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The Streaker in the Garden

Posted by on Sunday, March 24th, 2024 in News
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Hespeler, March 24, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Passion Sunday
Mark 11:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Mark 14:43-52

There is one small incident in the Gospel of Mark that I have always found fascinating. I’m not the only one. People have debated for centuries about the meaning of the strange appearance of the young man in the garden who is wearing only a linen cloth and who then runs away naked.

The incident is mentioned in none of the other gospels, but it stands out with such distinctiveness in this one that people can’t just ignore it. It has led to endless speculation.


Some people suggest, for example, that this young man is an appearance of Mark himself, the author of the gospel, and that the author is saying that he actually was there either historically or perhaps symbolically. It is an interesting idea to be sure, but there’s really no evidence that that is who it is supposed to be.

Other people have noted that the appearance of this young man may be symbolic of the early Christian practice of baptism. Apparently, the common practice in the earliest church was for candidates for baptism to present themselves dressed in a simple white linen cloak and that, after the baptism had been completed, the robe would be stripped off and the newly baptized person would leave in the nude as a symbol of new birth. Interesting idea to be sure. I’m not going to suggest that it is a practice we ought to revive though!

People have also noted a very odd resemblance between this man in the garden and the young man who appears dressed identically in the tomb of Jesus at the end of Mark’s Gospel. Surely that cannot be a coincidence! Mark must want us to make the connection.

So, there is a lot of speculation, but no clear answer. And so, I set out to figure out what this strange streaker is doing in the garden. Scholars have written a lot about it over the years. So, I did a lot of reading and some of it was helpful.

Comic Relief

For example, I read this one paper in which this scholar argued that this guy is in the story as comic relief. And, you know, after reading it, I think I kind of agree, he is there to make us laugh. But do you want to know what the funniest part of all of that was? The scholar[1] took 14 pages of dense theological and literary argument to come to the conclusion that this episode is comic relief. And when it takes that long to explain a joke, you have to wonder how funny it really is!

The Importance of Following

The paper argued that the keyword in the little story may be the first verb: “was following,” as in, “A certain young man was following him.” The word is important because it is a keyword, repeated often in this gospel. “Following,” it could be argued, is the most important thing that anybody does in this gospel. The choice to follow Jesus is what makes all of the disciples into disciples. And that also seems to include the women who are said to have followed Jesus to Jerusalem. So, the mere fact that this youth is following Jesus puts him in important company.

The Grammar Matters

But there is more than that. Mark uses a particularly intensive form of the verb here – a form that essentially means to follow closely. He only uses that word in one other place in his gospel when he refers to three key disciples, Peter, James and John, following Jesus into the home of Jairus. This suggests a particularly close connection with Jesus.

And then there is the tense of the verb. It is in the imperfect tense which, in Greek, refers to an action in the past that is continuous. In other words, this youth did not just follow Jesus once on this occasion. It was something that he had been doing for some time. It can also refer to a habitual practice. It could even be saying that he was kind of obsessed with following Jesus.

All of this makes me suspect that Mark does not want us to underestimate the importance of this young man or to think of this incident in isolation. We need to see it as an essential part of his overall narrative. And so that made me wonder where else this young man’s following of Jesus might have intersected with the story of Jesus told in Mark’s Gospel.

Next in Line

Imagine that you are the person who is next in line to be baptized by John the Baptist when Jesus goes down into the water. Even though the place by the Jordan River is far away from any human settlement, people have come here from Jerusalem and all Judea to hear what the Baptist has to say and to receive his baptism of repentance. And nobody wants to be baptized by one of John’s disciples. They want the authentic experience and so they wait in line for hours to each get their few minutes in the river with John.

When Jesus Was Baptised

But when Jesus is baptized, everything suddenly grinds to a halt. There are some who say that clouds in the sky are ripped apart. And when a dove flies down from a nearby tree, many read that as a great omen as well. There are some who insist that they hear a rumble of thunder, which others identify as the very voice of God. But whatever signs each one sees, and however they interpret them, there is an immediate consensus that there is something different about this Jesus. Even John is rendered silent as he stares at the man walking out of the stream and, if you know anything about John, that is a wonder all its own.

