Being. Growing. Living.

Sermon Preached on June 16, 2013
St. Mark's Episcopal Church

Being in Place. Growing in Faith. Living from the Center.Have you heard this before?  You can find it on our website , on the sign facing Ridge Avenue, on communications from St. Mark’s,  and, I hope, beginning today, that we will begin to inscribe these words on our hearts and hear them regularly spoken by our lips.  St. Mark’s is preparing to celebrate its 150th year in Evanston.  Being in place. Growing in Faith. Living from the Center.   Can you say it with me? “Being in place” – “Growing in Faith” – “Living from the Center”

Being in Place

What began as an old wooden structure on Davis Street in 1869, moved to this place at the corner of Ridge and Grove in 1891.  Over the years, the building has been expanded and renovated, patched with care, and loved into being .  But despite changes in the architectural footprint, St. Mark’s has been at the heart of Evanston for nearly as long as there has been an Evanston.  But there is more to “being in place” than just having and knowing one’s address.  There comes with such being a commitment, a commitment to our community, to our neighbors. 

When Jesus was asked “Which commandment is the first of all?” he answered:  “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”[1]   And then he continued, “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[2] 

Love of God, love of neighbor.  Beginning in September, we will offer a 4-week forum on what it might look like for each of us at St. Mark’s to take seriously God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves.  What might it look like for St. Mark’s – being in place at the corner of Ridge and Grove – to truly love our neighbors? What might the implications be for our identity, for our relationships, for our leadership, for our worship?  St. Mark’s – being in place at the corner of Ridge and Grove.

Growing in Faith

Our Eucharistic Prayer C concludes with these words, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” (BCP, 372). This morning I would like to suggest another prayer, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this worship for solace only, and not for transformation; for companionship only, and not for growth.”  A couple of weeks ago I shared Martha Grace Reese’s experience in a small group of clergy. She asked them, “What difference does it make in your own life that you are a Christian?”  And the response she received was “Silence. Loud silence [that] stretched on. And on. . .”[3]

Beginning in late October, we will offer a 4-week experiential forum on growing in faith.  Because if we are not – every one of us (not just our children) – growing in our faith, we might as well be the Rotary, the Lions or any other civic organization that is doing good in the community.  And there is nothing wrong with being an organization that does good - but that is not what makes us a Church and it is not what makes us Christian.  St. Mark’s – growing in faith – growing ever deeper in our relationship with God.

Living from the Center

In a powerful speech to the Athenians, Paul says,
From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”[4] 

God is indeed not far from us.  God has a dream for us.  Marcus Borg suggests that

the Bible as a whole is the story of the dream of God, beginning in Genesis with paradise and ending with paradise restored in the great concluding vision of the book of Revelation. . . .  the dream of God is a social and political vision of a world of justice and peace in which human beings do not hurt or destroy, oppress or exploit one another . . .  The dream of God is a vision of shalom.[5]

And Scripture tells us that we are made in the image of God.  Perhaps in our very DNA is a blueprint for this vision of shalom.  If we dare to live from the center – to live with God as our center – where might we hear God’s call?  Where might we risk going with God’s urging, that we could never imagine going alone?

Cecil Alexander, one of the great hymn writers of the 19th century wrote these familiar words:

Jesus calls us over the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, Christian, follow Me!

Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, Christian, love Me more!

In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
Christian, love Me more than these!

Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Savior may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.[6]

And so, in January, we will offer a 4-week forum on discerning God’s call to us.  St. Mark’s – living from the center – listening for and following God’s call to action.

Being in Place. Growing in Faith. Living from the Center.  When you think of St. Mark’s, think of these phrases.  Inscribe them on your hearts; utter them with your lips; and live them in your lives.

*These phrases appear as section headings in Jannel T. Glennie, Confession of an Ordinary Mystic (Aurora, OH: Greenleaf Book, 2001); however, St. Mark's use of them developed independently and does not, to my knowledge, draw from Glennie's work.
[1] Mark 123:28-29.
[2] Matthew 22:39-40.
[3] Martha Grace Reese, Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism, 2nd edition, (St Louis: Chalice Press, 2008), p. 14.
[4] Acts 17:26-28a.
[5] Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith (San Francisco: Harper, 1997), 133.
[6] Cecil F. Alexander, “Jesus Calls Us,” Hymns for Public Worship (Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, 1852), accessed online (June 14, 2013).