25 April 2010

Saint Mark, the rejected curate

Saint Mark in the Lichfield Gospels … not the first choice of the Apostle Paul for a curate

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 25 April 2010

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

8 p.m.: Said Eucharist

Acts 15: 35-41; Psalm 119: 9-16; Ephesians 4: 7-15; Mark 13: 5-13

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I imagine this morning some of you heard sermons on the Good Shepherd, based on the appointed Psalm for Holy Communion, and the Gospel reading on Christ knowing his own and his own knowing him.

Or perhaps you heard a sermon on the Communion of Saints. I tried to be a little different in Saint Bartholomew’s Church this morning, taking a thread on the Communion of Saints that runs through the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year C.

However, 25 April is also Saint Mark’s Day. Because it falls on a Sunday this year, Saint Mark’s Day has been transferred this year to tomorrow. And so I thought the readings were very appropriate for us this evening.

This coming week is one packed with anxiety and worries for you, with exams each morning. But it should, instead, be a week of joy and anticipation as each of you looks forward to your ordination as deacons and starting as curates for the first time in your new parishes.

And, believe you me, I know how you feel from my side too. For my primary purpose here is not to pump you full of facts and information that you can instantly recall between now and Friday morning in the hope of getting excellent results.

My primary purpose here has been to help in shaping and forming you spiritually so that you are prepared to be the deacons and priests God is calling you to be.

And there have been tough times for each and every one of you along the way … whether it was finding it difficult to cope with, and digest some of the things you were hearing; or difficult to cope with community life and the personal difficulties that inevitably creates; or simply not getting the curacy offer you had hopes and prayed for.

And as you coped with those problems and difficulties and challenges, it would have been no comfort to you if others glibly remarked: “I have been there too,” or: “You’re not the first one to complain.”

Saint Mark (right) and Saint Matthew in a stained glass window in Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But sometimes I think Saint Mark, whose day it is today, must be the patron saint of all Third Years who have gone through the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and all other Anglican theological colleges and seminaries too.

Saint Mark and the Apostle Paul had the personality clash to beat all personality clashes. Barnabas nominated Mark to Paul as their curate: as they stayed back in Antioch, Barnabas suggested that he and Paul should take John Mark with them as they went on their pastoral rounds in every place they had worked.

But Paul said no. He was hurting. He said Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia, that he wasn’t up to the work.

There must have been a right row between Paul and Barnabas too, although it’s not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. And so Paul got neither Mark nor Barnabas. Instead of setting off with Barnabas, Paul sets off with Silas, to do their pastoral rounds in Syria and Cilicia, building up the churches.

Barnabas doesn’t accompany them. Instead, he’s happy to take on Mark as his curate, and they sail away to Cyprus.

It works out in the end. Mark may have learned a lesson or two. But he went on to be a key person in the life of the Apostolic Church. Saint Mark’s Gospel is the work of a slugger, not of a slagger. Nor is it the work of someone who bore any grudges from his early lessons in ministry.

Mark is credited with founding the church in Alexandria. Mark is an evangelist and a martyr.

Paul’s first impressions of Mark bear no relation to his lasting impact on the life of the Church

The Apostle Paul, for his part, learns that we all have different gifts, styles and approaches when it comes to ministry. In his letter to the Ephesians, he shows how he has learned that some are apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, all to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

That work of ministry is not going to be an easy one for you. The Gospel reading warns of the difficulties facing the disciples: of being led astray, of the trials of wars, natural disasters, famines, persecutions, trials, false accusations, being confronted and challenged by the powers of this world, being betrayed by those who are near and dear to you.

But remember always that the Good News must be proclaimed, and you will be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church prays for that at your ordination. And I would not be here if I did not believe that prayer is answered.

Long after your ordination, when others have even forgotten that day, you can be assured of those prayers of the Church. And of my prayers too.

May God bless you in all your future ministry, may Christ always be your guide and be before you, and may the Holy Spirit continue to lead and strengthen you.

And so, may all we think, say and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Almighty God,
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark:
Grant that we, being firmly grounded
in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer

Blessed Lord,
you have fed us at this table with sacramental gifts.
May we always rejoice and find strength
in the gift of the gospel
announced to us by Saint Mark,
and come at last to the fullness of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This sermon was preached at a Eucharist celebrated with the Year III B.Th. students on Sunday evening, 25 April 2010.

1 comment:

AliceT said...

Particularly touched today by the portion of this sermon about how Paul came to realize we all have different gifts, styles, approaches when it comes to ministry. I strongly feel this doesn't just apply to clergy, but to the life kind of ministry that God leads each of us to through the work of the Holy Spirit.
And, also your paragraph after that about the difficulties encountered.... But we are strengthened through the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit and in knowing that Jesus overcame the world.

I'm sure you reached people who heard this today, and others of us who read it. Thank you so much. Being reminded and encouraged onward really helps.

your fellow Comerford genealogy descendant in Connecticut
Alice Reville Tomlin