Our April 25 Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. We are excited to say that our Sunday 8 & 10:30 am services are open again for in-person worship. Services will continue to be streamed online.
The May 2 Sunday worship service will be held with in-person attendance. We have returned to regular in-person worship services. We will still be wearing masks, social distancing and lots of hand sanitizer, but we will be open.
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St. Mark’s Day
Acts 4:5-12/Isaiah 52:7-10 | Psalm 23/Psalm 57
1 John 3:16-24/II Tim. 4:6-11 | John 10:11-18/Mark 1:1-15
Today, we have a “double Sunday.” It is both the Commemoration of St. Mark, and Good Shepherd Sunday. Technically St. Mark takes precedence. But, Good Shepherd Sunday is very traditional. So, I guess we celebrate both!
Since we are in the year of the Gospel readings mainly coming from Mark, let’s talk about him a bit. St. Mark, who is he? Well, his name is really John Mark. And he was the nephew of St. Peter. He is also the first person, we believe, to write a Gospel account. We think that he wrote his Gospel about 70 AD, that’s forty years after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But, it is more interesting that. The earliest writing that we have about the Church, outside of the New Testament, is called “The Letter of Pappias.” He was an early Church leader. In the letter, Pappias writes about the writing of some of the Gospels. He writes that Mark wrote down faithfully what Peter remembered. So, the Gospel of Mark can really be seen as the Gospel of Peter. It is Peter’s memories of following Jesus. Think about it! It is also the shortest of the gospels. But, in many ways, it is also the most intriguing. It is truly a very deep read. Mark’s Gospel also contains a signature, of sorts. In the arrest scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read in Mark14:51-52, “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” Does that sound like a couple of strange verses to put in a gospel? They are. But, in the ancient times, if you were writing an historical account of something, and you were a witness to it, you wrote yourself into the story anonymously. Then later, you could say, “That was me. I was there.” We think that the young man was John Mark. And that he was dressed that way because he had been one of the servers at the Last Supper. So, Mark writes Peter’s memories, but he was also a witness to some of them. He writes the first written account of Jesus, and others follow suit. He also helped St. Paul in his work, as Paul tells us in II Timothy. Today, we remember John Mark, and his witness of Christ, and his work for the Church’s mission, as he continued to follow the Good Shepherd.
It is also Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus says today, “I am the good shepherd.” And all the regular texts today pick up the themes of Jesus’ words in the John’s Gospel lesson today.
Of course, when Jesus said “good shepherd,” his listeners probably thought that they had heard an oxymoron, including John Mark and his uncle Peter. Good and shepherd weren’t words that were usually put side by side. Shepherd were more along the lines of the hired hands which Jesus describes. At the first sign of trouble, they would high tail it out of there. And shepherds did not have a very good reputation in most communities. They were generally considered to be thieves by most people, whether they were or not. Shepherds were normally people whom you did not trust.
Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd, because he lays down his life for the sheep (which also would be an astonishing saying to his listeners). He will sacrifice himself for the welfare of his flock, where the hired hands are more concerned for their own safety. So the difference would appear to be that the good shepherd puts the flock ahead of his own interests. He protects the sheep, even to the point of forfeiting his own life. He also leads, guides, feeds, gathers, cares for, and even comforts the sheep.
Having thought about it, I think that the closest image we have to a shepherd today is a parent. In many ways, a parent is a shepherd to their children. And it is getting increasingly difficult to be a good parent in today’s world. We are assailed on all sides by things and events that are not at all helpful, wanted, and often just plain destructive. Good parents, are like a good shepherd. And, there are many of them. You can watch and see how they show their love for their children by the sacrifices which they make for them. They are engaged in the lives of their children actively. You will see them at Parents-Teachers Conferences at school as well as ball games. Their kids say that their parents are “nosy” always wanting to know where they are and who they are with. They will say “No” to their “What are you watching on TV?” “What movie are you going to see?” They will instill responsibility and respect as they go along, being an active part of the lives of their children. They will discipline when needed, but not abuse. Disciplining is actually quite simple. You find what is most important to your child, and when they misbehave, you take it away. See, simple (BTW, that comes from The Art of War by Sun Tzu on how to win a war). And they will comfort their children when they are in distress. With children, that is not too difficult to discern. There is often nothing more comforting than a good hug from Mom and Dad. The good parent protects their children, even to the point of forfeiting their own life, and pleasures. They also lead, guide, feed, gather, care for, and even comfort their children. See, it is a lot like shepherding.
Children need to hear and learn the 4th Commandment, “Honor your father and mother, so your days may be long in the land.” Notice that it is the only commandment of the 10 which has a promise attached to it, “so your days may be long in the land.” It is still good advice.
Why do I tell you these things? Because, Luther once wrote that the single most important vocation in the world is being a parent. Why? Luther wrote, “Because parents are entrusted with the bringing up new Christians into the world.” Christians are Christ’s flock, our Good Shepherd. Good parents especially follow his example, for his sake, and become salt to the earth. And the world will be a better place. God be praised.