So I went back home for Diocesan Convention this past weekend and my sponsoring parish asked me to preach our three Sunday Services after convention was over. Here's the text and hopefully there will be video to follow!
Lectionary readings for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany
May I speak to you in the name of one God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
How good it is to sing praises to our God!
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise
The Psalmist makes it seem so easy, doesn’t he, at least when he’s not wishing for his enemies’ teeth to be broken. He’s not wrong, though. It is good, and pleasant to sing praises to God! We gather together every Sunday (and even sometimes during the week, as we have these past two days at Diocesan Convention); We gather and we have a grand time, offering praise to God, singing beautiful hymns together, enjoying fellowship with fellow christians and giving our thanks. And we should. One might even say it is a good and joyful thing to do. When we gather like this we’re doing what Christians have done for two millennia, we’re doing what Christ commanded us to do. In fact, for many of us, myself especially, this is where we come to encounter God. We come to the table and break bread, and share wine, and we marvel at the holy mystery of the incarnation of Christ; at God made man; at his redemption of our broken nature; and at the sheer wonder of creation. And in the repetition of our liturgy and our prayers, in the familiarity of the faces and buildings around us, we find solace, we find peace, and we find comfort.
When I was growing up I was, in what is undoubtedly a complete and total shock to everyone who has ever known me, a rather nerdy kid. Middle school is tough as it is, but as a short underweight, self-professed geek.... Well, let’s just say that middle school went pretty much exactly the way you would expect. Luckily, I had somewhere to go. From a young age, I got involved in the diocesan youth programs, and took advantage of nearly everything the diocese had to offer. These events were an incredibly welcome break from the slings and arrows of the social minefield that is middle school. Having a place where everyone was kind was fantastic. To a moody, hormonal 7th grader these events were a mountaintop experience to rival Peter’s. It was the one place where we could all be around our peers and still be safe, still be welcomed, and still be comfortable.
But in our Gospel today, Mark is calling us into a space that can be quite uncomfortable. And he is not only calling us into that place, he is calling us into that place urgently, even dragging us kicking and screaming into that space. If we were 29 verses into Matthew’s Gospel, we would still be learning about Jesus’ Great-Great-Great uncle or something, but this is Mark, and Mark is in a hurry. Jesus already has a few apostles, has started preaching and he has exorcised a demon who had publicly outed him as the Holy One of God -- in case the sky being torn open and the great booming theophany at his baptism hadn’t given it away.
The fact that that this has all happened so quickly, so immediately is important. It’s important because what we’re being asked to do by this passage is so urgent and uncomfortable. There’s a quote attributed to St. Francis that I love, and that I think most Episcopalians love: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words.” I agree with Francis, I really do. It’s important to spread the good news with our actions as well as our words. But the point Mark is making here seems to be that it is not enough to just do good works. We’re being compelled to go out and talk about this good news. Simon hunts down Jesus and tells him “Everyone is searching for you.”
“EVERYONE is searching for you.”
I’m not going to really get too much into the Greek, mostly because I’m absolutely horrible at Greek, but the word used here for searching is a really aggressive word; it means more than just tracking down. It’s quite forceful. He pursued him, he hunted him, he rooted him out. He grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him and said “Hey! What are you doing out here in this deserted place? EVERYONE is looking for you!” Now I’m not using Greek to show you that y’all are getting a good return on your investment in sending me up to that fine seminary in Virginia; I’m using it because this wasn’t just Simon playing hide-and-seek with the Christ. Simon was pushed, was driven, was compelled to come find Christ, and then pushed, drove, and compelled Christ to go out preaching to everyone.
Like Simon, we are all hunting for Christ. Like Simon, we are trying to find him for our own reasons. We’re hunting for him because we want Christ to do what we want him to do. But, like Simon, we can’t be hunting for JUST ourselves. When we find Christ, we have to carry him back out into the world, carry him back out to everyone.
Underscoring the Gospel message today, Paul makes clear that carrying this message out isn’t ground for boasting, but rather is an obligation laid upon us, Just as Simon laid it upon Christ. “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” says Paul, and with his long habit of making us uncomfortable he continues by not really giving us an option. We are not doing this of our own will. We are doing it because we have a commission. We have a commandment. “Go ye into all the world preaching the Gospel.”
But Paul’s message isn’t totally without nuance. Paul tells us we have to go out and spread the Gospel, but he isn't telling us we have to throw on a signboard and stand on a street corner shouting at passers-by. Paul is telling us to meet people where they are. He has made himself all things to all people.
Now, we aren’t Paul, and I know I can’t do that. But what we can do is be there each day with someone in need. Be with someone who is broken, who is hurting, who is struggling, who is just having a bad day; be with them, and help them carry their load. Be with them, and let them know that they are loved, not only by us as friends, but as a unique, and precious child of God.
I know that this can be hard. Sharing our faith with people is not something that comes naturally. Having conversations about our faith with strangers can be really, really awkward. Believe me, I know.
We learn from a young age it’s impolite to talk about politics or religion.
And for us as Episcopalians it can especially difficult. It may be even harder for us to speak in the language of evangelism. It can be difficult at times to even use terms like evangelical, and I know I can hardly say “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” without stumbling over my words, not because I don’t mean it, I absolutely do, but because that’s just not how we usually say and do things in the Episcopal Church.
So yes, It’s awkward. Yes, it’s unpleasant. Yes, it’s uneasy. Yes, it’s uncomfortable.
But it was absolutely terrifying to Isaiah when the pivots on the threshold of the temple shook and the seraphim came crashing through the roof and he found himself surrounded by the hem of the robes of God, overwhelmed by his Glory. It was terrifying to Paul, when he was struck blind on the highway and the risen Lord himself appeared and said “Saul, why are persecuting me?” And it can be terrifying and uncomfortable to us when we encounter God and the risen Christ in our lives.
But when God asked “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responded, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” And Paul obeyed, and he carried the Good News to the Gentiles.
So when we consider what we face; a sky torn open, a man healing and exorcising and preaching in the name of God, not just a man, but God himself, God incarnate, God stooping to dwell here with us; what else are we to do?
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth... he who brings princes and rulers to naught.” It is the Holy One of God. And if there is something for which it is worth putting ourselves out there, something worth taking a risk for, something worth getting uncomfortable for, something worth laying ourselves bare for, something worth sacrificing for, then surely it is this Christ that has saved us.
So when we are sent from this building to do the work which we have been given, let us all make a point this week of sharing why it is we do what we do, why it is we come together in this place to break bread, to wonder at the holy mystery and encounter God, why it is that we live and move and have our being.
Have a conversation about your faith with someone you normally wouldn’t, invite a friend to church who hasn’t been before. Do not be afraid, say the angels. Go out into our town, proudly and joyfully proclaiming the incredible, remarkable, disconcerting, earth-shaking, life changing Gospel of Christ.
Because everyone is searching for him.
Everyone is searching for him.