[Sermon preached by the Rev. Marcus Halley at Saint Paul’s Church – Minneapolis, MN on Sunday, September 9, 2018. You may listen to the audio of this sermon by checking out the latest episode of the Word Made FRESH Podcast.]

In her recently published book entitled Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans writes this about the nature of the Gospel. “The good news is good for the whole world certainly, but what makes it good varies from person to person and community to community… The gospel is like a mosaic of stories, each one part of a larger story, yet beautiful and truthful on its own. There’s no formula, no blueprint.”[1]

Each of our stories of encountering Christ vary from person to person. No one’s story perfectly resembles that of another and yet the truths of our stories do not negate one another. Our reading Mark narrates two people’s drastically different encounters with the singular reality of Christ. Both stories are true. Both stories are powerful. Both stories paint a fuller picture of the work of Christ in the world.

Our task, as those who are bystanders, eavesdroppers into these stories, is to hear them, honor them, and believe them. When we do this, our own stories of Christ at work in our lives become more complicated and more beautiful. Today’s sermon is about that: how hearing the good news of God in new ways fortifies our life in faith and empowers us to sing old songs in new ways.

I recently stumbled upon a tweet that I sent on July ##, 2009, a little over nine years ago, right after I left Eucharist at Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church. When I left church that morning, I left with an overwhelming sensation that I had found my spiritual home; but, in the months and years leading up to that moment, I had visited countless congregations across the spectrum of Christianity – Presbyterian, Non-denominational, Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Methodist. I heard God spoken of and worshiped across a wide range of experiences and perspectives and what is I learned is two-fold: God is greater than the words we use to describe God and each of our stories and experiences of God help us to paint a fuller picture of God.

The problem comes when we refuse to allow ourselves to experience newness, when the Gospel becomes a static, stayed, unfeeling idol as opposed to living, breathing, dynamic account of God’s work in the world. There is a tendency among many to place God and God’s work in a time capsule, to assume that God was best worshipped in a particular time and using a particular language to the poverty of our current experiences, but the denies that God is still alive and active in our world.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of tradition. Regular patterns of worship allow us to engage God deeply by having us visit the same themes over and over again. The familiarity is holy, the cadences of prayer are comforting, particularly in a time when so much of our world is changing. The Book of Daniel refers to God as “the Ancient of Days”[2] and Psalm 90:2 says “Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God.” Before time was, God was. Before the first sparks of light danced across the vast emptiness of space, God was.

A few years ago, my family and I went on a trip to Europe. Since it was less expensive to fly into Heathrow International Airport in London and then take the Eurostar to Paris, my brother and sister-in-law and myself went a few days early to do some sight-seeing in the United Kingdom. Here’s the thing: if you take an Episcopal priest to England, expect to make a few stops at churches, especially Canterbury. When I walked into Canterbury Cathedral and stood on stones worn smooth with age, stones older then the oldest buildings on this continent, I was in awe. I was struck by the reality that people have been worshiping God on that spot for almost 1,500 years. Those walls had seen every major event in Western history, from Bubonic Plague, to the Protestant Reformation, to the World War II.

And even that perspective pales in comparison to God. From everlasting to everlasting, God is God.

But we should never assume that because God is from of old, that God can be tamed or that we’ve figured it all out. God is a fire – unpredictable, dynamic, and consuming. If our songs are to speak faithfully of God, they must be both ancient and new. They must challenge the status quo and provoke our own souls out of complacency.

The man that Jesus encounters in our Gospel this morning is struggling with two issues that related. He is deaf and he has a speech impediment. As children, we learn to speak because of what we hear spoken around us. If the man who is experiencing deafness is also struggling to speak, it might be that he has deaf since birth or shortly after. Being unable to hear sound, he is likewise unable to mimic or speak them.

But his friends bring him to Jesus hoping that Jesus is the one who could heal him. Jesus takes the man aside, away from the crowd, and performs a bizarre ritual on him before reciting this word: Ephphatha, an Aramaic word that means “be opened.” Immediately the man’s ears were opened and his tongue released. Jesus tells him to tell no one what has happened and yet this man is incapable of keeping his experience of Christ to himself. He becomes an evangelist! He came to Jesus as one who was unable to hear or speak and he left as one praising God! Even the crowd around remark, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Each of us is that man and Jesus comes to unstop our ears and to untangle our tongues. Each of us comes to Jesus unable to hear and incapable of speech. All we can is mimic the language of the world around us – fear, bigotry, violence, lying and deceit. But Jesus comes to give us a new song – one of hope, joy, faith, abundance, and grace.

As Christians, we hear the Gospel, the great deeds of God, proclaimed week in and week out because by doing so, by regularly encountering the Word of God, we learn how speak. We learn how to cut across the din of selfishness and smallness with a song of salvation that is as unique as each one of us.

