TITLE: A True Life SCRIPTURE: Mark 1:21-28
For most of 2006, our Sunday Gospel readings will be taken from the Gospel according to Mark. This is the shortest of the four gospels. It was probably the earliest to be written.
Today's reading comes from the first chapter of Mark. It recounts the opening day of Jesus' public ministry. Already he has been baptized in the Jordan River. Already he has spent forty days in prayer and fasting out in the wilderness. Already he has called Simon and Andrew, James and John, to be his disciples.
Now he enters the synagogue at Capernaum and begins to teach. There's nothing unusual about this. Any Jewish man can teach in the synagogue.
What's unusual is the response he receives. The congregation is astounded! Jesus is not like so many other teachers they have heard. He does not cite a series of authorities, piling up learned references one upon another. Instead, he teaches out of his own authority. It is his own truth that he sets forth.
And what is the content of his teaching there at Capernaum?
Mark's Gospel does not tell us. There's not even a hint! What Jesus teaches is not a series of facts, observations, or theories. His teaching is himself. He does more than set forth truth. He is the Truth, Truth with a capital "T". The Truth looking at you face to face.
Maybe each of us can recall an experience like this with someone we regarded as a mentor--a parent, perhaps, or a teacher, a coach, a colleague, a supervisor. Maybe you remember vividly what that person did, but the memory is precious because of who that person was.
Each one of us is called to be true. This truth cannot be measured by any external standard. The goals we score on a Superbowl Sunday, the size of our bank account, the number of descendants we leave behind--none of these figures tells the truth of who we are. The truth we are called upon to live is not something that appears on an organizational chart or is summed up on tally sheet. It is an interior reality. A matter of soul.
We are to be true. And for most of us most of the time, that does not require going someplace else. It means being true right where we are. We are to live out our own unique life with all its weakness and limitations. It's a waste of effort for us to wish we were living out another person's life someplace else. We are to be true right where we are, and usually that means someplace outside the spotlight.
In our time there is renewed interest in the Celtic saints. Their places of origin include Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. Many of them lived a thousand to fifteen hundred years ago.
We can sketch out in detail the lives of some of them, such as David and Patrick. In numerous other cases, what's known is hardly enough to fill an index card. Yet even so, the memory of the saint lingers on in the name of some place--a well, a church, a village--as if to say that once, long ago, a holy woman or a holy man lived here in deep communion with God, and that now, many centuries later, that still makes a difference. It makes a difference that this nearly anonymous figure lived a true life.
Some people of our own time live a true life right where they are. No spotlight shines on them.
Phil Donahue, in his autobiography, tells of an incident that took place when he was a young reporter -- long before he gained fame and fortune. He was covering a mine disaster. It was dark and cold. Rescuers were hard at work. Families of trapped miners were anxiously awaiting word of their loved ones. Someone started singing, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and other voices joined in. That hymn ends with the words, "What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer."
When the singing stopped with those words, "What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer," a minister stepped forward and said, "Let us pray." His prayer was short and so "from the heart" that it carried an eloquence that stopped Donahue in his tracks -- he was deeply moved. But then he learned that the television camera had failed to capture the prayer.
Donahue got the camera and sound crews ready, and then he went to the minister to ask him to repeat the prayer. The minister refused. Donahue told him that he was a television reporter. If the minister would only repeat his prayer, it would be broadcast to millions of homes. The minister still refused. Donahue tried again, but the minister said, "No" and walked away.
At first Donahue was angry -- but then he realized that he had encountered something special -- a man with rock-solid integrity. Donahue concluded:
"The man wouldn't showbiz for Jesus.
He wouldn't sell his soul for TV,
not even for national TV,
not even, praise God, for CBS."
Want to have a profound effect on the world? Then be true to who you are where you are! This is an opportunity given to everyone. This is a radically democratic proposal. No one's denied the chance.
For some, living a true life may mean fifty years as a college instructor. For others, it may mean teaching a single child to read. Jesus did not have thousands of faithful disciples. He did not cure all the sick people in Israel. He didn't even last long on the synagogue circuit. Yet the life he lived was true enough that God endorsed it by raising him from the dead.
The greatest tragedy is to miss living a true life. But to live a true life is to have done everything, regardless of failure or deprivation.
The Russian saint Seraphim of Sarov speaks of this true life when he tells us: "Acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation." [Quoted in Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, 1979), p. 118.]
The French writer Olivier Clement speaks of this true life when he asserts: "If a few people become prayer--prayer that is 'pure' and to all appearances quite useless--they transform the universe by the sole fact of their presence, by their very existence." [Quoted in Ware, p. 86.]
To live a true life means to bring some light to the world. In one of her best known gospel songs, Mahalia Jackson sings out about this true life:
"While you're on earth,
shine like a star;
brighten the corner
wherever you are."
[From Bob Merrill, "Rusty Old Halo."]
We need more people like those obscure Celtic saints whose existence remains forever current.
But perhaps we have them already. Perhaps there are some of these people here among us today: those who live true lives and transform the universe by the simple fact of their existence.
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