And you are there next in line after Jesus. You have come out from a town in Judea. Ever since you have heard about what John is doing near the Jordan, you have been intent on coming. You even purchased a fresh white linen cloth – a symbol of the repentance and new beginning that John’s baptism represents – and wrapped it tight around your body. But now as you come to stand before John (whose mind is clearly still trying to process what has just happened) and John rather robotically goes through the motions of baptizing you, it does not really go as you had imagined.

Implications of Following

But you do not mind in the least. You, like everyone else, are totally focused on the man who was just baptized. And so, as you come up out of the water, without even pausing to take any of your possessions, you set out following Jesus as he climbs the riverbank heading towards the wilderness.

And now it is later. It is hard to say exactly how much later because the timeline in Mark’s Gospel is far from clear. But a lot has happened. And all this time you have followed Jesus as closely as possible. You are not one of those disciples that people talk about. You are not a Peter or James or a Mary Magdalene. But you have listened to everything that he has taught. You’ve tried to do your best to follow.

When, for example, Jesus had that encounter with the rich young ruler who wanted to know how to enter the kingdom of God, and Jesus told him that he needed to “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me,” (Mark 10:17) the rich young man could not handle such a demand. He chose not to follow.

But you did. You didn’t necessarily have a whole lot to sell and give away, but you gave what you could. You gave what you had left. And if it left you wearing little more than a linen garment wrapped around a naked body. But you were okay with that.

Final Test

And now he has come up to Jerusalem. And things have been looking real bad for about a week. When you are all together in the garden at Gethsemane, it finally comes to a head. There is an entire crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders and they are coming for him.

This is finally it. This is the great test of what it means to follow Jesus. And as you stand there, trembling with terror, you look to those big-name disciples. You look to Peter, James and John, and you see that they are all shaking with the same fear that you feel.

Who Will Follow?

But surely, you think to yourself, as terrifying as this situation is, they will not abandon him. He called them to follow him and that means even at moments like this – maybe especially at moments like this. But as you stand there, mouth agape, they do it. They break and they start to run in every direction. They are gone.

And you stand there amazed and terrified. Could it be possible? Could you really be the only one? And you feel a determination come over you. Yes, you will follow. You have to follow especially now. As they start to drag him off, you move with determination to follow closely.


A naked man running away (you can only see the legs!)

He turns and for a moment he catches your eye. And in that moment, you understand that he sees you, that he knows of your commitment and love for him. He knows that you will follow him anywhere. He nods his head in blessing, but then he shakes it, and you understand him to be saying that here you cannot follow. Not yet.

That is the moment when one of the ruffians in the crowd notices you trying to follow. There is a cry. Several hands reach out to grab your loosely wound linen garment. You turn and, as you turn, you can feel the cloth unwinding. In a moment you are free. You are running naked in the garden. The men cry out to you with mocking and cursing. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, none of them seems inclined to set out in pursuit. You are free, perhaps freer than you have ever been.

You know that, as you run, there are all kinds of things that you should be feeling. You should feel the shame of public indecency. You should feel the humiliation of being on display. But you feel none of it. Having let go of your last possession on earth, you feel as if every weight has finally dropped away. You feel as if you have come newborn into the world.

The Following Days

The next couple of days are very difficult. There is no place you can go where people will not reject you. You dare not go into the city or any settled habitation. You end up walking through the pathless wilderness and find a place to sleep in the hedges. The next days are spent wandering about, always being careful to avoid being seen by any passing humans.

The Burial Ground

Eventually, you are so desperate to find a little bit of shelter that late into the night you decide to head for the burial ground outside the city. Very early in the morning, before the sun has even started to rise, you look around the graves and are able to dimly make out what looks like a newly hollowed-out tomb.

Amazingly it seems to be open. The stone that would normally be placed at the entrance to keep out wild animals is rolled off to one side. And so, you enter in, glad to find the shelter. And there, in the place where a body would be laid – should be laid – you find nothing but a folded white linen cloth. Grateful to find something to wear, you quickly take it and wrap it around your body. For the first time in days, you feel almost normal.

That is when you hear footsteps approaching. A small group of women are coming to the tomb. You are amazed to recognize them. They are women who also followed him up to Jerusalem. As they approach, everything comes together in your mind and in your spirit and you know what you need to say to them.

