Sunday, March 15, 2015

SEEING AND FOLLOWING THE REAL JESUS. A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent from John 12:20-33.
5th Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 3.22.15
Year B 

The Gospel Lectionary Reading for this, the fifth Sunday of Lent, brings forward for our consideration the challenge of truly seeing and following the real Jesus. No doubt, this challenge of seeing and following is a proper lenten excursion, especially in this moment of time when all Christian disciples of the West face the reality of such a steep, internal and external cultural captivity. 

That is, today it is extremely difficult to identify the origin our view of Jesus, recognizing whether our view of him is sourced in culture, in Holy Scripture or an admixture of the two. At stake in this consideration, then, is nothing short of a faithful discipleship verses a deformed discipleship. 

What I propose, therefore, in the rather brief homily, is a challenge toward a biblical view of the Savior, one radiating from its most basic understanding. Namely: We must come to see Jesus as the essence of sacrificial Love and reconciling forgiveness -- the Son of Man Must Suffer and Die. Which leads to us follow Jesus in the same way by losing our own lives in him and for him. But then, we must further see Jesus as he faces his troubled future with determination. Which leads us to follow Jesus by drawing even close to the Master.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

John 3:16 in Lenten Expression (revised). A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent from John 3:14-21
4th Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 3.15.15
John 3:14-21
Year B 
revised fron a homily
first posted on3.18.12

The Lectionary Gospel reading from St. John’s Gospel brings to our attention this morning some of the most beloved verses in all of Holy Scripture. One might think, therefore, the homiletic exposition of these words would be, as it were, a piece of cake, but if that is your understanding, then you are sadly mistaken. For, what can one say about such familiar words that has not already been said? And, how can one further explain GOD's most familiar face as described with these words we know so well? Or, how can one repeat these already well-settled words in a different way that improves upon them? 

But, this text is not just my problem as speaker; it is your problem as listener as well. In this case familiarity does not so much breed contempt as it does coma! "Oh, ho-hum, we've heard it all before; so we can nap through this one..." 

However, the interpretive issues are much deeper than our mere familiarity with the text because as preparing to share with you I have been challenged to wonder how these words have anything at all to say about our Lenten journey, and our preparation for resurrection Sunday. 

But, these challenges not withstanding, we must forge ahead and somehow assemble our thoughts, the first and most obvious of which is the proclamation of this text's central truth that the movement of GOD is toward the world and not away from it. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Up the Mountain With Jesus and Back Down Again -- A Homily from Mark 9:2-10 for the 2nd Sunday of Lent.
2nd Sunday of LENT
Year B 
A Homily for 3.1.15 
revised from a Homily 
first posted 3.4.12

Today is the second Sunday of Lent, and the Lectionary offers us the rather astonishing account of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. One might well ask how this text, as beloved and powerful as it is, has anything to do with the Lenten season? 

Clearly, the inclusion of this text is meant to offer us the calling to go apart with Jesus in quietness and solitude, as he was in quietness and solitude with the inner-circle of the disciples on the mount of transfiguration. 

Of course, we see that the quietness is not long-lasting. It never is. In the midst of this sublime moment of drama St. Mark describes Jesus conversing with Elijah and Moses (!) and finally he has the divine voice saying: 
"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." 
This voice is summoned both as a response to Peter's interruption of the divine moment with his desire to build three tabernacles -- one to Jesus and Elijah and Moses, and a reminder of the purposes of GOD in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jesus In The Desert & In Ministry (revised) -- A Homily from Mark 1:12-15 for Lent # 1.
1st Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 2.22.15
MARK 1:12-15
Year B 
revised fron a homily
first posted on 2.26.12

Today is the first Sunday of our Lenten journey. Today the church calendar confronts us with questions of discipleship-devotion and community-koinonia

Lenten questions are actually quite basic, really, but if asked correctly they hit us hard and right where we live: 

discipleship devotion -- 
  • Is our discipleship devoted and serious? 
  • Is our prayer life meaningful and ongoing? 
  • Is our character conforming to the image of the Christ? 

community koinonia -- 
  • Is our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ true & pure? 
  • Are we diligently praying daily and in earnest for our forever family? 

Said differently, the Lenten moment calls us back from the brink of hypocrisy. Lent reclaims our wayward hearts from a souring indifference. The Lenten season, therefore, must be seen as a gift, an opportunity, for a heart-felt repentance -- a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior. 

