Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

YEAR B 2018 feast of st. timothy

St. Timothy, 2018
Isaiah 42:5-9
Acts 15:22-26, 30-33, 16:1-5
John 10:1-10
Psalm 112:1-9

May Almighty God, who called Timothy to lay a foundation of faith for the Church make us living stones built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

So here we are once again, celebrating our patron saint: Timothy.  It occurred to me this year that I should find out why we’re named after Timothy, since there might be something good there to work with.  I mean, we all know the city is named after the French Bishop Jean-Baptiste Massillon, right?  Apparently because Eliza Duncan enjoyed reading his sermons.  So, I thought maybe there’s some similar little nugget in the naming of our parish.  But, so far, I’ve got nothing.  Plus, as far as I can tell, the Duncans were Presbyterians, so why would they start an Episcopal Church?  Mysteries abound.

So then I started thinking, well, what do we know about St. Timothy himself?  I mean, other than that he makes a fine stained glass image over the doorway over there.   But here also, there’s not as much as we think.  The stuff about his martyrdom at the hands of some crazy revelers is what scholars call “apocryphal,” which is fancy talk for “who knows?”  Mainly what we know about St. Timothy is what was written to him, from the Apostle Paul, you know, in 1st and 2nd Timothy.  We also get a few mentions of him elsewhere, where Paul tells other people that he’s glad to have Timothy by his side.  And, of course, we also have a few times he comes up in the book of Acts, like the one we heard read just a few minutes ago.

And here’s what we know from that story:  Timothy’s mother was a devout Jew.  But Timothy’s father was a Greek, meaning Timothy would not have been circumcised as a baby, and everyone would know that, where he and Paul were headed.  Apparently, Paul was afraid that people wouldn’t listen to Timothy’s testimony if he wasn’t following the Jewish law.  Soooo . . .

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a bris, a Jewish circumcision, but Cristin and I have.  Once.  We were in seminary in New York, and one of my classmates and her husband decided to have their little baby boy circumcised by a Jewish rabbi, for who knows what reason.  I remember the Rabbi was really personable, and was wearing a Yankees cap instead of a yarmulke.  Everything was fun and celebratory until the actual moment of circumcision, at which point . . . things were definitely no longer fun and celebratory.  The baby was crying, the parents were crying, and the rest of us were reaching for the wine, thinking, “I’m never coming to one of these again.”

I tell you that story to remind you what’s involved and to give a little context for what we just heard in the book of Acts:   “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”  I will just leave that to stand on its own, since you all know what it means.  But the message is very clear:  Timothy clearly had an astonishing level of commitment to spreading the gospel, and was willing to do whatever was necessary.  He knew that people would not listen to him unless he became one of them, followers of the Law of Moses.  And so . . . he became one.

It makes me wonder, what is it in our life together that prevents people from hearing the gospel?  I don’t have any specific answer to that question, but it is worth pondering from time to time.  How can we convince people that we are the same as them—sinners in need of a savior?  Well, we could start with noticing that Timothy trusted in God to lead him to answer that question.  And there are so many things in today’s lessons that point us in that direction.

From Isaiah:  God says, “I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.”  That’s a very good start!  And the Psalm we read . . . so much in there to ponder there.  And then, of course, the gospel.  Jesus says, “I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved, and they will come in and go out and find pasture.”  Over and over in these lessons I see one message coming together, and it is this:  We do not need to be afraid, because God is leading us.

You and I are called to do what we can, in the place where we are, with the gifts we have been given.  We do not not need to be worried, even in the midst of great challenges.  We are not alone because God has taken us by the hand.  We do not need to be afraid because we have entered by the gate of Jesus, and we are saved, and will be sent out to find pasture.

And so, what about Timothy?  What else do we know about our patron saint?  Well it’s interesting to me that Timothy is known more for being written to than for writing anything himself.  There are 66 books in the Bible, and Timothy’s name is on two of them.  That’s pretty good.  And those two letters to Timothy are full of advice and guidance from Paul.  His first letter to Timothy is just sort of a letter of encouragement, a pep talk if you will, to carry on the ministry he is doing in Ephesus.

