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  • Pastor Gary

Judge This Book By Its Cover

Now available at many bookstores on-line, fake book jackets. Covers for your books so that people don’t really know what you are reading. For example, if the Bible Study here at church wanted to read something sweetly salacious, we could simply buy a cover saying The Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas or something noble. You may be on the bus or the PATH and you want people to leave you alone and give you some space while you read a Harlequin romance -then try out a cover for Serial Killing for Dummies.

You can’t always judge a book by its cover. Sometimes you can’t judge a cover by its book. Today we start a new book that we will be reading for a year, The Book of Mark. Mark is different. Go ahead and judge this book by both.

Understanding this Gospel and the text we have for today begins in the first line. It says: The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Son of God. Literally the sentence reads this way: Beginning Good News Jesus – Son of God. What the translators have done is polish it up through the years. Beginning Good News Jesus- Son of God.

You may notice there is no verb in that sentence- which of course means it’s not a sentence. It is a headline – a banner – the title.

In no uncertain terms Mark plasters it across the front for all the world to see – Pay attention – here is some good news- some very good news Jesus- son of God.

The word Gospel – means Good News- in ancient context the exclamation or header, Good News. was a cry that a battle had been won. It was always used in the context of war.

In one word Mark announces that there is no war between God and Humanity- God has won – and that victory is Jesus.

The next part of the title page reads: Son of God. Now Son of God may sound like a fairly safe thing to say- It was not because there was another Son of God – Caesar – Official title: Caesar Son of God- So this rather calm title is anything but calm.

On his cover Mark sticks a finger in The Roman Empire’s Eye – This is the Son of God he says –not Caesar- This title tells us that this story is a different story, a different kind of good news and it is one that is antithetical to the power and might and violence of Rome. This is a Jacket cover that can get one killed – simply by reading the book.

This is a radicle cover, a dangerous title, one that challenges the status quo and intimidates the powers of the world.

Right away we know that this is going to be a different story than the one told in the past- a more perfect recitation of salvation history, a different understanding of how God works in the world.

This is the title, abstract and lens by which we read each Gospel passage over the next year- remember that when you read Mark. The war is over as Isaiah likes to say. God has won and this is the story of how that works out.

Apply that to today’s reading and the intent of the passage is clear: to bring hope to desperate people and to focus expectations on the revelation of God in the here and now.

Standing on its own, today’s passage does not look that way. But with the cleft (sic?) notes and title up front it is a different story. What a way to begin a new church year and a new book of the Gospel. With the Sun faltering, the moon failing, and the stars falling, It gets your attention. Those who assigned the lectionary texts for today seem to have been following the advice of movie director Cecil B. De Mille: “Start with an earthquake, then build to a climax.”

Appropriate to this choice, we are going through some dark times. There are some, if not many signs of hope, the election is over, and vaccines are close at hand. But we must be honest. It seems that at least some 60,000,000 of us don’t think there is racial injustice, that lying is ok for leadership, that God’s hand is not revealed in science, and that the responsibility to take care of the garden the call we planet earth is an option and not a commandment. I suspect these deep character flows are not why most of these voters supported him. After all, honest people expect others to be honest. So it us according to Mark to engage these dark times, and understand what it is that drives some of our brothers and sisters to ignore the injustice that is so real and in a word, evil, to the rest of us. Jesus does not tell the disciples to hide from the dark times but this text is given to engage the dark times. It is not given as a warning but as a n opportunity to be awake in the world.

Advent is a time for hope. And Advent is a time for telling the truth—about our weariness and our anxieties and divisions and our responsibility to be agents for peace. It is a time for telling about God’s relentless love for all the world. Today’s gospel pulls back the curtain on false hopes and realities in order to reveal God’s commitment to enter into and redeem our lives and world.[1] Mark’s Jesus wants to reassure his disciples that despite the difficulty of their current circumstances, justice is coming. The disciples’ job is to be vigilant, to be on watch for God, even when they feel helpless. Because God remains at work in the world. Because God is on the loose in the world![2]

In these advent days, let us remember that the power of God is already loose in the world—in the midst of pandemics, in the struggle for racial justice, and in the already and not yet of the divine drama in our lives. The power of God is loose in the here and now, and our task is to place our hope in that place. To keep watch-to be present. To pay attention to the places God is being born into our world.[3]

As we read Mark’s book we will hear how God’s son heals, offers hope and acceptance gives refuge to the weary and calls us to engage the wounded world. And even more so, we will hear about our calling to be a part of this with eyes open, truth telling and the hope that only the assurance of victory can give.

Now, I don’t want to give away how the book ends but I can’t help myself. It ends with the sun faltering and the temple curtain being torn just as the sun fails and heavens are torn in this prophecy. The curtain, the symbolic entrance to the mysteries of the universe, the course of the heavens.

This is the climax and resolution of Mark’s book. Our Lord’s words today are demonstrated in the scene on Golgotha, the place of the skull, where state sponsored violence takes the life of an intenerate rabbi because he told the truth. In this book it is the event that changes all of history and our understanding of God. And it is so much more than the end of a book. It is the end of the old way of thinking and seeing

The darkening of the sun, the dimming of the moon's light, and the stars falling from heaven means the end of the world as we have known it. That death will be no more because God will die is something to anticipate during Advent, that racism and classism are not the winning religion and that truth conquers.

So go ahead – Judge this Book by its Cover.

[1] Loose, David. In the Meantime. Accessed November 27, 2020 [2] Crump, Courtney Allen “Keeping Watch for God” [3] Ibid.

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