Today's Lectionary Gospel reading opens to us several important Lenten themes: 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Taking the Unantiseptic Risk (revised). A Homily for MARK 1:40-45
A Homily from Mark 1:40-45
for the 6th Sunday
in Ordinary Time Year B
first posted 2.12.12

In today's Lectionary New Testament reading St. Paul tells us that we should, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." That is, the great Apostle presents himself to his ancient readers as an example of what it means to follow the living, risen Christ. 

Of course, the idea of following the Christ as he is presented in the Gospels is attractive to the believer's heart and given as a serious goal for the believer's calling, but by and large this practice is very difficult to accomplish. 

Today's Lectionary GOSPEL reading is an excellent example of this challenge. Here Jesus is confronted by a man who has leprosy, which meant he was not only sick, but he was also ritually unclean and unable to participate in the temple activities. This situation is very serious and made the "unclean" person an object of a double ostracism. 

This also meant the leper had to announce his disease to all who came near: 
"Those who suffer from any contagious skin disease must tear their clothing and allow their hair to hang loose. Then, as they go from place to place, they must cover their mouth and call out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'" (Lv.13:45)
Nothing tells us of the leper's exclusion from the community and the temple more clearly than this. He lived in isolation and hopelessness, really, and since there was no known cure for the disease, the only hope for restoration was probably the miraculous, which actually did have precedent. Remember the story of Naaman?
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha's house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: "Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of leprosy." 11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. "I thought he would surely come out to meet me!" he said. "I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the LORD his God and heal me! 12 Aren't the Abana River and Pharpar River of Damascus better than all the rivers of Israel put together? Why shouldn't I wash in them and be healed?" So Naaman turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, "Sir, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn't you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply to go and wash and be cured!" 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his flesh became as healthy as a young child's, and he was healed! 15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, "I know at last that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Now please accept my gifts." 16 But Elisha replied, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts." And though Naaman urged him to take the gifts, Elisha refused. 17 Then Naaman said, "All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer any burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD. (2 Kings 5:9-17)
Perhaps the story of Naaman was on this leper's heart when he came close to Jesus. Having heard of Jesus' power to heal, in this man's mind Jesus might well have been his only hope for restoration to his family, to his community and to the temple worship. And so, he breaks the rules and rather than proclaiming his disease from a far off, he comes close to Jesus and dares to speak to him, 
"If you wish, you can make me clean."
Then, a most extraordinary thing happens. Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched the man. I've often wondered how long it had been since this man had felt the touch of another human being. Someone has called what Jesus did here as taking the unantiseptic risk -- a willingness to get ones hands dirty, a willingness to risk uncleanness. Apparently, Jesus has no fear in this regard. He is so moved by the man's situation that he touches him, even when a word spoken could presumably have done the job as well. 

Of course, there is more going on here than just this man and his need. In this healing, as in all of Jesus' works of mercy, he offers the nation a sign of his Messiahship. This time it would be to the priest: 
"show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."
And so, Brothers and Sisters, this is a beautiful story of Jesus' compassion and mission, and there is much here for us, as well. I would offer three ideas as windows into the text: 




Sunday, February 1, 2015

JESUS AT PRAYER AND ON MISSION (revised). Homily for Mark 1:29-39
For the 5th Sunday - 
Ordinary Time, 
Year B
A Homily for 2.8.15
edited from a 
a Homily posted 2.5.12

The Gospel Lectionary reading for today brings to us both the remarkable prayer life that undergirded Jesus' ministry, and the ongoing movement of his mission and message. 

Again, the text offers us a description of the wonder working and miracle-signs that was the most visible aspect of Jesus' ministry. Here he heals Peter's mother-in-law, he heals others with illnesses and he shatters the power of evil spirits over individuals. The context of this pericope should include the preceding verses which, taken together, actually give a glimpse into one day with Jesus. 

Yet, even though it had been a long day, early the next morning Jesus secrets himself away from the crowds, and even his followers, where he finds a deserted place to pray. Eventually, however, his prayer hideaway is discovered by Peter, who reminds Jesus of his obligation to the needy and his growing fan-base. But, Jesus, curiously declares (explains) to Peter his primary mission
 "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come."
There is much here for the Christ-follower at the beginning of the 21st century, mush that aids a determined discipleship. Notice two broad headings that will open as a door into the text: 


Healing the sick and freeing the captive 
Living out the day fully engaged 
Silencing adulation and acclaim 
Leaving success for calling 

The foundation of ministry -- guidance 
The power for ministry -- Spirit's presence 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jesus Anointed with Power & Authority. A Homily from Mark 1:21-28
For the 4th Sunday - 
Ordinary Time, 
Year B
A Homily for 2.1.15
edited from a 
a Homily posted 1.29.12

THE Lectionary Gospel reading for today comes from St. Mark's Gospel, and it is a lesson in the authority and the power of the living and risen Christ. 

