All the Lions of St. Mark's

Sermon Preached on the Feast of St. Mark
St. Mark's Episcopal Church - Evanston, IL
May 1, 2011 (transferred from April 25)
For the Scripture Readings, click here.

Have you seen the St. Mark’s lion? It appears on this drawing which typically hangs in the volunteer office. 
Volunteer Office
Bethlehem Chapel
My Office
I found it on this artwork which hangs in Bethlehem Chapel.  And I even found it waiting to greet me in my office when I arrived in March. No doubt you all know of countless other places at St. Mark’s in which the great lion lurks.

The association of each gospel writer with a symbol began as early as the 2nd century with St. Irenaeus of Lyons who referenced the first chapter of Ezekiel in which the prophet describes a vision of a great cloud with four living creatures in the midst of it – one with “the face of a human being” one with “the face of a lion” , one with “the face of an ox” and one with “the face of an eagle” – and from this vision, he “heard the voice of someone speaking.”[1] Irenaeus attributed each of the creature-symbols to the gospel writers: Matthew was the lion, John the human, Luke the ox, and Mark the eagle. It might surprise you that Matthew was first described as the lion. In fact, in subsequent centuries, St. Augustine of Hippo, Pseudo-Athanasius, and St. Jerome each utilize the same passage from Ezekiel or a similar vision in Revelation 4 – to assign the symbols to the gospel.  And each one attributed the great lion to a different gospel[2]. However, it was the designation of St. Jerome in the late 4th or early 5th century which ultimately stuck: "the Man is Matthew, the Lion, Mark, the [Ox][3], Luke… and the Eagle, John."[4] And so we have our great lion.

Regardless of which symbol is ultimately assigned to which gospel writer, the connection with the vision of Ezekiel and perhaps even more powerfully with the vision in the Book of the Revelation where the four living creatures are said to “give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne” – this connection makes clear that the gospel writers were understood to be bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ[4]. And, by the 3rd century it had become common to refer to the Gospel writers as evangelists.

The word evangelist literally means “messenger who brings good news”[5]. The word contains the same Greek root as the English word “angel”, a word which means “messenger,” or “announcer.” The word “evangelist” itself appears in the New Testament only three times. It appears first in Acts 21:8 where we hear of “Philip the evangelist” one of the seven men (along with Stephen, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus) appointed in Acts 6 to oversee the daily distribution of food to the widows[6]. The word “evangelist” appears again in Ephesians 4:11 – part of today’s epistle reading which lists a number of gifts given by God - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – all of which are commissioned “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”[7]. And finally, it appears in 2 Timothy 4:5 where Timothy is exhorted to “endure suffering” and “do the work of an evangelist” described, at least in part, by prior verses in which Timothy is urged to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching”[8].

So, as it is used in Scripture, it seems that being an evangelist can take on a number of forms from caring for the less fortunate to equipping others for their ministries, to proclaiming the message of God’s love. Throughout the season of Lent, St. Markan’s were encouraged to participate in activities which would nurture our relationship with God and nurture our relationships with one another by being generous with our time and our talents. We witnessed a barren tree in the sanctuary grow leaves of new life and promise as we completed a variety of activities : praying, helping others, caring for the environment, raising funds for people around the world, showing someone you care. Take a moment and reflect on some of the activities you did: giving clothes to charity, picking up litter, saying “I’m sorry,” praying for those experiencing grief, writing thank you notes, inviting a friend to church, reading to your grandchildren. Each of these activities were a leaf of new life, of renewed relationship with God, our neighbors, and our community made possible because of God’s gifts to each of us. This morning we will offer all of these completed activities – all of these moments of sharing, moments of tranquility, moments of self-sacrifice, moments of blessing – we offer them all to God, in thanksgiving for the many blessings God is constantly bestowing upon us.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says to the apostles, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” This is the gospel of Mark’s version of the Great Commission. Each of the gospel’s has a version - - - Luke’s version is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations[9]. John’s gospel offers the shortest version – “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you”[10]. And Matthew’s gospel has the one that is probably most familiar to us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you"[11]. But regardless of the words used, the principle is the same, Jesus calls each of us to go out and proclaim the good news. Just as Jesus says to the apostles, “Go . . . and proclaim the good news,” so he sends us to go and proclaim the good news - to be evangelists – messengers who bring good news.

The 40 days of Lent gave us a disciplined way to practice that calling, to practice being evangelists through our words and actions. But now that we know the truth of the Resurrection, now that we are living as an Easter people, now that we have witnessed the empty tomb, now that we have seen the risen Christ, how much MORE we have to share, how much MORE we must go on sharing, how MUCH MORE we are blessed to share that good news.

Have you seen the St. Mark’s lion? It appears on this drawing [volunteer office picture], it appears on this artwork [Bethlehem Chapel artwork], and even in my office [stuffed animal]. And as I look around this room this morning, I see that you are that lion – and you are that lion – and you are that lion. Each and every one of us is a St. Mark’s lion – an evangelist working together, “building up the body of Christ.”

[1] Ezekiel 1:4-28, esp. 1:10.
[2] St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, 3.11.8 in Ante-Nicene Fathers quoted in Symbols of the Four Evangelists compiled by Felix Just available online, accessed on April 30, 2011.
[3] Original says “calf,” not “ox”.
[4] Preface to the Commentary on Matthew, summary and excerpts from N/PNF 2, 6.1036-37 quoted in Symbols of the Four Evangelists.
[5] “Evangelist,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F. L. Cross and Ea. A. Livingston, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 581.
[6] Acts 6:1-6.
[7] Ephesians 4:11-12.
[8] 2 Timothy 4:2.
[9] Luke 24:44-47.
[10] John 20:21.
[11] Matthew 28:16-20.