St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Easter 4 2018 Sermon
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Jim Campbell

This weekend there has been lots going on.  Today is the annual Earth Day for 2018.  Bonnie I know remembers the first one back in the late 1960s or 1970.  There were also all of the school students marching on Friday everywhere for changes support gun control, and on Saturday those who support gun rights marched in Olympia.  None of this is what I talking about today.  I’m going to spend a bit of time discussing our readings today, and then I’m going to close with another subject--the annual feast day of St. Mark, our patron saint, which happens on April 25th each year.
 
The clear theme for today’s readings is the Good Shepherd.  Some people even call this Good Shepherd Sunday.  The Collect, Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd, our most familiar psalm), and the Gospel from John all discuss the Lord as our shepherd and how great a shepherd God is. 
 
Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley puts everything in terms of being stewards, so here is what he says about the Good Shepherd and how hospitality plays a role: “When we look at the actions of the Good Shepherd as true hospitality it gives us the window into the root of the word from which we derive hospice and hospital.  Hospice is a place and ministry of deep loving care, that takes away pain.  It also is a place of peaceful rest for the weary traveler.  Hospitals are places that seek to heal the sick and restore health and wholeness to the patient.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, seeks to do this for us, all of us, even to the point of laying down his life for each and every one of us… The good shepherd seeks to cultivate his sheep and to nurture them with great care.  Jesus also values us and believes we have something to offer for the benefit of many, too.  Why else would he lay down his life for us?
 
Likewise, we are called out through our common baptismal waters, the bread and the cup, to be the presence of the Good Shepherd in the world.  It is by his power that we can live into this reality and practice the ultimate hospitality of his love, being stewards of the blessings we have to give the world and stewards of the blessings others have to give, too.  Jesus doesn't want us to practice the stewardship of the hired hand, but rather to steward the hospitality of the Good Shepherd.  Isn't that what it means to be the Body of Christ?”
 
 
I do want to point out a problem I have with the Acts 4 reading (which has nothing to do with shepherds!), and I wonder if you do too.  Is this reading saying that only those who believe in Jesus Christ are saved, and they can hold it over all others, or does it say something else?
 
I think Mark Davis explains this pretty well: “The point of this text is not to provide triumphal Christians with a slogan, but to proclaim that the grand reversal of the resurrection – the rejected stone has become the cornerstone – is precisely the power of making broken lives whole.  The "Name of Jesus” is neither a magical incantation nor a slogan for intolerance regarding other religious paths.  It IS the way--the way of humility and self-giving, it is the way of eschewing coercive power.  It is the way of laying down one’s life for others, of taking up the cross, of being a follower of Jesus.  
 
It is utter blasphemy to take this verse – extolling the healing power of the name of Jesus – and using it as a bludgeoning weapon of Christian dominion.  Instead it is a way of saying that when Jesus, the rejected stone, was resurrected to become the chief cornerstone, his path of rejection-to-restoration has promise to all who are broken and in need of being made whole.  I think we can redeem this text (so to speak) by staying with the word “heal” or “made whole” instead of “saved”, keeping in touch with the story of the healed man.”
 
 
I saw one more theme from the reading in Acts today—the Holy Spirit! The Spirit came upon those disciples, especially Peter, and gave them the courage to stand up and boldly proclaim that “their healing powers had come in the name of Jesus Christ” and they were not going to stop preaching and healing in His name. THIS is what is truly meant by following in the steps of Jesus’ ministry and His resurrection with the power of the Holy Spirit, and being a true community of Christian believers!
 
In our reading from 1 John today it asks, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  What better way to put our call to follow Jesus than this? 
 
I think that recognition of the ultimate Good Shepherd, the role of the Holy Spirit among us, and our own faith in God and each other mean so much in doing what we are called to do within our community of believers and in the world around us.
 
 
Now--about St. Mark and his importance to us here.  If we were actually celebrating Mark today officially we should have used Red as a colors on the altar and the rest, but I decided to just tell you about Mark, and let the altar guild not have to do the change over and then change it back.  I’m wearing a red shirt so we’re covered.
 
I think Mark is a great example of who we are and what we do in our ways as a church.
 
Mark was an Evangelist—one of the four men who wrote the Gospels found in the New Testament.  Mark’s Gospel was written first, and it is the shortest description of Jesus’ Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  Mark’s writings helped both Matthew and Luke to write their Gospels.
 
Mark was not one of the original Apostles, and he maybe never knew Jesus. Or he could have been one of the original seventy disciples sent out to evangelize the teachings of Jesus.  We do believe that he was a member of the first Christian community.  In his writings, St. Peter refers to Mark as his “son.”  Peter may have used this term to show his love for Mark, or he may have used it because he was the one who baptized Mark.  Mark wrote down the sermons of Peter, forming the basis for the Gospel according to Mark.

Mark traveled with Sts. Paul and Barnabas to spread the Good News about Jesus.  During his imprisonment in Rome, Paul mentions Mark’s concern for him and writes about how helpful Mark is in the ministry of helping others to believe in Jesus.

In AD 49, about 19 years after the Ascension of Jesus, Mark travelled to Alexandria, an important center of trade and power during ancient times, and founded the Church of Alexandria.  Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, and the Coptic Catholic Church all claim to be successors to this original community.  Aspects of the Coptic liturgy can be traced back to Mark himself.  He became the first bishop of Alexandria and he is honored as the founder of Christianity in Africa.  
 
Mark was succeeded by Annianus as the bishop of Alexandria, in the eighth year of Nero (62/63), probably, but not definitely, due to his coming death. Later Coptic tradition says that he was martyred in 68, as pagans of the city resented his efforts to turn the Alexandrians away from the worship of their traditional gods.  They placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.

The symbol for Mark is a lion with wings. That is because his Gospel begins with the story of John the Baptist, a “voice crying in the wilderness” (Mark 1:3), like the roaring of a lion.  Lions are called the kings of the jungle.  Mark’s Gospel tells us about Jesus’ royalty as God’s Son, a kingship we share through our Baptism.

Mark’s Gospel is a lasting treasure for all believers.  He wrote his Gospel to help people know that Jesus was the Son of God who suffered and died to save us from sin and death.  When we read Mark’s Gospel, we learn that to be a follower of Jesus, we, too, must be willing to make sacrifices, to “take up our cross and follow” (Mark 8:34) Jesus as he asks us to do.  His life and Gospel remind us to share the Good News about Jesus with others.



 
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