St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany IV 2012 Sermon
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Rev. Joyce Avery

Well, today I have a confession to make.  I have found a sermon from Rev. Frank Hegedus, and I got most all my information from his words.
 
Thursday, Feb. 2nd is a cross-quarter day, more or less.  Never heard of it?  Well, you are probably not alone.  A cross-quarter day is the mid-point between a solstice and an equinox, the halfway point of a calendar season.  It means we are nearly halfway through winter.  And here you thought that February 2nd was just Groundhog Day!

A cross-quarter day means, in effect, the gradual return of light and warmth; and in ancient times, this was worth celebrating.  Pagan and Celtic rituals often included the burning of great fires around this time of year to welcome back the sun from its winter sabbatical.  People could once again begin thinking about spring planting and summer growth.
 
The Church appropriated the concept and designated the winter cross-quarter day as the day to celebrate the gradual return of the sun's light by blessing and lighting candles.  It became known as the Feast of Candlemas, and it is celebrated in many of our churches, reminding us that Christ is the light who brings salvation and the warmth of God's love.
 
Still today, the gradual shift from winter to spring provides an apt metaphor for our own spiritual journey from dark to light, from pagan to Christian, from mundane to sublime.
While I was writing this, I took the time to look up "cross­quarter day," well, would you believe I couldn't find any reference to that.  But then I found Candlemas in the dictionary and it described it as being on February 2nd and the feast of Purification, or Presentation of Christ in the temple.
 
The Book of Deuteronomy, from which our first reading today is taken, is also about journey and transformation.  As Bernard Levinson writes in his Bible commentary, "Deuteronomy directly addresses the problem of the historical distance between past and present."
 
The Book of Deuteronomy also addresses the distance between the exile in Egypt and life in the Promised Land.  Passing through Moab on virtually the last leg of their long and arduous Exodus journey, the people of Israel became tired and increasingly irritable.  They were ready to settle down.  And so the said as one, "If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die."
 
The "great fire," of course, is not the fire of our pagan ancestors lighted to ward off the evil spirits, but the fire of Mount Horeb - or - Sinai" as it is more frequently called ­the sign of the Lord's manifestation in the wilderness.  Like a beacon in the night the fire of Horeb for years brought reassurance that the Lord is still with his people, even in exile.
 
But now that time of journey and exile was coming to an end.  Change was at hand.
As the people were about to enter the land given to them, the Lord promised a prophet who would speak his words with authenticity and authority after Moses was gone. "I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet who shall speak .... everything that I command," said the Lord.
 
The people would not die in Moab ... But neither would Moses complete with them the journey to the Promised Land. It was time for new leadership.

Christ is for us Christians the prophet who now speaks "with authority," as we are told in our gospel account today. He brings light and life to our cold world.  As the Israelites in the wilderness longed to settle in the Promised Land, so we await the coming of the Lord's kingdom.  The Exodus passage is for us the way or "path," as the earliest followers of Christ called their newfound faith.
 
Did your Mother ever say any of the following to you?
“I could plant potatoes in those ears."  "I'm not you maid.”  “If your friends jumped off a cliff, does that mean you have to jump too!”
 
Perhaps these phrases are familiar to you as well­.  Just wait till you have kids of your own.  “Don't talk with food in your mouth.”  “You weren't born in a barn; so stop acting like you were.”
 
And of course I am sure you have heard, if not uttered, the all time classic -"Because I'm your mother, that's why!"
 
Each of these statements are expressions that have been passed from generation to generation.  They are expressions of authority--the authority of a parent over a child.

The strength of a person's authority comes from the strength of the spirit within the person. It can be good or it could be evil.  Exercising its authority in a negative way not only upon others, but also upon the person in whom it resides.  Today's scripture readings are about authority and power.
 
The authority of Jesus is made abundantly clear to readers of Mark's Gospel.  It might remain unclear to some, while others are left to decide if Jesus' authority in their own lives is as clear as it is to Mark's readers, or as unclear as it is to the characters of Mark's story.
 
We, the readers and hearers of Mark's Gospel have been carefully prepared as Jesus was introduced from the very beginning of the Gospel as the "Son of God."  So it is that Jesus' first words in the Gospel, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" resound with more authority than is present in the words alone.
 
Our text finds Jesus arriving on the Sabbath at the synagogue in Capernaum to do the teaching.  Jesus as teacher is an important piece of Mark's portrait of Jesus, though the Gospel writer is quite obviously less concerned with what Jesus was teaching than with how Jesus was teaching.  This Gospel provides no details about the content of what Jesus was teaching, just the fact that it was astounding in its authority.  There is so much light on this man!  But while Jesus was teaching, a man with an unclean spirit appeared in the synagogue. He probably shouldn't have been there.  The people around him knew that he needed help and they were not able to give it to him, but Jesus had the authority and power of God, a power that can change any situation, heal any person.  Jesus commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man and it did.  The spirit obeyed him and the man was healed.  The authority of Jesus unveiled - illuminated what had not been recognized.  The light on Jesus illuminates, his surrounding - those around him.
 
Christ is for us Christians the prophet who now speaks "with authority;" as we are told in our gospel account today.  He brings light and life to our cold world.  As the Israelites in the wilderness longed to settle in the Promised Land, so we await the coming of the Lord's kingdom.  The Exodus passage is for us the way or "path," as the earliest followers of Christ called their newfound faith.
 
For Christians, transformation must become a way of life.  Christ has changed everything.  He has brought reconciliation and hope to a world darkened by the consequences of sin and death.
 
The world's transitions and extravagant notions are not optional.  They come as standard equipment on the engine of human life - as does the cross itself.  Only in the cross of Christ is life possible at all.  It gives a whole new dimension of meaning to the term "cross-quarter day."
 
Like all living things, we turn to the light - to Christ, the light of the world - to fend off our fears and overcome our despair.

The candles have been blessed and lit.  We in turn must now become beacons of Christ's love for our worried and fretful world.  Amen 



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