“The Collar” (January 21, 2015; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

For the Spring 2015 semester, during daily chapels at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana, there will be a special sermon series on the Gospel According to Saint Mark.  Below is the second of the several sermons I have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“Then Jesus went up on a hill and called some men to come to him.”—Mark 3.13[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As the last semester was approaching its end, one of your classmates in one of the Credo courses made a remark about me wearing my collar almost every day, saying, “It’s intimidating.” The reason why I wear my collar is threefold: 1) it is a visible symbol of the sacred office I hold within the Church; 2) for the wider world, it is a visible representation of my Christian witness, through which I show that “I am not ashamed of the Good News, because it is the power God uses to save everyone who believes”;[2] and 3) for me, personally, this collar constantly reminds me that it is not about me, but about Jesus and that it is His Gospel that I have been called to preach. At my ordination as a Deacon, I made a public promise “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.”[3] In my vocation as a Priest, I am called “to love and serve the people among whom [I] work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.”[4] That is why I wear this collar. It reminds me of all that I have promised God and the People of His Church to do.

In today’s installment of our series on Saint Mark’s Gospel, we hear about Jesus’ calling of the Twelve Apostles and His description of who His true family is: “Those who do the things God wants.” But like we have done with several other series installments, in order for us to see the complete context of today’s installment, we must first go back and see what it is that comes before it. In the preceding pericope, Mark reports that “a large crowd from Galilee followed [Jesus]. Also many people from Judea, from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from the lands across the Jordan River, and from the area of Tyre and Sidon.”[5] From this description, we get a picture of the large crowd following Jesus encompassing a wide variety of people from Israel and its surrounding areas. Surely within this crowd were young people, old people, strong people, weak people, rich people, and poor people. For us, this large crowd on the mountain is an archetype of the Church, “the community of the New Testament, the People of God, the pillar and ground of truth.”[6] The crowd represents the mission that Christ came to fulfill—to free us from the power of sin, thereby restoring us to unity with God and each other.[7]

The description of the large crowd in verses 7 and 8 provides the contextual understanding for Jesus’ response to the people’s statement that “your mother and brothers are waiting for you outside.” Jesus says, “My true brother and sister and mother are those who do the things God wants.” All of us here, in this place, are children of God. When we surrender ourselves to God’s will, being completely obedient to Him, we become part of Jesus’ family. To do God’s will, which makes us part of Jesus’ family, binds all of us, His people, together into a fellowship that permits us to know Jesus and He us in a more deep, relational way.

We are all called to obey the will of God. We are the Church, the united community of Jesus in the world. What we are all called to do is to “go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have told you.”[8] But how is the Church equipped to carry out its mission? Our answer comes through Jesus’ calling of the Twelve Apostles. “He wanted these [Twelve] to be with him, and he wanted to send them to other places to preach.” Through the Twelve Apostles, we see the call that Jesus places upon some to engage in the work of equipping the larger Christian community for its missionary work. The Apostles were chosen to accompany Christ, to participate in His mission, and to receive a share in His authority as they, in turn, were sent out to preach and heal in His Name.[9] We see the continuance of the Apostles’ ministry today in the form of the ordained ministry, with Bishops as the direct inheritors of the Apostles’ ministry, called to build up the Church and guard its faith, unity, and discipline; Priests called to assist the Bishops in overseeing the Church’s work, pastoring the people, proclaiming the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, and blessing and declaring pardon to God’s people; and Deacons called to assist the Bishops and Priests in proclaiming God’s Word and administering the Sacraments to those on the fringes of society—the poor, the sick, the friendless, and the needy. All of us are called to follow Jesus; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are called by Jesus to be the Church’s visible examples of engaging in active Christian discipleship and to equip the Church in doing so.

So we learn two things through today’s Mark installment. First, the Church is the family of Jesus on Earth, composed of every single person who calls upon and is baptized in His Name and does God’s will. Second, from within His family, Jesus calls some to a special ministry for the benefit of the greater number, so that all can be equipped in the work of restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Him.[10] This collar is a symbol of the promise I made to serve you, the young people, teachers, and administrators that I have been called to work amongst. As I seek to continue encouraging you to be the best that God knows each of you can be, I ask that you keep me, your chaplain and servant, in your prayers.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Century Version®, Copyright ©1987, 1988 by Word Publishing.

[2] Romans 1.16

[3] “The Ordination of a Deacon,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 543.

[4] “The Ordination of a Priest,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 531.

[5] Mark 3.7-8

[6] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 854.

[7] Ibid., 849, 855.

[8] Matthew 28.19-20

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1995), ¶551.

[10] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 855.

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