Feast of St. Mark—Living from the Lion’s Roar
A Sermon Preached at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark
Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 2: 7-10; Ephesians 4: 7-8, 11-6; Mark 1: 1-15
The Reverend Tyler B. Doherty, Priest-in-Charge
Feast of St. Mark—Living from the Lion’s Roar
On this Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, our patron saint here at the Cathedral, I want to think with you about how the Evangelist might show us who as are a worshipping community, a family of followers of Jesus, and we who are called to be—not just for one another but for the city of Salt Lake, this nation, and the world. That might sound, at first blush, to be a rather grand task—isn’t it a little presumptuous to think that what we, gathered together in this place, might change the world?
Mark’s Gospel is often compared to a lion’s roar. Indeed, the lion features prominently on our banner. Up on its back legs, fiery mane flowing behind, wings spread wide, the lion throws its head back and roars. Unlike the genealogy of Matthew, St. John’s poetic, philosophical prologue that recapitulates the creation story in and through the Word, and Luke’s infancy narrative, Mark jumps right into the story of Jesus’ saving work. We find ourselves in the middle of the action, in media res, like a movie that starts with a car chase or a bank heist. In the wilderness, on the edges of polite and polished society where order and predictability are what are most deeply valued, John announces, proclaims, evangelizes, witnesses to, a new order of being, a new social arrangement that will turn the world upside-down.
Mark’s gospel is the proclamation of a radical regime change that inaugurates a new kind of kingdom. It’s a kingdom where the King comes among us a servant to feed, heal, wash our feet and help us see that we are beloved and unexpected insiders in the household of God. It’s a Kingdom where there are no insiders and outsiders, clean and unclean, those who perform righteousness well and perfectly and those who never quite get it. It’s a Kingdom where the last, the least, the lost, and the left behind, those rendered voiceless and invisible by the dominant culture intent on maintaining its strangle-hold on power, are invited to the banquet of God’s unconditional love, the party that’s been in full-swing since the foundation of the world.
When Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan thereby sanctifying all the waters of the earth (the best argument for any sustainable oceans campaign in my mind!) Mark tells us that “just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and Spirit descending like a dove…. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The Greek word for “torn apart,” as I’ve mentioned before is σχίζω—the root of words in English like “schizophrenic” and “schizoid.” Mark is telling us that there is a radical break, a rupture, a tear, in the established order, and that regime change is on the horizon.
That regime change is based on the experience of Jesus as God’s Beloved Son, the one in whom God is well pleased. For the first time in human history, God has become human, taken the shape our ordinary human life, to fill it with the divine life. God comes near, comes among us, in order that we might know not just who He is, but we who we are—that we might come to maturity, become truly human human beings, which is nothing less than the full stature of Christ (Ephesians). This is the magnificent mystery of Christian life—that we, as beloved children of God, are called not just to admire Jesus, plaster his name on our back bumper, or even to imitate him. God became human that we might become God as Athanasius, Ireneaus, and the Greek fathers were fond of reminding us. Jesus experience of intimacy with the source of all creation, God the Father, is offered, as sheer gift, to each and every person as a beloved child of God created in God’s image and made for journeying into greater and greater likeness with Christ.
Our consumer society would have us believe that the purpose of human life boils down to getting and spending, that happiness resides in acquiring more stuff. Wordsworth says it well in his “The World is Too Much With Us,”
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The world is “too much with us” says Wordsworth. We take this cramped narrative of the destiny of human life at face value and find ourselves miserable—lonely, depressed, isolated, fearful—in the process. “We have given our hearts away” writes Wordsworth and made matters of secondary and tertiary concern the place where ultimate worth, meaning, and happiness reside. Wordsworth continues—“For this, for everything, we are out of tune.” And that’s the key—the realization that we are out of harmony, out of balance, vibrating on a frequency that falls short of abundance of life and full human flourishing.
The rip, the tear, the breaking open that Mark’s Gospel roars forth is the proclamation that getting and spending, the endless cycle of violence and retribution, the toxic culture that is created by scapegoating and casting out those who are different from us, doesn’t have the last word. This is not a complete statement of the destiny of the human being or the frequency on which we are designed to vibrate. The lion’s roar is the Spirit of the Dove descending not just upon Jesus at his baptism, but upon the precious heads of each of us in every moment. “You are a beloved child of God,” the dove whispers. “You are a beloved daughter, a beloved son, and no one can take that away from you.” That love, that indissoluble bond formed at baptism can never be broken. “I won’t let you go,” God coos, and nothing—neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38-39).
St. Mark’s is a community that strives to be a place where each person knows, in their own experience, the love that God has for each us, just as we are, and without exception. The love of God has already been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—that’s a fact of what it means be a human being created in God’s image and likeness. It’s our job to help people connect with that love that’s already there. Through prayer and sacrament, listening and meditating on God’s word, serving the least of these, and in fellowship with one another we journey together, growing up into him who the head, into Christ, into love.
And what happens when people begin to live from the love of God that has been poured into their hearts? What happens when all those competing stories of who we are—stories of shame, exclusion, of never being enough and always coming up a day late and dollar short in the eyes of a God who’s more like a frugal bean-counter with bad attitude than the one in whom there is no darkness at all, the one who, as St. John tells is, is love? What happens when those stories are torn apart and start to fall away? We realize, to our great astonishment, that we are loved. Grounded in that love, rooted in that love, we are less likely to blown to a fro by the circumstances of our life. That’s what our world needs. Not knee-jerk reactions to complex problems that require dialogue and co-operation and listening to various points of view. Not one-line zingers and sarcastic dismissals, but genuine encounter where the other is seen, heard, listened to, and loved, just as they are, and not how we’d like them to be.
Living from the Lion’s Roar of being a beloved child of God means that we know ourselves to be loved and willing to let go of all those things that get in the way of the free-flow of God’s grace in our lives. Living from the Lion’s Roar of being a beloved child of God means that in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we help others see their own inherent dignity, their own worth, their own belovedness. It might be helping a kid who’s bad at math not let long division define who they are. It might be helping someone struggling with coming out to their family know that God accepts and rejoices in them whoever they are. It might be being with someone in the midst of illness or suffering the ache of loss. It might be witnessing to God’s undying love for someone who’s been so wounded by leaving their denomination that they’ve left behind a sense of their own belovedness and vocation as well.
Whoever it is, and whatever the circumstances, the journey, the journey we are making in this place is simple, and ancient. It’s to know Christ and make Him known. The Lion’s Roar doesn’t have to be loud or brash. It can sound like a mouse’s squeak, or the silent experience of just being seen and heard by another. Loud or silent, lion’s roar or mouse’s squeak, one thing is certain. That pronouncement of belovedness, living from that belovedness, and helping others to see their own belovedness, is a regime change that tears the lid off the old and opens it to the freshness, the vivaciousness of a loving, inclusive God in whom in there is no over-against. As our psalm reminds us--be warned you rulers of the earth, caretakers of the old regime of insiders and outsiders, the king of the jungle is on the prowl and his roar says just one thing—love wins.