St. Mark takes us to a Capernaum synagogue on the sabbath and lets us see Jesus amaze his hearers as one who taught with authority -- "that is one who needed no external support for his words." (Lamar Williamson) But apparently, Jesus authority didn't stop with his teaching. No, his authority extended to the vanquishing of an unclean spirit -- "that is an invisible being neither human or divine and hostile to GOD" -- from a man who was present in the synagogue. (again, Lamar Williamson) 

And so, in today’s homily I want us to think-through the idea of Jesus’ authority.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Revisiting Jesus' New Life & A New Way To Live. Homily for Mark 1:14-20
3rd Sunday - 
Ordinary Time 
Year B
Revised from a
Homily first posted on
Sunday, January 15, 2012

Taken together, all of the Lectionary texts for today present us with a rather stark reminder that GOD's urgent message of ultimate redemption is still pending today. 

These texts are also a reminder that GOD has always been at work in the world, and that his love for humanity is still intact, no matter how far we stay. That is, the LORD's eternal love for his creation compels him to chase after us and to continually reveal himself to those who, "have ears to hear." 

Case in point: GOD sends Jonah to Nineveh, a monstrously pagan and idolatrous city, calling for its citizens to repent. Likewise, Jesus is sent to his nation and calls everyone to repent, to turn from their rebellious intentions toward Rome -- which would surely only end in disaster -- and to follow the way of sacrificial service and reconciliation. 

And to make the point with an edge, St. Paul reminds us that this world as we know it is passing away, so we had better decide -- "now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation" -- to turn our lives toward the voice and calling of the LORD. 

Still, this remains a stumbling block. It is difficult for many to believe that GOD will finally act. That is, there has already been 2,000 years of waiting, and when you factor in the truth that the great Apostle himself believed that he would be alive at the return of the LORD, it offers, even we who believe, a distinctly difficult challenge to face. 

But, from what we know of today's Marcan pericope, Jesus is offering the fulfillment of a promise, originally made to Abraham! Talk about waiting a long time; talk about a long story arc. You see, (and I am following closely the work of N.T.Wright here) the Hebrews believed that the one, true and living GOD, who had revealed himself to them and had chosen them, would one day literally come to the nation and vindicate his chosen people. 

Now, let's be clear. To vindicate, in this context, is to once and for all justify to the world that the Hebrew nation was actually GOD's true and rightful covenant people all along, and that the gentile's false gods -- which inevitably led to idolatry and immorality -- were in point of fact no gods at all. Likewise, to vindicate in this context is to once and for all defeat all pretenders to GOD's place as king of the universe. That is, all empires who would attempt to usurp GOD's position of ruler would be unmasked as the pretenders they really are, and soundly defeated forevermore. (see Psalm 2)

The question is, what would this vindication look like? Strangely enough, they believed it would look like restoration; it would look like resurrection. 

Do you remember the Ezekiel passage where the prophet is to preach to the valley of dry bones? Well, to refresh you memory listen to this text anew:
1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord." 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord." (Ez. 37:1-14)
Wow! Could it be any clearer? GOD would restore his people; GOD would bring his people back from the death of exile to new, true life. GOD would resurrect the chosen people. And this promise was at the heart of the Hebrew wait. They were waiting for the deliver — a King like David — to come, to lead the people, to throw off the chains of pagan oppression and to free them forever. 

But, now, suddenly, strangely, GOD had begun to work. GOD's word had come afresh to the nation. GOD's messenger was preparing the people. Do you recall how St. Mark's gospel begins?
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mk.1:1-8)
This is a message that startles and amazes, for what the Hebrews thought "GOD was going to do for the nation at the end of history, in fact GOD was going to do for Jesus in the middle of history!" (N.T.Wright) The Jewish Messiah had arrived, brining with him the good news of a new king, in fact the news of the only real king! And this news must be proclaimed. From now on all idolatry is thwarted; all empires are relativized. And, from now on all will understand the Messiah has come. 

Or, said differently, the reality of Jesus is that in the brutality of his suffering and death on the cross he stands against all pretenders and all life-negating power. The cross is the Messiah-King taking upon himself all the hate, ruthlessness, and greed of empire, taking on himself the brutality of a sinful people and taking all the vicious powers of darkness could dish out to him -- crushing and defeating them. That is, what looks like defeat was pregnant with victory! For, in the resurrection, the new life and the new way to live, through the power of the Holy Spirit, explode in the world like cosmic dynamite. 

