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On Faith

On Sunday 19th September, our Priest in Charge, Revd Dr Susan Carter, reminded us how important faith is to our Christian life, and that perhaps the most important thing is that We love God, truly, because God loved us first.


Pentecost XVII - Year B

Proverbs 31:10-31

Psalm 1

James 3:13-43,708a

Mark 9:30-37


On Faith


Every so often a piece from the Biblical past emerges: a sarcophagus with an intriguing inscription, a burial cloth with a remarkable image seemingly burned into it – a scrap of papyrus where the author writes that Jesus talks about his wife, and then apparently refers to her, Mary, saying “she can be my disciple.”

What are we to make of all of this?

Our books of the New Testament – there are 27 of them – begin with the four gospels. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Considered historically, the four gospels start with Mark, believed to be the oldest of the quartet.

These books, the gospels, tell us much about the life of Jesus Christ – through the crucifixion, the resurrection and his ascension. We can also discern the very early beginnings of the Christian community.

They are a window on the times, and a recital of the foundation of our faith.

But are they concrete history?


Really, no. The gospels tell us the story of Jesus, Son of God. Note that he never called himself anything more than the Son of Man.

Even with what we have, there is so much more that is missing. There is so much more that we need to take “on faith.”

I appreciate that operating without a full set of data can be disconcerting to many of us. In our post-modern 21st century minds, we are very data-driven. It is how we live much of our lives.

Buying a car? What are the numbers for fuel economy? Should it be diesel, petrol, or electric. Looking to purchase a house in the US or the UK? Who has the lowest mortgage interest rate? What should one’s ideal weight be, how much to save for retirement, what’s the best time to plant bulbs for next spring?

We live in an information economy, one that is mildly uncomfortable with accepting religion “on faith.”

Back to the gospels. Let me share with you some insights into the Gospel of Mark.

  • It was most likely written by a man who was known as “John Mark,” an early missionary and son of a woman named Mary – a very common woman’s name. He lived in Jerusalem and sometimes went by his Jewish name John, Johanan. Other times he was called by his Roman name Mark, or Marcus.

  • This Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, a missioner and together they travelled with Paul, though early on Mark and Paul had a falling out. Spoiler alert: Mark and Paul later reconciled.

  • Mark wrote his story at least two decades after the crucifixion, if not three. There is a lot of action packed into it. In the gospel, many things happen “suddenly.”

  • The audience was the Gentiles, those who were not Jewish. Mark was truly a missionary to them.

  • Mark’s gospel was a source of information for parts of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. They were written several decades later.

  • There is nothing in Mark about Bethlehem, the shepherds, the wise men, or Jesus’ early years. Mark jumps right in with the Jesus and his baptism by John in the River Jordan.

  • Mark was with Peter – who called him his son – and also with Paul in Rome before Paul was martyred.

  • The last part of the final chapter – Chapter 16 – may have been added on later. The earliest remaining documents, that were some two-hundred years after the original writing, end with the empty tomb.

And that’s the core of what we know about the Gospel of Mark.

There is so much more we would like to know. Did Mark, John Mark, ever see Jesus – did he know him? Why didn’t Mark write about the birth and Bethlehem?

Where did Mark get his information for the ministry in Galilee – he wasn’t there. How much of Mark is really Peter’s telling him all he knew? We don’t know, and we likely will never know.

We have voices – whispers – from a distant time. We are looking at those lives and events as though through the wrong end of a telescope.

Does our lack of a “full data set” change our faith? Does it leave our Bible antiquated, and maybe even obsolete?

Hardly.

God operates in our contemporary, information-saturated lives in ways that has touched all of us.

You and I can name the miracles, large and small, that we have experienced. They are occurrences that are too statistically significant to have been merely “coincidences.”

But faith isn’t about “proving.” It isn’t about piling up loads of evidence to create a case.

Faith is about believing. It is acknowledging that a God, far greater than we can imagine, loves us deeply and yearns for us. Faith is about a God whose son was sent to be among us and be an example for us – teaching us how to love one another and reminding us that our love is also meant for our God.



Faith is believing that God remains with us as Holy Spirit – present in joy and sorrow – alert and ready to be called on.

Does a sarcophagus, supposedly with the name of Jesus’ brother, or a shroud in a cathedral in Turin, Italy, or a piece of papyrus with writing several centuries after the crucifixion prove anything? Maybe for those who struggle or need data to convince them.


But I submit that those folks will never really be convinced on just the evidence, because faith is not evidence-based.

It is in our offering ourselves to God - in our humble believing and not our human arrogance - that our faith is ever so strong.

Bits and pieces that float up from the past are wonderful and intriguing, but they are just that – bits and pieces.

It is the faith that we live out, and that we experience every day that marks us as God’s Children – each one of us as God’s own.

We love God, truly, because God loved us first.

To that, we can all say, thanks be to God.

Amen.





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