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Saint Mark, Evangelist

saint-mark-1621Repent and Believe

The evangelist Mark was a traveling companion of Peter. He recorded Peter’s sermons and stories found in the Gospel of Mark. It is clear that Mark’s Gospel was written by a masterful storyteller. Though short, this Gospel has great impact and clarity. In the opening of his Gospel he gets right to the point:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

Notice that Mark’s Gospel is an action Gospel. It moves quickly and it asks us to move along with it.

Mark was a great evangelist who got right to the point. The Apostle Paul gives us a perspective on the importance of evangelism when he lists God’s gifts to the Church:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.   (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The evangelist follows the apostles and prophets in importance. Often times they are thought of as shallow or not very sophisticated. For Mark, the Gospel was simple: Repent and believe. That was the message of John the Baptist. That was and is, a large part of, the message of Jesus. It is the starting point for every Christian and should be the essential message of the Church. Too many of today’s “seeker” churches have forgotten the repentance part of the message.

Mark was willing to risk everything for the sake of telling the Gospel message. Ultimately, he paid the price with his life. What are we willing to risk today? Jesus told His disciples:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mark 16:15-20)

Are we prepared to join Mark? What will the Lord say about our feet?

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:7-10)

We are living in the last days. Evangelism is of paramount importance. There is little time for frills. At the very least we can earnestly pray for the rescue of all lost souls.

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Second Sunday in Lent

The Journey of Faith

Abram was set out on a journey. It was a journey that was quite unexpected:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.   (Genesis12:1-4)

Notice that Abram was 75 years old. We are never too old to begin a new journey that may change our entire lives.

Nicodemus was on a quest. He was not yet on a journey. He just wanted to know what Jesus was all about. From today’s Gospel:

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:1-6)

What was Jesus saying to Nicodemus? Was he not saying that Nicodemus needed to change directions? Nicodemus needed to follow the wind wherever it would take him. The wind of the Holy Spirit that would guide him and empower him. But he would need to let go of the past. He needed to reborn, so to speak. He needed to be born from above and not be bound by this world

Abram became Abraham, because he obeyed God, became the father of all who would put their trust in God.. The Apostle Paul writes:

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.   (Romans 4:1-5)

Abraham left his home, family, and support system. He set out on a journey whose destination was unknown to  him. But Abraham believed in what God was saying and trusted God to lead him. That was his response to the call of God. God then justified Abraham as only God can do. If Nicodemus wanted to be justified by God, he would need to have the same faith of Abraham. He would have to begin a new journey and stay the course.

Are we on God’s journey? It requires us to believe and trust in God. But what does that mean?

Charles Blondin, a famous French tightrope walker, became the first person to walk a tightrope stretched across the Niagara Falls. A large crowd gathered and the buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the river bank. The crowd “Oohed and Aahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across – one dangerous step after another – pushing a wheelbarrow holding a sack of potatoes.

Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?”

The crowd enthusiastically yelled, “Yes! You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. We believe!”

“Okay,” said Blondin, “Who wants to get into the wheelbarrow.”

Have we gotten in?

The journey will not always be easy. It was not for Abraham. It was surely not for Nicodemus.

But we are not alone. God is with us. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord himself watches over you;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
it is he who shall keep you safe.

The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,
from this time forth for evermore.   (Psalm 121:5-8)

John concludes the matter in today’s Gospel:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-71)

Our job is to believe in Jesus enough to trust him and follow him. Jesus justifies the ungodly. He will change us from glory to glory if we let him. Are we on the journey with him?

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Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Believing in His Promises

On of the greatest expressions of faith, if not the greatest, was made by Mary the mother of Jesus. On her visit to her cousin Elizabeth she proclaimed:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary believed in the promises that God made to his people Israel. Israel had not heard a prophetic word from God for over four hundred years. They nation of Israel was under foreign occupation, yet Mary still believed in God’s promises. She believed so strongly in them that she was willing to surrender all of herself to God’s providence.

Because he was now in prison and ostracized from the significant events that were occurring, John the Baptist began to have doubts about the one he had proclaimed as the Messiah. From today’s Gospel reading:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”   (Matthew 11:2-6)

Notice how Jesus answered John. He did not do so directly. Rather, he proclaimed that the promises of God were being fulfilled. Jesus, by his very works, was fulfilling the prophecy of old concerning himself. From the Prophet:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.   (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Do we believe in the promises of God? Circumstances around us can cause us to doubt them if we are not careful. Often times, the timing of the fulfillment of God’s promises is problematic. God’s timing may not be our timing. Yet, his timing is perfect. From the Book of James we read:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.   (James 5:7-10)

Mary was patient. Mary was trusting. She was willing to wait upon the Lord, even though what God promised to do through her was beyond anything imaginable. How willing are we to believe in God’s promises today? In some ways, it may appear that the promises of God are losing ground. That is all the more reason for us to put our entire trust in him. We cannot take matters into our own hands. Only God can bring about his glorious word.

Let us remember that we are not alone on our Christian journey. We have our brothers and sisters in the faith to offer us encouragement:

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)

We also have a traveling companion who is our greatest encouragement. He is Jesus. He has established a road map for us. Isaiah prophesied:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.   (Isaiah 35:1-10)

Many are unwilling to travel this highway. But this is the only highway that leads to he absolute fulfillment of the promises of God. Jesus said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”   (John 14:6)

Those who hold on to the promises of God shall not be disappointed:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:6-10)

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