Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 10, 2017

2017.12.10 “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness” – Mark 1: 1 – 8

Central United Methodist Church
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
Pastor David L. Haley
Mark 1: 1 – 8
December 10th, 2017


The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

                    “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

                             who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

          John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1: 1 – 8, The Message


As an old person who has seen a lot and who would therefore say that there is not much that surprises me, I must say the recent avalanche of sexual harassment accusations HAS surprised me, as they have likely surprised you; that is, unless you are a woman.

How have the mighty fallen: Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Al Franken, and the list continues to grow. Although – as some might point out – the list of those who should have fallen but haven’t is longer yet.

This is a complex subject with high consequences, so I will choose my words carefully. On the one hand, as far as I know, we still live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty, although with this accusation the trial takes place in the media, not the courts, so those rules don’t apply. On the other hand, no one WOULD ever be proven guilty, if we discredit the testimony of the women who are the accusers and victims, as we have done up until now. Consider, as a glaring example, the 1991 case of Anita Hill vs Clarence Thomas, still a member of the Supreme Court.

There is a wide spectrum here, from false accusation (which can destroy a man’s life and reputation), to intentional, serial, predatory behavior, which destroys women’s lives and careers, which has happened more than we know. There has always existed that “old boy” network of power, excusing predatory behavior, hiding it behind a code of silence. This network exists in business, entertainment, sports, government – in every aspect of life – and women were its victims, left to suffer in shame and silence. A reckoning is long overdue.

TIMEWhat’s different now is that women are emboldened, standing up, speaking out, and being heard. When Time magazine selected their “Person of the Year,” they selected those women they named “The Silence Breakers,” who are being joined by millions of others. Even though the #MeToo hashtag was first used more than a decade ago by social activist Tarana Burke as part of her work building solidarity among young survivors of harassment and assault, in October a friend of the actor Alyssa Milano sent her a screenshot of the phrase, and Milano, almost on a whim, tweeted it out. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” she wrote, and then went to sleep. She woke up the next day to find that more than 30,000 people had used #MeToo overnight. Milano burst into tears. (Time, the Silence Breakers.)

And names continue to add, with the revelations sometimes coming in personal and shocking ways. The NY Times had an article Saturday entitled, You Know, I Never told You This: Families Discuss Sexual Assault,” detailing family stories. For example, Tony, 59, from Chicago, was talking with his mother, 84, from Oak Park. As Tony and his mother watched news about Al Franken pantomiming groping a young woman, Tony told his mother he was disappointed by the number of men who had “done this to women.” That’s when Tony’s mother first told him he was conceived after a man took her to a party and then raped her. (December 9, 2017, The New York Times). Without intending to bring up bad memories, can we just acknowledge that in any and every congregation – including this one – there are women who could add their names to #MeToo?

I realize this is not a “Merry Christmas” topic to talk about, and maybe not even in church, but I have gone on at length about this it because it is an example of what happens when we finally hear voices from the margin, voices crying out in the wilderness. In this case, women, but it could also be people of color or immigrants or the poor or all the above in one – especially women – those on the lower rungs of the social ladder who are housekeepers and hotel maids, nursing aides or sales staff, only to name a few, who though shamed or wronged could not speak out for fear of losing their jobs and not being to provide for their families. Up until now, they have been voices crying in the wilderness, to whom no one would listen, if they said anything at all.

What a surprise on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, to hear that The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus, the Messiah, the Song of God, according to Mark, begins with a voice on the margins, a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Imagine you live in Galilee around 70 CE, when Mark’s Gospel was written. There’s a war on; radical Jewish rebels have revolted against Rome, and – as a result – Jerusalem is under siege. People are divided: some see God’s hand in this, raising up warriors to push the infidels out; others urge submission to Rome as the only path to peace and security. Even in villages, where the population is mixed between Jews and Gentiles, tensions are high. Neighbors fear one another. Families fracture along ethnic lines.

One small sect refuses to fight on either side; the followers of a Galilean Rabbi named Jesus. You are intrigued and want to know more; someone hands you a scroll with a title scribbled on it: The Beginning of the Good News About Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. “Messiah,” the one coming to bring God’s Messianic Kingdom, would appeal to Jews; “Son of God,” a name used for Caesar, would appeal to Gentiles. (Christopher Hutson, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, p. 48).

