Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer. Psalm 19:14
Please open your Bibles to Mark chapter 1 verse 1. Mark is the second book in the New Testament following Matthew, one of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark was probably the first gospel written and was probably written shortly after the first Jewish war with Rome which began in 66 CE and reached its climax with the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Mark is the primary gospel we will use this year, Year B, with additional readings from the Gospel of John.
Have you found Mark 1:1? <name> will you please read the first verse. So we know from the very beginning that this is a story about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one and that he is the Son of God. The disciples and the other characters in this story do not know this yet, but we know from the beginning that Jesus is an ambassador sent from God, that Jesus speaks and acts on behalf of God.
The next two verses are a quotation from the Old Testament books of Isaiah 40:3, Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1. Then we are introduced to John the Baptizer who proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins which is a concern of the prophets as seen in Isaiah 1:10-10; 55:7; Jeremiah 31:34; Hosea 6:1; Joel 2:12-13; and Zechariah 1:4. John appears in the wilderness which reminds us of the Exodus and the forty years the Hebrew people spent in the desert with Moses when they escaped from the Egyptians. The description of John and especially how he is dressed makes the hearer of this story think of Elijah from several centuries earlier. Baptism may signify a fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:25-28 and the cleansing with water. John’s prediction that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit fulfills the expectation that God will pour out God’s spirit on God’s people in the last days. This story of Jesus Christ grows out of the stories from the Old Testament; Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, a continuation of the story. Every word and phrase that the author of the Gospel of Mark uses has meaning and significance for Mark’s story. His story is brief, even cryptic with sparse use of adjectives. Mark seems to be in a hurry to tell this story and repeatedly uses words like “immediately” and “at once”.
When Jesus is baptized by John the heavens are torn open and the Spirit descends like a dove on Jesus. God has broken into time and space, into the history of humanity and anointed Jesus with the Spirit of God. God strengthens and encourages Jesus, telling Jesus that he is his beloved Son and that he is proud of him. With this knowledge Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit and faces the challenges of God’s adversary, Satan, but Jesus is not alone, the angels are with him, God is with Jesus and supports Jesus and his ministry. I believe we can infer from this that God is also with us in our ministries.
<name> will you please read verses 14 and 15. John has been arrested and Jesus now begins his ministry in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Walking along the Sea of Galilee Jesus invites four fishermen, Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Come, follow me.”
Verse 21 begins a pericope or episode of Jesus teaching on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, with the authority given to him by God, an authority that astounds the hearers. Jesus’ also performs his first exorcism. The unclean spirit knows who Jesus is; he is the Holy One of God, but Jesus tells him to keep quiet and to come out of the man. Surprisingly Jesus even has authority over demons.
Today’s reading, beginning at verse 29, tells of Jesus leaving the synagogue and going to Simon and Andrew’s home with James and John and healing Simon’s mother-in-law who is sick with a fever. Simon is married. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. Then the fever leaves her and she begins to serve them. Jesus can heal and Jesus touches. Touch is so important in building relationships and community and for healing. Jesus touches the untouchable, the sick, the dying, women, lepers…, the outcasts of society. When I first heard this story I was outraged that this poor woman who has been very sick is now serving these men. Another way to look at this is that Simon’s mother-in-law is the church’s first deacon. She already understands what it means to follow Jesus, that it is a life of service for others. She is not focused on personal gain or fame, we don’t even know her name, or position, but is focused on a life of service.
With the sinking of the sun the Sabbath ends and the city of Capernaum bring their sick and those possessed by demons to Simon’s house. Jesus cures the sick and casts out demons. Jesus does not permit the demons to speak. In Mark’s story, Jesus needs to redefine what the role of the Messiah is, so the demons cannot tell the people Jesus’ identity before Jesus has had time to do this. The people’s expectation of the Messiah is very different from the reality, like a mighty warrior riding into town on a magnificent steed compared to a provincial preacher coming into town on a donkey; like the Roman Emperor as the Son of God verses Jesus as the Son of God.
