Come Up
Mark 1:9-15

by | Feb 19, 2024


PRAYER:  Throughout our lives, O God, we often struggle with hardships.  Strengthen and enable us to come up from those difficulties in such a way that we can find the hope that you offer us, and in turn, offer it to others.  Remind us, O God, that we are – without question – your beloved children, and that we are called upon to love one another.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

The first Sunday of our What R U Up 2 series brings us to the moment at which Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism to hear, “You are my beloved.”  His very first action in his public life is to be baptized by John the Baptist.  Mark doesn’t mention it, but one has to ask, “Why did Jesus believe he needed to confess and be baptized?”  Luke and Matthew both answer this question.  Matthew 3:5-6 says, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.”

The people of Jerusalem and all Judea were engaging in this practice of spiritually “going down” into death, as well as “coming up” for rebirth.   Jesus went to where the people were, and joined them in this practice.  We can, of course, make the argument that Jesus really had no need to ‘confess’ his sins, but that would be missing the point of what he was doing there in the first place.  Baptism is viewed as both an act of going down into death as well as a coming of for rebirth, and for Jesus to be baptized with the people coming out to see his cousin John, Jesus is beginning his earthly ministry by demonstrating his solidarity with the people he came to save.

When I was in El Salvador in 2017, I met a remarkable woman named Sister Peggy.  Sister Peggy grew up in Jersey City, NJ and became a catholic nun.  In the mid-1980s, one of her fellow nuns talked her into doing a short trip to El Salvador.  She was only supposed to be there for a few weeks.  She is still there today.  The friend who talked her into going there in the first place only stayed a few weeks.

When Sister Peggy arrived there, the country was in the midst of a 12-year long bloody civil war.  She told us many stories of her experiences there, but one in particular stood out.  Late one night, she was traveling on the back of a flatbed truck with a couple of women – one of whom was holding a small child in her arms.  They were traveling at night, which is always a dangerous thing when the truck hit a ditch and overturned, leaving Sister Peggy, the two women and the child to fend for themselves.  So, they went into the woods.  They had no water, no light, no shelter.  The mother carrying the child did have a couple of flour tortillas that she offered to the other women.  But both Sister Peggy and the other woman said to her that she should give the tortilla to her child… that it was more important for the child to eat.  The mother refused.  She tore the two small tortillas apart and gave each a piece saying, “Tonight we share our food, tomorrow we share our hunger”.  That’s what solidarity looks like.

I think that Jesus went ahead with baptism as an act of solidarity.  He went “down” into baptism so he could “come up” in the same ways we have to.  We are called to come up out of the depths of whatever seeks to keep us under and know that we are beloved of God.  Come up, for now is the time to be fully who you are created to be for the sake of the world.  But remember, for us to “come up”, that implies that we must first experience what it is to “go down”: to bear witness to places of pain, to be in solidarity, to reflect honestly on where our pains and traumas are.  Because when we do that, when we experience what it feels like to come out of the depths, the words “You are my beloved” become so much more vivid and restorative.  When we experience what it feels like to come out of the depths, we live into the kind of ministry Jesus was called into after his baptism.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we have to experience every form of human pain in order to be able to relate to others.  Certainly not.  I have a couple of friends from our old town where we raised our kids.  They called me about two years ago asking me to officiate their son’s funeral.  That’s a pain I cannot imagine enduring, but it cost me nothing to stand by their side during the most painful moment of their lives.  Standing with people going through such horrific moments, offering words of comfort, or just letting them be vulnerable and safe with me is one of the great honors that comes with my job.

The instinct to be human is to live in solidarity with one another.  The tenderness of solidarity is in giving and receiving.  When we talk about Jesus being fully human, this is what it’s about.  Jesus didn’t come to simply snap his fingers and solve our problems.  Jesus didn’t come to make life easier for those of us who follow him.  The gospels are not about Jesus just going around healing people.  Jesus talked about relationships… relationships with God and with one another.  Jesus came to demonstrate solidarity – to demonstrate that he understands our pain, our struggles, our hopes and our dreams.

Tonight we share our food, tomorrow we share our hunger.  That is what we experienced everywhere we went in El Salvador.  The communities we visited that had nothing to offer welcomed us in.  Sister Peggy encountered Christ that night in the woods when the mother offered those tortillas.  How often we ourselves are walking with Christ right here and miss the opportunities to really encounter the humanness – the solidarity that is offered us.  God is incarnate – with us – within us.  It is our opportunity… it is our blessing to share, not just our treasure, not just our good fortune, but our hunger as well.  That’s solidarity.

We live in a world of distractions.  And frankly, those distractions can numb us to where we are hurting.  They can weaken our ability to withstand pain or the witness of others’ pain.  These distractions can lead us to ignore how God calls us beloved.  Those distractions can lead us to believe we don’t need to hear that kind of message.  And those distractions can lead us to view others outside the frame of God’s beloved.

One of the things that bothers me most in this world is the callousness that is present in much of our communal rhetoric today.  We are constantly being told to fear other people.  We’re told that anyone who is different than us is a threat to us and the solution we’re presented with is to just stoke fear and hatred toward them.  We have created imaginary borderlines and have determined that if someone lives on this side of that line, then they’re ok, but if they live on the other side of that imaginary line, then they’re… not even worthy of the title “human”.  We label them with derogatory terms and use language that separates them from us.  Let’s be very clear that this is one thing that Jesus absolutely never did.  Ever.  Because when we look at others through a lens of fear or hatred or otherness, then we are not in solidarity with them; we are not viewing them as God’s beloved.  When we are not even trying to understand their struggles, their fears, their hopes…  It’s one of the main reasons why I have become such a vocal ally to the LGBTQ community, because when I hear about people in authority questioning the basic humanity of people just because they want to be treated as human beings, I have to stand in solidarity with them; I have to offer them the hope that they are being denied elsewhere.

We need to “come up” out of all of the things, pleasant OR painful, that are distracting us from the truth that God loves us all, and that we all need God’s love.  We need to “come up” out of all the things that are  distracting us from the truth that God is calling us, and that God’s call will have us do the uncomfortable things like standing with our neighbors whose hearts are broken, advocating for the basic humanness of people who are marginalized, or even doing something as simple as turning off the voices that are telling us to be afraid of people just because of where they came from.  We need to do the work of widening our circle to include the other, not that they will morph into being like us, but rather that we will grow together, making our circle even wider still.

I read in some of the material from this worship series that people who ride in hot air balloons for the first time report a feeling of weightlessness as they ascend in the balloon, even though they feel degrees of fear and even though gravity is still completely at work.  When we allow ourselves to face our fear of what practices God may be calling us into, we may discover that not only are we “up to” the task, but we are also buoyed by it.

The Psalmist cries out, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.” Our act of “coming up” is also an offering to God.  It is the first part of how we give ourselves to the one who loves us, and who created us.  Just like Jesus, we need to “come up” out of where we are stuck, or distracted, or delayed — because God loves us.  And because God has some challenging work for us.

But those challenging places are where miracles occur.  Those challenging places are where we feel ourselves coming up out of the water and hearing those words that Jesus himself heard: you are my child, the beloved.  With you I am well-pleased.

Let’s strive to be part of the miracle of God’s creation together, to come up out of the hardships and offering hope, offering love, offering solidarity.

To God be the glory.