Welcome to worship today at Christ Lutheran! We glad you’re with us and welcome if you’re listening on the radio.
Today we come to the conclusion of our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark. We have walked in the Footsteps of the Master as we’ve called the series. And we hope it has been helpful for all of us in following our Lord Jesus more closely.
Mark himself was a unique character who failed in a number of ways before he hit his stride as a follower of Jesus.
We’ve seen a lot of that tension between failure and success at the Olympics. One story that caught my eye this week was of Jennifer Simpson, a US middle distance runner. She’s had success in her career, winning a world championship gold medal, but also finishing 11th at the 2012 Olympics, and losing a shoe at last year’s world championship when she seemed ready to win a medal.
But this week Jennifer became the first U.S. woman to ever medal in the Olympic 1,500 meters, winning the bronze.
The best athletes in my eye are the ones who can overcome failure and make the most of their second chances, whether that is with Olympic medals or simply daily life.
Mark was one of those second chance people. We don’t know a lot about him. He came from a wealthy family in Jerusalem. His family home was used as a gathering place for Jesus’ followers. His Hebrew name was John but for some reason he was also known by the Roman name of Mark. An early church historian writes that John Mark served as recorder for Peter in putting the Gospel story of Jesus down on paper.
But many Bible scholars believe that the first unnamed reference to Mark is in his own Gospel in Mark 14. Jesus had just been arrested by the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane---
Mark 14:50-51 “Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked leaving his garment behind.”
That young man may have been Mark. Not a real positive introduction. But it points to the trustworthiness of the Bible that writers include the truth, warts and all---even about themselves. Of course Mark didn’t do any worse than Jesus’ other followers. They all deserted him!
Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, and some years later, Mark was traveling with Barnabas and Paul as they were on the first of their missionary journeys to spread the Gospel. They were in present day Turkey.
Acts 13:13 “From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.”
We don’t know why Mark left them, but it left a scar for Paul---
Acts 15:36-41 “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
Whatever Mark’s reason for leaving Paul and Barnabas, it caused a serious rift in the work of these early missionaries. But even serious rifts don’t need to be permanent in the Kingdom of God. Somewhere along the way, Mark or Paul or probably both of them saw things in a new light---the light of Christ. And they were reunited in forgiveness. We read in Colossians ---
Colossians 4:10 “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)”
Paul was in prison in Rome and he wants the Colossians to welcome Mark.
Paul writes to Philemon ---
Philemon 23-25 “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
Toward the end of Paul’s life, he writes to Timothy from prison ---
2 Timothy 4:9-11 “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
Mark the “deserter” is now Mark the “helpful one”.
Where did the power come from for Paul and Mark to be reconciled? Not from Paul or Mark! But from the resurrection power of new life that both of them knew and dedicated their lives to proclaiming.
Mark himself wrote in his Gospel about Jesus rising to new life. Early on Easter morning, the women went to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial. But when they got there they saw the stone had been rolled away from the tomb.
Mark 16:5-7 “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
This miracle of the resurrection, of the crucified Jesus now being alive and well, is the beginning of new life experienced in infinite ways for centuries since. It began with the women running to tell Jesus’ disciples what they had seen and heard, then Jesus appearing to the others. Just as Paul wrote to the Corinthians ---
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
For Paul and Mark, that life-giving message made it possible for them to share Christ’s forgiving love with each other, and work together to spread that love to the world.
The ancient church used the symbol a winged lion to refer to Mark --- a symbol of courage and strength made possible by a second chance.
Jesus’ new life made a second chance possible for Paul and Mark because they learned that if the love of God in Jesus can overcome even death on a cross, then new life is always possible for Christ’s people as well.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Our human sin can make reconciliation a big challenge from both sides of a rift. But it is not human power that is needed. It is the power of Christ’s love and forgiveness that makes it all possible.
And when we talk about second chances, we never mean that we have a second chance to make ourselves good enough for God. That’s impossible. No amount of chances will reconnect us with the Lord by our own power. Only Jesus’ death and resurrection can reunite us with the Father.
But by second chances we do mean that Jesus makes it possible to leave our failures behind and take hold again---or for the first time---of his offer of new life. And we all need second chances, third, fourth, countless chances to become the people the Lord has created us to be.
Maybe you have let others down like Mark did. And you’re torn by the guilt of the pain you have caused. Maybe you’ve failed yourself and the goals you set but never reached. Well, the Lord forgave Mark and he can forgive you too! And set you on a new path.
Maybe you’ve been betrayed by others like Paul was by Mark. And you’ve had a hard time letting go of those grudges. Well, God is giving you another chance to share his grace with those who have hurt you, so that your life and theirs can be renewed!
We all need second chances personally.
And when we look at our world, we know we need global second chances too.
Some people today believe that science and technology are the only hope for a better future. They believe that with enough money and time that all problems will be solved by human discoveries.
Other people look at science and technology as destroying us, dehumanizing us. Look at all the recent movies of a world brought to the edge of extinction.
The Christian answer to the overly optimistic or overly pessimistic view is to point to Jesus’ Resurrection. Because of the inescapable reality of sin, Christianity teaches that no human power will ever save us. Even though science and technology can be tremendous tools for humanity, they only address some of the problems and can create others.
But we also know that God is leading us through whatever earthly triumphs and tragedies will come---to a glorious end when his Kingdom will be made complete!
Personally AND globally our God is a God of second chances.
And our heavenly Father gives us second chances because he wants all people to recognize our need for him and to be part of his kingdom.
Like Mark, we can all be winged lions when we live in and with the forgiveness of Christ!