We all know we want to get “there.” People want the result. Most want
a better job, a cleaner house, bigger bank account, better relationships,
happier inside. But some days, getting from here to there looks, well,
impossible. It looks impossible mostly because it’s a long way to go, and
there’s a lot of work to get from point A to point Z. Someone once said, “The
first step in getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where
you are.”
We could try to just take the first step. Instead of thinking, “I have to
clean the entire house today,” we just start with one load of laundry. After
the first load another load doesn’t seem like so much. While the laundry is
going, you know what, we could vacuum the family room. That feels so good
that putting away things doesn’t feel demanding. Before long, much more is
cleaned without even meaning to.
Getting that first step done leads to some good things. That’s because
taking that first, simple step is like knocking down the first domino in a
series. Sometimes moving the tiniest bit in a new direction is all you need to
keep going in that direction. Do what you need to take that first step because
many times it’s what you need to get on track.
Following God’s will often means taking a first step we aren’t prepared
to take. Today’s reading is a story of a first step. Jesus knew if he entered
Jerusalem, it was going to have serious consequences. The first step is often
the one where we align ourselves to God’s will or we go our own way. This
is the way Mark especially writes his Gospel.
Reading Gospel according to Mark, you will notice a couple of things.
Many of the first sentences of paragraphs and chapters start with action
verbs: “They went,” “A leper came,” “When he returned,” “Again he
entered,” “Jesus departed,” “He went up.” These examples occur within the
first three chapters alone. That’s a lot of action. Mark’s Jesus has been called
the Strong Man, who carries himself with a sense of a biblical action hero.
The second thing Mark does is he makes this action flow forward
continually. He uses words and phrases such as, “As soon as,” “Then,”
“Immediately,” “When,” repetitively. The picture you get is Jesus as a man
of action, on the move, with one step leading immediately, relentlessly to the
next step and to the next step.
Why does Mark do this? Because he wants to show Jesus actively,
powerfully, decisively stepping toward his destiny. Jesus doesn’t just lean
into his future; he gets out of his chair, pushes it behind him, and steps into it
body, mind and spirit. Mark paints this picture not just to show us who he
believed Jesus was and who Christ is but because Mark wants us to follow
quickly along with Christ. As scripture says, “Commit your way to the Lord,
trust also in God, and the Lord shall bring it to pass.” We can step into
something better with Christ leading the way, and then keep moving along.
Now, for Mark it’s enough that on this first day, Jesus enters Jerusalem,
goes to the Temple, and looks around. That’s all that goes on. Matthew and
Luke’s Gospels however have him driving out the money changers on the
first day, and of course with Matthew, you get Jesus quoting Hebrew
scripture. This is ironic. Mark’s Jesus is a man of action, and yet here in
Jerusalem now, he shows great patience and calmness. He doesn’t rush into
the temple and start throwing things around—he does it the next day. For
Mark, Jesus can finally put down this mantle of always moving and doing.
He’s almost reached the finish line and now he will take one step at a time at
its time. But Luke’s kind and Matthew’s wise Christ goes to the Temple and
immediately acts. Notwithstanding that Matthew and Luke disagree
historically with Mark on when Jesus cleared the Temple—they say the first
day and Mark says the second—all take this occasion to swing Jesus from his
predominant mode of being to its opposite. By this, we know that all three
agree that Jesus coming to Jerusalem was a huge deal and changed
Jesus’ first step, the final first step has been taken. Jesus will not turn
back from his future, his purpose, his destiny.
But for us, things can be very different. We’re not quite as comfortable
with the “Then, then, then,” of Jesus’ life. We’re more comfortable getting
somewhere pretty good, and then staying put. We’re a bit more like, “Let’s
sit a spell here and camp out. It’s a nice right here. Peaceful.” We turn from
seeing life going forward to seeing life in circular patterns. We sit at the
center, shielding ourselves, while much else orbits or gets deflected off our
little pleasant, peaceful abode.
But that circular orbit is in our wishes only. “Then, then, and then”
keep up their forward momentum. While we remain in our orbit all the while
expecting others to respect it, they don’t because life and God move on.
Whether we keep up, with kindness of course, and wisdom for sure, and with
actions, that is, with responses that rise to the moment and the movement, is
for us to decide, to struggle with, pray about, go to therapists about, attend
AA or NA meetings, seek counsel for, read books on, turn to scripture about,
study, work hard, change jobs, fall in love about, become more or less
because of. It’s the labor of our lives, it’s the joy we seek for ourselves and
There’s a fabulous TedTalk by equality advocate Ash Beckham in
which she candidly discusses her experience coming out of her closet, that is,
acknowledging publicly that she is a lesbian, and the experience and wisdom
she gained through that process. Beckham believes to some degree we all
live in closets. In her words, “all a closet is, is a hard conversation.”
