Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | April 26, 2009

Sermon on 2 Timothy 4:11

Which St. Mark are We?

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

2 Timothy 4: Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry….

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

How Mark must have treasured these words.  Such a small portion of Paul’s letter they were, only eleven Greek words, yet to Mark, the most important.  We skim over this part.  It’s greetings and names and people, there’s no doctrine here, right?  But to Mark, these words were the sweet smell of life.  To Mark, these words were the gospel in action.  Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.

It wasn’t always thus.  We first meet Mark in Acts 12.  It’s to his Mom’s house that Peter runs after a miraculous escape from prison.  Some have surmised that this was the house where Jesus celebrated His final Passover.  This led others to speculate that perhaps Peter met Mark here and evangelized him.  For later, Peter refers to Mark as his son, a term used to refer to a spiritual relationship between two people.  This is related to another speculation about Mark.  In his gospel, he refers to a man following Jesus to Gethsemane who flees naked when soldiers try to seize him.  Some have wondered, “Was this Mark?”

But enough with speculation, let’s return to Scripture’s account of Mark.  We next hear of him in connection with Paul and Barnabas.  Those two missionaries have dropped off a collection for the poor in Jerusalem and before returning to Antioch, they take Mark with them.  Shortly thereafter, Paul and Barnabas are commissioned by the Holy Spirit for a missionary journey to Asia Minor.  And Mark got to go along.  Luke reports simply in Acts 13 that Mark was with them as their helper. We’re not told how Mark was chosen; only that he was.  From Colossians we discover that Mark was one of Barnabas’ cousins.  Perhaps it was a case not of what Mark knew, but who Mark knew.  Perhaps Mark had distinguished himself as a bright young Christian whom Paul and Barnabas saw as a future pastor or missionary.

All of that nearly ended however, when Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas.  Again, specific details are lacking.  We hear from Luke that when Paul and Barnabas hit the mainland of Asia Minor, Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. No reason is given.  Was Mark sick?  Did he run out of money?  Did he get news from home?  Did he get homesick?  Was missionary work not what he expected?  Did he despise the long hours and little pay?  Was Mark too attached to the world to give up everything for Christ?  We don’t know.  All we know is that whatever the reason, it did not impress Paul.  In fact, it caused a split between Paul and Barnabas, reported in Acts 15.  Paul speaks to Barnabas about going back to Asia Minor for a second time to visit the brothers…and see how they are doing. Barnabas wants to bring Mark along.  Listen to Luke.  But Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company….

We’d love to know more.  But we don’t.  All we know is that Paul refused to work with him.  Mark had been tagged:  deserter, unreliable, immature, selfish, disloyal.  No less a person than Paul refused to work with him.  Something like that stays with a guy.  It’s the bad reference that you hope no future employer checks.  And what’s worse, we’re dealing with the work of the Church here.  It’s not like Mark showed up late for his fast-food job.  He had mishandled the Word of God.  He had not proven able to do his duty.

And then the fog of history takes over.  We don’t know much about Mark’s later years.  All we know are the next things that we hear.  Paul writes to the Colossians, My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.  (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.). In Philemon, Paul includes Mark among those sending greetings.  Even later, we find Mark with Peter, who calls him son.  And then, there are these words of Paul before us today.  Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.

Something happened.  We don’t know what it was either.  But Paul and Mark ran into each other again, worked with each other again.  And by the end of Paul’s life, he looks to Mark as one of the few people he wants to see before he dies.  He wants to see Mark, because Mark is helpful to him now.  What a 180 degree turnaround!  Paul, who refused to work with Mark, now wants only Mark brought to see him.

And it doesn’t end there.  Church tradition tells us that while working with Peter Mark began, under the Spirit’s inspiration, to pen the gospel that bears his name.  And later tradition names Mark as the founder of the Christian Church in Africa, becoming a brave and faithful leader there, until he was martyred cruelly, dragged through the streets of Alexandria.  What a life!  Mark spans the entire spectrum from sinner to saint!

