2019 Lent Day 2: Mark 1:16-28

Mark 1:16-28

Calling

Jesus begins his ministry in Mark’s gospel with a focus on people. He sees them and calls them. Much has been made by many others, and rightly so, about the turn Jesus exhibits here. Only the most scholastic or the most connected would have had even the opportunity to follow a rabbi in Jewish culture. They would have sought one out, and asked to follow him. Other rabbinical literature of the time suggests that a rabbi should deny a potential disciple at least three times.

Instead Jesus finds them. He calls them. Fishermen. Just the kind of people I was looking for, says Jesus. They already know how to fish. The same offer, it seems, is to you. You’re already the kind of person he’s after for his kingdom.

A Secret

Jesus immediately is confronted by an evil demon. On the Sabbath. In a synagogue. The demon recognizes who Jesus is, right away, but Jesus tells him to hush up. This introduces the theme of what many scholars have called “the Markan secret.” I’ll reference it throughout. It serves an important purpose, but we’ll get to that. It’s worth noting, though, that while Jesus tells the demon to be quiet and casts him out (on the Sabbath), news spreads anyway. It’s hard to keep such news quiet.

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2019 Lent Day 1: Mark 1:1-15

Mark 1:1-15

Every good story, including each of the Gospels, begins with some sort of call to action. Things don’t start with the actual ministry of Jesus, though that is their primary focus, but start with some other action. For Matthew it’s the birth of Jesus and so the action is on his parents. For Luke, it’s the birth of John the Baptizer. For John it’s the creation of the world and conflict between light and dark. Mark begins with the action. The actions of John the Baptizer and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

John the Baptizer knows his role as one making preparation, not establishing the kingdom. His reference is to the book of Isaiah, where the prophet gives a message of hope for a future he will never see. They are to prepare a way in the dessert for a return to their homeland for exile. The Gospel of Mark, then, accepts that, though the people of Israel are living in their geographic home, they are still living in exile. Rome is in charge and they are non-citizen subjects. Herod is a farce of a king. In general the people have little hope. And yet, John cries out to prepare for a change. God is not alien to you, but is coming to redeem you again, to bring you back to his self.

Then, he arrives. He is baptized in the river and we see Father, Son, and Spirit all at once as Jesus comes out of the water. Change is starting. Things will never be the same. “The time has come” declares John. “The Kingdom of God is near.” That is certainly good news.

Is it right to be so focused, or do we risk losing something?

This post is about the Louie Giglio drama (and no I don’t mean Louie Giglio has come up with a play). I am not offering a political opinion (though I have some links in the post to some diametrically opposed ones). If you are unaware of the situation this is the gist of it:

Louie Giglio was invited to give the prayer at the inauguration of Barack Obama in his second term. The selection of an evangelical does not only follow the precedent of his first selection (of Rick Warren) four years ago, but was also a recognition of Giglio’s work against human trafficking.

“Think Progress” a more than left of center political group found a 20 year old sermon of his where he talks about the conflict of values between Christianity and “some” homosexuals. They¬† also mention that Giglio praised reparative therapy, a controversial treatment program where the goal is to remove homosexual desires, often attributing their cause to psychological trauma or (in rare instances) sin in the persons life.

As might be expected, there were protests regarding the invitation to Giglio.

Last week, Giglio withdrew his acceptance of the invitation to pray, suggesting the president pick someone else. His invitation was not revoked (though some media initially reported it that way), but the start came from Giglio

So that leads us to today.

In a post to the blog of his Church, Giglio reproduced the letter he sent the president and explained that he has now declined the invitation because the focus of the prayer would no longer be on God, on the prayer, or on his work against human trafficking, but on his position on gay marriage, something he decided not to make a big part of his ministry because, it seems, he thought there were other things of at least equal (if not greater) importance that needed to be addressed, and the gay marriage issue would have been too large a distraction from the rest of that. You can read that blog post here.

Yet despite his best efforts to steer clear of what amounts to a divisive political debate (at least in the way both sides are discussing it), the entire situation, and Giglio somewhat personally, has been used as political fodder to advance the political standing of both sides.

From the more liberal end, there is Think Progress and Americablog Gay (a Gay rights blog), both of whom are claiming a victory and that Giglio was actually ousted (though Think Progress changed their language when it became clear Giglio had actually withdrawn).

On the more politically conservative end, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, and President of Southern Baptist Seminary Al Mohler both also claim he was forceably ousted by the current President (though, again, Al Mohler changed his language when it became clear Giglio had withdrawn).

The focus on both sides, it seems, is not really Giglio, certainly not his work against human trafficking or the gospel, and not even, it seems, really with the issue of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. The focus, it seems, is purely political. The focus is on the current administration, either as a “yay he’s for our side!” or a “do you see the kind of bozo we’ve elected?” kind of way.

For an interesting perspective, perhaps take a look at Rachel Held Evans’s Blog. I don’t agree with her on everything (generally or on that post specifically), but she does make some good points that might be worth considering.

I, for one, have always highly respected Louie Giglio, from when I was just in seventh grade and heard some of his sermons on cassette tape. And I think I still do. But, at this point, we have to ask the question: at what point does our focus become too narrow? Giglio said the reason he withdrew, and the reason he hasn’t made any definitive statements on the issue recently, is because he wants to focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and on ending human trafficking (clearly admirable goals). What I’d like to ask you is, was Giglio’s focus too narrow?

I mean on the one hand there is Paul, the Apostle, who is narrowly focused on the gospel. So much so, it seems, that while in Philemon he seems aching to say that slavery is wrong and that slaves should be our brothers and sisters and treated as equals, Paul refrains from going that far or being that clear, because it’s a battle he knew he couldn’t win at that point in history and he didn’t think he could afford the distraction. Countless workers for the gospel have taken this tact (and who, because of that, are largely nameless). The most recent of whom we might know is Billy Graham who, until very recently, withdrew from all politics and refused to make political statements lest they interfere with the Gospel.

On the other hand, though, there is Jesus Christ himself, who not only came to speak about this life saving kingdom, but enact it practically, seeming to have no bounds to his focus, the poor, the sick, women, Samaritans, Gentiles, and on and on. But was he different (i.e. the Christ, God incarnate, coming to transform the world) and so it doesn’t apply to us?

In between the two extremes (of one thing and everything) there are others in history, like William Wilberforce fighting to end the British Slave Trade, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Southern Baptist Pastor who sought to end segregation, and many others.

What is the right balance, then? Is Giglio’s focus too narrow (he should address other issues, like homosexuality)? Not narrow enough (he should only focus on the salvation of the gospel and not spend quite as much time fighting human trafficking, as terrible as that is, because of how important the gospel is)? Or is it right? Or is it something else? Add your thoughts below.