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is quite different, and suggests that Timothy has become perhaps a little despondent and discouraged, as was Paul himself, since he is writing this letter from prison, awaiting execution.  Paul hoped that Timothy would be the one to carry on his ministry, and so he’s a little more direct in the second letter, telling Timothy to be strong, hold on to good doctrine, and preach the gospel.  It is interesting to read these letters as though they are written to us, here at St. Timothy’s Church.  Because, in a very real sense, we are the ones still carrying on the mission of Paul.  Spreading the gospel through worship, hospitality, and outreach.

Paul tells us, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  While that’s probably overstating it for most of us, it’s probably kind of true for those of us who were raised in the church.  We have a long history of hearing the scripture being read and quoted.  And for those who came to Christianity later in life, the weekly readings continue to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

And together, you and I have inherited a building and a reputation here in Massillon, whether we like it or not.  Those who have gone before us were neither all good nor all bad.  They were simple messy complex beautiful people: just like you and me.  They did what they could, in the place where they lived, using the gifts they had been given:  just like you and me.

For whatever reason, they named the place after St. Timothy, and that is why we honor him on this day.  May Almighty God, who called Timothy to lay a foundation of faith for the Church make us living stones built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

YEAR B 2018 epiphany 3

Epiphany 3, 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

First off, I want to acknowledge that—taken out of context—the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians the past two weeks have been really bizarre.  I just want you to know that I also notice that, and maybe some day we’ll have some conversations about those readings.  As my Greek professor used to say, “Sometimes the problem isn’t you; sometimes the problem is Paul.”  But for today, we’ve only got so much time, so let’s move on to the movies . . .

I don’t know if you’ve seen or heard of the movie, Moneyball, so I’ll give you a brief idea of the main point of the movie.  In 2002, a young Yale grad named Peter Brand develops a new method of assessing baseball players based on their On-Base-Percentage.  It’s not all that radical, when you think about it: if a player can get on a base, there’s a chance they can score.  If a player does not get on base, they cannot possibly score.  And, though it goes without saying, I’ll go ahead and say it: the team that scores the most, wins the game.

What is radical about his approach is that it flies in the face of assessing players based on their natural talent and occasional dramatic plays.  One walk-off grand slam in a year is what coaches and fans remember, as opposed to a consistent record of reaching first base.  Or, before Brand’s method changed all the rules, anyway.  Now everyone accepts this idea that On-Base-Percentage is what matters . . . Though, of course, teams still pay ridiculous amounts for a player who sometimes has a streak of dramatic homeruns, whether or not he produces in the post season; I won’t mention any Cleveland baseball teams by name.

And, you know, deep down, we don’t want for Brand’s method to be true.  We want our teams to pick players based on drama, and showmanship, and clutch plays.  We want to see walk-off grand slams, even if it means the team never makes the playoffs.  We’d happily take three losses for one memorable game-winning homerun.  We want to see the drama, the heart-stopping come-from-behind victory.  That’s what we remember, rather than the long slow steady drip of games won by 1 or 2 runs.  Brand’s On Base Percentage may get you into the post season, sure, but who can remember any of those daily tiny wins along the way?

We have this tendency in everything, when you think about it.  We want our political candidate to win by a landslide, rather than simply getting enough votes.  We remember the story of the firefighters who dramatically rescue the family from their burning house, but keeping a fire extinguisher near your stove isn’t exactly front-page news.  We remember the big splashy meals at Thanksgiving or Anniversaries out, but it is the daily meals of pasta or grilled cheese that sustain us the other 363 days of the year.  What we remember is not the steady drip of sustenance; what we remember is the giant supposedly life-changing moments that are a flash in the pan.

So, in today’s first reading, from the book of Jonah, God sends Jonah to the city of Ninevah, “an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across.”    Jonah walks the streets proclaiming utter destruction in forty days.  Jonah, one man, walking through the city telling people to repent.  Imagine the insurmountable task here.  With no bullhorn, no twitter account, no conceivable way to tell all these people to change their ways.

But then we hear, “the people of Ninevah proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.  When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”  Hooray!!!!  Just in the nick of time!  And their story gets passed down to us because it is so dramatic, like a walk-off grand slam in the playoffs!  We love this kind of story, don’t we?  A huge city saved from the brink of disaster.  People slapping each other on the back, saying “Well THAT was a close one,” and heading off to the pub to celebrate.