Like this man, each one of us has an experience where God has taught us to hear and speak. It might not be as dramatic as this bizarre ritual, but I believe if we reflect deeply, we can discover how God has opened us.

Be opened! is an invitation to us all.

Everyone us stands in need of renewal. Each of us is in danger of forgetting to sing a new song. Each of us is invited to consider how God has been at work in your life.

Be opened! is hearing abundance where the world claims nothing but scarcity.

Be opened! is possessing hope even when we have every reason to despair.

Be opened! to believing God and believing in God even while the world around us becomes increasingly devoid of wonder.

Be opened! is honoring the stories and experiences of others, even when we are told to be afraid of them, to hate them, or deny their humanity.

Be opened! is experiencing the goodness of God and being incapable of not sharing it with the world!

If you’re struggling to sing these songs, if you are having a hard time finding your voice, I want to invite you to Be Opened! Hear of God’s love for you. Hear of God’s devotion to you. Hear how much you matter.

Eventually, if you keep listening, you’ll pick up the tune, and if you allow yourself to, soon you’ll be unable to keep it to yourself.

[1] Rachel Held Evans. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, pg. 151.

[2] Daniel 7:9

Letters from our Wardens and Rector (click to view)

August 29, 2019
Dear Saint Paul’s Parish Family,

We are sorry to share so early in our journey with Father Marcus that he has submitted his resignation and will be leaving us October 6, 2019. He has accepted a position at the Diocese of Connecticut. In his new position, he will be the Dean of Formation and will also be working as a Missional Priest-in-Charge of a faith community. This is a wonderful opportunity for him allowing him to continue to strengthen his gifts. The Diocese of Connecticut will benefit as we have from Father Marcus’s passion. Although it is hard to see him go, we have learned and done wonderful things as a parish with his leadership and guidance over the past 2-1/2 years. It will be exciting to watch his continued growth from afar knowing we were blessed to have been part of his early career. Father Marcus’s letter to the parish is included in this email.

So now we begin to look forward. Beth and I will be in contact with ECMN and Bishop Prior to plan for an interim priest and to look at putting together a search committee. We will gather together and consider what we have learned about ourselves during our time with Father Marcus. This is a chance for us to evaluate where we are and to make plans for moving forward: what we want to be sure to carry forward, what things we might want back that have changed, and yes, what might not have been tackled yet that we want to explore? We ask that each of you give prayerful consideration to these questions. They will be foundational to our Rector search.

We know the amazing strength of this parish and are confident we will become even stronger from the challenge that has been put in front of us. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Blessings,
Meredith Johnson, Senior Warden (meredithvj@gmail.com) Beth Carlson, Junior Warden (pbcarlson@comcast.net)


Dear Saint Paul’s,

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I inform you that I offered my resignation to the Vestry on Monday, August 19. My last day as your priest will be Sunday, October 6, 2019. I have accepted a call to serve as the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, a position that will also include serving as a Missional Priest-in- Charge of a faith community there.

Throughout my time as your Rector, I’ve tried to preach, teach, and exemplify a consistent message: each of us is called to grow in Christian maturity to meet the challenges and opportunities of being the Church in this new missional age. Our patron, Saint Paul the Apostle, calls this the “full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This means taking seriously our individual and collective calls to be leaders, not only within the walls of our parish but also in the wider community. Leading, especially in times of great change, means taking risks, being open to failure that leads to learning, collaborating with others, and standing firmly in our identity and purpose.

People across Saint Paul’s Church have heard this message, stepped up, and stepped forward. Together, we have faced down a major challenge head-on –tackling our budget deficit– and as a result are experiencing a renewal of energy and spirit. We have new ministries popping up all around, a greater capacity for innovation, and deeper commitment to Christ and the mission of God he invites us into. There are others who are still afraid to step forward or unsure where they fit, and that’s okay. Saint Paul’s moves forward together.

My new role will give me the opportunity to help form other ordained leaders in what we’ve done together: translating an age-old faith to a contemporary context. I am excited and honored to be asked by Bishop Ian Douglas to serve the Church in this role.

None of this takes away the anxiety, sadness, or grief that many will feel at this time. Transitions are always hard, especially when it comes when things are going well. I have not served as your Rector for long, but we’ve done a lot together. I will pray for you as you discern what leadership model God might be inviting you to try and who might best step into that role to walk alongside you as you continue engaging God’s mission. Your wardens are two of the most capable people I’ve ever met and together with your vestry and the entire community, as it has for the last 139 years, your journey continues.

There will be time to say goodbye, and I will continue to serve faithfully until my final day. In the meantime, the mission of God calls us onward. There are individuals and communities in need of the Gospel – and it is our job as followers of Jesus Christ to proclaim it, in word and example.

Faithfully, Marcus+

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