Saturday, August 29, 2015

Believe Him!

22 Sunday B  #125 

Deut 4, 1-2. 6-8
Ps 15
Jas 1, 17-18.21b-22. 27
Mk 7, 1-8. 14-15. 21-23

Saint James-Saint Mary Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
August 30, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell


     Do you ever wonder: what was worship like in those first days of the Church, the Mass?  The Jesus people were almost all Jews.  They gathered at synagogue on Saturday as they always had and then on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, they met again, most often in private homes.  There they sang hymns.  Maybe they had a letter from Saint Paul or John to read.  They certainly had psalms to sing.  They did not have a reading from the Gospel.  No Gospel had yet been written.  But they remembered Jesus.  They would share their memories of what Jesus said and did, his Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5,000, his healings and exorcisms.  The presider, an apostle or his designated successor, a bishop or presbyter, which in Greek means elder or priest, would then have a few words, a sermon, or maybe a deacon might preach.  Some would state prayer intentions and all would say together the prayer the Lord had taught them.  Then the presider would invoke the Holy Spirit over gifts of bread and wine.  He would repeat Jesus’ words at the Last Supper just as Father Tom will do in a few minutes.  Then he and a deacon would distribute Communion.  There would be a short thanksgiving prayer, a blessing and a closing hymn.  Then the deacons would take the consecrated bread to the home-bound.  Just like today! 
     From the beginning we find the same basic structure of the church hierarchy, bishops, priests and deacons, and the same basic structure of our central act of worship, the Eucharist, Mass.  Except at first there was no reading from the Gospel.  The first Christians expected Jesus’ Second Coming any day, so there was no perceived need to write his story down.  The Apostle Mark would be the first to write that story, the Good News, as he called it, evangelion in Greek, gospel in Old English, good news in our language, around the year 65 A.D., some thirty or more years after the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Matthew and Luke were the next to write their Gospels, perhaps ten or so years later. 
     John was the last to write, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was a young man when he lay beside Jesus at the Last Supper.  He was probably about twenty years old at that time.  He would be the only apostle to live out his days and die a natural death.  He wrote his Gospel perhaps thirty years after Matthew and Luke, near the end of the First Century.  You certainly must have heard, as we went through John’s Sixth Chapter the last few weeks, that Jesus in John doesn’t sound like the Jesus in Mark.  John's language is exalted.  Mark's is plain and down to earth.  How could that be?
     Imagine what it must have been like for the earliest Christians.  After following Jesus for three years, having witnessed his miracles and heard his profound world-up-ending teaching, having discovered his empty tomb, then experiencing the Risen Lord alive among them again, they must have spent the rest of their lives trying to figure out what had hit them.  John’s Gospel reflects their mature understanding, that Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God.  John begins his Gospel with the words, “In the beginning.”  The first words of Genesis, the first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning.”
     We start our readings today with the Letter of Saint James.  It seems appropriate.  This is my first sermon in Saint James-Saint Mary Parish.  Do we have any parishioners from Milton with us here today?   Saint James, as you know, was a relative of Jesus.  He led the church in Jerusalem.  And he wrote a most important letter about the relationship of faith to works.  We are saved by faith in Jesus.  Nothing that we could possibly do would merit our salvation.  We cannot earn salvation.  We are saved by faith, a free gift.  But if our faith is genuine, then it will show in the way we live our lives.  We believe in Jesus, the only begotten son of God.  But do we believe Jesus, do we believe him that it is better to give than to receive, that we must love our enemies, that if our enemy hungers, we must feed him?