PRAYER: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
MESSAGE: I don't know if you noticed but there is something remarkable about the Gospel of Mark that we read this morning. It is as though Mark is saying to himself as he writes this opening chapter: "If I can get the frame work laid out in a series of easily identifiable steps, then all those who read this in future will have to do, is go through those steps and then they will see and understand."
Let's take a quick look at the message of Mark 1 9-15.
1.) Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John
2.) as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
3.) a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
4.) the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness
5.) He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan
6.) he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
7.) after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee
8.) 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 doesn't waste any time is laying out the highlights of the beginning of Jesus ministry. Baptism, identification, wilderness, temptation, return, proclamation.
In fact Mark only takes eight verses before he launches into the heart of who Jesus is. Those eight verses are a brief, concise, summary of thousands of years of prophecy and prediction. It is almost as though Mark is a reporter who has arrived on the scene of monumental event and wants, as quickly as possible, to get the background out of the way so he can deal with what is important, to him, and to everyone who will read this account.
There is a breathlessness about Mark's introduction. He launches into answering an unspoken question with the assumption that all his readers know what that question is. Mark assumes that we are asking, as everyone in his time was asking: "So, how do we know Jesus is the Messiah?"
Well, let us look at what Mark tells us: "This is the Good News of Jesus." "We were told to look for a Prophet - a voice calling in the wilderness." "Well that's obviously John." Mark then says that John only has one purpose and that is to identify the Messiah. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Then we are introduced to Jesus and with a degree of confidence which should stop us in our tracks Mark goes ahead and outlines even more succinctly than he did with John the Baptist who Jesus undoubtedly is.
Jesus must be the Messiah. Not only is he identified by the prophet in the wilderness, but when he is baptized a series of things happen that can only be interpreted one way. Jesus is the Messiah.
Then Mark moves to establish Jesus' role as the Messiah. He proclaims the Kingdom of God is at hand! The time has come for people to bring their lives in line with the values of the Kingdom.
It is a straight forward process. Repent and believe in the good news. So as we read through the Gospel this morning how should we respond?
Well, as we read in 1 Peter 3: 18, this is our opportunity to consider, and to respond to what Jesus did for us. "Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God." Jesus, as the only righteous person, has made this sacrifice for us the unrighteous. How are we going to respond? Are we willing to accept this role of Jesus?
Is this what we expect from the Messiah?
How do we understand Baptism because of this event? Again from 1 Peter 3, this time verse 21: "And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you-- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,"
Jesus fulfills the role of the Messiah, because through his death and his resurrection, he gives new meaning and power to Baptism for us.
At our Ash Wednesday service one of the things that I love is that we have the opportunity to pray the Prayer of Humble Access. I think it is worth repeating here this morning:
"We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us." Amen
All of us have the opportunity to come into relationship with our heavenly father through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And, praise the Lord we do not have to depend on our ability to be righteous to gain or maintain the relationship.
I am very grateful for our Episcopal Church polity, which is our form of church organization, which draws so much from the rich history of the church. Our Creeds and our Prayer Book lead us to trust and rely on the words of faith created for us.
Now, you all know that I often quote from the Collect of the Day to end my messages. I find that the Collect can bring clarity and understanding to our readings.
So, I am going to end this morning leaning into the words that Mark quotes from Jesus at the end of Gospel reading this morning: "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."
Or as the Collect puts it this morning:
"Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save,"
May the Lord bless and keep us as we trust the words and the works of Jesus to bring us to new life.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
PRAYER FOR THE SERMON:
Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
Today the Gospel reading, from Mark, is one we are all very familiar with. It is commonly known as The Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain and they encounter Elijah and Moses. This is considered a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus, and of course of Peter, James, and John.
This is not an easily explained event. It is not one which we, with our scientifically, modern world thinking, can just accept or theorize about. Here is a foundationally spiritual experience which we struggle to even comprehend. Perhaps there have been times when we have been asked in sermons to "just accept" that this is a story from the life of Jesus and his disciples which we need to put in the "mystery" category and move on.
However, I believe that we have to make some decisions, for ourselves, about how we will understand this event. I believe we must at some point decide for ourselves what we believe is the essence of this story. What is at the heart of this event that we are being asked to accept or understand?
At the Convocation last weekend we were introduced to several methods that the College for Congregational Development uses to help our parishes to identify the heart of their ministry / spiritual life. The methods had a central theme: "before we can move forward we need to go back and identify what the "formational / foundational" ethos of our parish is. Now as we began that work there was an acknowledgement that the world, is in the midst of all kinds of cultural and moral changes. That there seems to be an overall acceptance of the lack of impact of the Christian faith on community. With an associated decline in the Christian church or formal religion.
