(S)Ending as Beginning

Part 5 in Worship Series: Sending

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 22 August 2010

(Isaiah 55:12   Psalm 143   Romans 15:5-6, 13   Mark 16:4-8)

“[S]Ending as Beginning”

Okay, so I don’t know exactly how grammar is being taught in our schools these days (I probably should know this since my wife is an English teacher!).  What I do know from when I was in school is that you never ended a sentence with a preposition.  That was sure to get points taken off any paragraph we were writing.  So here comes Gospel writer Mark, who not only ends a sentence with a preposition, but he ends his entire Gospel like that.

Two things we have to note.  The first is that we’ve cleaned up Mark’s usage when we translated it into English.  So when we heard this text read a few minutes ago what we heard was:  “…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  That sounds pretty good, but that’s not the way it was really written.  Actually, in Greek, it reads something like this:  “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for….”

I guarantee that kind of writing would have gotten points off in my day!  It’s written like the phone rang and interrupted Mark right in the middle of a sentence, so he goes away from his computer screen and never gets back to it before the publishers get their hands on it!  So it may sound really nice in English, but that’s not the way Mark wrote it!

The second thing to note is that some people really did not like Mark’s Gospel  to end like that!  So a second ending was added. (If you were to open your pew Bibles to pages 66-67 toward the back of the Bible), you will see that a longer ending has been added.  The footnotes explain that many authorities believe the original Gospel ended with Verse 8, although a longer ending was later added on.

So I am going to preach this sermon with the assumption that the way Mark ended his Gospel was with the verses we heard a few minutes ago, but not with the corrected English.

Mark ends with a dangling preposition, and most people do not like dangling prepositions!  (Let’s see a show of hands!  Is there anyone here who likes dangling prepositions?)

Mark’s Gospel ends with the incomplete sentence: “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for….”

So what might this all mean to us today?  I would suggest it has virtually nothing to do with grammar or usage, but it has everything to do with living! It has everything to do with what is important to us, how we invest our money, where we invest our time.

Today we continue our focus on the various parts of the liturgy and today’s focus is on “SENDING.”   And might I suggest that as the Gospel writer lets us dangling at the end of his Gospel, it is now up to us to finish the Gospel, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with our lives.

Have you ever been to the theater to a play where at some point they stop the action and ask the audience how they want the play to end, and then the actors continue by making it end the way the audience voted?  It’s always great for murder mysteries.  Sheer Madness at the Kennedy Center has been doing it for nearly 25 years.

Maybe that might be a way to think about Mark’s Gospel.  It seems as if it ends before it is ready to end.  The women are afraid and go away, we are told without saying anything.  Unlike the other Gospels where there are meals on the beach, and walking into rooms when the doors are locked, and hugs in the garden, and excited shouts of “He is Risen,” in this version we only see frightened woman running out of the cemetery in silence!

So it is up to us to complete the Gospel story with our lives.  What we do when we are sent out…how we live when we leave here…is the completion of this Gospel story in a very real way!

If you look at your bulletin, you will see that the two main parts of the SENDING is the Blessing and the Dismissal. (Sometimes there is a Hymn, others times there is not!)

Blessing is a true reminder and sign of God’s presence and power.  The blessing reminds us that God is with us.  God looks upon us with favor and gives us peace.  The blessing is a ringing in our ears that we carry the assurance of the presence of God in all our comings and goings.  A blessing speaks of intimacy, specifically in this instance an intimacy with God who has come to be with us in very personal ways.  When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere, telling us that whatever else it is we will carry with us when you leave this space, we will go illuminated with loving kindness. ***The blessing assures us that we are never alone in our going forth from this place, regardless of how alone or hurt or how lonely we may feel at the moment of departure.

Dismissal.  Then we are dismissed, or more accurately, we are sent!  “Go!” “Go in peace!” is not a suggestion.  It’s a command!

Here’s one of my pet peeves.  We get to the end of our worship service.  The assisting minister (or pastor) says “Go in peace, serve the Lord!” Our response is: “THANKS BE TO GOD!””  My peeve is that too often there is way too little life in our dismissing!

I remember when I was a child I could never quite understand why we ended our worship with the words, “Thanks be to God!”  It seemed strange because it was like we were say, “thank God, it’s finally over!” (Maybe sometime people feel that way!)  But that not what the liturgy is saying.  What we are saying is:   “we’ve been nourished, forgiven, and empowered for mission,” so now we can go out and share the Good News, so…Thanks be to God…we can go out with joy to share all we heard and have been given during this time together!

Here comes my challenge, when we are dismissed and sent on our way at the end of today’s worship, can we respond with lots of enthusiasm and joy?   And can we do it, not only today but every time we come to worship?   And if we can’t wait to leave, it’s not because we’re bored, but because we can’t wait to share God’s love and forgiveness to all we meet when we get out the doors….

We are sent into the world on a mission to complete the Gospel story, to live the story of God’s Good News.

When Christians come together to pray, this prayer is a lived prayer in that Christians are called and empowered by God to be a presence of faith, hope and love in the midst of the needs of the community and the world.

In every gathering of the proclaimed Word and the Holy Sacraments, God acts to empower the church for mission (The Use of the Means of Grace, p. 56, 58).

As baptized Christians, God calls us to use our vocations and ministries to witness to the Gospel of Christ wherever we serve or work.  All aspects of life, home and school, community and nation, daily work and leisure, citizenship and friendship…all belong to God.  Everywhere is a place where God calls us to serve (The Use of the Means of Grace, p. 57).

At no place in our worship life is this more evident than in the responsibilities affirmed by parents at the time their child is baptized, and at Confirmation of those being confirmed.   We heard these responsibilities affirmed last evening as we baptized Samuel Andrew Fox.  What a powerful reminder that the Christian vocation lies beyond these walls!

The poet, T. S. Elliot said that, “What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is to make a beginning.  The end is where we start from.” There is something to that, I think, because it is really at the end of our worship, or more precisely, in our sending forth from worship, where we begin our mission of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Our sending is not an ending, but the beginning.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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