Status Quo No More!

(Mark 1: 1-8)


I was hired in Jefferson County as a Deputy Prosecutor in 2008.  The elected prosecutor was looking for an experienced trial attorney and I fit the bill due to my many years of criminal defense and prosecution in Texas.  I have to be honest with you, I loved being in the courtroom.  I loved the fight for justice whether representing the State or making sure my defendant client got a fair trial.  And, to her credit, my boss told me she wanted me to get in there and mix it up and that I was not being paid to win, just prosecute.  That takes a load off because if your job depends upon a winning record you are tempted to cut corners which not only will come back to bite you, but it is unethical.  The situation in Jefferson County was that the elected was the felony prosecutor who didn’t much enjoy the courtroom as I did and none of the other prosecutors had any experience to speak of.  They had fallen into the trap of plea-bargaining cases away, and why not, you don’t get paid any extra for going to trial.  The defense bar liked it that way as the judge was a former public defender, and if a case actually made it to trial the jury verdict usually favored the defendant due to an inherent mistrust of the government.  Everyone was more than content with the status quo.  Well, almost everyone.  I immediately started reviewing my files and prepared to take the field of battle.  That came as a shock to the defense bar who assured me, I couldn’t win at trial and that I should take their offer to resolve the case and not waste their time or that of the court.  Not gonna happen.  Upending the status quo meant they were going to have to work and prepare their clients for trial.  I won some and lost several, but I had gotten my point across.  When they started giving my lone misdemeanor a hard time, I ended the practice of plea bargaining telling them that they could either plead guilty to the judge or go to trial, and we began winning 90% of our cases which was something they were not used to.  I took on the system, rocked the boat, challenged the status quo, and that’s why I stand here before you now.  Those who benefit the most by the status quo fight the hardest to protect it, and will do what it takes to keep things as they are.


And it’s the beginning signs of the status quo being challenged that Mark is writing about in his gospel.  Mark was not one of the 12 disciples of Jesus but, in all likelihood, he knew Jesus personally.  His gospel did not contain all of the back history that would have been important to Jewish converts as is found in the Gospel of Matthew. His gospel was written for new Christians residing in Rome, where many gods, including the emperor, were worshipped.  He wanted those who heard his gospel to know right up front that Jesus was the one true Son of God.  King of kings and Lord of lords. He’s making a bold statement for the time that Jesus is king of all, not Caesar and not whomever the Pharisees think.  Jesus came at a time in history when the entire civilized world was relatively peaceful under Roman rule, Pax Romanus, where travel was easy, and there was a common language.  As a result, the news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection could spread quickly throughout the vast Roman Empire.


Mark begins his gospel by stating: The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah, which is essentially a proclamation of God’s action in the world, the coming of God’s kingdom, manifested in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In Isaiah 40: 2-3, the prophet says: Look, I am sending my message before you.  He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the lord; make his paths straight.”  This reference to what the prophet was foretelling sets up what Mark is about to say about John the Baptist.  He says: John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.  Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins.  This is significant because up until this point in time, forgiveness was found exclusively in the Jerusalem temple, closely guarded and controlled by the religious hierarchy, through the offering of approved offerings and sacrifices according to strictly held Jewish law.  But now John is baptizing in the wilderness and everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem are going out to the Jordan for their forgiveness which, I am sure, did not go unnoticed.  People were leaving Jerusalem for what God had to offer which posed a problem for the status quo.  The sheer magnitude of the response shows that the old order of things is inadequate, and people are seeking a much more holistic redemption on a new scale which posed a threat to Rome and to the organized religion that wasn’t getting it done.


The Baptist continues by announcing: One stronger than I am is coming after me.  I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.  I baptize with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  John’s pronouncement of his work in the wilderness alerts the readers of Mark’s gospel that ground-breaking work is on the horizon.  He’s saying that the maintenance of sin will no longer suffice.  An internal remedy with the promise of the Holy Spirit is on the rise.  That’s going to put a lot of people out of business.


And that’s the whole point.  The status quo will be no more.  In Israel, everyday men and women were ready for Jesus, ready for a change.  There had been no God-sent prophets for over 400 years, since the days of Malachi.  So, there was a growing anticipation that a great prophet or the hoped-for Messiah mentioned in the Old Testament would come soon.  It was all coming together for the hopeful.  Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah predicted that John the Baptist would come, and Isaiah’s words brought comfort to many people as they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.  And knowing that God keeps his promises can be comforting to us too.  John’s call to “make straight paths for him” meant that people should give up their selfish way of living, renounce their sins, seek God’s forgiveness, and establish a relationship with the almighty God by believing and obeying his words as found in scripture.  In John’s ministry, baptism was a visible sign that a person had decided to change his or her life, giving up a sinful and selfish way of living and turning to God.  John took a known custom and gave it new meaning.  The whole purpose of John’s preaching was to prepare people to accept Jesus as God’s son, the promised Messiah.  When John challenged the people to confess their sins individually, he signaled the start of a whole new way to relate to God, one that would turn the status quo on its head.


Like John the Baptist we too can prepare the way, make straight the path, by explaining the need for forgiveness, demonstrating Christ’s teachings by our conduct, and telling people how Christ can give their lives meaning.  And we can make straight paths for Him by correcting misconceptions that might be hindering people from approaching Christ, you know, those bad experiences with Organized Religion people are always telling us about, that ingrained belief that all churches are the same and are against changing the way they’ve always done things.  We can be those agents of change, that church that puts others before self, that church that puts Jesus first, the church that does something in Jesus’ name, that church that declares: Status Quo No More!


Let us pray.


Gracious and merciful Father, how we pray for the change that leads to a life worth the living, a life of joy, peace, and grace, a peace found only in a baptism by the Holy Spirit through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We pray that you will use us to be the agents of change, those who will make straight the paths for others removing the obstacles that hinder people from coming to you.  Keep us mindful that we can only do this once we have sought your forgiveness for our sins, sins that will be remembered no more, making our own paths straight.  Let us use this season of Advent to reflect upon ways we can challenge the status quo that hinders the establishment of your kingdom here on earth.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.