Tomorrow is the day. Here's what I'll be preaching:
Homily for St. Mark’s Day – 2007 [2 Timothy 4:5-18; Mark 16:14-20]
“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” That bare mention at the end of 2 Timothy, which was at the end of Paul’s life, tells us that the story had a happy ending.
You remember the last mention Paul made of Mark, don’t you? Barnabas had wanted to bring Mark along with them on their revisiting of the Churches and Paul put his foot down flat. No way was he having John Mark accompany them again – cousin of Barnabas or not. You remember why? John Mark had gotten homesick during the first missionary journey and had left Paul and Barnabas. To Paul, and his complete consecration to the mission of spreading the Gospel, this was a matter of gravity. Perhaps he recalled the Lord’s words about those who look back after putting their hand to the plow.
Barnabas, whose name is apt and means “son of encouragement”, was all for the second chance, but Paul was having none of it. Their argument got so bad, recall, that they went separate ways. Barnabas and Mark left Paul to do his own thing.
And yet, in today’s epistle, Paul instructs Timothy to bring to him Mark, Mark who is “useful to me for ministry.”
What happened? We can only guess at the details, but we know with certainty why it transpired. You cannot live in the love of Jesus Christ and harbor resentment. You cannot live in the forgiveness of Christ and refuse to forgive. It’s impossible.
No question that John Mark was wrong to turn back. And I do not doubt that he confessed as much to Paul face to face. But if Paul was going to go on living and serving this Lord of His who had knocked him off his horse on the Damascus road and turned him into the apostle of grace, then grace would have to have the final say in all his relationships too. Forgiveness won over Paul’s heart. How could it be any other way?
And forgiveness is a powerful force. Mark may have turned back once upon a time and abandoned the mission, but in the forgiving love of His Savior he grew ever more bold. It took courage to hang out with Peter those last months and to write down his story of Christ – what we call today the Gospel of Mark – as Peter was condemned and sentenced to death. And it was with both courage and joy that Mark journeyed to Alexandria, and became the bishop of that city, only to be martyred for proclaiming to any and all the good news: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Today’s Gospel)
Far from fleeing the mission, Mark ended his life a mighty witness to the Savior whose blood blotted out the sins of the world and whose resurrection busted a hole right through death. The Church rejoices in his Gospel, his writing down of Peter’s witness. And she rejoices that in Christ, those set at odds with each other, can lay aside their accusations and self-righteousness and rejoice together as fellow recipients at the Table of the mercy of the Crucified, Risen and Reigning Lord, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory and dominion, forever and ever! Amen.