Thursdays at Volmoed – Sermon for St Mark the Evangelist

Scripture Readings

Today in the Church calendar is the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist, by whom is meant the author of the Gospel of Mark. The first difficulty is that we aren’t completely sure who that was. The Gospel itself is essentially anonymous, with both the author and the intended audience left unidentified within the received text. A tradition that was strongly developed very early in the history of the Church is that the Gospel was composed by a Mark who was a close associate of the apostle Peter and who wrote down what Peter taught him about what Jesus said and did.

Whoever Mark was, he is commonly thought to have written the first gospel account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and to have done so for a persecuted Christian community in Rome around the year 70 AD. The other so-called Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke are thought by many scholars to be based on Mark’s Gospel together with an otherwise unknown source referred to as Q.

Mark’s Gospel is distinguished by simple but vivid language and the story it tells is composed with considerable literary sophistication and artistry. In the very first sentence, we are introduced to a Jesus who is both Christ (the Jewish Messiah) and Son of God, and assured that the story of this Jesus is good news. All of that is developed through the rest of the Gospel.

In the last verse of Mark’s prologue, we read a summary of Jesus’ message: The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near. All that Jesus taught by word and deed was to demonstrate this one truth. The first half of the Gospel is devoted to describing how powerfully Jesus did so.

Mark did not just give his audience and us a story about this very special man, though. He crafted the story in such a way as to call forth a response from his readers. This intended response is summarized in the words of Jesus that concluded our reading this morning: Repent and believe in the good news, a change of mind and heart that will shape how the believer lives.

The Jesus we meet in Mark’s Gospel is very human, and so are the people he interacts with. Jesus soon encounters opposition from those in authority and misunderstanding from those he calls to be his disciples. In the second half of the Gospel, as Jesus moves towards his fate and accepts suffering and death, his disciples increasingly struggle with the discovery of what following the Christ actually means, eventually abandoning Jesus before his death, even betraying and denying him.

In an unexpected way, this aspect of the story is part of the good news for the reader. Those closest to Jesus struggled to follow him faithfully, but he rose to life again and extended his forgiveness and shared his risen life with them, enabling them ultimately to become the people they were intended to be. If that is true for them, I think Mark is telling us, it is true for all of us who also struggle with the life of faith. The risen Christ in our midst offers forgiveness and new life once again to all of us even today.

There is another aspect of discipleship in Mark’s Gospel that is easy to overlook. This is the story of those other characters, the ones less readily identified among Jesus’ disciples, those he didn’t necessarily call to follow him but who came to him out of their various situations because they recognized something about him and the healing that he brought. These include the Gerasene demoniac, the haemorrhaging woman, the Syro-Phoenician woman, and blind Bartimaeus. Mark gives us the stories of these characters and others, such as the woman who anoints Jesus and such as Joseph of Arimathea, to reassure us of the variety of ways by which we might come to Jesus in repentance and belief.

Each of us here this morning, says the author of Ephesians, each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gift of that grace enables each of us to contribute in our own way to building up the body of Christ, his continued presence in the world made known in and through us as we are joined together in Christ. As we learn to speak the truth in love together, so the body of Christ builds itself up, and the kingdom of God becomes more firmly established, and more of heaven is experienced even on this struggling earth.

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