As we participated in the exercises at our tables we were encouraged to seek to identify what was at the "heart", the center, of the ministry of each of parishes. When we were sitting at tables where there were people from a number of parishes it was stressed that each group of parish members needed to talk with one another and seek to identify their individual parish's identity.
I believe we have done much of this work here at Christ Church for some time now. In the eight years I have been here we have used different tools to try to find and identify the focus the parish. We engaged with the Renewal Works program, we have conducted at least two Mutual Ministry reviews. Then those who were on the committee, and engaged in the work, of developing our vision for Christ Church - our Five Year Plan - reflected on and reviewed the life of Christ Church. To try to discover what our gifts, ministries and vision we had for touching the lives of those around us here in Huron.
One result of that work was "The Planting for Tomorrow II program." The things we achieved through that financial campaign were based on the desire to prepare Christ Church for the next generation who would follow us in ministry here.
But one of the things that is encouraging and challenging about the life of Christ Church is the fact that this is a dynamic parish. It seems we are constantly evolving and changing. In the time that I have been here we have seen growth, some attrition and then growth again. We are in another period of growth. I sat down with the church pictorial directory that we put together about a year after I came, and looked at who was here then. It is with great sadness that I noted that about half of those who were here then are no longer a part of this congregation. We have lost some wonderful and very engaged members of our parish. Some have moved away, some have passed away. Earl and Sue McGimpsey, Charlie and Carol Rau, Vera, Donna, Mary Lou Coots. Or Barbie Vermilion, Gene Smercina, Anne Harjar, Denny Lehner.
However I was pleased to note that we have maintained the average Sunday attendance. When we did the directory we were worshipping about 35 people. We are again, even given the impact of the Pandemic, worshipping about 30 to 35.
So, that information made me realize that about half of the Parish is people who have joined us in the intervening time period. We have seen growth and we have new people attending and coming into the life of our parish. Sometimes it is hard to recognize that growth because we feel about the same size. But we need to look around and acknowledge that we are moving forward. New faces, new people moving into roles in the Parish.
One of the other central points of the CCD program is that we need to acknowledge that we live in a rapidly changing world. A dynamic evolving world. They stressed that change is hard for us all. It causes some emotional stresses and makes us aware of those things that we feel uncomfortable about.
In the Gospel lesson this morning Peter, James and John are faced with a "moment in time." They see the role of Jesus change before their eyes. How do they respond, well, once they get over their fear - Mark says they were terrified - they are not sure how to react? Peter then steps forward and gives his best insight based on his historical knowledge of how people in the past have responded to a pivotal moment like this - "let's build a memorial" - a significant marker of something that happened and people need to be made aware of it. There are plenty of examples of these historical markers throughout the Old Testament.
Suddenly they are overshadowed by the Cloud of the Lord and God the father speaks about who Jesus is. They must have been stunned; however it becomes clear that this is a new revelation. It is in fact another significant and different moment in time. They barely have time to comprehend it and they are on the move again down the mountain.
Jesus then says to them that they are not to speak about this event until after his resurrection. Can you imagine what that must have felt like? Nothing in their lives will ever be the same and they don't even get the chance to talk about it with one another. I imagine that caused them some anxiety and stress in the next few days.
So, what is the overall message of this Gospel lesson this morning? Well I would like to suggest that this reading is a wonderful example of life when we live it expecting to experience Epiphany. Change, dynamic and evolving life is what Epiphany is about.
Then we have a decision to make about how we will respond or react to the call on our lives that the Lord is making. That's when we need to turn to the other scriptures for today. The word that comes to my mind as I consider the call of Epiphany and the need to willing to engage with change is persistence.
In 2 Kings Elisha is presented with many opportunities to opt out as he seeks to fulfill his new role as Elijah's anointed replacement. Elijah seems determined to deter him from taking up the mantle of prophet. Elisha finds himself faced with an almost constantly changing situation. With Elijah encouraging him to stay behind. This is not exactly the kind of encouragement your want from the man you hope to take over from.
Elisha persists and eventually he is rewarded not only with the mantle, but also with the opportunity to ask for a "double portion" of Elijah's blessing.
In the 2nd Corinthians reading we see how Paul needs to encourage those he is writing to. He needs them to be ready to dig into the message he is giving them so that they might discover for themselves the truth of the Gospel. He uses wonderful poetic imagery to help them to understand that it is not always easy to comprehend what God is saying to us. We need to persist and to "see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Paul is also encouraging a purity of purpose in the work of those who are called to share the Gospel. "For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake."
Can I offer us all a short word of encouragement, and challenge, at this time as we close out Epiphany?
Towards the end of his ministry Jesus spoke to all those who followed him and warned them that some would not be able to go on, because they could not or would accept the word he spoke. "So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life." - John 6: 66-68 NRSV
Bishops & Father Mike