Christina Kukuk Sermon: “Changes Come” (Jan 5, 2020)
Rev. Christina Kukuk
January 5, 2020 // Narr 2.18 Epiphany H.O.W. // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // First Congregational UCC, Ashland, OR // “Changes Come” // “The Wise Ones’ Journey” by the Wild Goose Resource Group; Mark 1:1-8
Tomorrow is the Feast of Epiphany, or, if you’re going to be official, in a lot of churches it is celebrated today: the Feast of Epiphany. Who can tell me what story we remember on Epiphany? There have been lots of clues. Yes, on Epiphany we retell the story about the Wise Ones – sages, magi, astrologers – who are following a star, which they believe to herald a king’s birth, to the child Jesus. What do the magi bring with them? Children reply, “Presents.”
I happen to have a present here. Turns out, there’s a leftover from Christmas that has not been opened. Do I have a volunteer to open this present? [Child opens present.]
This is a copy of Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints, my gift to our children and youth for the bookshelf up here. In it, you’ll find stories like the one about Bayard Rustin that I shared a bit about at the end of November. During the civil rights movement, he was a key leader whose story got silenced and hidden over the years. There’s something the people in these stories have in common with the people in our Bible stories this morning: they brought change.
Our bulletins this morning do not have a picture frame for you to draw your own illuminations, but they do contain two questions:
Those questions may help us understand what’s going on in the Gospel this morning. As Mark begins his story about Jesus and what Jesus’ life means, he does not tell a birth story (not about Jesus’ birth anyway). Mark tells a re-birth story, what we might call a “transformation” story today, a story of change. John the Baptist, when he shows up, looks pretty ratty. He was outside all the time; he was in the wilderness, clothed in camel’s hair. He had a bizarre diet of locusts and honey. This strange, holy troublemaker and unconventional saint, John, lived the life of an ascetic in the wilderness as a witness answering a call to reconsider what’s going on in the world. And in Mark’s story, he begins with an account of Jesus with John saying “This is the one of whom it was said, ‘A voice is crying in the wilderness; prepare the way.’” John shows up preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
What does that mean? Repentance? Not to turn 360 degrees but to turn 180 degrees. It means to change; to reorient. The Greek word, which we translate into English, comes from combining two words that describe a process of “stepping out of one’s existing mindset and adopting a characteristically different mindset.” You may have heard “paradigm shift.” Or, I think the most contemporary translation might be [make “poooh” sound and “mindblown” motion]. One’s perception of the world and of oneself gets transformed. Repentance brings a “radically different worldview and new ways of relating to the world.” The older Hebrew word meant u-turn, a change of course, a re-orientation back to God.
To children: Can you remember a time when a grown-up has changed their mind? Said, “No, we aren’t going to do that.” Then later said, “You know what? I’ve changed my mind.” Do the people in your life ever do that?
It’s a course correction. It’s what the magi make when they find the infant Jesus to be much different than they expected when they thought they were setting out, perhaps, to kneel at the feet of a king. And find themselves kneeling before a poor new mother. And they must return home by another route. They’re changed. It’s a course correction when the people in Jerusalem and all Judea recognize they need the light of John the Baptist. When they encounter this very scruffy looking person who has taken on the whole lifestyle of poverty, they realize they need to change. Mark uses hyperbole. He says, “All of Jerusalem and Judea” which tells us that this was not an individual private act; this was corporate; a whole community act. A whole community saying something is not okay about the way things are and coming down to the river to be baptized. We don’t usually think of change as a gift. And changing feels uncomfortable and strange. It’s difficult to do.
The good news at the beginning of Mark’s story is we don’t have to come to God bearing gifts. In fact, our openness to change is gift enough. For the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the one who is coming after John will bring. The Magi change. The people going down to the Jordan change. And as this new year begins, changes will come for us, too. Mark’s call is that we open ourselves up to that change because the next thing that’s going to happen is Christ comes with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Raj Nadella, “Commentary on Mark 1:1-20, www.workingpreacher.org