed one whom God had promised, Israel’s long looked for hope and God’s Son over against Caesar who claims to be. Mark suggests everything is about to change.  The old is past; behold, the new has come.   We are familiar with his beginning. He quotes the scriptures about the promised Messenger who will come preparing the way for the Lord.  He shows us John, in the wilderness, dressed just like Elijah, who would, as the prophets promised, come again as the forerunner of the Messiah.  John preaches repentance and baptism, a new beginning which prepares the people for the Messiah.   Then, this Jesus appears seeking baptism from John.  We are privy to what only Jesus experienced in his baptism: God’s Holy Spirit descending upon him, filling him, and this divine blessing, “You are my beloved Son with you I am well pleased.”  It is a blessing to be experienced by all who are baptized, all who enter this new beginning.  “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.”   Immediately, Jesus is driven into the wilderness, the place of desolation and testing, the place of the devil and wild beasts but also the place of angels, growth and discovery.  He is there 40 days, patterned upon Israel’s 40 years between escape from Egypt and entrance into the promised land.  In this testing time, Jesus confirms his relationship with the Father, comes to clarity about his identity and prepares for his ministry.  He discovers his true self –  in God and in life, which is the best result from anyone’s wilderness time when one’s mettle and faith are tested.   As soon as John is arrested, Jesus begins his ministry. The old is past; the new has come.  However, the message is essentially the same, repent and believe in the good news.  The good news is the opportunity to turn around, start afresh, give up old ways and begin anew.  No longer live shackled by sin and bound by guilt and shame.  No longer be driven by your demons or despairing in your brokenness.  Believe the good news of Jesus.  Believe in acceptance and love – in grace and goodness and forgiveness – begin a new life -- be born anew.   Most scholars declare that Mark’s introduction is now over, yet the beginnings are not.  In the next verse we read,   And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me and I will make your fishers of men.”  And Immediately, they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little way, he saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were in their boat, mending their nets.  And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.   This is where the good news becomes personal.  Up until now Mark sets the stage and states what he knows is the truth, but the gospel becomes real when Jesus meets us and invites us to come and follow him.  It can be at work, or within the family, or at church, or anywhere along our life’s way, but sooner or later Jesus comes, makes himself know as the Christ, the savior, the son of God.  The promise of grace and goodness and forgiveness stands before each of us and every one of us faces a crossroads.  Will you believe and accept what is offered?  Will you let go of guilt and shame and let God’s Spirit do its healing and empowering?  Will you let your identity as beloved children of God become clear?   Will you begin a relationship with God through Jesus the Christ, believing and trusting in him?  It is a simple response: “Yes.  I will follow you.  I will be your disciple.  I will learn from you, Jesus. I will walk with you and put my feet in the very place where you have just stepped.  When the going gets tough, I will cling to you. When I fail, I will turn again to you.  When I am blind, I will ask you to give me sight.  When I am weak, I will trust in your strength.  When I have accomplished great things, I will remember to give you all the glory.   We know about beginnings.  Our lives are full of them: the first day of school, getting a driver’s license, leaving home, starting a new job, moving to a new city, entering marriage, having a child, retiring.  Most beginnings are filled with joy and hope.  We are excited and filled with anticipation.  Yet we are also frightened, frightened of the unknown.   Are we doing the right thing?  What will happen to us?  Will this be as good as we hope or become a bad dream?  Saying “Yes” to Christ is like all other beginnings – both exciting and frightening, filled with joy and hope and the unknown.  It will not be easy.  Jesus does not promise an easy life but abundant life.  He said he came that we might have joy and our joy may be full.  And he promises no matter what, we will never be alone, even in the worst moments, even in death.   Beginnings are necessary.  If we never begin, we never experience what lies ahead.  We can’t succeed unless we start.  We can’t grow unless we engage.  We can never complete anything without first beginning.   Beginnings are not the end.  They are the start of something: the start of a journey, a future, a kingdom, a relationship, a faith.   Mark has many beginnings but no ending. Originally, the gospel stops, abruptly, in mid-sentence at chapter 16:8.  The women are at the tomb seeking Jesus, who was crucified.  Angels tell them “He is risen; He is not here. Go and tell his disciples that he is going before them to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”  I have come to believe that Mark’s, “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is not meant to cover just the introduction of Jesus and his ministry but all that he writes, from the first word to the last.  For him, the gospel does not end when Jesus is crucified and risen but it is just the beginning of the gospel of which we are a part of when we follow Jesus into Galilee or Deland, or whatever mission where we share him and his good news. The gospel was never just a book about Jesus.  It was the beginning of the good news that we are to show and share with our lives.   Two questions, we must answer and act upon:
  • Have you had a gospel beginning? Have you said, “Yes, Lord”
  • Are you living the gospel today? Are you sharing the good news in your faith, your character, your actions and through your service and ministry?