A Stand-in for the Reader

Who was the strange young man in the garden who ran away naked? We may never know. But I don’t think that he is meant to represent the author of the gospel, nor any particular disciple. I suspect that Mark wrote him into the Gospel as a stand-in for you, the reader. He wanted you to imagine yourself in the scene. He wanted you to ask yourself what you might have done.

In particular, he wanted you to ask what it might mean for you to follow Jesus – to truly follow Jesus – and what that might mean in your life. This young disciple is all of us – or at least who all of us could be if we choose to follow him closely as a habit in our lives.

[1] Stephen B. Hatton, Mark's Naked Disciple: The Semiotics and Comedy of Following

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On Healing

Posted by on Sunday, March 10th, 2024 in Minister, News
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Hespeler, March 10, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

I really appreciate the opportunity that we have been given to focus on the important and necessary resources that are provided to people who are dealing with end-of-life care in our region through the hospice.

I would just like to spend a few moments in reflection on end-of-life care from a Christian perspective. We talk a lot about healing in the church – and for good reason. Many people are struggling with various illnesses, ailments and lacks. And when someone is wounded in mind or body or spirit, our default Christian response is to pray and to ask God for healing.

Moses and the Serpents

The story we read from the Book of Numbers this morning is a perfect illustration of that. The people of Israel are afflicted with a dreadful and frightening illness as venomous serpents spread through the camp and people are bitten and fall ill and die. And they cry out in despair for what? For healing. And Moses creates a powerful symbol for healing by making a serpent out of bronze and placing it on a staff. That symbol should be familiar, by the way. To this very day, the symbol of intertwined winged snakes on a staff is the international symbol for medicine.

And the promise of the story, of course, is that when people ask for healing, when they turn to the symbol of healing that Moses gives them, they will be healed. In our Gospel reading, that idea is taken and turned into a metaphor for the salvation we can access by turning and looking to Jesus.

Seeking Healing

And I am so glad to be able to turn to God and seek healing – to pray for and ask for God’s help. But, at the same time, I think we all recognize that healing – at least the kind of healing we may be craving for someone – is not always going to come. Sometimes someone has a condition that is almost certainly terminal. Sometimes people’s conditions are so bad that we simply don’t want them to keep on suffering. And, sure, miracles may happen, but I’m pretty sure we all understand that they don’t always happen just because we pray no matter how hard we believe. On top of all that, we have the undeniable truth that nobody lives forever.

Healing and End of Life

So how can we confess a belief in a God who heals and deal with the realities of end-of-life care? Well, let me put it this way: I do believe that God can always heal. But the healing that God brings, is not always the healing we are seeking. And it’s certainly not always the same thing as a medical cure.

What’s more, we tend to think of health in one dimension, as a condition of the body. But God always sees us as more. God sees the whole person, mind and body and spirit. God sees us within our relationships and community. And God, treating us as a whole person, is always able to bring healing, even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Even when somebody’s situation is dire, even when they’re undoubtedly heading towards death, I do believe that we can pray to God for their healing. And I believe that God heals. But the healing comes in different ways for different people.

Different Ways of Healing

For some people, the healing they need is some reconciliation with people in their lives. I have seen some amazing miracles where people found forgiveness and love that was able to overcome past hurts in their last days. That is vital healing. For some people, it might just be a little bit of peace and a little bit of relief from their pain.

For many people, healing is as much about coming to terms with the dying process, either for themselves or for their loved one, in some kind of comforting way. But wherever people are on that inexorable journey from birth to death, God’s healing power is able to meet them where they are. I believe that.

Hospice Waterloo

 And that is why I am so glad to be able to celebrate the work of Hospice Waterloo. In the programs and the facilities they offer, they make possible and create the space where so much healing can happen as people deal with the end of life. God is present in those places for healing. Sometimes acknowledged, perhaps sometimes not, but healing happens and for that I think we can all be truly thankful. And we certainly pray for the continued healing work of Hospice.

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My Client didn’t say it! And if he did say it, it doesn’t mean what you think it means

Posted by on Sunday, March 3rd, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, March 3, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

t is a pattern we have all seen by now so often that it has almost become routine. A report comes out that a popular personality – a celebrity or a politician or maybe it is an influential religious person – has said something horrible, awful and egregious – something racist or homophobic or a statement in support of an accused terrorist group.