We.  Love.  Drama.  I know, we all say that we prefer a steady stable world where things happen in small predictable ways, but come on.  Nobody really enjoys life-insurance actuary tables.  Not even someone who works with actuary tables . . . though I may be projecting on that one.  We need stability and predictability in order to have peace in our lives, it’s true.  But we also need a little splashy drama to keep life interesting.  All of which leads me to today’s Gospel reading, from the book of Mark.

As you may recall from a couple weeks ago, Mark’s Gospel jumps right in with Jesus’ being baptized.  No shepherds, no angels, no wisemen.  Jesus gets baptized, is pushed off into the desert, and then suddenly is walking by the Sea of Galilee calling his first disciples, as we heard in today’s reading.  We’re not even out of the first chapter yet, and Jesus has already been baptized, tempted by Satan, and called four out of 12 disciples.  In Mark’s gospel, things happen fast.  And that makes for a good story.  A dramatic story.  A walk-off grand slam kind of story.

But let’s stop for a moment to consider things from the disciples’ perspective here.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John are all fishermen.  Though we like to imagine them as entrepreneurs, out there catching fish and selling them for what the market will bear, it didn’t work that way in those days.  First off, the Emperor owned the lake, and if you wanted to get fish out of it, you had to sign a lease, which meant agreeing to give the majority of what you caught to the syndicate, who would then pass it up the chain in the form of taxes.  A fisherman in Jesus’ time was more like a peasant farmer than like a tuna-boat operator.  So, the first thing to remember is, these guys were not businessmen.

Secondly, these four have no idea who Jesus is.  You and I know the story, and we read back into it wearing our Resurrection Goggles.  But these fishermen are working along, catching fish and mending nets, and this guy walks by and says “follow me,” and they follow him.  I hate to sound cynical, but this is ridiculous!  Again, we tend to imagine the disciples carefully considering whether or not they should follow God in the flesh, and then reasonably conclude that they should give up their business and follow the Savior of the world.  But, we need to remember, they have no idea how the story ends.  They have not seen one miracle, one healing, one anything.  And yet they drop their nets and follow him.  They walk away from the predictable drudgery of their lives to follow someone they just met.  They leave their families behind and start following a stranger passing along the shore.

And.  We.  Love.  This!  We love it so much that we want to have a story like this for ourselves, and some of us do.  We love hearing the testimony of friends who have big dramatic conversions.  We want to hear stories from people who once were lost, but now are found, were blind but now they see.

But, I know, preachers use this text to make people uncertain whether their conversion to Jesus was dramatic enough.  I’ve heard them.  How can you know you are saved if you haven’t given up everything to follow Jesus?  How can you know you’re truly following Jesus if you haven’t dropped your net, forsaking your friends and family to begin a new life following Jesus?  If you don’t have a detailed The Day I Got Saved story to tell, how can you be sure?  . . . Which leads us back to baseball.

We remember the big dramatic grand slam that wins the game.  But what wins the season is the slow steady drip of getting on base, one inning at a time.  We remember the big splashy once-a-year meals by candlelight or in fancy restaurants, but what sustains us is the regular, predictable nightly meals of home-made soups and boring casseroles.  We remember the exciting stories of firefighters saving families from near-death disasters, but what keeps us safe is changing the batteries in our smoke detectors.  And, though we love to hear a story about some former drug-addict criminal who is now a missionary overseas, what keeps the gospel alive is the steady day-to-day conviction of people who believe just a little bit more than they disbelieve.

The mark of faith is not how dramatic your conversion was.  The mark of faith is the slow steady drip of one day at a time, one decision at a time, one daily choice to remember your baptism, and to know that Jesus has called you to follow him on the path that leads to life.  We are suckers for a big conversion story, sure.  But you do not need to have a big conversion of faith in order to know that you are loved.  You simply need to reach out your hands and receive the one who gives us his body and blood: the slow steady drip of bread and wine, week by week, year by year, which sustains us over the course of our lives, and which is the reassurance that you are forgiven and loved, in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Amen.
   

