On Sunday, November 22, Bishop Stephen Lane gathered with the people of Church at 209 in Augusta to celebrate the milestone of one of the congregations a part of the new thing that God is doing among four area churches: the 175th anniversary of St. Mark’s. In his sermon, he had these wise words to share:
The events of the last two weeks make it entirely clear what the world believes. The world believes in violence. The world believes that the proper response to violence is more violence. The world believes that people are expendable; people in Syria or Beirut or Paris. And the world believes that the proper response to people in desperate need is to keep them as far away as possible. Let’s keep them out. Let’s put them in databases. Let’s shut down their houses of worship.
But members of kingdom of God believe something different. Members of the kingdom believe that in the face of hardship and loss, in the face of danger, personal or corporate, in the face of demons, snakes or poison, the Good News of God’s love should be preached everywhere – to ISIS, to Russia, to the American Congress. Because the power of love is greater than the power of death. Because new life rises from the death of the old. Because there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God.
We’re here to celebrate the 175th anniversary of St. Mark’s – a remarkable achievement by any measure. We’re here to remember and honor the faithful witnesses to Christ who have served God through St. Mark’s. We’re here to hold up the examples of the faith, our saints, who have inspired us in this place. We do so in a time of great change. It’s unlikely that the next 175 years will be like the first. We find ourselves confronted by the loss of much we have cherished over many generations and faced with uncertainty about how we will continue. Although we dare not compare our situation to much that is happening in our world today, we should acknowledge the fear we feel as we face the future. This is a scary time for us, and we wish there were some sort of guarantee that the future would match our hopes. Our doubts and our fears can poison our efforts.
Mark, our patron, is, therefore, just right for our time. Mark’s Gospel begins with the announcement that the kingdom of God has come near and ends with the description of the disciples going everywhere and facing every danger to preach the Good News.
That’s our call. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what, as Isaiah puts us, makes us beautiful.
It’s probably helpful to recall that most of the disciples did not survive the days of their proclamation. Many of them were martyred. And many in the early generations of the church suffered great hardship and persecution. That’s not something anyone should desire. But it should put our situation in context. What makes us beautiful is not big buildings or successful programs, but saying to the world, God reigns. Love reigns. Love conquers death.
I am very hopeful about what God is doing here among you. I think God has great plans for you, is calling you to be beautiful proclaimers of God’s love. I think God is inviting all of us to carry the Good News of God’s love into all the world no matter the risks or the dangers. And I believe that God is walking right with us as we go.