Read Mark 6:14-29,15:39
My brother and I paddled across several small lakes on our journey down towards the Barron River Canyon this last week. We had to portage several times to get from one lake to the next. Each time we put in, we surveyed the far shore of the lake we had just entered to determine our direction forward.
When we started paddling across the long Highfalls Lake, we knew from the map that at the far end we should find a narrowing of the lake into a river which would take us to the next portage. Yet for most of the paddle up the lake, I couldn’t see any exit. All I could see was a typical rocky and forested shoreline barring any water-way forward.
Were we in the wrong lake? Did we make a wrong turn somewhere? Did we just spend the last hour hiking a brutal portage just to have to turn around and go back? Despair started to settle in.
Yet as we finally neared the far shore, the closer in we paddled, gradually the unique contours of the shoreline revealed itself. And, sure enough, angling off to the side, a narrow river opened to us the way forward.
John the Baptist is known for his radical way of introducing people to faith. Standing in the Jordan River he baptizes with water people yearning for new life. Then, John the Baptist introduces people to Jesus, who will baptize not only with water but with the Spirit of the living God.
The Gospel text for today describes the grusume circumstances of John’s death. Yet a closer reading suggests that this story really points a clear finger at Jesus. For one thing, this story begins with a debate about who Jesus is: Is he Elijah, or a prophet, or John the Baptist raised from the dead?
In Mark’s Gospel, the answer to this question is not revealed until the crucifixion. Here, a Roman soldier watching Jesus die on the cross recognizes Jesus for who he is: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”
God’s revelation in the Gospel centres on the cross. The cross represents the place, the moment, where God is most profoundly revealed for who God is in Christ Jesus. In the moment of Jesus’ greatest vulnerability is the place where we witness God’s truth, God’s message and God’s love.
When death confronts us—whether our own or the dying and death of a loved one—we are at our most vulnerable. And the Gospel of Jesus announces that especially when we are most vulnerable God is most present, and most clearly revealed to us.
Vulnerability requires us to approach a distant shoreline. Vulnerability, as difficult a way it is, calls us to approach another person with love and tenderness, mercy and curiousity. It doesn’t happen quickly. As in the canoe paddling across the lake to the distant shoreline, the vision of the other happens slowly, gradually, and after some hard paddling.
When congregations allow for vulnerability of its members, God is present. When congregations allow for “our full selves to show up”, Christ is with us. In short, it is in God’s vulnerability where we learn how to be with one another and how to treat one another in Christ Jesus. And that’s why we have congregations; that’s why people will gather in Christ’s name. Not to show off, but just to show up as we truly are.
Paul writes in the New Testament, “By grace you have been saved”. That’s one of the earliest insights in the Christian tradition: it’s not by what you do that you earn God’s love. Not because you appear attractive and have purged out all the sin in your life does God accept you. But as you are. Not by performing impressive feats nor by being considered good, not by your works. But by gift, that you have been saved.
That means you belong. God has taken you in. God embraces you as you are—shadow and light, everything. God embraces it all, by grace. And it has already happened. For you, and for everyone.
Dare to approach closely the other shore. Resist the temptation to stay at a distance. Resist the temptation to draw conclusions about others too quickly. Resist the temptation to believe you know everything about them without taking the time and energy to get to know them, shadow and light. Because from a distance your vision may be impaired.
Yet when you do come closer you will discover the way forward. Closer in, not only will you notice the crags, the cracks as well as the beauty in the unique features of the other person’s life, you will find the water-way into channels that lead to deeper connection and a deeper love.
 Mark 6:14-29
 Ephesians 2:8