Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings – Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 6-14; I Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20
Immediately, following the arrest of John, the Baptist, his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth stepped up and stepped into public view, declaring, as written in the Gospel according to St. Mark, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent [re-vision] and believe in the good news”. He announced the beginning of his public ministry, and what did he immediately do? He recruited the first members of his team – Simon and Andrew, James and John. Jesus needed teammates, eventually gathering twelve, scripture records. Following the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the powerful descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the team rose up to continue sharing the good news of Jesus. And when they were out and about, they, too, recruited teams of followers – in Thessalonica, in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Rome, and beyond. As with all well-selected teams, when one goes down, and it is “next one up” to continue the mission, to continue to share the vision. Creating a team is like a pebble tossed into a pond that expands by concentric circles, ripple after ripple, expanding the good news of the love of God.
A few are called to expand in troubled ties by dramatic means – like Jonah traveling into the ancient city of Nineveh, calling them to change their ways, to repent. The Old Testament and the New Testament follow the lives of many outstanding individuals who dramatically impacted the course of others through deep ripples in ponds. There are also others, more subtle in nature, who impact others in quiet ways. Think of the Good Samaritan. We know of his deed, but do not know his name, or his home town or his profession. He quietly cared for the stranger, beaten and left for dead by the side of the road. Others passed by. This Samaritan took him to an inn, cared for him, and paid for the innkeeper, in advance, to continue his care until he was nursed back to health. He was near death, and the Samaritan raised him up, raised him back to health, without fanfare, without hype, sharing through his actions the good news of neighborliness. Now centuries later we remember his quiet, life-saving good deed.
In our own day of great turmoil and distress when healing is needed in our hospitals (COVID) and in our homes, as well as in our body politic, in our nation, the quiet ripples of good news and life-saving good deeds are also needed. Think back to the 19th century following the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 – 1815. It was the French Empire versus the rest of Europe. The continent was devasted with over five million dead. In 1816 a young Austrian priest was preparing for Christmas Eve mass; the organ was out of commission; his only instrument was a guitar. He and his choir director, Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr sang a carol before the altar. It embodied their prayer for quiet, for peace, after twelve years of troops marching, horns blowing, cannon and musket firing, towns and villages, and farms being destroyed.
Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin mother and child, Holy infant, so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace….
Written in German, two families of traveling singers discovered the carol and spread it throughout Europe. In 1839 one of the families, the Rainer family brought it to America and sang it at the tomb of Alexander Hamilton in the courtyard of Trinity, Wall Street, New York City. Not long after the United States burst into war and flame with the Civil War. John Freeman Young, an Episcopal priest, translated the carol into English, once again making it a prayer for peace in the midst of death and destruction.
In 1865 another priest fled Philadelphia to renew and refresh following the horrors of the Civil War. You know that the canon of Gettysburg could be heard in the city of Philadelphia, about 90 miles away. He fled to the hills outside ancient Bethlehem, seeking quiet for his soul. He worshiped that Christmas in the ancient basilica built in 326 over the cave, the original site. Phillips Brooks returned to Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square with a renewed spirit, while the healing following the war was still raw. He remembered the pondering of Mary and the ever-quiet Joseph who was at her side. Hie wrote a new carol.
v. 3 How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So, God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still, the dear Christ enters in.
While the angels sang, the stars shined, and the shepherds gawked, Mary and Joseph were humble and quiet among the ripples on the pond of the inbreaking son of God.
Today we are in the midst of chaotic, challenging, tumultuous times, dangerous and deadly (400,000 deaths and counting) times. We seek the same peace that Gruber and Mohr, Young, and Brooks sought. And it is here at All Saints in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. We are a haven of quiet, of peace, of faith, and we gently share the goodness of the Samaritan by extending our love to our neighbors. We are not Jonahs, called to cry out in the streets about the need for repentance, for revision, yet our ripples of goodness are present in this small pond of life.
As teammates of Jesus, we quietly hopefully rejoice in these challenging times.
As teammates of Jesus, we quietly share God’s goodness through acts of kindness.
As teammates of Jesus, we quietly expand God’s Kingdom on earth so that it may more fully mirror God’s Kingdom in heaven.