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World, Interrupted -- Mark 1:1-11 (Epiphany & Baptism of the Lord Sunday)

The Benedictines have a saying for the start of each new day: “Always we begin again.” I’ve shared that before. It’s lovely and true. Always we begin again. It offers a daily, or a yearly re-set.

This week, I stumbled onto a corollary to that. Yes, always we begin again – AND then I heard this: “Every new beginning is always in the middle of what has already happened.”[1] As we begin a new year – it is indeed a fresh start – and that fresh start comes in the middle of things – it flows out of what has come before.


Every new beginning enters into a world already in progress.


The Gospel of Mark begins like that. It jumps right in.[2] There’s no wind-up.

The Gospel of Matthew starts off with the genealogy of Jesus, and then includes a little bit about Jesus’ birth.


Luke starts with an explanation – here’s why I am writing all this down – and then there are the stories of Jesus’ birth we know so well – Mary’s Magnificat, shepherds, and angels.. all that.


And John goes cosmic – with that swirling “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Not so with the Gospel of Mark. It dives right in: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God...” And then, the Gospel takes off – one thing after another – it doesn’t let up.

Since we’ll be spending a good bit of time this year in the Gospel of Mark, we should probably say something about its pace – its tempo.

The daughter of one of my friends – when she was about 11 or 12 – she used to tell a story like this. You’d ask her how her day went, and she’d say: “Well, I woke up this morning,

·      and then, I had oatmeal for breakfast,

·      and then, Mom drove me to school,

·      and then, I saw my best friend Sally,

·      and then, Sally told me what Susy said,

·      and then, our teacher Mrs. Riley told us to stop talking because it was time for math class,

·      and then...

As she told the story – every bit of it was significant;

every moment filled with meaning;

every moment charging right into the next.


The Gospel of Mark is like that. It’s even clearer in the Greek. There’s this Greek word Mark uses a good bit – egeneto. We don’t have a precise equivalent in English – in the King James it gets translated “And it came to pass,” but it’s more like “and then it happened... and then it happened... and then it happened.”[3] The story doesn’t let up. We might call Mark the breathless gospel. It jumps right in – into the middle of things – and it doesn’t relent.


With our Scripture this morning, the Gospel of Mark enters into a world already in progress, and it is, as we’ve said, a particular world.[4] The world of the gospel is a world of layered power-over. It’s an imperial world: There’s Empire, and a puppet King Herod, and corrupt local officials, and co-opted religious authorities. Layers of power-over – each seeking to extract all they can from the people.

Theirs is a violent world. The Hebrew Scriptures recount the violence of clashing empires. In the New Testament, it’s the violence of an Empire maintaining its grip on power. The so-called “peace” of the Pax Romana isn’t really peace at all. It’s the empire using violence to keep everyone in their place... and quiet.

And in the midst of all that: The institutions on which they have relied for help – especially the Temple – the institutions that have defined them as a people – their institutions are crumbling and in peril. Depending on when we think this Gospel was written, their Temple has either just been destroyed by the Empire, or it is about to be.

In so many ways, theirs is a world that needs interrupting.


Now often the world of the Bible can feel strange to us. But what I just described might not feel entirely foreign – at least the dynamics of power-over – particularly as we read this Gospel in our world that in so many ways needs interrupting.


Ours is a world of layered, interconnected power-over. We know and name regularly the systems of oppression that work to harm and hurt – persistent systems of American racism; unjust economic systems driven by exploitation and extraction; all the systems that harm many for the benefit of the few.

We know the violence of our world – the violence of those systems I just named – of white supremacy – of American gun culture. We know the violence of empire at work to increase and maintain power – war in Ukraine – as the Cold War powers slug it out yet again. And the heartbreaking violence of Israel-Palestine.

And, here in these first days of 2024, the institutions we have turned to in the past, hoping to find a place to work for progress – those institutions are under assault. As we look back this weekend to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol just three years ago, and as we look forward to this year, power-over and white supremacy have clearly found their voice – and that voice is unapologetic. That voice has no regard for and disdains the rule of law. That voice has no regard for and disdains the promises of the US Constitution – most notably the promise of equal protection of law. That voice has no regard for and disdains the very democratic and justice structures that undergird this nation – no regard for juries or judges or elections or election officials or the right of the people to speak and to vote. Our institutions are in very real peril.

Ours is a world that, in so many ways, needs interrupting.


