Today, the second Sunday of Advent is traditionally devoted to the prophets – and in particular to the voices of second Isaiah and of John the Baptist as recorded by Mark’s gospel. Those voices, spanning the centuries, call us home from various kinds of exile...
By now most of us have seen the photos of many notable landmarks, especially in Europe, virtually deserted. Among them, and symbolic of the tragedy that has come upon northern Italy, is the great St. Mark’s Square in Venice, dedicated to that most audacious saint whom we commemorate today. Everywhere in Venice you see the symbol of the winged lion, his paw on the gospel; the symbol of Mark the evangelist - the gospel writer.
Mark wrote the first gospel. That sounds quite commonplace to us two thousand years on. We know that the other two synoptic writers, Matthew and Luke, took his work as their model and added to it, but Mark wrote the first one. The very act of writing was extraordinary. He did something that had never been done before. There had been other kinds of similar writing – lives of the great heroes of Greece and Rome – but no one had ever written a gospel before. It was an audacious act to try and set down what had happened and who Jesus was. Mark was brave and did something entirely new.
We don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that he wrote his gospel around 70AD - the time that the first Christians were being expelled from the Jewish synagogues and undergoing persecution following the fall of Jerusalem. That event was cataclysmic at the time. He writes because he feels he has to. He writes because there is a danger that if he does not the story will be lost, perhaps forever. The threat of imminent death inspires extraordinary acts of bravery, as we are seeing in the world today. Fear can beget bravery.
However, fear can also beget timidity and we see that in the gospel story we just read. It is thought that Mark actually ended his gospel at verse 8 ‘and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid’ – in the Greek text it actually ends with the tiny word ‘gar’, meaning ‘for’. The first gospel ends with a tender little conjunction – a joining word. It was for the pens of later writers to finish the text – and to join Mark’s brave, first testimony, to the future trajectory of the church, commissioned by their version of the risen Christ to ‘go out and proclaim the gospel’. Mark told the truth, tender as a young leaf – at first the wonder, the audacity of the resurrection could not be believed. It was just too new; too incredible to be trusted.
We like Mark, are facing dangers. We like Mark, are being challenged to do things we have never done before. We like Mark recognize that the way out of here requires hope and trust in things we cannot yet fully see or believe. Can we, as individuals, as churches, as society, be like Mark? Can we be brave enough to attempt the new, and bold enough to hold the tender green leaf and not crush it? For this is God’s call to us in our time. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for St Mark's Day, celebrated Sunday 26 April 2020
When we first came to Australia on a permanent basis, we lived and worked in the Anglican Parish of Gosford. One of the very lovely things about the parish, and its main church building, is its baptistery. This includes some modern stained glass windows, with words from the Gospel story of the baptism of Jesus strongly and beautifully emblazoned: ‘This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ It is such a joy to see and take to heart. Indeed, increasingly, I have come to believe that this is at the very core, not just of the baptism of Jesus, but of the baptism of every Christian. When we baptise a child, we are helping to share with them, and with those who love them, the message of God for us all: that ‘you (too) are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ What an amazing truth that is if we could but all believe it. Surely, this is a gorgeous message of love which Christians should be able to share with every person. For everyone is a child of God and everyone is created as beloved, in whom God is well pleased. Imagine if that was the main message, the heart of the Gospel, the truly good news, we shared as Church with others. After all, this love - not sin, nor judgement, nor moral concern – is the ultimate reality of all our lives. Yet this astonishing love for each one of us comes at a cost, and with a challenge…
What do you think makes for a great political slogan? Whatever you think about him, I think Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ was pretty effective. Other catchy slogans which have famously worked well in the USA have been Lyndon Johnson’s ‘All the Way with LBJ’, Bill Clinton’s ‘Its the Economy stupid’, and the clever response to Barry Goldwater’s ‘In your heart, you know he’s right’ which was ‘In your guts, you know he’s nuts’. In the UK, the one slogan everyone remembers was Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Labout isn’t working’. What about Australia? My guess is that Whitlam’s ‘Its Time’ has probably been the most effective, with ‘Kevin 07’ perhaps a catchy runner-up as most recently memorable. It is hardly a new phenomenon of course. Leaders were coining political slogans from ancient times, not least the Roman Emperors. So too with Jesus. For, whilst Jesus’ proclamation – his evangelion, his ‘gospel’ - was much more than political, as we hear it again in today’s reading, it most certainly had its political dimension. It is something important that we can easily miss with the passing of time…
What do we know about St Mark? (wrote one of the gospels, symbol is a lion, famous churches - for example in Venice - named after him?). The truth is that we don't know a great deal about St. Mark himself There are certainly a few legends that attach to his name. One is that the Last Supper was held in his house - the story goes that Mark was a teenager at the time, and that possibly he sneaked out with the other disciples and followed Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane and was the young man who nearly got arrested, but managed to get away by wriggling out his loin cloth and running away naked. If that story has truth, then Mark learned at an early age that following Jesus can be a very risky matter and that courage is important. Some scholars identify him with a disciple called John Mark, who appears in the Acts of the Apostles, first as a companion to Paul and Barnabas and later as a scribe for Peter. Certainly the gospel of Mark has many references to Peter and seems to have been written by someone who might have heard Peter tell his version of the story.
