The following sermon was delivered at the Paul Powell Chapel of George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University April 24, 2012
This is the last chapel of the 2011-2012 school year. We say good bye to another group of graduating seniors. This time of year I think back to the events of the last several years.
My find went back to a trip. At Truett we have a tradition of travel seminars. Dr. Gloer and the Wilderness Spirituality trip, Drs. Stroope and Wilhite went to North Africa. This years Drs. Still and Weaver went to discover anew the churches of Paul. But last year, March 2011 I accompanied Dr. Still on the Pilgrimage to Israel. For a time we were tourist and pilgrims. We went to the Mount of Transfiguration. It was our habit to have someone read the biblical text associated with the location. Someone read the passage let’s say Mark 9:2-13. Peter, James and John were there, as they often are in Mark’s gospel. Peter has the speaking part. NIV reads “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters…” The Mount of Transfiguration is also known as Mount Tabor in northern Israel. That morning the air was clear and crisp I had to borrow gloves from Rosa is was so crisp and cold. You looked out and said WOW. Of course you could have a miracle happen here.
This is an easy one. We couldn’t stay there. We were not able to stay there, we were tourist. We were pilgrims. Even Peter, James and John were not able to stay there. This bucolic pastoral context was an experience to have but not a place to stay.
Let me frame the issue in musical terms. So that you might understand the musical frame some background might be helpful. I grew up in Dayton Ohio. I was not in the wave of the first integrated schools in Dayton Ohio but it was still new when I went to school. I went to school in Jefferson Township. The new racial mix meant a new musical mix as well. There were three musical communities at Jefferson Township. There was the rock and roll crowd. There were the folk rock peace kids. The black kids in the school were fascinated by the new black station WDAO-FM the home of the emerging soul sound. I grew up in a household where my mother played jazz every Saturday afternoon when the house cleaning was finished. To this day I associate jazz with a clean house and a relaxed mind.
We first came to Texas in 1983 on sabbatical and permanently in 1990. Texas has broadened my musical tastes. Nonetheless it is with some chagrin that I tell you a secret. You can keep a secret can’t you? I am not going to refer to a song by Nancy Wilson as you might imagine but rather Gretchen Wilson. I was listening to Gretchen Wilson. Her song “You Don’t Have to Go Home”
Her song describes a bar about closing time 2 a.m. Being a Texas Baptist I have to take her word for it in term of authenticity.
You can walk, you can crawl
You can be carried out by the law
But you will get …. Out of here
I can almost here Jesus saying to Peter, James and John when Peter proposed building the first religious theme park.(see Mark 9) You can’t stay here.
The Jesus entourage moved on. By chapter eleven they made their way to a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In the same chapter Jesus enters the Temple. In chapter thirteen Jesus leaves the temple. Once again we see the disciple as foil, the one who sets up a speech by totally misconstruing the situation. Lohmyer in his commentary remarks that the disciple sounds like an enthusiastic tourist. We recognize this as we compare a popular translation and a paraphrase.
The NIV “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
Petersen The Message “Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!”
Jesus response to the disciple is a question from Jesus. However, we should note that the same group of three that were there at the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9 continues to represent the disciples here at the temple in Mark 13.
We can understand the sense of awe of the disciple. The history of the Temple goes all the way back to the sacrifice of Isaac; the dedication of the Temple by Solomon in 1 Kings 8; the leaving of the divine presence in Ezekiel 9; the rededication of the temple, the abomination of desolation and the rededication of the temple in 167 BCE; 19-20 C.E. Herod made extensive renovations and additions. Indeed the nameless disciple was an enthusiastic tourist for good reason.
Nonetheless, Petersen makes clear his understanding that Jesus reprimanded the disciple with his replying question. Petersen’s periphrastic rendering of the question is quite provocative.” You’re impressed by this grandiose architecture?”
Well back to the Still pilgrimage to Israel. We made our way to Jerusalem. The bus pulled up the hill into Jerusalem. The hotel was breathtaking and the sense of history was thick in the air. We were there for Shabbat living in a kosher hotel. The City of David, David’s tomb, the old city and the trip to the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Empty Tomb all left us asking as the nameless disciple with a sense of WOW. Once again we were tourists and pilgrims we could not stay there.
We often read this text as being a historical account that does not describe our life. It is Jesus’ message to those disciples not these disciples. However, this morning I want us to see this address to the disciples as an address to us. The admonitions to those disciples are admonitions we are well to heed.
David Garland in his NIV Application Commentary reminds readers not to approach Mark 13 as if it were a bus schedule but rather appreciate the instruction of Jesus to the disciples. Jesus instructs the disciples that the religious institution, the temple is in the wane. “Jesus tells his followers what must happen before the end comes, but he does not tell them what they long to know—the precise dates and signs.” (508)
“The danger is that we want to be popular and accepted by society.” (Garland 512) We can say about our Baptist heritage. All too often we are the enthusiastic or nostalgic disciples coveting the past glories. Doug Weaver in his book In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story characterizes the twentieth century as a time when “Baptists an increasingly centralized and efficient denomination.” (146) Our preoccupation with a Baptist past sometimes lures us to stay here and not venture into the Baptist future God prepares for us.
What Jesus might do today is to characterize the debate as idol vs. icon. It is easy to allow our memory to become an idol instead of an icon. The philosophical theologian Jean-Luc Marion argues that an idol is a reflective mirror. It always plays back an image of our selves. Often when we get stuck in the bar, on the mount of transfiguration, in the garden of Gethsemane or even here we exchange the icon of Christ for the idol of Christendom.
I remember an early conversation with Dr. Creech. He told us that things had changed since the time that he was a young seminarian. Seminary was the place a young man went to get a union card. With that card you could receive a call to the FBC, factory Baptist Church. Today seminary is not a factory or franchise on the way to a call.
A friend pastoring in Austin Texas she would present to the graduates on behalf of the church a cross each year on graduation Sunday. So the week before the event she went to the jewelry store to purchase the crosses. The attendant asked her did she want an empty one or one with a little man on it. The attendant reminds us that Catholic tradition of the crucifix depicts Christ’s Passion on the Cross. The Protestant tradition celebrates the resurrection of Christ hence the empty Cross.
Jesus bids us not to stay here. No matter where the here is. As Luther says we must come to the Cross with empty hands.
I can hear Jesus singing low the words of Gretchen Wilson
You can walk, you can crawl
You can be carried out by the law
But you can’t stay here.
Here is the video of Gretchen Wilson performing the song. You Don’t Have to Go Home