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Monday, April 27, 2009

Feast of Saint Mark

Mark 1:1-15
Acts 3:12-19

Oh, yeah, Peter is showing us just how to win friends and influence people. First, begin by making the worst sorts of accusations: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors [in other words, The One, with whom no one should mess] has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected…But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life.” Hmmm…good start. Then toss in some condescension: “‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance.” Finally, wrap it all up with a suggestion that implies a description your listeners almost certainly don’t want to hear: “Repent therefore [“You callin’ me a sinner?”].” Yup, that’ll do it every time…NOT! Truly, if Peter always showed this little skill in dealing with people as he went around telling them about Jesus, it’s astonishing that anyone ever converted.

Then there’s John the Baptist, the oddball in the desert. I’ve been reading a great blog lately that talks about aspects of presenting ourselves outwardly in a manner that reflects the glory of God who dwells within each of us. Evidently John never ran across this particular blog! Honey and locusts aren’t exactly a balanced diet, and all that time out in the sun can’t have been good for his hair or his complexion…and that camel’s hair outfit :-o If people were flocking to him, part of it must’ve been out of fascination with his weirdness. And he, too, had that annoying habit of calling people sinners who need to repent…

In other words, Peter and John were rough, tough, bluntly bumbling men who were, to our eyes and ears, odd choices to be entrusted with the life-saving, world-changing task of spreading the Good News. In fact, if you take a look around the Bible, God seems to have a history of this: give the 10 Commandments to a guy who hates public speaking; entrust the promise of the future generations of Israel to a way-past-old couple; let an unwed teenager be the Messiah’s mom; recruit a motley band of fishermen, tax collectors and outcasts to help out said Messiah. See a theme here? Not promising, not at all!

I think, however, that that’s the point, or at least part of it. God hasn’t chosen the smoothest and the smartest, the slick and the silver-tongued—the mini-Messiah’s—to do God’s work. Instead, God’s been calling on ordinary people who live ordinary lives. People like you and me.

Whether that’s good news depends on your perspective. If you’d prefer simply to cruise along taking care of yourself and not worrying about God or your neighbor, both literal and figurative, then I guess you won’t be too thrilled to hear that God has a purpose for you no matter who you are and what you’re like. God has a way of shaking things up, of turning lives upside down, and that’s going to be extra-hard for you.

However, if what’s holding you back—a lot or a little—in serving God is that you don’t feel talented enough, or clever enough, or faithful enough, or beautiful enough, then it’s great news! We don’t have to be perfect to serve God. We don’t even have to be near-perfect to serve God. As with Peter and John the Baptist, in our weakness, God’s strength is revealed; in our uncertainty, God’s confidence is declared; in our imperfection, God’s perfection is glorified. If everyone knows it’s not our ability, then they also know it has to be God’s. The bottom line is that the gospel isn’t about us; it’s about God and God’s love and what God has done in Jesus Christ. We matter, but we make a difference as God’s beloved children, not through our looks or our speech or our cleverness or the number of Bible verses we read each day.

This isn’t to say that there’s no correlation between the gifts God has given us and our role in the body of Christ and the world. Of course there is! The person who’s good with numbers and the one with an ear for music and the one who’s happiest delivering casseroles are probably going to be called to different ways of helping share God’s love. The danger is if any one of them thinks that she or he has to be really, really good before offering to share that gift…because that day might be a long time in coming. Likewise, if we put off praying until we imagine we know enough about prayer, or talking about God in our life until we can explain it just so, or helping at the Cold Weather Shelter until we feel completely comfortable around people who are homeless, then we very well may never do anything.

Oftentimes faith and ministry are simply about diving in and trying, either because we’re asked to do so or because something stirs within us, nudging us in that direction. If it doesn’t work out, then perhaps that’s a step toward figuring out what else God wants us to do. The same holds true for us as a congregation, as the people of God called to this particular church. We pray, we listen, we look around, we talk, and then we try on a ministry, seeing if it’s God’s way of proclaiming Jesus’s love in this time and place. If it flourishes, great; if it isn’t right, well, then we’re back to praying and listening and talking and looking, because something else will be. We don’t have to wait—we shouldn’t and can’t wait!—until we have it all figured out.

Sure, we’re odd choices, every one of us and all of us together, odd choices to be entrusted with the life-saving, world-changing task of spreading the gospel. But that’s God’s way, and I’m pretty sure it’s Good News!