Sunday, January 14, 2018

YEAR B 2018 epiphany 2

Epiphany 2, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

When someone you were just talking about shows up, you might find yourself saying, “Speak of the devil,” or the full phrase, “Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.”  Apparently, this thing happens in every country and culture, because pretty much everybody has an expression for the times when this happens.  Mostly, people speak of the devil and he appears, or sometimes, speak of the devil and you shall see his tail.  Alternatively, lots of people say, speak of the wolf and he’s at the door.  And in dark Scandinavian countries, they say speak of the sun and it will shine.  (For obvious reasons.)  To the Irish the expression is, Everything comes when it's talked about, except a fox and a corpse.  But my absolute favorite comes to us from Yiddish, when someone you were just talking about shows up, they say, "We should have talked about the Messiah.”

That last one is a really clever twist.  Because it implies not only that we could have brought the Messiah at last, but also that we should have been speaking of the Messiah.  As in, if we’d been doing what we were supposed to be doing, we’d finally have salvation, instead of having this random schmo walk into the room.  And there’s a connection to that in the Gospel reading we just heard, though it requires us to sort of start at the end and work backwards.

Nathaniel asks Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?”  And Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replies, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Now, if you’re anything like me, this exchange strikes you as strange, if not downright bizarre.  So, you have to go do some reading up to make sense of it.  Well, I mean, if you’re the one preaching you do.  Here’s the in-a-nutshell version . . .

The fig tree has a long history of symbolic meaning in the Hebrew scriptures (which we won’t go into right now), and it was common in Jesus’ day to pray under fig trees, especially for rabbinical students.  In first-century Judaism, Rabbis taught that “he who prays and does not pray for the coming of the Messiah has not prayed at all.”  Soooo . . . some scholars maintain that Nathaniel was perhaps praying under the fig tree that the Messiah would come and—speak of the devil—there’s Jesus!  Nathanael replies, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  It makes total sense, doesn’t it?  Of course, it’s all just speculation, but it’s such excellent speculation that I have chosen to believe it.  So there.

Let’s go back to today’s Old Testament reading.  As we heard, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”  Meaning, it wasn’t people’s first assumption that an unknown voice calling to them would be the voice of God.  Those were the days, huh?  So Eli has to convince the young Saul that the voice is from God, and that he should wait for what God has to say to him.  And what little Saul hears is that Eli will be punished for not correcting his wayward children.  Of course, the young boy is afraid to tell Eli this news, but with some threats from the old man, he finally does.  And even though it is a word of condemnation, Eli responds, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

There are a couple connections to today’s gospel that I want to point out here.  One, is that God uses people to get the message to other people.  From one person to another.  Phillip goes to Nathaniel, just as Saul goes to Eli.  And second, in response to the bad news from Saul, Eli says, “It is the Lord.”  And, in response to seeing the good news of Jesus, Nathaniel says, “You are the son of God, the King of Israel.”  That is, both of them recognize that God is speaking to them because of other people.  Encounters with God often happen through other people, is the point I’m trying to make here.

So, now, back to the gospel reading.  I love that it starts right out with, “Jesus decided to go to Galilee.”  Like, I decided to go to the store.  And then, as we heard, Jesus found Phillip.  It’s important to note that it’s not the other way around.  Phillip, as far as we know, is not looking for Jesus, or hoping to find him.  No, Jesus decided to go to Galilee and found Phillip.  But when Phillip goes to Nathaniel he says, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  Right off the bat, Phillip seems to have forgotten who found whom, right?  Jesus finds Phillip, and Phillip says we have found Jesus.

Anyway, then we get that hilarious line from Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  It’s quite a coincidence of timing, this week, to hear someone questioning whether anything of value can come out of a place they don’t happen to respect.  But we’re all familiar with that kind of thinking, especially if we’ve seen the news lately.  Writing off entire cities, or even countries because of our own personal prejudices.  In a less dramatic way, the last Sunday in October, opposing football fans ask that kind of question about Massillon and Canton.  Can anything good come out of that other place?  It all grows out of trying try to build ourselves up by putting others down.  Human nature 101.

