Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Mark, Water and New Creation

What follows is not deep theology, nor is it original.  What it is are watery thoughts inspired by Mark’s gospel.  I’m often tempted to gloss over Mark because he’s not a great writer, jumps around too much, and tells the story too quickly, too simply.  So I’m always a bit surprised by how deep he dives into metaphor and allegory reflecting on God’s work of creation as recorded throughout the Hebrew scriptures.  He uses them to illustrate how God’s continuing work of creation is lived out in Jesus.  You know how the shorter ending of Mark leaves us wondering because there are no resurrection appearances.  All we are told is that his disciples are to go to Galilee where they will meet him, but we never find out if they did?  My friend Andrew Cooley says we are to go back to the beginning of Mark’s gospel to meet him all over again as the resurrected Christ.  I think he’s right about that.

For whatever reason, doing that makes me think of Mark’s use of water.  It might have something to do with where I’m writing; on a bluff overlooking Honolua Bay and the North Pacific.  There’s a lot of water out there.

For a long time the local Congregational Church was adorned with a large banner proclaiming that God is still speaking.  Which, reflecting on the opening words of Genesis, is the same as saying God is still creating.  Creation didn’t end on the sixth day, and it hasn’t ended yet.  It’s Mark’s central theme; it comes up elsewhere in the gospel records, but Mark was first, and he’s the most enigmatic as well.  Enigmatic because, I suppose, he figured his readers knew the Hebrew scriptures well enough that his use of their allegories and metaphors to give light to Jesus’ words and deeds would be easily recognized, and didn’t have to be explained.  I don’t know if it was true then.  It certainly isn’t now.

In the Genesis story, God’s word commanded nothingness to assume the order he ascribed for it, starting with light.  I don’t know why, but the writers used the image of deep waters to represent forces of unrestricted chaos from which God created the universe, and then commanded them to keep to their assigned places and purposes.  Ultimate authority belongs to God alone.  The watery deep cannot contend, but must submit to God.  On the other hand, the watery deep can contend with, and sometimes overwhelm, human beings: consider the story of Noah and the flood.  Confronting and subduing bodies of water in Hebrew scripture continued to be symbols of God’s authority and ongoing creation, most notably in crossing the Red Sea and Jordan River through which a new people and a new nation were created to be “the people of God.”

Mark picked up on the theme of water.  John’s Jordan River baptisms restored the rejected to full membership in the community of God’s people, and opened the door for the messiah’s entrance.  Something new had been created.  His baptism of Jesus announced another new creation, the Word of God made flesh.  When Jesus calmed the stormy sea he echoed the opening verses of Genesis, and it signified a new creation about to happen.  The healing of the demoniac restored order where chaos had prevailed, and heralded the beginning of new understanding of the people of God that would include all persons everywhere.  The return crossing promised further acts of new creation in which outcasts were given fullness of life, where God’s love would not exclude the powerful elite, and then a flash of insight demonstrating God’s authority over death that would give new life to all.  They were all signs of God’s continuing acts of creation through God’s word, the source of all creation – there is no other source.  

Whenever water is featured in Mark’s gospel, a new act of creation is about to happen.  Get out your bible and take a look for yourself.  Jesus called his disciples from their work on the water.  He called Levi from his tax collecting kiosk on the shore.  Twice he preached to beachside crowds from the deck of an offshore boa.  He walked on water.  Every time, some new moment of creation was about to happen.  What creation, you ask?  Think about it.  That’s what Mark wanted his readers to do, he assumed they were up to it, he assumed they were brighter than the first disciples, whom he portrayed as a bit thick.


When we proclaim that through Baptism we are a new creation in Christ Jesus we are entering into Mark’s story of Jesus’ own baptism, and all the uses of water that ushered in awareness of God’s continuing acts of creation .  Paul wrote (2 Cor. 5) that “...if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.”  Paul can be misleading in his enthusiasm.  It’s not abracadabra, alakazam, and poof, you are something entirely new and different.  It didn’t work that way for Paul, and it doesn’t work that way for us.  It took him to the end of his earthly life to live into the new creation he was becoming.  It’s the same with you and me.  God’s continuing work of creation has begun in us in a new way, which, oddly enough, we’re perfectly free to reject, or accept with modifications of our own invention.  It’s why we’re always a work in progress.  It’s not that we always have more to learn; we always have more to become.

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