I woke up to head out for my morning run. It was brisk, a bit cloudy. Completely dark. The breeze kept things moving. It all felt straightforward at first, but it was hard to see through the misty darkness. Usually I enjoy running in a light drizzle, my joints complain less. My brain still whines though. “Wahhhh!” By the end of the first mile I was damp, still waiting for the sleep to fall from my eyes. Just starting to wake up.
The Gospel of Mark gives us the briefest introduction to Jesus. “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” So. So we know Jesus exists, we know Jesus was baptized, we know John the Baptist did the baptizing. The writer or writers of the book of Mark do not seem to be concerned with backstory, but they LOVE to lay out the events in this narrative. Let’s look together for something else to chew on here, a little deeper.
In 2004 I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia to the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The AT is the longest continuously marked footpath in the world – every few hundred feet or so, the trail is marked on a tree or a rock or a fence post by an iconic, white, rectangular blaze.
Another unique characteristic of the AT is that these white blazes lead you up and over the top of every single hill and mountain that gets in your way along the entire 2,200 mile route. If you add up all the uphill climbs on the trail, it comes to 89 miles of total elevation gain. On the AT you’re always taking the high road – it’s a part of the challenge, the beauty, and the charm of the journey. If the Appalachian Trail was a 2,000-mile-long flat walk, you’d have never heard of it and I’d have never hiked it.
You know that moment when you’ve just met somebody at a party – and you exchange names and maybe shake hands. And then you talk for a little while and there’s some rapport – possibly even a little flirting. You walk away for some punch and then suddenly at the bowl you realize that you don’t remember their name.
It feels like a little bit of panic mingling with disappointment. You know that for the rest of the party if you want to strike up another chat and ask this person if they like Game of Thrones, or how they know the host, or if they want to share a cab home, or whatever, you’re gonna need to know their name. “Hey you, you... yeah you...” isn’t gonna cut it.
Just six letters on average, an average of two syllables, one little name has slipped away from you and the distance between you and your new friend begins to yawn. A name is a way in.And when you lose it you can get left behind, stuck at the edges of the party all by yourself.
There’s a New Yorker cartoon that sticks with me that shows a man – who frankly looks almost exactly like I do right now – holding a sign. And the sign reads, “The End Is Nigh!” And there’s this second man looking up at the sign asking, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
There’s something about this cartoon that seems particularly relevant to our circumstances of late. For instance, I think most of us here long for this particular political moment to be over. We don’t like our president, we’re disappointed by Congress, we’re disgruntled with our own parties and affiliations and we’re looking forward to the end – it can’t come soon enough!
And then, as happened to folks in Hawaii a week ago when they got a false alarm about an incoming ballistic missile strike, we remember just how bad the end can be! Right? The end of the Trump presidency could end with dancing in the streets or it could end with a cold can of baked beans in a fallout shelter.
I can see perhaps a question sparkling in some of your eyes. “How long a walk do you suppose it will be, Pastor Jeff, through this interim period? Because, boy, let me tell you, we’re about right up to here with transition – we’ve gone in less than two years from one building to another, and from two beloved pastors, down to one, and down from one beloved pastor to – no offense but – you. And we just don’t know if we can do any more change. And some of us are thinking maybe we just skip this little journey and come back ‘round once the – no offense – real pastor gets hired.” Was anybody thinking that? I’m not gonna be mad! I hear you! I hear you.
You know, it’s about 18 miles from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to the closest spot on the Jordan River traditionally considered to be the site where John baptized Jesus. That’s 18 miles if you’re going straight, and you good people know, the path from where we are to where we’re going is hardly ever straight! Right?