A communion invitation based on Mark 1:4-11
January 7, 2018
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista
Dr. Sharon R. Graff
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Epiphany begins with a bang today! It is the season of light, the season where we open ourselves to the light of God through the life of Jesus the Christ, the season where, literally, the light shines a bit more each and every day. And the Gospel of Mark gets us up and gets us going. Honestly, it reads like the story of someone who is double-parked! Action follows action. There is little space between. Jesus often scoots from one scene to another to another in a series of very busy days and equally busy nights.
As an example of this fast-paced gospel narrative, the word “immediately” appears as many times in Mark as it does in the other three gospels put together! In Mark, immediately, Jesus heals. Immediately, Jesus teaches. Immediately, Jesus leaves one place of service to attend another. Immediately, Jesus sees a need and immediately he meets it. There is little time for breath and little space for pondering. Mark’s Jesus is a man of action. The author of Mark doesn’t even take time for the birth stories we’ve just enjoyed once again…in Mark, there are no angels, no Mary or Joseph, no shepherds, no wise ones…there’s not even a little Baby Jesus. In this gospel—the first written—Jesus appears on the scene, light of the world, fully grown, announced by his cousin John as powerful, powerful enough for people to stop and take notice. In Mark, the first sight of Jesus, he is at the water ready to be baptized… Light of the world…water of baptism…BOOM…get to work, Jesus! That’s the picture of Jesus we see in Mark. Boom…no time to waste.
This very first narrative of the life of Jesus shows us that his is a ministry of caring, immediately…of seeing needs, now, and meeting them…and, if we dare to call ourselves by his name, then his ministry becomes ours as well. And, just as in the double-parked, fast-paced accounts in Mark’s gospel, our ministry in Jesus’ name has a similar urgency, a quality of immediacy that invites us to care now.
Fortunately for you, you are called by God to minister in Jesus’ name in a place that is already one of the top caring cities in this nation. Yes, a recent survey completed just last month, showed that both San Diego and Chula Vista are among the top 100 Most Caring Cities in the United States! The survey results read like the Gospel of Mark. Its definition of “caring” was “having intimate and human connection with others; expressed in multiple ways — from helping an elderly person cross the street to fighting a house fire.” The survey company, WalletHub, compared the 100 largest cities in the country using 36 key indicators, indicators that show a compassionate spirit. These included three major categories:
- Caring for the Community (crime rate, alcohol abuse, care for environment, social ties, civic engagement, favors to neighbors, income donated to charity, volunteer hours);
- Caring for the Vulnerable (children, homeless, disabled, uninsured, pets and animals);
- Caring Within the Workplace (physicians, nurses, social services, teachers, counselors, mental health counselors, personal aides, firefighters, paramedics)
As a whole, in 2016, Americans showed their care more and more in each of these important marks of compassion. And San Diego was #12th of 100 cities; Chula Vista came in at #29. Pretty good, I’d say! Both are tangible examples of the immediacy of caring and compassion that Jesus embodies. Following in his steps, your cities have a higher percentage of people doing favors for neighbors. Your cities are among those with a higher percentage of income donated to charities. Your cities enjoy the gift of more volunteer hours. Your cities enjoy some of the highest percentage of workers who carpool, and thus put into action their care for the earth. Your cities have some of the highest percentages of sheltered homeless persons and the lowest child poverty rates, the most caring teachers, and the most residents working in community and social services.
In other words, your cities put into practice what Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is all about. He is about doing good wherever good needs doing. No fanfare. No angel choruses. No miraculous and inspiring birth stories. Fully formed Jesus. Light of the world Jesus. Baptized in water Jesus. Getting to work now Jesus. BOOM!
My sisters and brothers, we are no different. We came into this world much like Jesus arrived in Mark. Equipped by God to do good. Baptized in water. Led by Spirit into some difficult seasons of growth. Beloved by God as sons and daughters of the Divine. Like Jesus in Mark, God’s voice says to each of us today, “You are my son…you are my daughter…with YOU I am well pleased!”
I invite you to hear those words, as you once again select an Epiphany word from the basket. For those who are new to this practice, Epiphany words sort of select you. In a few minutes, when you come forward for communion, let your hand linger over the basket of words, while your spirit quiets. Then, without looking, select a word card…better yet, let it select you! And as you begin to imagine how your special chosen word will come to life in your life in this new year, I invite you to hear those words of God, “with YOU I am well pleased…” Hear God’s words spoken to you, “you are my daughter, you are my son.” As you tuck that word into your pocket and place it in the center of your soul, as you pray with it in the coming months, as you chuckle at Spirit’s good sense of humor in helping you select just that one word and just for you…hear again and again and again that God is saying to you, “you are my beloved, with YOU I am so well pleased.”
Over the years of practice, I have come to see these Epiphany words as light-filled as the season itself. For at its core, Epiphany is a time of increasing light, a time when we are most aware of those sudden revelations, those immediate insights; a time of those “aha moments” when God seems closer than breath and pulse and heartbeat. Your word, which really chooses you and not the other way around, guides you to all this and more. I’ve seen how these words work in people’s lives, and it can be nothing short of miraculous. One year I received a word that I tried my best to ignore. It seemed ill-timed, simplistic, unnecessary, not at all me. My ignoring it for that year, only made it grow, and I am chagrined and amused to confess that I am still working on its lesson years later! Another year, I received a happy word that, whenever I thought of it in my prayer and meditation time throughout the year, it brought a smile to my face. I truly felt like that beloved daughter of God.
Some years, I’ve wanted to throw that gift of a word right back into the basket and draw out a more pleasant one, a better one, an easier one. But friends, that’s not how Spirit works through these little words. Spirit works by helping you receive the word that will help you grow closer to God and more compassionate and caring toward others on this planet we all share. For that, in a nutshell, is the ministry of Jesus, in whose steps we follow. And this year, you have a head start by living in one of the most caring places in this country. So use your word to teach you to care more. Use your word to help you care more creatively. Let your word become the Word of God, made flesh, living now on earth, through you, beloved son, beloved daughter of God…for with you God is immediately well pleased! BOOM!
* Amen and Blessed Be *