Finally, notice that, 
“Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel," 
so reads the text. 

But notice, the text does not end there. Included in this repenting and believing is the action of following, and the action of fishing for others who wish to come along and join the growing Jesus new covenant-kingdom. 

That is, others, amazingly, will be warmed by the message that the Jewish Messiah, crucified, slain and raised, is enthroned as the King of the world. But, you see, people often blanche away from this truth because they see the suffering still present before them; they see the human condition so raw and inhuman. How could Jesus be King when there is so little evidence?

We still suffer and die, yes? Of course we do, but what must be said is that is not the ultimate truth. Do we have daily trials and heartache come our way? Yes, of course, but that is not the end of the story. Do we suffer through this world of disease and death? Yes, to be sure, but when we face that moment we bear in our hearts the promises of GOD, to be present even then, and the promise that to live is Christ, to die is gain. 

Or, think about this. Much of St. Paul’s correspondence was written from prison! This is what empire is about -- stifling the other competing voices that would call into question their authority and reality. Ultimately, all those Apostles paid for their determination to follow the Jesus-way with their lives. So what? When my Dad was so sick he used to say to me, "What's the devil going to threaten me with, death? Ha!" 

Said differently, we are not just some small, backwater community of faith, waiting in worry and silence. Far from it. We are a confident and loving community of faith who is being called to step out into the brokenness of this old, selfish world and to proclaim to all who care to hear that there is a new King. 

But, remember, we do not do this as the church triumphant. Far from it. No, instead we do this by practicing what the Master did -- practicing reconciliation and sacrificial service. We do this by offering peace and kindness to the poor, by bringing hope to he health-less and the dying, by proclaiming with our lives -- which shout much louder than our voices -- King Jesus is at work! King Jesus is passing by! King Jesus is reclaiming this good, but marred world. 

Or, finally, and said still differently, the Gospel is so much more than the truncated and shriveled little message, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life," or “Jesus loves you and can do thus and so for you." Of course, the Gospel includes these truths, no doubt, but the reality of the message is so much more. The new message we live-out and proclaim is that new life and a new way to live marks us out as the new humanity that GOD is building, which means we have been included in the koinonia-enterprise that is the Kingdom.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Baptism of Jesus, the Messiah. A Homily from Mark 1:7-11 for January 11, 2015
January 11, 2015
The Baptism of the LORD
Year B.

Today, the Lectionary Gospel reading brings to us the celebration of Jesus' Baptism and the end of the Christmas season. As we attempted to remind you during the Advent Season just past, the Baptizer's ministry always intended to point beyond himself to the one who was to come, to the one for whom the nation had been waiting, or should I say, for whom some in the nation had been waiting.

We could say it this way: John's baptism was one of repentance, both an individual and a national heart and life renewal for the coming of the promised Messiah. So, when Jesus finally comes on the scene clearly John's ministry must decrease because the promised one had come. But, then, what a great surprise when Jesus — the promised one — suddenly requests to be baptized as well.

St. Matthew's account of this great event is important to add to today's reading:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. (Matthew 3:13-15)
Jesus submits to John's baptism of repentance not because he needs renewal and repent, but because he wants to identify with the ministry-message of the Baptizer. As he comes out of the water the voice of GOD rends the heavens, saying, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased," and then the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

Before us, then, today's text offers us an extraordinary glimpse of a trinitarian expression of the Godhead -- Father, Son and Spirit, as well as a description of the love and fellowship contained within the LORD, who is at the same time both three and one. To say more about the Trinity beyond what is pictured is to quickly move into very deep water beyond my ability for definition.

Still, some characterization can be made of this text, for the narrative suggests to us several fruitful intentions. Namely, the text:
Recognizes Jesus as messiah, God’s son
Distinguishes everyday reality and God’s reality
And, Depicts Jesus’ anointing for ministry

First, I want us to think through the Father and the Spirit's recognition of the man Jesus at this, the pivotal moment of his baptism. Here, it is said of Jesus that he would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and here it is said that Jesus is the beloved Son

What could this mean? 

What Jesus' original hearers could not know — could not have realized at this moment of subtle revelation — was that the one coming up out of the water just as wet as they from their own baptism was none other than the Jewish Messiah -- the promised one of Israel, and a King like unto David himself.