Continuing with verse 35, Jesus gets up very early while it is still dark to pray alone in the quiet of the night. Simon and the others search for him and ask him what he is doing; he should be back at the house where I am sure there are others waiting to be healed. Jesus ignores Simon’s demand and says that they must be on their way to other towns and villages to proclaim the good news and to cast out demons. Chapter one ends with Jesus touching a leper and telling the leprosy to leave him. Jesus heals with touch and by command. Jesus tells the man healed of leprosy to go immediately to the priest to show that he has been cleaned, but instead he goes about telling everyone what Jesus has done. I am afraid that if I was healed of some horrible disease like COPD or Cancer, I too would tell everyone I knew. Jesus’ fame precedes him and he can no longer move freely about without being recognized and bombarded with requests for healing and exorcisms.
Mark wants us to know from the very beginning of the gospel that Jesus’ ministry is to proclaim and enact the good news of God or, as David Rhoads would say in “Mark as Story”, chapter one begins the inauguration of the Rule of God and Jesus begins to redefine what it means to be the Messiah, the Son of God.
It is astonishing how much we have learned about Jesus in just 45 verses and how much we can learn in an afternoon with a good study Bible and a commentary. Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, a teacher, a preacher, a healer, an exorcist; Jesus is compassionate; Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets; Jesus speaks with the authority of God and is God’s beloved.
Last Sunday I invited you to join me on a journey of Spiritual Growth. I am not suggesting we need to do more. We don’t. We are active in our community of Albion with GED, Community Suppers, Community Gardens, Citizens to Beautify Albion, Literacy Programs, American Legion, NAACP, etc. What I am suggesting is that I want to grow deeper in my spirituality, to understand why we are doing these things, to know that we are doing them as an outgrowth of our love for God, our love for our neighbors and our love for all of God’s creation and I am inviting you to join me. Spiritual Growth is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. A good place to start is by reading the Bible, of studying our sacred Scriptures so that we can come to know God and Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit grow into our image of God.
I don't know if you have seen all the information coming out for Lent about The Good Book Club. It's an invitation to all Episcopalians (and anyone interested) to read through the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible during Lent and Easter. Organizations from around the Church are creating materials to support individuals and groups in the process of reading through the Bible. UTO is offering a free downloadable booklet, Mission of Gratitude, for use on this Lenten journey. Each week, the booklet offers a short reflection on the readings, questions for contemplation or discussion, space to journal, and a story and a link to a video about a UTO grant site. There will be a downloadable Lent calendar with links to the websites of UTO grant recipients for each day of the month. St. James’ is featured for Monday, March 18 and the link shown for the diocese goes directly to our church website. We will share additional information as we get it.
Whether you join in reading Luke and Acts or start with the Gospel according to Mark, I invite you to spend some time reading your Bible, immersing yourself in God’s Story and our Story and getting to know Jesus and the God in whose image we are created. Amen.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, welcome to Annual Meeting Sunday.
2018 was a busy year full of blessings and opportunities. A funeral was held for Marion Elaine Wyatt; Benjamin Everett Hill was baptized; Matthew and Nicole Vaughn were confirmed at the Easter Vigil in Grand Rapids; I buried my father, Kenneth Mackenzie Sutherland in Ontario; two families were adopted at Christmas; Christmas baskets were delivered to our shut-ins; and five hospital visits, 22 home visits, 37 Home Communions and 50 pastoral visits were made in 2017. Home Communion is taken to five people on a regular basis.
Regular Sunday morning worship is provided with additional services available for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Stations of the Cross, Holy Week, St. James’ Day, Backyard Communion, a Home Blessing, Blessing of the Animals and Veterans Sunday. We are active in community events with Shrove Tuesday, public readings of Matthew, our monthly community supper, purse bingo, salad luncheon, Episcopal Youth Camp, Christmas Bazaar and Cookie Walk, cheese balls, attendance at Diocesan Ordinations, Diocesan Convention, and participation in the Festival of the Forks and Albion Aglow Parades. Christian Formation was available for our children and our adults. The adults studied the Gospel of John in the spring, Moses in the fall and attended a worship service at Beth Temple Israel.
We continue to work with AIM, Albion Interfaith Ministries, providing food, hygiene and paper products, emergency financial assistance and the use of our Parish Hall. We worked with AIM, Albion College, St Paul’s Lutheran Church and St. John’s Catholic Church to provide Christmas boxes and gifts for 375 families in Albion. The Albion Lion’s Club and Weight Watchers also use our Parish Hall.