But Phillip does something we don’t naturally do when faced with this kind of criticism.  To be honest, I think my immediate response to his question would have been to say, “Listen, Nate.  Nazareth is a town with a lot going on.  There’s, like, a 7,000 year old funerary and cultic center with giant headstones made of out of white plaster.  And stuff.”  But Phillip does not try to defend Nazareth.  He doesn’t take the red herring bait offered up by his fig-tree friend.  But neither does Phillip offer up a reasoned defense for why this Jesus he just met is in fact the one about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.  That is, he doesn’t “evangelize,” to use our modern term.  No, instead Phillip says, “Come and see.”  That’s it:  Come and see.

On some level, a preacher’s job is simply to say to you all, “We have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth.  And—get this—he will meet you in the bread and wine at this Altar, because that’s where he promised to be.”  And then you might find yourself thinking, “Really.  Can anything good come out of a box of wafers and a bottle of port wine?”  And I could choose to explain to you that wafers of very good quality come out of boxes, and that the port wine is from a monastery in California.  Or, I could offer you a detailed explanation of the theological rationale starting with Aristotle through Thomas Aquinas and the Anglican Reformers and the British Tractarians and the framers of the 1979 Prayer Book explaining to you why I believe Jesus is truly present in the place he has promised to be.

Or, best of all, I could follow Phillip’s lead and simply say to you, “Come and see.”

Come and see that God welcomes you to this meal, God restores you to wholeness, and God sends you out into the world to say to everyone you meet, “We have found Jesus!  Come and see.”

Amen.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

YEAR B 2018 the baptism of our lord

The Baptism of Our Lord, 2018
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If I were to say to you, “This morning I am going to deliver a homily on the topic of Mark’s use of the Cosmic Inclusio as a means of maintaining listeners’ attention . . .”  you would all be reaching for something to draw with.  The careful language of research papers is a surefire way to lose people’s attention.  And, beyond that, if you do understand that kind of talk, it gives away the point in the title, so you lose people before you even begin.  If the story of Cinderella were actually called, “The unwanted child who was granted access to the ball, only to leave behind a slipper, which the prince used as a way to find her so that they both lived happily ever after,” well . . . You don’t really need to hear the story now, do you?

A good storyteller knows that the way to get people to keep listening is to drop a large elephant in the room at the start, and then ignore it until the end.  That way, people keep listening to every word, thinking, “I hope he finally gets around to explaining why there’s a large elephant in the room.”  Riddles work this way.  As do some jokes.  You start off with something unusual, or surprising, and then people will listen until you give them the answer.  If I ask, “What’s red and smells like blue paint,” and you don’t know the answer, you’re going to stick around until I tell you.  It’s just the way we are wired.

So, as I’ve been telling you lately, this year we are in the gospel of Mark.  And that means most readings--or, I guess about half of the readings--will come from Mark’s gospel.  There are some very unusual things about Mark’s version of Jesus’ life.  And I don’t want to give away any clues that will spoil the anticipation, but I want to tell you a few things about this book . . .

Most importantly, for today’s reading, you need to know that Mark was spoken by people long before it was ever written down.  This entire book was a story, told to listeners.  Sort of like a one-person play.  Though we don’t know the specifics of that, I always imagine someone standing on a corner in a bustling market and dramatically telling the story to people standing around listening.  As people come by, they need to be drawn into the story.  They need to think to themselves, “I hope he finally gets around to explaining why there’s a large elephant in the room.”

And as another technique, the word that gets translated as “immediately” comes up 41 times in Mark.  Which is kind of like saying, “All of a sudden . . .”   Somebody walking by might hear that and stop . . . Go on . . . All of a sudden, what?!?  If you think of Mark’s gospel as a story, it helps us understand the urgency of the whole thing, combined with the little phrases to catch your attention.  Right off the bat in today’s reading we hear that bizarre description of John the Baptizer.  Clothed in camel hair?  Combined with a leather belt?  Where does this guy shop for clothes?  Eating locusts and honey?  That would get your attention, right?  Walking by you’d say, “tell me more about this elephant in the room named John!”

And now the speaker has the people’s attention, and it’s time to lay out the Cosmic Inclusio!  Okay, okay, I’ll tell you what that fancy phrase means.  Eventually.  In the gospel of Mark, there’s this Greek word, schitzo that only appears twice.  You can kind of tell what this word means by our related words, “schism,” and “schizophrenic.”  It means, to split something.  But it means to split something violently, with great force.  So, in our translation it becomes “torn apart,” and in the King James it is “rent.”  So this word comes up just twice in Mark’s gospel, and the first time is right here, at the baptism of Jesus.

