Sermon: Hope as Resistance
Preacher: Jason Storbakken
Text: Mark 1:9-15
Baptism of Jesus – Water and Spirit
This evening we are discussing Hope as Resistance! In today’s lectionary reading as well as on this day in the history of our Anabaptist tradition, the sacrament of baptism shines forth as an act of revolutionary hope.
First, we have the story of Jesus’ baptism from Mark’s Gospel. Mark jumps right into the action. He doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ birth, there are no shepherds or magi; no stories of Jesus visiting the temple as a boy.
It begins with the story of John the Baptist – the “lone voice crying in the wilderness, ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”!
John who was clothed with camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey.
Saint John of the Wild proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
This message resonates with Jesus who walks from Nazareth to the baptismal waters of the Jordan River. John baptizes Jesus, and as Jesus emerges from these waters, the Spirit in the form of a dove alights upon him – the dove, a symbol of the Spirit, but also a symbol of purity; to us, the Spirit might come as fire to burn up iniquity, to bring renewed conviction, but there is nothing within Jesus that needs to be burned up, and so the Spirit sets ever-so gently on Jesus.
But then God, as proud parent, tears open the heavens and, according to the Bible, says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But I believe that God may not have spoken so archaically. God’s sentiment was simply: My son, my boy. I am so proud of you.
And with that the same Spirit that alighted on Jesus in the form of a dove it now drives him deeper into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan and wild beasts, but angels are also with him. In the wilderness he is tested and tempted, but he overcomes.
Jesus, the Second Adam, accomplished what the First Adam could not: Resisting the enemy! And I believe that the First Adam’s resolve and ability to resist may have been hindered by his ability to hope – his lack of vision, his inability to imagine the purpose and power that is promised to those who endure and overcome.
Jesus returns from his wilderness experience where he has battled the devil and won! When he returns to the community of the baptized, he learns that John has been arrested. He is serving time and will soon be executed.
And it is at this moment, upon his return from the wilderness and upon learning that John the Baptist faces imminent execution, that Jesus goes full-in counter-intuitive proclamation: Repent, and believe the Good News. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
While most are surely grieving the loss of the Baptist, Jesus is preaching Good News. He is telling the people to Believe. He is preaching repentance, but he is also preaching resistance and revolution. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! This is regime change.
This is hope preached in the most dire of circumstances. Jesus understands that hope is a resource that fuels resistance.
Jesus’ baptism, his Gospel proclamation and prophetic critique of the dominant culture; his promise of hope in the midst of an oppressive social and economic system, reverberates throughout the centuries, which brings us to January 21, 1525.
Birth of Radical Reformation
It was on this day in 1525 that the Radical Reformation was born. A disputation broke out among religious reformers in Zurich, Switzerland, on the topic of civil government and infant baptism. Zwingli, the leader reformer in Zurich, argued in support of the local council, while three radicals – Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock – sought religious freedom for the people.
Zwingli and the Zurich council refused to allow these subversives to perform adult baptisms. For one, the baptismal certificate in those days was akin to today’s birth certificate. And thus infants were baptized simultaneously into the church and the state. The Zurich council suppressed these radicals and stated that all children must be baptized within 8 days and if parents do not consent they must leave Zurich.
Shortly thereafter, at an illegal meeting in Felix Manz’s home, Blaurock asked Grebel to baptize him. And Blaurock in turn baptized the others present. Each newly baptized person left the little gathering full of zeal to encourage others to follow their example.
These were the first adult baptisms (Anabaptist) and the birth of the Radical Reformation.
Within two years, Manz was executed – he was the first martyr of the new church. Soon after, a wave of persecutions and executions followed this movement. And it was during this time that the church grew immensely.
As it was in Jesus time when there was great persecution but radical proclamation of the holy Gospel… Just as it was during the 16th century Radical Reformation when the radical wing of the Reformation spoke truth to power, and spoke power with those deemed powerless… So it is today. Yesterday, I was at the New York City Council of Mennonite Churches. And Cesar Garcia, the General Secretary of the Mennonite World Conference was there. I asked him a question in two parts: Where is the greatest church growth among Anabaptists in the world today? And where is the greatest social and political suppression of our faith tradition in the world today. And Brother Cesar answered that it is in the places of greatest persecution where there is also the greatest growth.
Hope as a resource
Baptisms do not have the same social impact today as they did nearly 500 years ago. It is no longer subversive and innately radical. Persecution no longer follows the Christian movement in the West – as it did at its founding in the 1st century or during the Radical Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries.
We need to ask ourselves where do we find persecution and suffering in the 21st century because that is likely the place where we will find the movement of the Spirit.
We do not need to look far. Immigrants are routinely rounded up and deported. Immigrant activists, like Ravi Ragbir of the New Sanctuary Coalition, have been targeted and detained. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, has been banned in New Jersey, Florida, and North Carolina prisons. Homelessness and panhandling have been criminalized. And transgender and gender non-conforming people have the highest rates of suicide in this country due to victimization, bullying, and rejection by family, friends and faith communities.
We need to resist the attempt to win arguments, or score political points, without attempting to change hearts.
In the days of Jesus and the early Christians as well as Felix Manz and the Radical Reformers, it wasn’t well-crafted arguments or persuasive public debates that won the hearts of the people. It was the sincere witness of those who resisted the dominant culture, who sang when they were told to be quiet, who lived their lives with integrity, and gave grace and love just as they received it from the One who is Love.
And so we resist.
We resist because we believe that another world is possible.
We resist because James, the brother of Jesus, said, Resist the enemy and he will flee.
We resist because the resurrection of a peasant means the empire will never have the last word.
We resist because we hope.
It might seem hard to hope when there is so much divisiveness and empty rhetoric among politicians, pundits, and Facebook feeds, but hope is one of our greatest resources. And hope, especially in the midst of our current political climate, is an act resistance.