Holy Headgear Mark 1:9-15 February 18, 2017
Remember the “Big Wheel” or “Schwinn Stingray Bike” from years gone by? Maybe your kids rode around on them while growing up. Maybe you rode around on them after your kids went to bed.
Remember the old skates with metal wheels? The kind you use to fasten to your shoe with the metal turnkey? They worked best on shoes with a hard soul, not your sneakers or tennis shoes. You were the most important person on the block if you had “the key.” Maybe you didn’t even use the skates in that way: single skate/piece of wood.
Talk to anyone over 40 and he or she would likely pull back some thinning hair to show you a scar and tell you a story. A story that usually involves participating in some variation of a stunt involving cinder blocks, plywood, a hill, pavement and a trip to the emergency room.
For many a kid back then, getting a few stitches in the scalp was a childhood rite of passage. Maybe you have such a story or scar to share.
Now there’s no way that today’s parents would let their offspring be so scarred and scared by the ER doc and her needle (or worse).
Times have changed. It seems nearly all the kids in the neighborhood are now fully helmeted, padded and protected by increasingly more high-tech and specialized safety equipment — whether they are riding their bikes or scooters or skateboards.
Oh, and the formerly fearless kids who are now the parents are wearing helmets too — now realizing that their own bones and skulls are more fragile and are just one pothole away from being severely injured.
And it’s not just bicycle riders who sport these multicolored “brain buckets” as helmets are called today. Now there’s a helmet for just about every activity you can think of.
Helmets are worn for snow skiing, white-water rafting, sky-diving, rock-climbing, and bull-riding; just about any type of sporting event where there is a risk of hitting one’s head and damaging the brain.
Helmets are hip — even with teenagers, especially those helmets that are integrated with headphones for snowboarders to listen to their music on their iPods while thrashing some fresh powder. Some helmet models even incorporate a cell phone, though one wonders whether talking on one when skiing is even more dangerous than driving while talking on one’s cell-phone.
But how about a sport that might be a little tamer — like soccer.
More and more youth recreation fields are witnessing soccer parents snapping a chin strap on their future soccer star as a way of protecting them from knocking noggins while going up for that big header. And it doesn’t stop there.
The government is reviewing a patent for a child-sized car helmet. Chances are that the kids will soon look more like a race car driver commanding the back seat on the speedway of suburban life.
The truth is that people these days are more safety-conscious and see the helmet as the best chance of protecting one’s operational, physical and emotional center, namely the brain.
People are starting to become comfortable with the idea that a helmet in just about any activity is probably a good idea. In fact, many people both adult and youth believe that a person is “weird” if they don’t wear a helmet.
Wearing proper protection to keep your head together makes good sense.
Henry Dempsey didn’t have a helmet, but he could have used one, because he nearly hit his head on an airplane runway. Here’s how:
On a commuter flight from Portland, Maine, to Boston, Henry, the pilot of the aircraft heard an unusual noise at the rear of the small plane. He turned the controls over to his co-pilot and went back to check it out. As he reached the tail section, the plane hit an air pocket and Dempsey was tossed against the rear door. It became apparent all too quickly that the mysterious noise had been the rear door, which had not been properly latched prior to takeoff. The door flew open the instant Dempsey hit it and he was sucked out of the small jet.
At that moment the co-pilot saw the red light go on that indicated an open door. He immediately radioed the nearest airport, requesting permission for an emergency landing. He reported that the pilot had fallen out of the plane and requested a helicopter to search the area of the ocean over which they had been flying.
After the plane landed, airport personnel found Henry Dempsey even before the emergency helicopters could take off. He was holding onto the outdoor ladder of the aircraft! Beyond anyone’s comprehension, Dempsey had managed to catch hold of the ladder as he fell, and he had held on for 10 minutes as the plane flew 200 miles per hour at an altitude of 4,000 feet. As the plane landed, he narrowly kept his head from hitting the runway. Dempsey was holding onto the aircraft with such force that it took the airport rescue team several minutes to pry his fingers from the ladder. The Boston Globe, September 3, 1987, “Pilot hangs from door as co-pilot lands plane”
Here’s what I’m thinking: You have to know when to hold on and when to let go.
• There are times when holding on is a great idea.
• Other times, it’s not such a great idea.
But what kind of protection do you use to guard your spirit when tempted to take some ill-advised risks? What kind of Holy Helmet is best?
The temptation narratives in the gospels give us a clue as Jesus, venturing out on his own to begin his ministry, heads into the wilderness to engage in some extreme spiritual sports competition with Satan.
Today’s reading from Mark’s gospel, which is kind of a Reader’s Digest version of the story, gives us the sense that Jesus was prepared to take on the challenge knowing that his thoughts and his spirit were protected. As the reading opens, we find Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin, John the Baptist. A voice from heaven breaks through the sound of the rushing water and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. “You are my son, the Beloved,” says the voice; “with you I am well pleased”.
God is the one who gives Jesus his identity, marking him as someone special, someone who has God’s favor. In a very real sense, Jesus begins his ministry equipped and protected with nothing less than the full love of a divine parent.
A child who is loved is more likely to take care of him or herself because parents express their love freely. After an initial protest the child will put on the helmet at the parents’ request before jumping on the bike because they know that the folks have their best interests and safety at heart. Jesus goes forth into the wilderness with a similar feeling — knowing in a powerful way that he is loved.
As we go out into a world fraught with temptations, challenges, potential pitfalls, our first line of defense is to know that God loves us, too. That we are “beloved” because of God’s love and grace.
The knowledge and experience, forged through the day to day relationship we walk in God, are better predictors of heart, mind and soul protection than any high tech headwear. When we know that God cares for us, we can move out energetically to take on the bumps and jumps, the ups and downs that the day throws at us. In fact, knowing that God is with us we can also take risks in our lives and in our ministry.
Mark doesn’t expound much on the temptations that Jesus faced out in the wilderness, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke do. Listen to the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert by Satan from Matthew’s gospel:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘God will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to the devil, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to Jesus, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left Jesus, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (Matthew 4:1-11)
Foundationally fitted with God’s love, Jesus is able to switch helmets effectively to protect himself against the tempter. Like a bullying kid standing at the base of a plywood ramp, Satan double-dares Jesus to do something risky.
Using Scripture as a biblical brain bucket, Jesus doesn’t take the leap: Satan says, “Satisfy your hunger and turn these stones to bread.” Jesus puts on the protected helmet of self-denial, recognizing that everything comes from God and that God provides.
They go to the highest point of the temple. “Jump off,” says the bully, “and land unharmed. If you’re so great, God will protect you.” Jesus tightens the strap on his helmet of common sense and knows that people who have real power don’t need to show it off or use it to suit their own ends.
Then there’s the big one — Satan says, “All the kingdoms of the world can be yours if you’ll only worship me.” Jesus buckles on the helmet of humility and says that God is the only one worth serving. Later in his ministry Jesus will buckle on the helmets of love, and compassion.
Knowing who he was, what he was about, and what he had to do to accomplish his mission kept Jesus’ mind guarded and his heart protected, not only in this wilderness temptation, but throughout his life and ministry and, ultimately, on the cross where Jesus would again be dared to “come down and save yourself” and do what a real messiah was supposed to do.
Experiencing God’s love, knowing the Scriptures, and following the example of Jesus are probably the best ways to be spiritually protected as we travel the ups and downs and scary moments of our lives.
Think of it as the ultimate “brain bucket” — a Holy Helmet for life and ministry.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, February, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 2-18-18” name of the sermon.