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Feast of Saint Mark

April 25th is the Feast of Saint Mark on the Liturgical Calendar, and so we celebrate the life and witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ of our patron saint. St. Mark, it is now agreed by scholars, wrote the earliest Gospel account of the life, ministry, death, and rising of Jesus. His Gospel is intense, dramatic, and unrelenting in it's focus on the singular truth it conveys: Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Mark's Gospel ends abruptly, in mid-sentence, without any Resurrection appearance of Jesus. This unsettling fact caused some in the early Church to append endings to the Gospel, to 'round out' the story. We might well speculate that Mark, devoted to the truth of Jesus, desires that we too find a way to end his Gospel, making the story of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Risen from the Dead, the story of our own lives.

We will celebrate the Feast of Saint Mark's on Sunday, April 26, at each service; for the schedule click here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday morning we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior. At Saint Mark's the day begins with a festive service at 9:00 a.m., followed by a fun Easter Egg Hunt for the children. At 11:15 a.m. we celebrate a festival choral Eucharist with much fanfare. The church is decorated beautifully with Easter lilies and flowers.

We conclude the journey of Holy Week on Easter Sunday with a renewed sense of hope and direction for mission and ministry in the world as God's Easter people.

Click here for the Holy Week schedule.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter is held on the Saturday evening before Easter morning, and it is the first service of Easter celebration after Lent. We enter into the holy mysteries of the story of salvation, surveying the long history of God with and for us. Good Friday leaves us in darkness with an unspeakable grief. At the Vigil, that darkness and grief is transformed.

We enter a dark church, stoke the new fire, sing praises, and light candles until the light of Christ's love breaks forth in a joyous Alleluia! The Vigil often includes the celebration of baptisms, and always is a time when we all reaffirm our baptismal promises and commitment. The first festival Eucharist of the great fifty days of the Easter season is celebrated at the Vigil.

Click here for the Holy Week schedule.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Good Friday

Good Friday is a solemn remembrance of the Crucifixion of Jesus, and to that end our liturgies on that day encourage us to follow in Jesus' final journey to Golgotha. Good Friday is the result of our human desire to 'do it our own way.' The day ends with palpable grief, the outcome of the machinations that send Jesus to the cross. And yet, the day can never be divorced from God's greater action, hidden at first, but then brought to full light in the Resurrection. Our hateful 'no' becomes God's loving 'yes'.

We observe Good Friday with two services that trace the Way of the Cross; with a liturgy that includes veneration of the Cross and Communion from the reserve sacrament; and finally with a vigil of prayer.

Click here for Holy Week schedule.

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Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin word mandatum, meaning 'commandment'. The commandment is the Lord's given in John's Gospel, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another" (John 13:34). The new commandment of love is enacted by Jesus in his washing of the disciples feet at the Last Supper, and made final and authoritative in his self-sacrificial death on the Cross.

We observe Maundy Thursday by sharing a simple meal, recalling Jesus' loving act of service to his disciples, celebrating a final Eucharist before Easter, and preparing the sanctuary for Good Friday.

Click here for the Holy Week schedule.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the beginning of an eight day week, starting and ending on a Sunday, Holy Week. On this day we have a dual experience, two poles pulling us in different directions. At first we gather joyfully to cheer and wave palm branches as we hear the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Later we jeer him at his mock trial, the outcome of which is already decided by the powerful religious and civil authorities who fear Jesus' message of God's love and reconcilitation. Our regular service times are kept on Palm Sunday as we observe the tension of this day, a tension still alive in our hearts.

Click here for the Holy Week schedule.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Holy Week Journey

In the fourth century a pilgrim to Jerusalem named Egeria participated in the various remembrances and liturgies of our Lord's Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. Amazingly, the practices and services that Egeria describe in the letter she sent home to her friends directly inform the practices and services of Holy Week that we celebrate in the early 21st century at Saint Mark's. Egeria's letter is a historical treasure of the period of late antiquity, the earliest written evidence detailing the various observances of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.

The faith that motivated Egeria's pilgrimage, though, is something more valuable even than her letter. The faith to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in that final disastrous and glorious week is the true gift we share with our fourth century sister. That gift comes to us not simply across the centuries in a dusty parchment, but in a living tradition inspired by a living God.

Our Holy Week liturgies present us with an opportunity to join Egeria and every pilgrim who has waved palm branches, has gone with the disciples to the upper room, has had their feet washed, has shared in Jesus' last meal, has watched the night in the garden, has walked the way of the cross, and has hurried to the tomb to see if the words of the women are true. As the season of Lent draws to a close, I invite every member of the parish to make the Holy Week pilgrimage that begins with glory, takes us to the abyss of crushing defeat, and ends with the precious gift of new life and hope in Jesus.

Click here to see the schedule of Holy Week services.