Summary: The topic, prelude, context, and focus of Mark’s story about Jesus.
(Note: This sermon was introduced with scenes 1 and 2 of "Traveling Light," a full length play based on the Gospel of Mark from Lillenas).
When you start something new, it’s always good to start at the beginning. Have you ever gone someplace and felt like you walked in on the middle of something you didn’t quite understand?
My first Narcotics Anonymous meeting back in 1982 was like that. It meet in the fellowship hall of a church in Pomona. The cigarette smoke was so thick you could hardly see from one side of the room to the other. I remember looking at the crowd and feeling a little scared…it was a rough bunch. The meeting started with group members reading the Narcotics Anonymous 12 steps and 12 traditions. Then they had people attending for the first time or in their first 30 days of sobriety introduce themselves, so of course I had to introduce myself. Then they gave out plastic chips to people celebrating various lengths of continuous sobriety: thirty days, sixty days, ninety days, six months. I noticed was also a definite format to the sharing, as each person started by identifying himself or herself by their first name, and then adding, "I’m an addict" or "I’m an alcoholic." Afterwards they all held hands and closed by reciting the Lord’s prayer.As I attended first meeting back in 1982 I remember wishing someone had given me a cheat sheet explaining all the things that they did and said. I felt like an outsider because I didn’t know why they were doing what they were doing. But after I got clean and sober and went to meetings regularly, I learned a lot more about the 12 step movement. I heard AA and NA members tell stories about Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. I discovered how other 12 step groups like Narcotics Anonymous all sprang from the original work of Bill W. and Dr. Bob. Then I purchased the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous and was able to about the roots of the 12 step movement and AA.
Now why am I talking about this right now as we launch a new sermon series through the gospel of Mark? Well when new people visit a church for the first time they often feel the same way I felt in my first NA meeting. People who join us for at a weekend service for the first time often wonder why we do the things we do. Why do we take communion, like we did today? Why do some people raise their hands while they’re singing? Why do our pastors teach out of the Bible? Why do people spontaneously stand during the worship times sometimes? Why do we say "Amen" at the end of a prayer? Why do we use the Jewish scriptures as our Old Testament if we’re not Jewish? These are just a few examples of the questions new people have when they visit our church for the first time.
Now fortunately, anyone who’s motivated to investigate these issues by reading the Bible can find answers to these questions. But imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have the Bible. That what it was like for the early Christians.
Think back with me: Jesus launched the Christian movement about 33 AD, almost 2,000 years ago. But the last book of the Bible wasn’t completed until about 80 or 90 AD, which is fifty or sixty years later. So for that fifty or sixty years, people came to church to without a complete Bible to read. They had to rely on sermons, classes, and stories told by church members to learn about Jesus.
This is where the New Testament’s gospel of Mark comes in. When the early church was about 30 years old--just about as old as our church is--the early church noticed that lots of new people were coming to church who hadn’t been alive to see Jesus firsthand. These people felt a bit like I felt going to my first NA meeting, a bit like new people today feel visiting church for the first time. They wondered about why they did the things they did.
This is why Mark his story, to chronicle the origin of the Christian faith. Most Bible scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was the first of the four biographies of Jesus to be written. It was probably written somewhere around 60 AD, which puts Mark’s book about thirty years after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Mark was not an eyewitness to Jesus, so he writes himself as a second generation Christian. However, several very ancient and reliable traditions tell us that Mark based his story on the recollections of the apostle Peter. You see, Mark was Peter’s personal assistant, so he was familiar with the sermons and stories Peter told. And Peter was an eyewitness to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.