We did it! We finished the Year of Mark! I am not really sure what’s next – a sermon series on hospitality for the rest of the summer and then, who knows? The Year of Mark has changed me in a lot of ways, and it certainly has changed my preaching. It’s very unlike me not to have a plan, but I think that is just where I need to be right now! Let’s see where the spirit moves …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 14, 2019
I was telling Bruce that I had a little bit of writer’s block this week and he suggested that, if I was preaching on the Easter story, I should take the same approach in this sermon that I do when I write Easter sermons.
And this approach stems from a theory I have the no one ever complained about an Easter sermon being too short.
So – make a point, but make it quick.
For what it’s worth, I think my theory also rings true when you are preaching on the Easter story in the middle of the summer in a sanctuary without air conditioning.
It is the last Sunday of the Year of Mark. On July 17thof last year, we started this journey. And I have to admit, I always assumed that I would treat this last Sunday of the Year of Mark like a mini-Easter, of sorts; that we would hire brass, sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” and set off confetti canons. I envisioned dance parties that not only celebrated the resurrection, but also the fact that we made through an entire year of preaching through one gospel.
And yet, as this week approached, it just did not feel like Easter. Reading through the Easter story through the lens of the Year of Mark made it seem less like a celebration and more like a charge.
A charge to now live out the gospel that Christ demonstrated in his own life.
We just read the longer ending of the Gospel of Mark. I explained last week when we read the shorter ending that the shorter ending is presumed by most scholars to be the original ending. The assumption is that scribes added verses 9-20 in the late second century as a way of reconciling the somewhat unsatisfactory nature of the original ending.
From an exegetical perspective – meaning if you look critically at this biblical text as a way of interpreting it – this makes sense. The Gospel of Mark is the earliest recorded gospel; it is the spine in which both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke source their material from.
And yet, this section of Mark makes somewhat vague and passing references to stories found – with much greater detail – in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. This account mentions appearing first to Mary Magdalene, resurrection narratives found in the Gospels of Matthew and John, casting demons out of Mary Magdalene, which a story told in Luke and others not believing Mary, also a reference to Luke. Jesus’ appearance “in another form” to two of his disciples is a brief synopsis of the Road to Emmaus and his commissioning of the disciples follows the same form as his commissioning in all three gospels AND Acts of the Apostles.
This means that whoever redacted Mark had access to the written accounts of these other gospels before writing the longer ending.
And so part of it just does not necessarily feel very Easter morning-y, because whoever wrote the scripture that we just heard was doing so long after the fact; and they were doing then exactly what we are trying to do today– reflecting on the gospel, summing up the story and trying to figure out what to do next.
When Jesus commissions the disciples, there is this sort of strange promise that signs will accompany those who believe – speaking in tongues, picking up snakes, the ability to drink poison without getting sick and healing others through the power of touch. And not only does this rhetoric seem inconsistent from the rest of the gospel, it also is hard for us to relate to in the world we are living in today.
The snake thing, alone, is enough to push me over the edge. (although, now that I think about it, it might have made for an entertaining children’s sermon), I would not recommend drinking poison and we have talked about the fact that sometimes healing does not happen in the way or when we want it to.
But this is the world that theywere living in. Verses 14-28, where Jesus commissions the disciples, is very clearly written from the perspective of the post-resurrectional ministry of the disciples; meaning, they were already living out this call to serve and experiencing these signs. This is a commentary on what was already happening with the first generation of Christians. This is as much an historical perspective as it is a theological one.
When we talk about understanding the context in which the bible was written, this is one of the reasons it is so important. Because theseare not necessarily the signs that we will accompany us. This does not mean that we do not believe. It just means that different signs are going to accompany us.
Yet I think part of being Christian and entering into this Jesus narrative is doingexactly what the Gospel writer does here – talking openly about what it means to be a Christian in the world that we are living in.
And so I think this longer ending of Mark is very much a commentary on what we do with this story today. We learn about Jesus – about his life, his ministry, his death and his resurrection; and then we are commissioned. We are commissioned as disciples of Jesus Christ to live out the gospel in our own lives. We are commissioned to tell this story, to declare love’s victory in this world and to pick up where Jesus left off – feeding the hungry, healing the sick, welcoming and blessing the most vulnerable people in our midst and standing up against the atrocities that threaten the widening of God’s kingdom.
So – I am not setting off confetti today. Because I am far more interested in getting my hands dirty and doing the work I am being called to do.
We have spent a year doing nothing but talking about Jesus. We have been invited into this narrative of transformational love and suspended our disbelief as we bore witness to Jesus doing what we might otherwise have thought was impossible.
We watched as Jesus welcomed ordinary people into his ministry, healed people who were sick with a simple touch and even raised the dead. When we thought that there would not be enough food for everyone that had gathered around Jesus to eat, he took mere morsels of food and created an abundant meal where thousands feasted and there was plenty leftover. He traveled outside of the safety of the home that he knew and preached the Good News – sometimes in ways that made sense and sometimes in parables that made us scratch our heads.
As the fear of a raging storm began to swirly, Jesus calmed the storm and said to the disciples, “Why are you afraid?” and then defied gravity and walked on water. When Jesus saw people plagued by evil spirits and diseases that were out of their control, he did not turn them away; rather he looked them in the eyes and, seeing their humanity, blessed them as a child of God.
Jesus knew how the story was going to end; he explained it to his disciples, over and over again. And despite the fact that they never really got it, he never stopped teaching. When his authority was questioned, he never lost his composure. He taught his disciples that the most important commandment was to love God and then to love the heck out of the people around you.
And even as he faced death, itself, he blessed the people that he loved and made sure that they were nourished before it was time for him to leave this earth.
So today, as we finish the Year of Mark, this is our charge: To continue the work that Jesus started, to live out the Gospel, to proclaim the bold and radical truth that love always wins and to remember that it is now our responsibility to write the next chapter of this Christian story.
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
This concludes the Year of Mark.
Thanks be to God!