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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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