And where the story begins is not in Jerusalem, not in Herod’s Palace or in the Temple, the two centers of political and religious power, but out in the desert, the wilderness, where the wild and woolly John the Baptist is preaching. He’s a man who dresses in camel’s hair and eats bugs; that’s about as marginal as you get. And who is he, according to Mark?

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

It is not possible to read the story of Jesus – especially in Mark’s Gospel – without noting how the Good News that comes to us in Jesus begins, continues, and even ends as a voice on the margins. Jesus’ humble birth, as described (differently) by Matthew and Luke; his healing and preaching ministry, as well as those to whom he ministered – fishermen, women, tax collectors, widows, the diseased and demon-possessed; people living on the margins. When he finally made it to the bright lights of the Big City of Jerusalem, he was so threatening to the powers “that be” that they killed him, crucifying him on a rocky outcropping just outside the walls. Even after his resurrection, he was last seen on a mountain outside of Jerusalem, or way up north in Galilee. His whole life was lived on the margins.

After his resurrection, his early followers were mostly humble people, both Jews and Christians. As St. Paul wrote to the Church at Corinthians: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26)

Through the centuries, Jesus’ followers and his Church have always been at its best, when they took the side – not of the high and mighty, which inevitably corrupts – but with those on the margins, the poor and those who have no voice.

JWConsider John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism, who, when invited by his friend George Whitefield to engage in “field preaching,” admitted in his diary:

“I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields…; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sing if it had not been done in a church.”

But Wesley did it, and – as he described it:

“At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation ….: The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Isaiah 61:1-2)

But now we have come full circle. At a time when many – especially among Evangelicals – have blessed those in power – the Church again stands in danger of corruption and cultural and political idolatry. As Dean William Inge said in the 19th century: “The Church which marries the spirit of one age will find itself a widow in the next.” We are alienating the younger generations (and some of us from the older generation) who no longer see in the Church people of compassion like Jesus, who in the Gospels is always found among the marginalized and poor, not catering to the high and mighty.

All the more reason we must stand and speak from the margins, be voices crying out in the wilderness. This week in her commentary on the Gospel, Karoline Lewis, Lutheran Pastor and Professor of Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, put it this way:

“In a world where Christianity is constantly manipulated to perpetuate a view that God’s pleasure is found in prosperity and the super-rich; in a world where Christianity is consistently exploited to support child sexual predators as lawmakers; in a world where Christianity is continuously used to justify treason and duplicity, the wilderness is from where we must preach, more than ever.” (Karoline Lewis, “Wilderness Preaching,” December 3, 2017, working

But – as we all likely learned from our various experiences in the wilderness, the wilderness can be a lonely place. As those of us in the progressive wing of such mainline denominations as Methodism find ourselves there, we may feel increasingly like the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, marginalized, but holding fast to the truth, a voice crying out in the wilderness.

But that’s OK. Because if we find ourselves there, that’s where Jesus is, because that’s where his people are. They are crying out from the margins where racism, oppression, and discrimination have excommunicated them; crying out across borders where profiling and bigotry have ejected them; crying out from the confines of silence where sexual harassment and sexual violence have exiled them. (Karoline Lewis).

In the light of #MeToo, it seems more than appropriate that the theme of John’s preaching was repentance. The Monday after the #MeToo tweet, Australian journalist and screen writer Benjamin Law created the hashtag #HowIWill Change as a way for men to publicly commit to actionable change against cultures of sexual violence. “Guys, it’s our turn,” Law tweeted. “After yesterday’s endless #MeToo stories of women being abused, assaulted and harassed, today we say #HowIWill Change.” Men began to respond with what we need to do, what they would commit to, such things as “Not to be harassers ourselves,” To apologize. To listen to and believe women. To teach our sons to respect women, and provide role models for our daughters. To work at a women’s shelter. To ask businesses for equal rights and equal pay information. Not to use the Bible to subjugate women.

In short, having heard the voices of women, crying out in the wilderness, we have a lot of work to do. Lord, have mercy. Amen.


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