A highlight of the year was a visit from Bishop Whayne Hougland to bless the Albion Community Gardens and our new tractor. The 2017 growing season was very successful with many gardens planted, an orchard planted and storage units, fencing and mulch put in place. It was an opportunity to work with Vision of Life, to develop new friendships, to build community and to grow and share fresh vegetables with our neighbors. We are looking forward to even more families being involved in 2018. I hope that you will be able to plant a garden this summer.
The Albion Reading Camp successfully integrated with the Albion Recreation Departments Peapod program in 2017. We worked with the Albion Recreation Department, Albion Public Library, Marshall’s Franke Center for the Arts, Albion College, Bread of Life Ministries and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan to provide a literacy program over eight weeks during the summer. Our plan is to coordinate a literacy program again for the 2018 summer. We would love for you to get involved.
Reaching significant milestones is cause for reflection on the past and discernment on what the future may hold. Celebrating my fifth anniversary with St. James’, my fifth anniversary as a priest and reaching my 60th birthday I have spent significant time over the past couple months discerning where God may be calling my ministry to and what this might mean for St. James’. We have gotten to know each, to trust each other and perhaps, may I dare say, love each other. We know what to expect on Sunday morning. We have a format agreed on for bulletin, hymns, and changing church seasons. The Acolytes, Denise, the Altar Guild, the musicians and the Wardens know what to expect and when I forget to review the dimming of the lights for Christmas Eve the Acolytes and Wardens know what needs to be done. I sure have missed Gard over the past few weeks as he cares for his mother.
As we plan for our Annual Meeting, make plans for Christian Formation and plan the 2018 Vestry Retreat what direction are we headed, where are we going? I have spent considerable time in prayerful conversation with this subject in my fall retreat, with my Spiritual Director Sister Nancy, my wardens Jocelyn and Dick and Bishop Whayne Hougland. This is an ongoing process, but I have come to the realization that I want and need to move from thinking to feeling, from my head to my heart and hope you will join me in this journey. I don’t know exactly what this will mean or what will change. There isn’t a documented roadmap for this process for me to follow. It will mean careful listening for God’s direction and some trial and error. The goal is Spiritual Growth, of moving from an intellectual, rational mode of operation to emotional, heart felt, spirit lead worship that impacts our lives every minute of the week. St. James’ is not to be a civic institution or a worship club, but a hospital for sin sick souls, a training ground for Spiritual Growth that we will carry us out into our homes, neighborhoods and schools and places of work.
I don’t really know what this means yet, but I am eager to find out. Bishop Whayne has challenged me to adopt as a Lenten discipline to operate from the perspective of how I feel rather than what I think. This will be a challenge for me. This is not the first time I have been asked to do this. I will need your help. Ask me how I feel about a subject rather than what I think. I hope you will join me in this challenge to work from our hearts rather than our heads. Intelligence is good. Rational thought is important, but so is our emotional intelligence. It is important to also be able to work from our hearts. Some of you may already be good at this, then I ask you to please help me. Remember I worked for over thirty years as a Mathematician, Programmer Analyst and an Information Services Project Manager. I am undoing years of training to be able to move from the rational to the emotional. I feel scared and challenged. I could not look the Bishop in the eye when he asked me how I was feeling, but I am also feeling excited and motivated to find out where this might take me. I invite you to join me in this journey to discover where God might lead us and what this may mean for me and for you in the future.
We are the Episcopal branch of the church in Albion alive in the worship of God through Jesus Christ and active in the community of Albion. May God bless Albion and St. James’ in 2018!
So what does it mean to answer a call to follow Jesus?
Who is baptized? Who was baptized as an infant or a young child? I was baptized when I was 15 days old. I certainly did not choose to be baptized, but I am forever grateful that my parents chose to have me baptized, to be a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and of the family of God. My Godmother, Hazel Davey, is still living and is still the organist in my home church; we still share Christmas letters. My Godfather, her husband, died many years ago. She attended my marriage to Jon playing the organ and has followed by career and change in vocation with interest. Many of you will have similar stories from your baptism.
