Sermon: “Put the Globe Down” (January 11, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Put the Globe Down” (Mark 1:9-11)
January 11, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Every year on the First Sunday after the Epiphany the gospel lesson features the baptism of Jesus. In Mark’s account of this episode we see that the Holy Spirit was moving in the hearts of people throughout Jerusalem and the Judean countryside and they were flocking to the wilderness to confess their sins and be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Mark adds that John the Baptist, who apparently did not purchase his clothes at Jos. A. Bank or his groceries at Publix, “was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey”—nothing out of the ordinary about that, right?

On the soundtrack of the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Alison Krause sings:

O sinners let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O sinners let’s go down
Down in the river to pray
(from “Down to the River to Pray”).

And that is exactly what was happening—sinners in droves were going “down in the river.” Although Jesus had absolutely no sin to confess, he joined the throng of sinners, went “down in the river,” and “was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

Mark tells us that “just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

This marked the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, a ministry inaugurated by his total identification with sinners, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the public proclamation of the love of God the Father to and for his Son—“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Before Jesus had preached a single sermon, or healed a single leper, or performed a single miracle, God the Father assured Jesus of his love for him.

There is no underestimating the importance of a son being assured of the love of his father. Throughout the Old Testament we see story after story centered on a son receiving, or not receiving the love (or blessing) of his father—from Ishmael and Isaac with their father Abraham, to Jacob and Esau with their father Isaac, to Solomon and Absalom with their father David, on and on it goes.

Some sons are assured of this love from their father, and that love is returned. Last week Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, gave a eulogy at the funeral of his father Mario, who years ago also served as Governor of New York. Andrew said simply, “My dad was my hero. He was my best friend.”

Others have a different experience. Peter Ames Carlin describes the painful relationship Bruce Springsteen had with his father Doug:

“Douglas Springsteen eased his pain with his cigarettes and six-pack…And while he was ashamed of his weakness and desperate to keep his oldest child from suffering the fate he’d been dealt, it was all but impossible for Doug to connect with Bruce in a meaningful way…it wasn’t the lectures, criticisms, and occasionally heated arguments that cut into Bruce’s skin. It was the vacancy that swam into his father’s eyes whenever he came into the room. When Bruce turned toward his father hoping to see something—a spark of affection, pride, a glimmer of love, a nod of recognition, even—only emptiness stared back” (Bruce, 32-33).

Of course, daughters, just like sons, need assurance of the love of their fathers, and when it is not there, they rarely get over it. Several years ago at a previous parish where I served, there was a kind older lady, a shut-in, whom I visited from time to time. She had a contagious sense of humor and overflowed with stories—including how as a child she used to talk with Ernest Hemingway at the parties at her wealthy parents hosted in Cuba, where she grew up. She was one of three girls, and inevitably, each and every time I would visit her, she would tell me how her father had told them repeatedly that he had always wanted sons, that he was disappointed that he had all daughters and no sons…and she was in her nineties.

In the early 70’s a singer-songwriter was handed a poem his wife Sandy had written about a father-son relationship. She thought perhaps he would be inspired to put music to it. At first he was not interested, but later after they had a baby boy named Joshua, this singer-songwriter reconsidered the poem, and this inspired him to write what would become a number one hit in 1974: “Cat’s in the Cradle.” This singer-songwriter, Harry Chapin, once confessed, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.” Many of you probably know the lyrics, but just in case…

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad, you know, I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, Dad?”
“I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then,
You know we’ll have a good time then”

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on and let’s play
Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today
I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s okay”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
He said, “I’m gonna be like him,
You know, I’m gonna be like him”…

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head and he said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later—Can I have them please?”…

Well, I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, son?”
“I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad,
You know we’ll have a good time then”

The reality is all earthly fathers (Yours Truly included)—no matter how much they may try—are broken human beings, and often fall short when it comes to assuring their sons and daughters of their love for them. In his epic novel East of Eden (1952) John Steinbeck puts it this way:

“When a child first catches adults out—when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just—his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck” (Penguin Classics Edition, 19-20).

Every one of you has your own story when it comes to your father—maybe your father is your hero or maybe there is a lack of connection with your father, or maybe your father has somehow crashed and sunk “deeply into green muck.”

Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum with your earthly father, the good news of the gospel is that you can be assured of the love of your Heavenly Father.

In his book Lion and Lamb, Brennan Manning describes this love:

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the love story of God with us…God’s love is based on nothing, and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure. Were it based on anything we do, and that ‘anything’ were to collapse, then God’s love would crumble as well. But with the love of Jesus no such thing could possibly happen. Remember Atlas, who carries the whole world? We have Christian Atlases who carry the burden of trying to deserve God’s love. Even the mere watching of this lifestyle is depressing. I’d like to say to Atlas, ‘Put that globe down and dance on it’” (18).

The Apostle Paul writes that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19)—or to put it another way, if God the Father were singing “Cat’s in the Cradle”—“My boy is just like me.”

And in the same way Jesus joined the throng of sinners and went completely “down in the river” at his baptism, he remained the Friend of Sinners all the way to his death on the cross between two sinners, when Jesus experienced “panic desolation” and sank deeply into the “green muck” of sin and death. Scripture tells us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Moreover, in the same way Jesus at his baptism came “up out of the water,” on Easter morning he came up out of the grave.

And then Jesus sent the same Holy Spirit with whom he was anointed to you, to assure and reassure you of the never-ending love of God for you, to assure and reassure you that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the definitive statement that you are fully loved by God, and there is nothing you can or need do to earn that.

In other words, God the Father’s words to Jesus at his baptism are also his words to you—“You are my Son (You are my Daughter), You are the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Perhaps today God is gently calling you to put the globe down and start dancing.

Amen.