Sometime prior to the merger of three Lutheran denominations in 1988, I remember seeing an evangelism program. The program was designed by the Lutheran Church in America and titled, "Your Story; My Story; His Story."
The designers of the program worked hard to impress upon us Lutherans that evangelism is not rocket science. Evangelism is not just for Baptists who seem to know their way through the Bible. Pentecostals and others seem self-confident in their ability to witness to outsiders without much fear of rejection.
We Lutherans, on the other hand, are generally shy and retiring, Midwestern salt of the earth types who keep our religious convictions to ourselves. We tend to be more discreet. God forbid that we should be thought of as "Bible Thumpers." Hopefully, change is coming and we are bracing ourselves to join the throng of faithful Christian witnesses.
The design of the program, "Your Story; My Story; His Story," is that we begin with small steps.
I can sit down and begin to write the story of my life. I was born at the end of WWII in a small village in the South of Ireland. My dad was a farmer. My parents raised four children, three boys and a girl. We were devout Catholics. Our parents, mostly my mother, taught us to pray. Going to worship on the Sabbath was a routine and as common as going to school Monday through Friday.
Long story short, I entered seminary at age 18 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1967. I served in several churches in the Diocese of Miami, Florida. Later, I joined the Lutheran church and married the love of my life. Barbara and I were blessed with one daughter and two granddaughters.
When I met Barbara, our first conversation was by phone. She said, "My name is Barbara. I am Jewish and I am at a crossroads in my life. I have been ill for a long time. I have suffered challenges in my life. Can you help me? I am not well enough to come visit you at the church at this time. How can I learn about the Catholic Church or the Christian faith?"
I told her some basics. I mailed her a small copy of the New Testament. She began to read the Gospel of Luke right away and the rest is history. She fell in love with Jesus and was baptized six months later. We were married in a Christian ceremony one year later.
How do we even begin to address the story of God? Our Bible is actually not a book, but a library consisting of at least 66 books. Christians regard the Bible as a divinely inspired collection of law, wisdom, poetry and history that point us toward the God of creation: the God of redemption and the One who empowers and equips us to tell the story. Essentially, the Bible becomes the story of Jesus and His love.
In genesis, the beginning book of the Bible, it is declared, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was void and empty and darkness hovered over the face of the deep."
God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. God created all that was visible and invisible. The crowning act of creation was the formation of the man and the woman in God's image. God saw all that God had made and it was very good.
But there was a major upheaval in the garden when Adam and his partner deliberately took things into their own hands, ignoring God's warning and choosing to do things their own way instead of God's way.
As our first parents departed the security and the intimacy of the garden, God the creator began to devise a plan to restore the broken relationship that had occurred. The seed of the woman would one day destroy the power of the evil one. But there would be a price. The heel of the victor would be wounded. God's ultimate plan of salvation began with the birth of Christ. The four Gospels tell the story of Jesus, or "Yeshu" in the Aramaic language.
Jesus was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and rose victoriously from the grave. His suffering and death were redemptive. He bore the burden of the sins of all humankind. Jesus' glorious resurrection was God's authentication of all that Jesus had taught and claimed during his life on earth.
Since our assigned reading today is in Mark's gospel, let us go there for its unique message. The Gospel of Mark begins, not with the birth narrative, but with the "coming out" of Jesus. The name Jesus, or Yeshu, means "Yahweh is Salvation" or "wholeness." The name Isaiah likewise means "God is salvation."
Isaiah, 700 years earlier, foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus' first public appearance is at a first-century revival where his cousin, John the Baptist, is a fiery preacher calling the multitudes to come to the waters. "Repent of your sins!" "Prepare the way!" "The Lord is coming to set up his kingdom in the earth!"
After 400 years of spiritual drought, new life and hope are dawning on earth. Jesus joins the masses. He comes to the water with the sinners. He immerses himself with the created order, like us in all ways except for sin.
All was routine until Jesus came up out of the water. The heavens were torn open. The voice of God thundered, "You are my beloved! With you I am well pleased!" The crowds were silenced. The earth trembled. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. This is no ordinary man. This is Immanuel, "God with us."
In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 15, we witness the death of Jesus. Mark writes, "Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The heavens were opened to all who simply put their trust in Jesus. The centurion who witnessed the death of this innocent man uttered, ‘Truly this man was God's son!’”
What say ye? Are you a believer? Have you investigated the claims of Christ? Are you a skeptic? Are you aware that there are five to six thousand fragments of the original Greek texts of the Gospels?
I believe that God is ready to reveal God's self to anyone who is ready to listen and hear the story of God. "Come to me all ye who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest." Jesus said. "Take my yoke upon you, learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
In these difficult times of confusion and division, as well as times of sickness of body, of soul, and of mind, what shall we do short of despair and grief?
We are a divided world. We are a divided nation. Many look to the Left for hope. Many look to the Right. Let's us look to the heavens. Look up to where God is listening!
Salvation and life are in the Lamb who was slain; who takes away the sins of the world and gives life eternal.
So, what is your story? How will you share it? How can you offer hope for others? I encourage you to explore ways to write your own story. Write it for yourself or for others. Can you see the hand of God in the beauty of the Created Order and in the love of family and friends?
Now is the time. Prepare for the coming again of the Anointed One.
Let us pray.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.