So…which St. Mark are we?  Are we St. Mark the sinner:  selfish, immature, foolish deserter?  Or are we St. Mark the saint:  a fellow worker, a companion, faithful, reliable, helpful, useful, a son, a martyr?  You know the truth.  You see yourself in young Mark.  Are you focused on God or on yourself?  Are you focused on the life to come or this life?  Are you serving others or yourself?  The number of times we’ve stumbled in the 45 years of grace God has granted to this congregation are innumerable.  Have we, like Mark, forsook our leaders, our pastors, our teachers, our parents, to go our own ways, or because we counted the cost and found it too much?  How many times in the history of this congregation can we find opportunities missed because the burdens were too heavy or the outcomes too doubtful, or because we just didn’t want to stick it out?  How many evangelism calls have gone unmade?  How many delinquents have gone unvisited?  How many sermons have been half-heartedly preached?  How many Sunday School lessons have been phoned in?  How many church services and Bible classes have gone unattended?  How often have we been the St. Mark that Paul refused to work with, the selfish, lazy, wayward, and immature St. Mark?  And just in case you’re saying, “Well, it’s not that bad,” listen to Jesus.  He agrees with Paul.  If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. You can’t be this St. Mark and follow Jesus.  The two are mutually exclusive.

But here too, we, like Mark hold and treasure how Jesus treats us.  It is the Christ about whom Mark wrote in our Gospel lesson who went out and preached with such authority, The time has come!  The kingdom of God is near!  Repent and believe the Good News! Jesus, who never turned back from His mission, came and said, You did not choose me, but I chose you! Jesus, the physician who went not to the healthy but to the sick, who made His ministry among sinners.  Jesus who comes to us and says in the words of Hosea:  Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall!  Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.  Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.”  “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.

This Jesus, by His death and resurrection which we celebrate these weeks of Easter, took you, selfish sinner, immature St. Mark, and declared you a saint.  As Paul wrote:  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. However it is we’ve disappointed God, the Church, St. Mark, the family, we cannot fall so far that God cannot make us useful, helpful, and beloved.  This is the God who made miserable Mark into St. Mark the Gospel writer.  This is the God who turned Christian-killer Saul into the world’s best missionary.  This is the God who, in untold numbers of baptismal fonts turned a whining, wretched, sin-soaked child like you into a saint.  This is the God who brought you from immaturity to maturity, who still brings you as you fight the good fight, as you finish the race, and as you keep the faith.

Wholeheartedly, we agree with our Lutheran fathers, when they wrote in the Formula of Concord:  Here pious Christian hearts justly ought to consider God’s unspeakable goodness.  God does not immediately cast from Himself this corrupt, perverted, sinful material into hellfire.  No, He forms and makes the present human nature from it (which is sadly corrupted by sin) in order that He may cleanse it from all sin, sanctify, and save it by His dead Son. No, Paul did not write off Mark completely.  He gave him a second chance.  He brought him back.  So too, God did not write you off.  He gave you a second chance.  He gave you His Son and brought you back to life, brought you back to Him.  And, He makes you useful and helpful to Him.  He uses you, worthless, selfish, and immature as you are.  Think of the souls brought to Christ through St. Mark’s 45 years of ministry, souls brought to Christ using you as the vehicles and instruments carrying the Word to them.

Surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses as we are, witnesses like Paul, Mark, those who have gone before us here, let us throw off everything that hinders, let us cast away the sin that so easily entangles, and let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy that was set before Him, the joy of saving you, He endured the cross, He scorned its shame, and He sat down at the right hand of God.  Consider Christ, who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  You are a saint who sins, like Mark.  But in Christ there is in store for you the crown of righteousness.  Fight the fight.  Run the race.  Keep the faith.  Only in Christ you can.  Only in Christ you will.  Amen.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.  To Him be glory forever and ever!

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