Last week I took a trip to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and attended my Alumni board meeting and the MidWinter lectures series. I love the culture in Austin and when I am there I attempt to experience as much of it as possible. Whether it is sucking on BBQ bones, hitting the shops on South Congress, Tex Mex or hitting the fun toyshops there is so much to do in the Austin area.
After three days of meetings, lectures, sermons, fellowship and refried beans I was ready for some time to myself for reflection. I knew exactly where I wanted to go. So, I bummed a ride downtown and began walking at a rapid pace to the Austin Museum of Art. In their main gallery there was an exhibit of a photographer that I had admired for years, but had never seen his photos up close and personal. The artist was Sebastiao Salgado and the exhibit was his famous photo essay entitled Workers. Salgado is a Brazilian photographer who from the years 1986-1993 toured 23 countries to cover both traditional and modern mechanized ways in which individual’s worked.
As I walked from black and white photo to black and white photo I realized that the images were so ubiquitous that I had already seen most of them before. They were of oil field workers, diamond mineworkers, ship deconstruction workers, fishermen and farmers. Yet, up close I noticed something that I had not seen in the photos from a book. What I noticed was something written in a description of the photos by the artist. It was that one of the main discoveries Salgado made over those years of photographing workers was that all work required movement.
This seems like such a minor point, but as I saw the rippling muscles on a man and the balance of a young woman I realized that this simple truth held power. Every job requires the movement, skill and participation of individuals. On the most popular image this is particularly true. It is a photo of literally thousands of people scurrying up ladders out of the diamond mines of Brazil. It was hard to distinguish people from the pattern. In the next picture was the solution. Next to the picture of the multitude was a close up of one individual moving swiftly up one of the ladders.
Movement means that there is a progression from point A to point B. In the case of the diamond mine workers in this photo a gigantic amount of work was traveling from point A to point B a thousand people at a time. In that mass of humanity it was hard to realize that each part of this constant flow is filled with individuals. There is so much volume that the individual story sometime gets lost. This morning there is so much movement in our Mark text and so many people involved that it is hard to keep track of the important story in each action.
One thing that we can see is a flurry of movement in 10 verses. Jesus moves from the synagogue, Jesus, James and John move to the house of Simon and Andrew, Jesus takes Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand, moving her from the bed to the kitchen, the whole city moved around the door to be cured of disease and demons, Jesus sneaks out in the early morning to an undisclosed location to pray, Simon and everyone else go searching for Jesus, they finally find him, Jesus convinces them to move throughout Galilee to proclaim the message and to cast out demons. Whew, there is so much movement and work being done that it is hard to keep track of it all. It is also easy to miss the point of the entire text amongst Jesus’ doctoring of Simon’s mother-in-law, to demons and a missing teacher. It is contained in the only part of these verses in which Jesus speaks.
“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Even if everyone one involved misses the point of this flurry of movement and the reader becomes mesmerized by all of the action Jesus does not miss the central meaning of all the activity that is swirling around him, it is the message.
So, what is this message that defines all this movement? It is what is contained a few verses earlier in Mark when Christ proclaims that his message is for us to be changed because the kingdom of God is near. Change for the Kingdom of God? So, what is this Kingdom of God that Jesus is so fond of talking about in the book of Mark? The visible sign of the Kingdom of God is the belief that in the shards of our histories is the triumph of God’s power over chaos. Somehow in our surrender to God’s control salvation becomes the restoration of unity in a fragmented creation. It is hope and faith in the restoration and wholeness of all creation by the creator. So, when we get caught in the flurry of activity God is somewhere steady and in control.
What does this mean for us as humans? It means that not only are we working with the creator for restoring all humanity through Christ’s teaching and example, but that we must rely on a good God to ultimately win over the banal or active evils that infiltrate or permeate our lives. It is in the senseless diseases that we catch, the addictions we struggle through, the mental illnesses that cloud our perceptions, the misogyny that we experience, the homophobia that pervades our culture, the unalterable poison we have seeped into our soil, the melting polar ice caps, the classicism that divides us, the violence that destroys our neighborhoods, the untimely losses, the broken relationships, the religious abuse and whatever other demons are hot on our track this morning we must have change in our own lives and communities. Even though we are commanded to be participants in salvation by our own changed lives the second half of the message is both hope and struggle. This message from Christ is that God is in control through a kingdom that is penetrating our world. The Biblical witness reminds us that God’s people argue, cajole, berate, cry, plead, worship, lament, dance, sing, praise and yell at their creator because of their faith that God is part of history.
In our busy quests for self-actualization, survival, control, power and money it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. It is too easy to see our busyness as the end to our lives. Yet, we are reminded that there is a message behind our job, family, place of worship and society. This message is that we must change and that somehow this change is working toward the redemption of all creation so that in chaos the world might see God’s Kingdom.
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