Thursday, April 26, 2007

Good News is Meant to be Told

You know it was inevitable: this had to end being a sermon. Good thing the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist came along. atg+

This past Monday, I was taken by a little story on NPR’s Morning Edition. It seems that a man named Jim Governale found a box of old reel-to-reel tapes in his grandmother's garage. On one of the boxes, was a clipping from the sports page of a newspaper. It read “Koufax No-Hitter” and “Los Angeles vs. New York, 5-0 Perfecto”. Inside the box was a recording of Vin Scully calling the Mets at the Dodgers on June 30, 1962. This game was Sandy Koufax's first no-hitter of his storied career and it would be the first of four perfect games in four consecutive seasons.

The best part of this story was how this tape came to be. It was recorded by Governale's father on his grandfather's machine. One can easily imagine a kid just fooling around with the equipment perhaps plopping a mic in front of the radio.

I don’t know about you, but I can imagine this because I did this kind of thing. Only I recorded nonsense. This kid recorded history. When he set this up, did he have any idea what he was about to preserve? How did it feel when this lark ending being an historic moment? Did he know when he took out the cellophane tape and labeled the box with a headline cut out from the next day's sports page that this treasured tape would land in a box in the back of a garage where it would sit for thirty years?

If you click on the link in the web site and listen to Vin Scully call the last inning of this game, you get the feeling that he didn't know when he came to work that day that he would be describing history or that his words would paint the picture of something magical. When you listen, you hear it unfold right before your eyes.

Listening to Scully and the crowd around him, one can almost taste the hot dog. It’s wonderful.

As far as I am concerned, this artifact is about as holy as seeing a splinter of the True Cross. Not only was it not supposed to have existed, but it was made by accident! Best of all, listening to this tape takes you back in time forty-five years.

Sometimes I wish we could read the Gospels the way we hear this tape. We deliver the Gospel in such a formal way, with people dressed like, well, me, standing in places like this. We are all so reverent. As beautiful as it can be, we are hearing this Gospel in bite sized chunks, often in stories that we have had delivered since we were in Sunday school. Condensed, combined, and refined. We think we know about John the Baptist and Jesus. But what we do is very far away from what the Gospels must have been like to the first people who heard them.

Of all the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is most like oral literature. It doesn’t read like a book but is best read out loud, sitting cross legged in a circle. I once saw an actor, Alec McCowen, perform the entire Gospel of Mark as a one man performance in a little over an hour and a half. (We have a tape of that here in the parish. We should watch it together sometime.)

The first Gospel’s weren’t liturgical texts. They weren't even bound documents. The first Gospel’s were what one Christians told another person about their experience of Jesus Christ.

Try to imagine that one day you are going about your business and then this person comes into your life: A person who taught with authority, who healed and cast out demons but did not want to draw attention to himself, who fed people on so many levels. A person who would die and also rise from the dead. Imagine being there when Jesus walked into your life. Imagine and then imagine trying to tell the story of those encounters.

Imagine being a person who hears the good news for the first time like this:

Once upon a time John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Imagine. That’s the key word. We make the Bible into a lot of things. Not just liturgical texts, but also texts that teach and direct and set down norms. We think of them as history and some people even think of Scripture as science.

The way Mark comes to us, in its simplicity and the way it move so quickly (John the Baptist arrives, then he baptizes, then he says this, and then he baptizes Jesus, then he is arrested….boom, boom, boom!) reminds us that the Good News is a story that is meant to be told.

And that teaches us something. The first Christians became the first Christians because someone told them a story, and that story was immediate and engaging and opened the imagination, and through the imagination, the Holy Spirit moved and touch and transformed.

It was not just moving people back in time to make them remember Jesus way back then. The story brought Jesus forward and showed people that Jesus is alive and here now and still touching people’s lives and feeding them and healing and changing them.

But wait, there’s more! We can tell the story precisely because Jesus has walked into our lives and has fed us, healed us, changed us in ways that are both great and small but always wonderful. When we listen to the Gospel as a story of Good News in real lives, we realize that we have a Gospel story to tell as well.

Mark begins: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That story is worth telling. Imagine hearing it as if you are there. Imagine telling it because you are.

The best Gospel’s aren’t stories of people from way back then. The best Gospel is when we hear the story of Jesus with us now.

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