And what is the first response? It is almost always a firm denial. No, they never said such a horrible, awful thing. Whoever said that they said it is obviously lying. Whoever reported it is only publishing fake news. Nothing to see here!

The Truth Comes Out

Shortly afterwards, almost on cue, what happens? The tape is suddenly released or an unimpeachable witness steps forward. Yes, it turns out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the beloved personality really did say it.

That should be the end of the story, right? Now that the proof is out in the open, it cannot be denied. So, does the accused finally admit that they were in the wrong? Of course not! No, the next explanation we learn is that, okay, yes, they did say it. But everybody’s got it all wrong. They didn’t mean it like that!

So I guess it turns out that it’s actually everybody else’s fault because we all totally misunderstood what this very important person said. If there’s any apology at all at this point, the person will apologize for how everyone else misunderstood and misconstrued what they said.

Public Relations Confusion

How often have you seen that same series of events play out in public relations? Sometimes it leads us to real confusion about what the person actually said and what it meant. And sometimes it creates a conversation that might just lead to a better understanding of who they are – for better or for worse.

I was thinking about this kind of drama that regularly plays out in the world of public relations when I read our passage from the Gospel of John this morning. Because it turns out that Jesus himself was once accused of saying something terrible – something that you would think only a terrorist would say. He said that he would destroy the temple in Jerusalem – the central institution of Judean society and that he would rebuild it in three days.

Mark is Adamant!

And the very idea that Jesus could ever even dream of saying such a thing was so unthinkable that the writer of the Gospel of Mark, the first of our gospels ever written, went out of his way to deny it. When Jesus is on trial near the end of the Gospel of Mark, he writes, For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”’” (Mark 14:56-58)

Did you catch that? Mark is so sure that Jesus never said anything like that he insists twice that this was “false testimony.” Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turn over to the Gospel of John who reports those very words on Jesus’ own lips: Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’”

False Testimony?

And yes, I realize that those are not exactly the words that Mark says that Jesus didn’t say. Perhaps they are even different enough that a public relations expert could spin it to say that Mark was technically correct in his previous denials. But is it really different enough for Mark to have insisted so strongly that it was all “false testimony”?

So, we are in that place where we so often find ourselves in the world these days when we are given conflicting reports about what some famous person said, and we are left to work out for ourselves what it all really means. And that is, by the way, exactly where the gospel writer of John wants us to be.

A Terrorist Act?

He has done this on purpose to get us thinking about the meaning behind what Jesus is doing. Jesus is, after all, causing a major disturbance in the temple. It is the kind of act that anyone, no matter how sympathetic to Jesus and his cause, would find troubling.

Imagine, for example, if some people went into the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem today and started turning over tables and whipping people. That would be seen, at the very least, as an act of terrorism. In the present context, it would probably open a new front in the ongoing war. Whatever Jesus may have said on the occasion, what he did in the temple was definitely radical, inflammatory and provocative. And yet, all four gospels agree that he did that.

This is one of Jesus’ more radical moments, and so we absolutely need to come to terms with what it means. The Gospel of John, by insisting that Jesus said what the Gospel of Mark insists that he didn’t say, is quite intentionally forcing us to come to terms with it.

Is it Practical?

So, what does it mean? Is Jesus attacking the temple? He may be doing so symbolically, but the gospel writer seems to want to make it abundantly clear that Jesus is by no means a practical threat to the temple itself. He underlines the fact that, at the time when Jesus’ ministry began, the temple had “been under construction for forty-six years.”

The rebuild had been started as a vanity project by Herod the Great and the work would not be completed for nearly as long again after Jesus came, at which point it would be destroyed by Romans, not by Jesus. So, the gospel writer seems to be screaming at his readers, “Do you know how big and complicated the temple complex was? The very idea that Jesus could destroy it is ridiculous!”

So, What did he Mean?

So, yes, the point is clear that Jesus cannot mean this literally. But we are still left with the question of how we can understand it. Fortunately, John clears that one up for us too. He tells us what Jesus really meant: “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” He is speaking about his own death and resurrection that will be recounted at the end of this gospel.