In this morning’s Scripture, the Gospel enters into and interrupts a world already in progress.


And then it happened: John the Baptist appears in the desert. This wild and wooly figure appears wearing camel hair and a belt of animal hide. All that is to say – John the Baptist appears in the desert, a prophet standing in a long line of prophets, come to announce what God is doing in the world[5] – (1) to name the harm and hurt that God is bringing to an end, and (2) to proclaim the new thing that God is bringing to life.

Before it does anything else, the Gospel grounds its good news in the steadfast and faithful action of God down through the generations.

Stand here, in these waters, in this moment, and “Prepare the way.”

Then, John proclaims a baptism of repentance – he announces a turning from our old ways to a new way. And the people come. All the people – all the people in the city – all the people in the countryside – their world empties out and flows down to the river, all to become a part of this turning.


And then it happened: Jesus comes. He comes from Nazareth in Galilee to the River Jordan to be baptized by John, and he enters into the waters.


And then it happened: a voice from the heavens. As Jesus comes up out of the waters, the heavens are torn open, and the Spirit descends like a dove into Jesus, and a voice from the heavens says: “This is my Son, my Beloved one, in whom I am well-pleased.


Notice that in the beginning of this breathless gospel: (1) there is a grounding – in God’s saving, steadfast love down through the generations, (2) there is an interrupting – of a world already in progress, and (3) there is a turning – toward this new day – a turning toward and into the new thing that God is doing in the world – the fresh presence of God – tearing the heavens open, descending into Jesus, and turning the world. And as the Gospel of Mark unfolds we will see Jesus do just that – not only interrupting a world already in progress, but turning power on its head – and bringing us along for the journey and the learning and the work – the journey into freedom, into life.


It is a breathless gospel indeed.

Maybe at the beginning, we should take a breath. Prepare the way. As we stand in our “world in need of interrupting,” maybe we should start with that grounding. And how fitting that today we remember and celebrate the sacraments – visible signs for us and in us – of how God shows up in the world.

We gather today on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, and we remember Jesus’ baptism.. and our own. We remember Jesus entering the waters, and we remember that we enter into the troubled waters with Jesus, and with him rise again. Just as Jesus shares in our dying, we share in his rising and in his living. We ground ourselves in the awareness that we, too, are God’s own beloved. We remember that, in baptism, we gather at the waters in the community of...... everyone, in the community of all creation.

And in that community, in the regular rhythm of life, we gather at this table for the sacrament of communion. In the midst of our troubled world, we gather again and again, and we are nourished at Christ’s own table. We experience the life of Christ poured out and into us – the bread of life sustaining us along the way. We experience the Real Presence of Christ not only in bread and cup and the words we say – but in the experience of being together – one Body – we experience the fresh presence of Christ pulsing in us. Gathered at this table, we glimpse that turning toward the world as it should be – in Jesus Christ, the world as it is and will be.

In gathering at this table, and at this font, and in this Body, we ground ourselves in God’s steadfast, saving love across the generations. And as we move into this year, I invite us to do that again and again.

The Good News of the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus interrupts a world already in progress and turns power on its head. And, in his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus invites us to become part of that turning – in this moment – the fresh presence of God – grounded in God’s steadfast love down through the generations – coming to life in us.


Jesus interrupts a world already in progress and turns power on its head, and then invites us into every bit of how God shows up in the world.

That Good News is jarring and jolting.

And it will set the whole world free.


© 2024 Scott Clark

[1] See Joy J. Moore, Upper Room Disciplines 2024 (Nashville, TN: Upper Room, 2023), p.14.

[2] For general background on the Gospel of Mark and this scripture, see

Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol.viii (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), pp. 525-36; Herman Waetjen, A Reordering of Power (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1989), pp. 63-74; Warren Carter, Mark (Wisdom Commentary, vol. 42; Sarah J. Tanzer and Barbara E. Reid, OP, eds.) (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2019); Sarah S. Henrich, Commentary in Connections, Year B, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), pp. 179-181; Douglas R.A. Hare, Mark (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)

[3] See Henrich, p. 179; Waetjen, p.65.

[4] For a thorough and compelling description of the socio-economic world of the Gospel of Mark, see Herman Waetjen, A Reordering of Power (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1989), pp.1-26.

[5] See Hare, p.14; Waetjen, pp. 64-65 (reading John as Elijah).

Photo credit: Kazuend, used by permission via Unsplash

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