We are in the season of witness in the Church calendar. We have walked with and followed Jesus’ journey to the cross in Easter, and now we are walking spiritually towards Ascension and Pentecost where we await with the disciples the promised gift of Holy Spirit, Ruach Kodesh the promised Helper of us all to be Christ’s witness here on the earth.
Today we reflect on Mark, known in Church history as the first evangelist to Egypt, founder and Bishop of the Churches of Alexandria. Although Mark has an interesting and challenging road to becoming Bishop, for our purposes we are interested in what it means to be an evangelist and what we might learn about this from scripture and our readings in Acts and Mark’s gospel.
An evangelist is described in scripture as a person authorised to proclaim the gospel of Christ, and one who proclaims the good news. (Ephesians 4:11 and 2 Tim 4:5). Did you know that you were called to be an evangelist? We are all called to proclaim the good news, all Christians are called to be witnesses of the gospel of Christ.
When we begin the journey of becoming a Christian we don’t know where this journey will take us, however humbly we begin in offering ourselves to Christ for his service. And perhaps we should not be surprised when conflict, trauma and separation marks our journey. This is the example of Christ.
In our reading from Acts we hear about a conflict between two Church leaders, Barnabas and Paul. They are the closest of friends and companions, and at first glance we don’t know why Paul and Barnabas become unable to work together, but we do know that this is a serious division. An argument evolves and as a result they both go their separate ways. There are two ways to look at this, we could see this as the first great schism of the Church or we can see it as the first major growth point of the early church.
At first glance it seems as though Mark is somehow at the centre of the argument. Perhaps it is more important to realise that calling and direction is at the centre of the argument. Both leaders cannot move from their strong belief in their very different sense of God’s call to them.
And perhaps this is what we are to be reminded of today, holding to their sense of call propelled Mark and Barnabas to initiate the growth of a whole new network of the family of believers in new communities throughout Alexandria, through exercising the gift of Evangelism. The separation and loss would have been difficult and painful to traverse. Many of us have experienced difficult loss and separation over the last year. It is very hard to have no option but to live through the sometimes immovable pain of separation and loss. Paul stayed on his course and new life and spiritual growth also emerged.
Often new life emerges out of the process of the letting go of difficult things, or holding onto the way we want it to be. Jesus tells us to expect this. In our gospel reading in Mark we hear that persecution and division will be the norm, that this is what is to be expected.
Christ’s model of witness also tells us that we can have hope in every division and that every loss and every difficult experience can be a witness to the testimony of new life.
All experience, the valley and the mountain top is a witness to the power of the gospel. Christ reminds us that we need not be frightened of difficulties, “Do not be alarmed” he says, when we cannot understand why it is happening. Jesus challenges us to hold fast to Him and our calling to be a faithful witness whatever the circumstances look like. God has a plan for us and we needn’t be afraid, God is with us in the light, and is the light when the darkness threatens to overwhelm us. Amen. 25th April 2021 (Rev D Hamilton-Grey)