But he’s also saying more than that. He is looking forward to the time when there will not be a temple in Jerusalem, and he’s promising that his own body will step into the role that the temple once played. The temple was the place where the people of Israel encountered their God, and Jesus is promising that his own body will become that point of contact between heaven and earth.

The Body of Christ

A little bit later this morning, we will be gathering around the communion table and remembering the ancient words of Jesus as we break the bread: “This is my body, given for you.” It is in our participation as a community in this meal, that we are able to find that same encounter with God that the people of Israel experienced in the temple.

So, this odd saying of Jesus that Mark had such a problem with that he insisted Jesus never said it, is suddenly laden with meaning for us as followers of Jesus.

But there is one more very surprising aspect to this objectionable saying of Jesus. The gospel writer tells us what Jesus meant by it, but he also admits that nobody understood that when Jesus said it. He writes, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Nobody Understood Jesus

So, the Jewish officials don’t understand what Jesus means, and neither do the disciples, not when he says it. In fact, they have to remember what he said for the three years of ministry that, according to the Gospel of John, are still ahead of Jesus at this point. They have to remember it until after he is crucified and then raised from the dead, and only then, only after the resurrection, will this saying of Jesus mean anything to them. So, what did they think that Jesus meant in the meantime? Did they think for three years that Jesus was making a terrorist threat against the temple? I mean, what else could they have thought?

The Resurrection Changed Everything

But this actually underlines something that is absolutely central to the whole Christian faith. It all comes down to the experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Very clearly, once those first Christians became convinced that Jesus really had risen from the dead, they went over everything that they remembered him saying and doing and all of it took on new meaning.

Previously vague statements about his relationship with his heavenly Father suddenly become indications that he was God’s Son in some unique way. Parables that were once incomprehensible became clearly about him and who he truly was. Nonsensical sayings became profound truths. Everything changed as it was seen through that lens.

How John is Telling his Story

And since the Gospel of John presents this story at the very beginning of his Gospel instead of at the end like the other three, the author is loudly announcing to us that he intends to tell this whole story through that lens. He is not merely going to tell us what Jesus did and said; he is going to tell us what his words and deeds meant in the light of his death and resurrection. And that probably explains why Jesus speaks so differently in this gospel as compared to the others. The writer isn’t just telling us what Jesus said; he is translating it all into the deeper meaning as he goes.

But, if that was true for the gospel writer, how much truer is it for us today? One of the things that unites us as Christians is our admiration for this man, Jesus. We admire his wisdom, his teaching, his care for the sinners and outcasts and the healing he brought into people’s lives. I would hope that all of those things inspire us as we do our best to walk in the path that Jesus has shown to us.

The Power of the Resurrection

But it is the experience of the resurrection of Jesus and its power that gives us the ability to keep going. It is the knowledge of that that transforms this simple meal that we will share into a spiritual feast of divine proportions. It is what gives us the hope and expectation that death is not the final word despite the fact that it often seems to reign in this world.

But I want you to note how I am phrasing this. It is about the experience of the resurrection of Jesus. I know there are some who would tell you that it is enough that we hear the news that Jesus is risen from the dead – that we accept the testimony of those first-generation Christians who saw him after his death. But I honestly don’t think that that is what it is about. It is not just a matter of coming to accept the intellectual knowledge that people saw Jesus alive. It’s not just about believing that it happened.

Firsthand Experience

The thing that changed everything for those early believers was when they experienced that resurrection for themselves. And, yes, some of them had a very direct experience of the risen Jesus, but not all did. But those who did not see him directly, didn’t just have to take other people’s word for it. They could experience the power of the resurrection for themselves.

They experienced it in the community of the church that came together and supported one another in the face of danger and opposition. They experienced it when they stepped out in faith to bring healing and hope to the people of their community. And they experienced it when they took on the structures of oppression in their society, much like Jesus attacked the temple institution in his day, and they survived. They experienced it when they gathered to share a common meal. And they especially experienced it when they saw new life coming out of death in many areas of their lives.

And so We Gather for Communion

In a little while, we will enter into a celebration of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And so, I will invite you to come to this celebration with an expectation. Don’t expect to merely hear a testimony to what happened to Jesus. Expect to enter into the experience of his death and resurrection for yourself. For the church community dies and is raised up to new life together every time we do this. And I would invite you to filter everything you have learned about Jesus through this  experience.

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