2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


A Sermon: A New Beginning

Mark 1:1-8

My best friend in elementary school was Eddie Jordan. He was Joe. I was Pete. Sometimes it was Pete and "rePete." We dug to China one day. His mother wasn't thrilled when we chose the flower garden as our point of entry through the middle of the earth! We simonized his parents brown, 1950 Ford convertible another day. It was a great car. It had a pushbutton starter. We wanted to make it shine, all over. The only problem was that no one told two five year olds that the front windshield didn't need a thick application of the paste from the yellow can!

We did a lot together. We watched "Topper," regularly. Sometimes a third friend who joined us called me, "Topper," because he couldn't pronounce, "Arthur." Eddie and I went to the circus. We did "science" experiments in the basement, some of which we were convinced were breakthroughs for humankind! We rode our bikes to the Tullamore Park together. He liked the swings with the big momentum building handles. I liked the small "go'round." We both liked the teeter totter. We'd frequently examine the underneath of that blue ticket to outer space adventures to see how it got us there!

We discovered that the most important part of a teetertotter is the bar that rests underneath the middle of the board. That center placement is the point between what's up and what's down. It's the point between what's firmly on the ground and what's suspended in midair. It's the point between what was and what is to be.

Advent is that same kind of point for us...a point between what was and what is to be.

The past is safe, secure, and known. The future is uncertain, uncontrollable, and unknown. The past is, if not comfortable, at least manageable. The future's "yettobe-ness" may foster fear.

Fear stimulates the human system in very specific ways. Symptoms include a rapid pulse, pounding heartbeat, muscle tension, irritability, dry throat, nervous perspiration, and "butterflies" in the stomach. Fear brings on a desire to flee, to hide, to withdraw. Fear disturbs and disrupts.

Jesus came to bring calm and peace to a fear filled world. Jesus came to end the uncertainty. Jesus is God's profound, "yes," to humanity, God's affirmation of humanity. Jesus brings freedom from the paralysis of fear. Jesus instills courage to move on and provides a pattern for that moving on.

And that is Good News indeed!

The Advent of Jesus Christ ushers in a new time, a new day, a new beginning!

Mark introduces his Gospel by stating, simply, "The beginning of the proclamation of Jesus Messiah..." Mark's is the simplest and oldest of the Gospels. Mark jumps right in with the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Mark continues to usher in the new time by describing the wondrous events taking place around the Jordan River. "All of the people of Jerusalem were going out" to John the Baptist. His ritual cleansing revived the hope of a people conditioned to focus upon the salvation which would be brought by a Messiah. The people saw and felt the new beginning through the actions of John . It was literally a breath of fresh air in an otherwise polluted environment of separation, seclusion, and sin. John's baptism also offered a specific opportunity to make a commitment to change patterns, to change perspectives, to change lives! New ways of thinking, doing, and relating would now be possible because people were in a condition to receive the restoring Messiah!

"The beginning" was a transformation... from the old to the new, from the known to the unknown, from the limited to the unlimited, from the imprisoned to the free, from the persecuted to the accepted. This transformation ushered in "the proclamation" of the Good News, the euangelion, the coming of a mighty force bringing peace, forgiveness, love, and hope. This euangelion was a specific word of "Good News" about Jesus Messiah, Jesus Christ, who came to aid and to save. The Messiah was one, in Jewish hopes, who would appear at the end of the present age. This pivotal moment provides us with an opportunity to jump from all that which is of the past to that which is of the moment.

This is a moment of movement from the known past to the unknown future, a future in the presence and with the guidance of a Messiah, a Savior, "Lord save us, God aid us." This is the "through the eye of the needle" moment, the "through the looking glass moment, when, having passed through, we see things differently forever.

"The beginning of the Good News" created a comfortable, secure shepherding space. It gave Jesus' contemporaries permission to do what they chose, and enables us to do what we want to do, but maybe never had the courage to do. The beginning of the Good News helps us to know that there will be someone who will help us and hold us accountable, just as was the case for the people of Jesus' day.

This Advent season presents us with an opportunity...for change, for a new beginning.

We can persevere, with new strength, or we can weaken and fall back. Friends of mine who are smokers say, "It's easy to quit...I’ve done it lots of times!" A few weeks later, when the habit begins again, the glow of the lifestyle change gives way to the sad, "excuse me" confession, "It was just too hard."

When we get started on a new, proud, celebrated path in our walk of faith, we're buoyed up by our new life in the Lord. Often, when the discipline becomes less glamorous, when the shine begins to dull, when the glow begins to fade, we fall back, or even away.

Linda Ellerbee would say, "And so it goes."

From the earliest days of the church there was a constant struggle to remain strong in the faith. At the same time, there was the question of what to do with and for those whose resolve had weakened. The Roman Emperor, Decius, undertook a systematic persecution of Christians, in 250, beginning with the execution of Fabian, Bishop of Roman. Decius demanded that all citizens prove that they offered sacrifices to the Emperor. In that light, many fell from their faith. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, in North Africa, was one of those who was forced to flee during the persecution. Though he opposed an easy reconciliation for those whose faith had lapsed during the difficult days, suggesting reconciliation only after suitable penance and delay, he steered a middle course. His prevailing moderate view enabled the Church in Rome, under Pope Cornelius, to offer a means of reconciliation. By contrast, Novatian, a Roman presbyter joined a group rigorously opposed to any concessions, thus beginning a schism which lasted until the seventh century.

Lest we think that such conflict ended in 251, rest assured that it continues today. In England, in 1991, an election pitting Labour candidate Peter Kilfoyle against Lesley Mahmood, a militant movement candidate, was really an election battle between lapsed and devout Catholics.

"Peter said to [Jesus], `Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away."' (Matthew 26:33) Moments later Peter did fall away as the cock crowed. Days later Jesus gave Peter an Advent moment, an opportunity for a new beginning. Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" Peter's, "yes," to Jesus reconciled their relationship and re-commissioned him to build the body of Christ, the church.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest," Matthew 11:28).

This Advent is just such a time of rest. It is a gift to us to have a new beginning with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God has not given up on us! That's proclaimed by Jesus' coming into the world.

The coming of Jesus reclaims us. We are God's people. "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people" (1 Peter 2:10).

The coming of Jesus Christ restores us. The coming of Jesus Christ fills us with the hope of a better time, a better world, and better relationships. It holds the potential of transforming the negatives of our lives into positives.

The coming of Jesus Christ assures us, with the peace that passes all understanding, that we belong, that we are loved, that we have the chance at a new beginning with the Living Lord.

We have to choose to accept the gift of a new beginning.

Will you reach out this Advent season to make such a new beginning?

Arthur Lee McClanahan Fairfield-Grace United Methodist Church Fairfield, CT