See, Hear and Understand: On the Feast Day of Saint Mark

Yesterday I had the opportunity to deliver a sermon about the feast day of Saint Mark, the evangelist. Mark who is said to have run away naked from the garden at Gethsemane, Mark who accompanied Peter, Mark the father of the African church, who confronts us again and again with a secretive worker of miracles, Peter’s Jesus, perplexing, enigmatic and powerful.  Here are some of my thoughts.

I work on the campus of a church dedicated to Mark, St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. It is one of the most bizarre liturgical spaces in the Episcopal church. Bunker-like and spare, the unfinished concrete walls soar into the sky, framing tall arched windows, the panes catching hints of greens, pinks, and oranges, like scales of a fish. High above, enormous wooden beams give the sense of a rustic pub built for giants, great iron chandeliers tumbling down throughout. The pipes of the massive bat-like Flentrop organ in the back are beautifully finished in desert oranges and reds. You half expect them to be made of oxidized copper, hints of turquoise hidden inside. At the front of the space stands a great iron screen filled with panes of frosted glass and topped with an abstracted rose window refracting natural light into rainbows of blues and golds that pour down onto the altar, a massive plain square table.

When I stand in this magnificent and strange space I am struck by its architectural theology. Like Mark’s Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles it humbles us in it’s scale, it’s great concrete surfaces both raw and powerful, miracles of the hands of contractors and carpenters, make us feel small and insignificant. They call us out of our overeducation and self-obsession, over and over again, “Do you not understand?” Let he who has eyes see the water overflowing from the clay baptismal font, bucket after bucket entering its already full depths and splashing out onto the concrete floor. Let she who has a nose smell the balsam scented cups of olive oil poured over the newly baptized’s head, lingering around them like the precious oils poured over Jesus. Abundant, naked, messy, sacred. Mark’s Jesus calls on all our senses to listen, to see, to perceive the kingdom at hand, the Christ in our presence.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Hispanicize social media conference in Miami, FL. One of the first workshops I attended was Scent Marketing. It wasn’t just about hotel lobbies or perfume samples in magazines. It was about calming lavender in beauty shops, invigorating peppermint in boardrooms preposterously overabundant cinnamon wafting down from Cinabon. As a sense that entirely bypasses the rational mind when it is being processed, scent is a powerful and potentially dangerous subconscious means of conveying a message.

Every piece of our surroundings has the potential to impact us, to bring Good and life-giving news. If we believe the creation story and the Gospels, we must perhaps believe that this world we live in has one overriding message and that message is carried in all of its visuals, its sounds, and its scents, there is but one God and that God calls us to love. That is God’s message, and Jesus reveals this world as God’s medium for sharing that message.

Having seen, having heard and understood, we are called to help others hear and see this reality. Isn’t this the point of the sending we hear about today, the point of the gifts the spirit brings? The demons aren’t cast out for drama and entertainment. The tongues aren’t spoken to confuse. The snakes and poison aren’t vain displays of power. These acts are revelations, pulling back the illusions of our ideas to reveal the true wisdom and goodness of God’s world.

This is our evangelism.

There is a generation out there to whom many of our traditions are foreign, our stories obscure.  They are those who see and hear still do not understand, they enter our churches and are lost in our symbols. And as the late Roger Ebert said, “If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.”  Our role as Christians has always been to rend the temple curtain that separates people from encountering the living God, to remove the symbol that no longer reveals but instead hides, to get the stuff out of the way so that we can encounter the Good News already present in ourselves, each other, and our God.

We remember Mark and we hear the call to which he was responding. He is of course the first in our canon to respond in the medium of written word to telling the story of Jesus. We live in an age of invention of new mediums and rediscovery of old mediums, how will we respond to the call in and through them to facilitate an encounter with Christ and to reveal an ongoing encounter as what it is? How will we take the Eucharistic table, this wooden invitation to eat, to be filled, cared for, to belong, out into the world through the tools available to us? The words are not yet invented, the symbols of our mediums are in formation, how will we help others see God revealed in the walls and windows of Facebook, the flows of Vine and Twitter, the virtual fragrances of a Pinterest cooking board? God is already there just as he is already in our churches, and Mark challenges us to be complicit in Christ’s work of revelation, so that he who has eyes may se, she who has ears may hear and we may all more fully understand.

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