Of course, the disciples eventually have an inkling and a hope that Jesus is the one of promise, the deliver, the one who would finally justify Israel and vindicate the nation. This is why our reading of today's gospel will come to full fruition this coming year in the September thirteenth reading of a text from St. Mark chapter eight when we will hear these words from Peter:
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30)
At his baptism, Jesus as the anointed one of Israel identifies himself as Israel’s promised one. This means, for example, that we should realize the word Christ, as when we say Jesus Christ, is not Jesus last name, but instead means that he is designate and sanctified as Israel’s Messiah, personified for example in a text like Psalm 2:
1 Why do the nations conspire,    and the peoples plot in vain?2 The kings of the earth set themselves,    and the rulers take counsel together,    against the Lord and his anointed, saying,3 ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder,    and cast their cords from us.’4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;    the Lord has them in derision.5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,    and terrify them in his fury, saying,6 ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord:He said to me, ‘You are my son;    today I have begotten you.8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,    and the ends of the earth your possession.9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;    be warned, O rulers of the earth.11 Serve the Lord with fear,    with trembling 12 kiss his feet,[a]or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;    for his wrath is quickly kindled.Happy are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2)
This, then, is what my beloved Son means. Only later will the early church realize that the man Jesus, who is human, the Jewish Messiah and who is the Israelite who fulfilled all God’s promises to Abraham is also more than those designations. It is then that the Son of God language will also be used to explain Jesus inclusion into a trinitarian monotheism! (N.T. Wright)

So, the Holy Spirit comes upon the man who is the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, and in so doing begins the fulfillment of many promises foaming forth from the Hebrew Bible. Take for example just two passaged from Ezekiel:
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:24-27)
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. (Ezekiel 37:7-10)

Clearly, therefore, St. Mark means to open before the eyes of his readers the reality that lies close to us but lies hidden from us as well:
"he saw the heavens being torn open..."
"the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him..."

This view of reality is the distinct understanding of the Bible all the way through. Namely, that there lies hidden beside us the realm of existence where God dwells, and from where the will of the Godhead finds direction and power. That is to say alongside the natural, waking, work-a-day world there is the world that is close, where the Lord exists, lives, moves and has his being. And further, these two worlds, as they coexist, course through each other in dynamic circumstances.

Now, these dynamic circumstances could be outlined in endless scriptural examples. Think first of the mundane, hidden reality behind the movement of nations in the oracles of the prophets. If we take Isaiah as an example, on the surface we see the movement of the unbelieving nations moving against Judah as they make geo-political decisions, great powers subduing smaller ones. This happens every day in our world as it did in theirs. But, one must also look underneath the movement of dictators where Isaiah wants us to know that the God is working his will in the world. God, in fact, uses the decisions of unbelievers to accomplish his will! If Isaiah is not read in this way, then the prophecy makes no sense whatsoever. 

But, this reality need not only extend to the mundane. There exists other biblical examples of more spectacular touches between the hidden realm and ours. My favorite is the moment when Elisha's servant's eyes are suddenly opened to see the surrounding hilltops filled with chariots of fire, protecting them from the invading army:
Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)
The upshot of this for our purposes comes when we consider what is needed to find this other realm, this hidden realm, this realm of the Almighty. What is needed is simply faith. Now, notice I did not say simple faith, although there is nothing wrong with simple faith, other than some of us are not so blessed. No. what is needed is simply faith. To say this is to say the what comprises the differences at the very heart of people. Faith is what, in the end, divides people at the very core of existence.

Of course, we must be careful here, for as St. James tells us, even the devils believe and tremble (James 2:19). No, surely, what is in view here is faith that works itself out in obedience. This is true faith, which leads us to the final point:

The Spirit descending upon Jesus at his baptismal moment must be seen as more than theatre and symbolism, both of which are important, but which both needs to be thought-through to find the lateral truth. No, what we have here is, at the very least the anointing of Jesus for his wilderness temptation, and I believe even more is actually happening. I believe that Jesus is being anointed for his ministry as Messiah. And now we are close to the first idea we shared this morning, that of Jesus' humanity as God's Son.

This means that Jesus, the true Messiah of Israel, God's chosen deliver, and the man through whom the promises of God would be fulfilled, was anointed by God the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work to which he was called. To show you what I mean I want to end today's homily with several New Testament scriptures that speak to this very idea:

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:34-38)            

Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:30)

The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. (John 12:48-49)

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:4-5)

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4:16-19)

15 When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds[a] followed him, and he cured all of them, 16 and he ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18 ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
    my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a bruised reed
    or quench a smouldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
21     And in his name the Gentiles will hope.’ 
(Matthew 12:15-21)