Friday, April 25, 2008

Feast of St. Mark

Updated Saturday, 4/26

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

When I was young, I was a Boy Scout. And one of the things we did was camp. And when we camped, we told stories. Ghost stories, generally. The older scouts would try to scare the younger ones. And sometimes the scoutmasters might tell a story that was at once exciting and had a moral.

Storytelling is as old as humanity. As long as there have been people, we have used the story to tell not just exciting tales but also to tell the truth.

For a long time history was told through the story. Before there were textbooks, or schools, or libraries or the History Channel, there were stories: stories of great people doing great things; stories of nations and wars and victories and journeys; and there were stories of God and how God made, formed and took care of God’s people.

Some of this history and some of these stories, and some of the songs and poems got written down. For the Hebrew people, these became Torah and wisdom and the prophets. They were written and they were still told, in synagogues, in homes and maybe even around campfires.

When the Christian Church was brand new, there were people who encountered Jesus Christ. Perhaps they followed him around Palestine. Maybe they saw him when he came through town. Maybe they saw him once. They might have been healed by him, or heard his teaching, or were somehow touched and changed by him. And they told his story: the story of his life, his arrest and crucifixion, his resurrection and ascension.

And when they met Jesus, and knew him to be the Christ and decided to follow his as Lord and Messiah and Son of the Living God, they were changed. Deep in their hearts and forever.

And as new, changed people, they told Jesus’ story. They told the story of their life-changing encounter and memory of Jesus in their own ways.

And that story caused others to know Jesus and follow him as Lord and Messiah and Son of the Living God and they were changed, and then they told the story and on and on it went. They told the story of Jesus in the synagogues and in their homes, around broken bread and in between prayers, and, yes, maybe even around campfires.

These first Christians had only the Hebrew Scriptures, the stories of Jesus and how he changed them, and how God worked through him and those who followed him. They may have had letters here and there, and we have a few of those, but that was it.

I mention all this because today (when I write this) it is the Feast of St. Mark. Tradition says that he was a follower of both Paul and Peter. That he had a falling out with Paul but later was reconciled. He is said to have been present when Jesus was arrested, escaping with his life if not his dignity. He is thought to have been the first bishop of Alexandria.

We don’t know, but I think there is a connection between what tradition says about Mark and the Gospel we attribute to Mark. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, the most immediate and the most story-like of all the Gospels. It is the closest of the Gospels to the long oral tradition that nourished the Church and helped it spread. It is meant not so to be read as to be told. It is a story of "this happened and then that happened, and then this came next." And in that way it connects not only to the earliest church but to what the earliest church was like.

The traditions surrounding Mark also give us an indication of the earliest, pre-written-Gospel Church. The tradition tells us of a person who was one of those people who knew and encountered Jesus and told the story. And told it again and again. And it was a story heard it told by others who knew and followed Jesus, who built on it with their own recollections, observations and meaning.

I think this is how the Holy Spirit inspires and moves the Church. For Mark--whether it was the Gospel Mark or the Tradition Mark-- it was in the telling of the good news story that they learned to live as Jesus taught. In the telling, they learned to love God and each other and their neighbors, they way Jesus showed us how. In the telling of the good news, they discovered the living of the gospel and it changed them. When the story moves from a tale to gospel, it is because we have become the story itself.

Both the Mark who wrote the Gospel and the Tradition surrounding Mark (maybe they are the same person, maybe not) are intimately connected by the Christ they convey, the Gospel is not only written about, it is lived.

So here is the lesson for us: outside of our worship, long after we step out of Sunday School or adult education or Education for Ministry or seminary, we are the ones who tell the story. We tell the story of Jesus. Who lived and died and rose and lives still. We are the ones who have met Jesus in word, sacrament, and in community, in Spirit and in faith. We are the ones are tell the story…to each other and to those who have never heard it.

We tell it in how we live. We tell it how we are changed. We tell it in church, at home, at work and at school. We tell it with broken bread and through our prayers. We may even tell it around a campfire.

Practice telling the story of your encounter with Jesus Christ and how he touched and changed you. Listen to the story that others tell. As we tell the story, we find that we live the story, and then, lo and behold, we become the story. We are the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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