There is the story of a new priest who came to town. The first Sunday he preached one of the best sermons folks had ever heard. Everyone was excited, believing that things were looking up for their church. They all complimented him on his wonderful and inspiring words. The following Sunday the new priest preached the exact same sermon to the letter. Folks looked a bit bewildered, but it was so good, they all thought it was worth hearing a second time just not two Sundays in a row. However, since he was new no one said anything other than that enjoyed the sermon. The third Sunday, once again the priest preached the exact same sermon. The Sr. Warden didn’t think they could take a fourth Sunday of this sermon, so after everyone had exited the church she had a word with him. “Father,” she said, “that’s a good sermon you preached.” “Thank you,” he replied. “However,” she continued, “you have preached the same sermon three times now. We’ve all heard it and were wondering when you were going to go on to a different subject.” “Ma’am,” he responded, “when you all start acting like you’ve heard it, I’ll preach something else.”
Each year at this time we start over in telling the story of Jesus. Beginning with his birth, we enter into his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension. Along the way we will look at the various miracles, teachings, and events in the life of Jesus. Each year we get a different Gospel writer’s perspective – over the next year our Gospel readings will come primarily from the Gospel of Mark.
Mark probably received most of the information for his Gospel from Peter, while Peter was imprisoned in Rome. What we will discover about Mark and or Peter in this Gospel is that Mark is straight forward and to the point. He doesn’t sugar coat anything and can sometimes seem hard and even offensive to some, even though God’s Word is never offensive.
Yet, as we start the story again we might get the impression that we are a part of a nursery rhyme, “The wheels on the bus go round and round….” However, the Church understood something then that maybe we don’t consider in this context: repetition is the mother of all learning. Repetition is the mother of all learning. Repetition is the mother of all learning… Sorry.
Musicians know repetition. How many times do they play the scales? After playing those scales long enough, they don’t have to think about how to play a D-flat, their fingers just know. Athletes call this muscle memory. If you hit the exact same backhand hundreds of times in tennis practice, then when that same backhand shot comes at you in a tournament, then you don’t have to think, “Oh, how am I going to hit that?” Instead, the muscles simply respond.
In a similar manner, we cycle through the Gospels. Not just because they are the story of our Savior but so that we begin to live and respond in a manner that is consistent with His teachings without having to stop and ask ourselves every step of the way, “What would Jesus do?” Like the musician or the athlete whose muscles respond instinctively, our souls will respond in a similar fashion so that we may be like Jesus. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” It is why we study the events of Jesus life over and over again, so that we might become like him in all things.
Is there a danger of falling away, of thinking we don’t really need to cover the same ground again – “Oh, I know this story. I know how it ends.”
No one knows exactly who said it first, but it is most often attributed to some classical pianist and now restated in various forms by everyone from golf pros to ballet dancers, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.” Is there a danger of not staying engaged with Holy Scripture? Yes there is. Without remaining engaged, things begin to fall apart.
The opening stanza of the poem The Second Coming by William Yeats:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The poem is not speaking of the Second Coming of Our Lord; Yeats was one who thought Christianity had run its course and was therefore irrelevant, yet the poem does seem to speak a great deal of truth – “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” That is a truth for a world and a life without God, for under those circumstances, the center is nothing more than what we can cobble together with our own clumsy hands and try to keep spinning like a clown at the circus trying to spin all those plates on sticks. At first it looks good, but after a while it all begins to crash. Broken plates and broken dreams.
“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” True for a godless world, but not true for a world or a life with Christ at the center. Jesus says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And it is through Christ that things do not fall apart and the center does hold.
Paul wrote to the Colossians, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Christ is the center that holds all things together; therefore, we must not only annually repeat the cycle of entering into his life and teachings, but daily seek Him where He can be found within the pages of Holy Scripture.
The collect for the day a few Sundays back stated, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” The way to accomplish this is repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s not the “same old, same old.” It is new every day. And every day we can draw closer to Him.
St. John the Baptist declares in our Gospel reading today, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Seeking God in His Holy Word is one of the greatest ways we can prepare the way of the Lord and make straight paths into our own souls.