Whatever the truth of all that, when we read the gospel of Mark some aspects stand out, that I would summarise as pouncing, proclaiming and praying...
What mountains do you know? Mountains are among the most treasured and admired locations on earth - as well as some of the most perilous. I wonder what are some of the mountains that you have heard about or even visited yourself? What are some of the things you love about those mountains?
We've heard about a few mountains here in Australia, some of them local to Toowoomba and to Queensland, and about some mountains far away. Through our links with Nepal we have particular connections to the Himalayas and of course to the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest. Has anyone climbed a mountain that really required the proper gear, ropes and grappling irons and all those things?
Climbing a mountain requires a lot of effort, and preparation and discipline and persistence - which is why climbing a mountain is such a good picture for the spiritual life and often used as such. It is also why some traditional Christian communities are located near the top and on the very edges of mountainsides. Climbing requires patience and faith and provides a sense of perspective. When we physically get up higher we can see more; in the same way the more we advance in our relationship with God the better perspective we have on what really matters in life...
So when it comes to God, to ministry, to mission, how much is too much? This is a question posed by our Gospel reading today, and perhaps in the back of our minds as we embark on our stewardship campaign this week.
We are only into the third chapter of Mark's gospel. Jesus Ministry and mission has barely begun- and yet already from the religious authorities and his own close family the cry is going up 'too much, too much, he's got a demon, he's gone mad, we've got to restrain him'. What has provoked this extreme response? Essentially Jesus has declared that the sabbath is made for human beings and not human beings for the sabbath, and dared to heal on the sabbath day. Promptly the religious authorities sensing a threat to their power base, have set out to destroy him. Moreover they have persuaded his family to take action – probably by threatening them with expulsion from the Jewish community unless they do so. The common people however love him - he is proclaiming a faith that works for them; a faith that is not bound by rules and traditions, but open to the generous movement of the Spirit. So the crowd are pressing in on him so badly that he has had to take to a boat for fear of being crushed, and is finding it hard even to eat. In these circumstances it would have been fair enough for Jesus himself to have declared' this is too much', but He does not do so...
by Jon Inkpin, for Epiphany 4B (and eve of Candlemas), Sunday 1 Feb 2015
Idols, unclean spirits, and prophets: our lectionary readings are full of them today. They are hardly the most usual Anglican subjects of conversation, are they? So what do we make of them in our holy scriptures? More importantly, in this season of light and revelation – in this time we call Epiphany – what difference do they make to our lives? How does understanding them help us to shine, like divine candles, in our world?
by Penny Jones for Advent 2 year B
It gave me great joy yesterday to see everything so green after the rain. I am sure we are all taking delight in the clean fresh scent and the signs of new life. It would not be too fanciful I think to say that our bit of the world has been ‘baptised’ over the last few days.
The great medieval Christian mystic Hildegaard of Bingen coined a particular word for such ‘greening ‘ of the earth. She called it ‘veriditas’, from the Latin word for green. For her it best described the first shoots of green leaves poking through the white snow after a long winter in her native Europe. It was the sign of new life. And so too for us, as rain restores life to our parched land we see fresh potential for life in the renewed greenness of our land.
When we think about baptism and the ministry of John the Baptist which we recall today, veriditas, the ‘greening’, is a good picture to have in our minds. It is a picture that works at many levels. It describes the ‘greening’ of the outer world, the created order on which we rely for daily life. It describes the ‘greening’ of our inner world, the work of God in our individual souls. And it describes as well the transformative work of the Holy Spirit within our society and wider political systems...