Some of you chose to be baptized as adults. That would be a very different experience. It is something you decided to do. You may even remember the service of baptism and what it felt like and meant to you. My sister Marsha and I were confirmed when we were 12 and 13 with several other young people. I definitely remember the confirmation classes. We read
CS Lewis’ book “Screwtape Letters”. I remember the final test where we had to answer questions about what we had learned and had to write out the Apostles’ Creed. I remember receiving a Bible. I remember Bishop Appleyard coming and laying his hands on our heads; I remember the veil we wore and the white chiffon dress with bell sleeves and a mauve ribbon that I wore. I wore it to my grade eight graduation as well. It was kind of a rite of passage from childhood to our teenage years and high school. Do you remember your confirmation? What details stand out for you?
But a call to discipleship, a call to follow Jesus is more than learning doctrine and being able to recite what you believe. It is a call to action. The disciples actually had to put down their fishing nets and climb out of their fishing boats and literally follow Jesus. For those of us who were baptized and confirmed as children these choices were mostly made by our families. So how do we make mature decisions to follow Jesus, to answer God’s call?
The answer will be different for each of us. First we need to stop and listen to hear the quiet voice of God. For some of us that may mean being knocked off our high horse like Paul and forced to listen.
A couple weeks ago the Adult Formation class watched a video by Rob Bell called “Noise”. We are surrounded by blaring TVs, radios, ringing phones, elevator music, traffic sounds; bombarded with Facebook, texts, emails, twitter, Instagram and the demands of a 21st century life. If we are to listen can we even hear God’s voice above the din and demands of our lives?
We may need to actively seek out the solitude of a walk in Whitehouse Nature Center or a paddle down the Kalamazoo River or a hot, steamy shower. Prayer or conversation with God does not actually need to involve words. It can mean just clearing your desk and your mind of the demands of your day and just being, open to whatever may come. Perhaps you may want to lay out a problem or question that you need help with. “O God, teach me how to be supportive through my son’s teenage years.” This may be something that you begin your time with God with for days or weeks or even years. You may find a spiritual guide or a prayer partner helpful. In last week’s Old Testament reading from First Samuel, Samuel does not yet know God. When God calls to him he believes it is Eli calling. Eventually Eli perceives that God is calling Samuel and Eli tells Samuel what to do. We may be a spiritual guide for our children or a friend.
We may also need to learn to trust God and what God is calling us to. We may need to learn to obey God and act on what God is calling us to. We may be like Jonah who heard God alright but did not want to take God’s message to the people of Nineveh. Jonah ran the opposite direction to what God asked of him. Jonah preferred to risk his life on the open sea and in the belly of a whale than going to Nineveh and warning the people that their city would be destroyed in 40 days. Jonah knew that God was a merciful God and that if the people of Nineveh repented and changed their ways then God would also change his mind and not destroy the city of Nineveh. And Jonah was right. The people did repent and God was merciful and did not destroy their city. Jonah was angry. Jonah could not accept that it was better for the people to be warned and allowed to repent and transform their lives than for the city of Nineveh and all living there to just be destroyed with no warning or opportunity for repentance.
It is hard to trust God to act in our best interests. It is easier to trust in our own strength and street smarts, our 401Ks and investments than to trust in God. It is easier to trust in horses and chariots, the US military and handguns, rifles and assault weapons than to trust in God. They are here and available now. We don’t really know when or how or even if God will respond. I am not saying it is bad to do things for ourselves. My parents taught me to be independent, to find solutions to my problems, to work hard and to save for a rainy day. This is good, but it is also important to learn to trust God and to trust our neighbors, to know who we can count on in a time of need.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul told them to live as if they were not part of this world. Paul believed that Jesus would return in Paul’s life time. Some two thousand years later we no longer believe in the imminent return of Jesus. We believe Jesus will return, that the Kingdom of Heaven will come, just not today. Yet this passage is still relevant for us in the 21st century. It is important for us not to get caught up in the cares of this world, to not fling ourselves out of windows when the stock market dives, but to live as if we believe that the Kingdom of God is imminent and that we can be instrumental in building the Kingdom now in how we live our lives today.
I implore you to consciously make time in your busy lives to be with God, to listen for his still voice; to learn to trust God and to be obedient to his word, so that when Jesus comes walking by unexpectedly one day and says “Follow me”, you can with Simon and Andrew, James and John, drop what you are working on and follow Jesus. Amen.