A closet is like my circular pattern, the orbit I was just talking about. A
closet is a place we stay inside of so as not to face the next step. It’s a place
of false security and safety; a place in which spirits grow weak and fragile.
It’s probably the place we last felt God’s presence, but then demanding the
good Lord stay with us rather than us traveling with the good Lord, which of
course is harder.
In Ash Beckham’s words, “Hard is not relative. Hard is hard. We need
to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard.” Our next step is hard
for us, and therefore it’s hard. Simple as that. But what if when you take that,
you end up landing on solid ground, and then you take another step and again
land on solid ground? What if the closet isn’t where you’re supposed to be at
all? Come out of the closet. Let go of your false sense of safety. Step out and
catch up to the Lord. God’s goodness has been slowing down for quite some
time hoping you would come to your faith and strap on some courage. Take
the first step and follow the Lord’s lead. It can make all the difference in
your life.
A woman was driving home one night. Rain was coming down in
buckets and visibility was very poor. Seeing taillights ahead, she followed
the car in front seeming to be going the right direction. Suddenly, it stopped.
She wondered what happened; perhaps the car in front hit a deer. Thinking
being stopped in the middle of the road might lead to an accident, she grew
uncomfortable. Then the car lights went off.
She was startled by knocking on her window. She looked up and a man
was standing there. She cracked the window open and asked the man what
the problem was. The man replied that was the question he was going to ask
her. She retorted she wasn’t the one who had stopped in the middle of the
road. The man’s reply was that they weren’t in the middle of the road—they
were in his driveway!
It’s that first step, the deciding what to follow, that can be quite the
doozy. But that’s where the joy of life is. That’s where God stands offering
you so much more. That first step is passageway to the rest of your life, and
the God who believes in you.
According to Mark, Jesus went back the next day to the Temple. There,
he spoke, taught, healed, and got into good trouble that eventually brought
him to darker days and nights; finally, what we call Good Friday put him
where there were no more steps to take. They refused to let him do anything
else, go any farther, teach or touch anyone else. They nailed him to wood,
dropped the vertical beam into a hole, and kept him there until he breathed
his last, dead due to heart failure or asphyxiation.
That was when Jesus finally was stopped. Until Golgotha, he laid his
life on the line, followed the truth, did the good, kept his heart directed
toward humanity, his mind on God, his eyes to the kingdom. If this meant he
needed to turn left, he turned left. If it meant turn right, that’s what he did. If
he needed to speak up, then he spoke up. If he stayed quiet, it was so God’s
will be done. Resolve to be clearer about yourself. Be more matter of fact
when it comes to saying what is yours to say and the same goes for what is
yours to do. Those are steps you can take to get yourself travelling with the
Lord and not staying put on your own.
A dad said, “My son recently received a brand-new bike for his third
birthday. Not a day goes by that he isn’t riding that bike in our driveway, in
the cul-de-sac across the street, or even in circles around our living
room. The other day, I was walking beside him as he rode his bike down the
sidewalk in our neighborhood. We approached a steep uphill climb, and his
little legs began straining at the pedals as he tried to keep his bicycle moving
forward. “Okay, buddy,” I said. “Let’s head back.” “Why, Daddy?” he
protested. “Because it’s hard,” I said. Then I stopped.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted saying them.
Somewhere along my own journey, I had picked up the idea that when things
get hard, it’s time to turn back. I quickly altered the verbal course I had
begun taking with my son. “But you can do hard things, can’t you, buddy.” It
was more an affirmation than a question. “Yeah,” he responded. “I can do
hard things.”
I gently placed the palm of my hand against his back as he redoubled
his efforts to get himself up the hill. I offered encouragement as he dutifully
pushed on the pedals. “You’re doing well, son. Keep going.” Before long we
arrived at the top of the hill—a place we affectionately refer to as “the spot.”
It just happens to be the most beautiful part of our neighborhood. We looked
out over the rooftops to the lake where we often come to watch the sun set. It
really is lovely, but we would not have seen its beauty that day if we had
turned back.”
Uh huh! Now he’s talking! Now he’s talking to you!
We will fail by hanging back—no doubt—and we will make mistakes
by heading out too early—it’s true—or going in the wrong direction—yep!
But taking a first step, even if it lands us in a bit of a pile, is still better than
staying in the closet, keeping to our self-contained orbit. Scripture tells us,
“Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap
a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Be bold and of good courage. Step
up to your Jerusalem. Go the next mile. Travel with the Lord.
Can the church say Amen?