Jesus comes up out of the water, and the heavens are torn apart.  (The narrator has dropped an elephant into the room, and will now ignore it until the very end of the story.)  The word comes up twice, and it’s an image that gets your attention!  The heavens being torn apart?  You expect the next sentence to be, “and fire rained down upon the people,” or “and then all the oxygen was sucked up into the outer atmosphere.”  The heavens are torn apart, we’re thinking, “something huge is about to happen!”  And something does . . .

The Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove.  And a voice comes from heaven saying to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  This is dramatic, for sure.  Heavens torn apart, Spirit descending, voice from heaven speaking . . . Okay, you got us narrator of Mark’s gospel standing on a soapbox in the market square.  Then what?  Well, immediately, Jesus is driven into the desert, but that’s another story, for another week.  But we’re listening, aren’t we?  We want to know what happens next.  This is a very big opening to the story, for sure.  We want to know what happens next.  And we want to know what happens to John the Baptizer.  And we want to know when that schitzo word is going to come up again.

Ah, not yet.  We have to let these elephants sit in the room.  First we need to look at why this event is so important.  Why all the drama at the moment Jesus comes up out of the water?  I mean, this story doesn’t start with “One slow day, yet another guy saw the heavens open and the Spirit come down . . . “  The main drama of this story for the people hearing it would be how crazy it all sounds.  And by that I mean beyond all the bells and whistles of the schitzo and the dove and the voice . . . It’s crazy because the “barrier” between heaven and earth has been shattered.  Suddenly, the separation between God and people has been broken apart.  Suddenly God is close.  Scary close.  And that doesn’t feel comforting, when you consider it.  God is breaking through into the world in this moment, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is a first.  A Very Big First.

Here we have God in all three Persons.  Here we have the Trinity.  Here we have a completely new revelation of God, and it happens at the Baptism of Jesus.  God is breaking into our world in a completely new way, and it is through baptism.  Everything is different from this point, because God is present as Father, Son, and Spirit at the baptism of Jesus.  More importantly, in the person of Jesus, God walks among us.  God has broken through, you see.  The heavens are torn apart, and God has entered into our world in a whole new way!

And then, if you look for it, all through the gospel of Mark, you can see echoes of this “breaking through.”  Seeds breaking through the ground, ears being open to listening, eyes open to seeing, hearts receptive to Jesus, friends being lowered through the broken-open roof to be healed.  Immediately, things break through, are torn apart, and God enters creation.  Which leaves us with one big question . . . Where’s the other schitzo, right?

Back to the scene in the market . . . You’ve heard the opening of Mark’s gospel, when the heavens are torn apart.  And you’re standing there listening to the speaker telling all these amazing stories about this man named Jesus, and it all leads up to his arrest and crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.  And, as he is hanging on the cross, at the moment of death, we hear that Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  Schitzo.  The curtain of the temple was schitzo, torn in two, from top to bottom.  That’s the cosmic inclusio.  The story ends by reminding you of how it began . . .

At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens are torn apart; at Jesus’ death, the temple curtain is torn apart.  This is what the theologians call, Mark’s Cosmic Inclusio.  And the thing is, those listening to this story would know that the massive piece of fabric in the temple is what separates God from those who come to worship.  No one was allowed behind this curtain, because it blocked the Holy of Holies.  The place where God was thought to dwell.  Jesus leaves the water of baptism and the heavens are torn apart.  Jesus leaves his earthly life, and the temple curtain is torn apart.

What does it mean?  Well, it could mean a lot of things, and it does.  But what it means for you is this:  the things that separate you from God are torn apart because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  There is now nothing that can separate you from God.  At your own baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God was present just as God was present at the baptism of Jesus.  The heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends, and God claims you as a beloved child, in whom God is well pleased.  And, today, when you come forward to receive the sacrament, I ask you to remember that nothing separates you from the love of God.  Nothing prevents you from receiving this blessed gift, because the heavens have been torn apart . . . for you.  End of story.

Amen