Epiphany week.

Sermon from January 10, 2021:

“He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:7-11)

Good morning by brothers and sisters of Augsburg ELCA. Grace and peace be with you today.

Today, January 10th is the day we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. As you heard in the Gospel reading, Mark retells a familiar story to us as Jesus received his baptism from his cousin John.

This morning I had intended to talk about baptism, ritual washing turned into baptism today. Had the sermon almost done and ahead of schedule

However, Wednesday came and with it, news about what was going on in our nation’s capitol.

The Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois has spent years researching data from 1945 to 2019 for their Coup D’etat Project. They’ve looked at 943 coup events, 426 that worked, 366 that were attempted, and 181 conspiracy theories. They have classified a sort of litmus test on how to know if something was a coup:

1. There must be some person/persons who initiated it

2. The target of the coup must have meaningful control over national policy

3. There must be credible threat to leaders hold on power

4. Illegal or irregular means must be used to seize, remove, or render powerless the target of the coup

5. It must be an organized effort. (1)

There have been people much smarter than I am that agree what happened Wednesday meets all five of those criteria, while the Cline Center has yet to fully comment due to going over the data from Wednesday’s actions. (2)

Last week I spoke about how 2020 was a traumatic year for all.

This year seems to continue in that tradition. Not only because we had the same issues from last year follow us here.

I am sure I find myself this morning in the same position as fellow pastors, ministers, or ministry directors. Tossing out a perfectly good sermon because we have to address the elephant in the room.

–   A percentage of the people that marched on the capitol were Christians.

–   There will always be photos of “Jesus Saves” flags associated with this event. (3)

–   To drive it home, it happened on Epiphany. The day we celebrate the Magi coming to visit Jesus.

–   We can posture back and forth and play the true Scotsman version of whether or not these people where Christians because we don’t want to be associated with the event or them.

–   It’s a game we have played for a very long time, and we’ve all been under the magnifying glass for the past five years. And for good reason.

Considering the actions of this past week, I’d like to spend some time morning talking about a line in the Gospel of Mark. It is one we all know well, but it seems like we forget the impact of it, especially at the time the Gospel would have been written. The opening of Mark reads:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God

Jesus the son of God, is something we have been proclaiming for almost 2,000 years.

Almost ten years ago, I had the honor and privilege to become friends with a man named Don Schiewer.

–   I consider him to be one of the greatest mentors I have had, especially when it comes to reading the Bible.

–   He taught me to ask questions of the text in a way that is similar to the rabbinic tradition. Questions like:

o   What point is the author trying to get across?

o   How would the first readers of this text interoperate what is going on?

How does that apply to Mark 1:1?

–   To clarify, I’m not here to debate the Third Council of Ephesus’ (4) rulings on the divinity of Jesus.

–   What I do want to ask is, what could Mark mean by Jesus son of God? Given the context and history he was living in.

o   And how does that impact the way we say Jesus is Son of God today?

Context:

–   As I assume, we all remember, Israel was under the control of Rome at this time.

–   It was common practice for Caesar’s upon their death to reach the rank of “divus” when they died. (5)

o   This meant that they were deified, became gods.

o   Julius Caesar after his death was declared a god, and his son Augustus who was the emperor mentioned in the nativity story, adopted the title, “Son of God.”

o   He allowed temples to be built around the Roman Empire so people could worship him, which was a pretty common practice. (6)

–   So, how does this impact the way we read Mark 1:1?

A reminder:

–   Something that is easy to forget, is that when Jesus was walking around, everyone was looking for Messiah.

–   A new King David, someone to overthrow the Roman rule.

–   In the minds of Jesus was supposed to overthrow Rome.

–   To call Jesus the Son of God is a political statement against Rome.

It is easy for us to forget that Christianity was a threat to Rome, and only adopted the practice as a way to survive.

To enter fully in the way of Jesus means for us to resist empire. There is a reason why the conversation around what it looks like to be a Christian within the confines of government, specifically the United States is so divisive.

How do we resist empire when we have to live in it?

–   We accept the call of Jesus, and fight for justice wherever there is injustice.

–   We lean into what salvation looks like, not just as a spiritual idea, but how it is meant throughout our Old Testament. Something that is tangible and brings safety.

–   The church should always be a living critique of whatever nation it finds itself in.

o   For example, the government can ignore those on the margins, we, the Church cannot

What happened this past week may have had Christians present, but they were not following the way of Jesus.

–   There is a difference between fighting against injustice and fighting to please the golden calf.

–   As I said last week, the way of Jesus is to look for the lost sheep and to bring them back into the fold. Not to burn down the field and wait for the sheep to come to you.

From the safety or our couches or pews, it is easy to forget how many of the first Christians were martyred for speaking out against Rome and pointing out that Jesus, not Caesar, was and is the son of God.

My prayer for us all, as we move into this week, and the weeks to come, is that as we continue to choose the way of Jesus that we remember we are supposed to be participating in the Kindom of Heaven at hand.

That in this Kindom, we show up prepared to do the hard work of rooting out injustice. And that in doing this work, we never forget that God is present with us.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,

May the Lord make the Lords face shine upon you and be gracious to you,

And give you peace.

Amen.

Sources:

1. https://clinecenter.illinois.edu/coup-detat-project-cdp/statement_jan.8.2021

2. https://www.politifact.com/article/2021/jan/06/coup-heres-some-history-and-context-help-you-decid/ , https://www.kiro7.com/news/trending/what-is-coup-did-we-see-one-wednesday/CVDJ6HRNYVAHVG4SAA37IH3XQI/

3. https://sojo.net/articles/they-invaded-capitol-saying-jesus-my-savior-trump-my-president

4. https://www.britannica.com/event/councils-of-Ephesus

5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/roman_religion_gallery_06.shtml#:~:text=On%20his%20death%2C%20Julius%20Caesar,Julius%2C%20by%20the%20Roman%20state.&text=There%20an%20emperor%20was%20usually,sacrifice%20like%20any%20other%20gods.6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Augustus,_Pula

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