January 2021

After Me Will Come One Mightier Than I

1st Sunday After Epiphany, January 10, 2021
Mark 1:4-11

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

This first Sunday following Epiphany has me thinking a lot about John the Baptist as the necessary forerunner to Christ, crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” (Mark 1:3)

Most likely, John did not see himself in the way that religious leaders of his day suspected he might – as the reincarnation of Elijah, the prophet Israel anticipated would return to announce the coming of the Messiah (John 1:21) We are not even sure if he was aware of Jesus, though some biblical scholars suggest that  he might have been among the followers of John who stood out from the rest. Nonetheless, John believed that someone greater than he would take up his mantle and fulfill his expectations.

In high school I participated in a four-person championship relay team in which the last person was regarded as the fastest among us. I was the third-person or leg of that team. Interestingly enough, the fastest person’s last name was Prophet. It was my role, along with that of the other forerunners, to prepare the way by running fast enough for Donnie Prophet to win the race. And while, clearly, Prophet was the fastest among us, we all knew that a team effort was required to create the conditions for Prophet to win the race for the entire team.

In a way, John the Baptist acknowledged that he had to continue the pace set by forerunners and create the conditions for Christ to win and save the human race.

“After me,” he said, “there is one mightier than I whose sandals I am not fit to stoop down and untie.” (Mark 1:7) Here John is referencing the act by which household slaves remove the sandals of those they serve and wash the dirt and dust from their feet before entering their homes. This act of humility Jesus assumed when, at the Last Supper, he washed the feet of his disciples (John 14:5), signifying the servant leadership he advocated, and stressing that those who came after him would do greater things than he; for through the holy spirit, just as God dwelt in him, God would dwell and make a home in them (John 14:23), and in you.

So, what both Jesus and John were saying was that the anointing presence of God does not stop with them, but enables those who come after them, in greater voices and numbers, to further the vision and cause and realm of God.

People of God, the events of this past week during which a mob, incited by the false claims and accusation of the president and encouraged by his rhetoric, attempted to overthrow our nation’s democracy. Brandishing Confederate and Trump flags and signs demonizing those they opposed, they staged an act of insurrection and treason in support of one whose only concern was to heal is humiliated ego. He was their messiah for whom they were willing to die. And four supporters died because of him.

What was his vision for America? It was a vision that centered about him and no one after or beyond him. And as Christians who follow the servant leader and Shepherd Christ, we must not be fooled by this demagogy.

I anticipate that if no decisive action is taken against this act of sedition, there will be a third national party created by Donald Trump and Steve Bannon that splinters the Republican party, urging us more so as followers of Christ to choose the ones we wish to come after us.

The way of the Lord must transform the way of the world. Like runners in a relay race, Christ has given the Holy Spirit to each of us and every generation as a baton of God’s presence and power of compassionate justice with which we are to run the course of our lives and then hand off to future generations to win and save the human race.

And if you are bold enough to grab hold of that baton, do so at the urging of the Prophet Isaiah.

“Have you not known?” he said, “Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who does not faint or grow weary; whose understanding is unsearchable; who gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youth will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted. But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (40:28-31) Amen.