Friday, July 4, 2014

"Everywhere the Queen Goes, it Smells Like Fresh Paint”
Mark 1:1-13

Recently, I was flying home from Heathrow Airport in England.  I was flying out of the new international terminal, “the Queen’s Terminal.”  You cannot believe what it was like.  There were no lines. Not some lines, not short lines. There were NO lines.  I walked right up to a ticket kiosk, I walked right up to a baggage inspector, I walked right through the x-ray machine, I chatted with the officer who swiped my hands and bag for explosives.  It was incredible, I was dumbstruck.

The English equivalent of the TSA man,  said that their goal was to get us from the ticket kiosk to through to the terminal gates area in four minutes.  FOUR MINUTES. I explained that at O’Hare, their goal was to get you boarded for your departure before your return flight landed.

As you exited the area, by the way, they had several little stations along the wall with three large buttons on them: a red a yellow and a green, so that in one second you could review your experience of the airport so far.  I laughed as I smacked the green one.  Nope, you’d never see that at O’Hare.

Then, as I proceeded to the gate, things got even more bizarre.  Everything was clean and new and sparkling, every escalator worked, every screen had something recent and relevant on it, and at intervals all along the way, were live musicians. Around this corner there were three musicians in formalwear before noon playing a Schubert concerto for violin, cello and piano.  Around the next bend was a mariachi band in bolero jackets.  Curioser and curioser, right?  But then, as I neared my own departure gate, there stood a row of half a dozen young men in tux pants and white pressed shirts, holding trays of champagne flutes. 


At that point, I stopped one of a pair of dishy Bobbies in their spanking uniforms and asked. Yes, he told me, that was a reception for the queen. She would be passing through shortly. “Didn’t you wonder why there were so many policemen in the terminal and with guns?”

Well, no, I thought, that was the only part of the experience that felt familiar.

There is an expression among the English that everywhere the queen goes, it smells like fresh paint.  She doesn’t have the same experience as the rest of us. For the Queen of England, there is always the possibility of a Mariachi band around the corner.

Mark 1 is, let’s remember, the opening salvo of what we think is the earliest Gospel.  These are the opening words he offers from Isaiah:  “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his pathways straight.” 

In other words, line up that Schubert Trio and try to find six guys to hold the champagne trays. Because, when the savior comes, we want to be ready, ducks in a row, souls in order, pathways straight. We want toe Savior to smell fresh paint.

Or do we?

Because the point of that truism about the Queen is that she doesn't have a very real experience of the world.  Her idea of what an airplane terminal is like bears almost no resemblance at all to our experience, does it?

But when the Savior comes, he isn't looking for us to be buttoned down and cleaned up.  He isn't going to walk through our lives as we line up before him like troops on inspection. And that’s a really good thing, because if salvation hung on whether our bathrooms were clean, no teenagers could ever go to heaven.

No, Scripture doesn't tell us that the Savior is coming to tour the terminal.  It says he is coming to travel with us. It says he is coming to walk the walk of faith right beside us, to sit on the aisle so we can have the window and to experience the journey with all its trials and joys just as we experience it ourselves.

In the first chapter of Mark we see Jesus baptized, affirmed by the voice of God, and then immediately thrown out into the wilderness and tribulation.  In two paragraphs!

“AT ONCE the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness.”  He didn’t want to go any more than we do. But that is how the journey of life proceeds.

“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.”  THAT certainly sounds familiar.  Over the course of the journey of our lives we are forced into the wilderness by life and we are tempted by Satan. Sometimes for way more than forty days.

Then it says, “He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.”

Have you ever heard it observed that the experience of Jesus is a parallel to the experience of the People of Israel in Exodus?  Through the waters – The Red Sea in Exodus, and Baptismal water in the case of Jesus – and then through the wilderness – to wander for generations in the case of the Israelites and to be tested in the case of Jesus.

Jesus walks the walk of the people of God. He is our only advocate and intercessor.  He stands for us, he stands with us.  Even in the wilderness – surrounded by wild animals – the angels take care of him as they do us.  Everything we do in the life, every experience, blessing or trial, Jesus is with us along the way.  And the angels protect us.

In these first introductory verses, Mark wants to be sure we understand that Jesus is not a monarch like Caesar or Elizabeth the Second.  He is not distant from our experience of the world, he is not here to be preceded by Schubert and fresh paint.  He is not a leader marching before his troops, he is a Savior, marching beside them. His experience is not remote, it is identical.

Like you and I, he was baptized, like you and I, he is the beloved of God, like you and I he was thrown into the wilderness, like you and I he was tempted, like you and I he was watched over by angels.

Mark begins the first chapter of our journey with Christ with Isaiah’s urgent wake up call. (Here imagine your mother’s voice through the door of your room in the morning before school):  “Wake up, get ready, prepare ye the way of the Lord.” 

Look for him, because he is here, with you, now. Be prepared to find evidence of him every step of the way. And how awesome is that really?  To have Jesus Christ along as your traveling companion?  To ask when you come to a fork in the road? To consult when you find your progress slowing? To console you when you’re baggage becomes too big to fit in the overhead bin? So, prepare yourself to find him traveling with you. He has walked this path before, he knows the way.  He will help you make your pathway straight, he is with you on this journey and will see you safely home.

So, it seems fair here to ask, if everywhere the Queen goes smells like fresh paint … then what does it smell like everywhere that Christ goes?  Well, let’s hope it smells like candles lit for worship, bread to feed to the hungry and, well, you really can’t go wrong with champagne.