Benediction Online

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Proclaim the Good News

Mark 1:29-39

Have you ever noticed that when you learn a new word suddenly it seems to pop up everywhere? Or you start thinking about buying a new car and suddenly you’re noticing every time you pass that model on the road – and it’s quite surprising how many of them there are? I think it’s often like that with God. She speaks to us through what seem to be coincidences. When we see them it’s time to pay attention.

We have a coincidence this week. On Tuesday in Vespers we read from Luke 4 which says,

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

Does that sound familiar?

It should because it’s almost the same as this morning’s Gospel reading from Mark. Both Matthew and Luke seem to have used Mark’s gospel as a source for their own writing so it’s not unusual to find two passages which are very similar, but it is unusual for us as a faith community to read such similar passages within the same week. So we need to pay attention.

What might God be saying to us through these two short readings?

Jesus apparently doesn’t want the word to get around that he is the Messiah. Instead he feels a pressing need to keep moving on in order to proclaim the message which Luke tells us is the good news of the kingdom of God. He could have stayed in one place and healed people day after day but that’s not his primary focus. He’s not willing to be sidetracked by being heralded as the Messiah before it’s God’s time to do so, and he’s not willing to be sidetracked by healing people however good a thing that is to do. He says in Mark, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And in Luke, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’

I wonder whether we allow God is reminding us about the importance of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom?

At the end of this month I will have been your priest for six years. When I first came, the question on all our minds was whether we would have enough money to pay our bills or whether we would have to sell the church and go back to being a nomadic church in a box, or even close altogether. I used to pray for St. Benedict’s to grow so that we would have enough money.

When we were calling our bishop, I went to the meeting to meet the candidates and listened to Mary-Gray-Reeves talk about church growth. She said if you wanted to get new people so that you could pay the bills, that was the wrong reason and you probably wouldn’t grow. I knew that she was right, but we needed to pay the bills and unless we found a parishioner with very deep pockets, in order to do that we needed new people, as we still do.

So I prayed about it.

I thought about why I would want St Benedict’s to grow if we had enough money. In a quick phrase it was so that more people might find a life-giving relationship with God. That was fine but there was no getting away from the fact that I still wanted us to grow so that we could pay our bills. Soon I came to the conclusion that God could handle mixed motives so when I prayed for people to be drawn to St. Benedict’s I tried to concentrate on their need for a life-giving relationship with God and not on the bills. Over time my focus on paying the bills dropped away and I have become more and more focused on asking God to bring people who can serve and worship God with us, and to use our ministries to bring hundreds and thousands of people into a life-giving relationship with God.

That doesn’t mean bring hundreds and thousands of people to St. Benedict’s – people coming to church is not as important as people finding a life-giving relationship with God. I like to think the two go together. They certainly do for me. Coming to church helps to keep my inner fires burning. But there are those who come to church and never really allow God into their inner lives. There are others who have been so hurt by church or have such a negative image of it that it isn’t helpful. God made us all unique and so there’s no one size fits all recipe for the spiritual life. But I do believe that we were made to be in relationship with the divine and to be fed by the movement of the Spirit and the knowledge of God’s unconditional and transforming love.

And I think that is the message that we are called to proclaim - that God’s unconditional love is available for everyone, that everyone regardless of their life experience, regardless of who they are, everyone is welcome in the kingdom of God. One way of doing that is inviting people into church, into faith community with us. But that is just a symbol of the much greater truth, the good news, that God’s love is freely available for all beings and that in loving, worshipping and serving God, Creator, Word and Holy Spirit, we become liberated. Our hearts rest in her and our spirits are set on fire with the hope and joy which is ours in Christ Jesus.

In our baptism we promised to do it. We promised to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We promised it again when we were confirmed and we have renewed that promise every time we have participated in someone else’s baptism or confirmation.

There are plenty of good things to do which take all our time and energy. There were always more people wanting Jesus to heal them, always more demons to be cast out, more people declaring him as Messiah without knowing what that meant. But Jesus knew his priority. "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do," he said.

There are always good and wonderful things for us to do, but its time to keep our promise. It’s time for us to get serious about our priorities. It’s time for us to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.


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