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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Ordination - Ann Gonyea 7/12/2015

Ordination of Ann Gonyea 12 July 2015
Mark 1:14-18 Rev. Brian Hiortdahl

Once upon a time, there was a great sermon about John the Baptist that no one got to hear. Ann Gonyea’s first turn in the pulpit at her field parish fell during Advent, when the lectionary shines a blue-filtered spotlight on the peculiar prophet, so she burrowed into the text and slaved over a homiletical feast for the Chicago faithful that was far more satisfying than grasshoppers and honey.

But her sermon disappeared as quickly as John does from today’s gospel, and for basically the same reason: swift and terrible news.

John was arrested, ultimately to be butchered, by an unstable king with far too much power.

Ann’s sermon about him was pre-empted by Friday morning news from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 school children were slaughtered by an unstable citizen with too much firepower…news so chilling and unspeakable it had to be spoken of.

Ann was wise enough to realize this, and a new and poignant sermon was written in haste and shadow.

We begin here, with Sandy Hook and the arrest of John and the suffocating darkness of our world, because this is where the gospel always begins.

The gospel is bad news before it is good news, writes Frederick Buechner in Telling the Truth, which is yet one more book someone else thinks you should read.

It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word [not to mention the old patriarchal grammar; sorry ladies, you’re sinners too], that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob.

The imagination of the evil heart leads us to innocent blood on the floors of the palace and the classroom, and on the hands of humans with too much firepower and too little compassion; it leads us to a world hemmorhaging with injustice and brutality and fear.

This world, our world, is the dark setting for God’s great surprise.

It has often been noted that in Mark’s gospel, Jesus appears out of nowhere.

He arrives suddenly, unexpected and uninvited, with an open call to repent and believe.

“Change your minds and trust good news,” he asks a world so steeped in bad news it has learned too well to expect nothing else.

The kingdom of God is just around the corner, he says in the iron grip of the kingdom of Herod, like a Youper in January announcing spring.

And then, like a Youper in January, Jesus doubles down on the unbelievable by taking a walk beside the lake—not to the halls of power, but to a Mom and Pop fishing operation.

As darkness from central command smothers the land, light flickers in one corner, almost off-stage, where no one would think to notice, the kingdom of God sneaking in like a thief in the night.

Show of hands now: is anyone here covering this ordination for The New York Times?


Obviously Jesus is at it again.

As the world convulses with danger and drama and turmoil, Jesus appears beside a lake up north to recruit someone else into his foolish fishing expedition for the human heart.

For whatever reason, like Peter and Andrew, Ann said yes.

Now she will be working without a net.

Now her family sits in this boat, shaking their heads, still wondering what happened and why she dropped everything and accepted this disastrous career advice.

Surely there are more practical, not to mention lucrative options than this.

Surely there are safer, easier, less stressful and demanding and impossible ways to hook a paycheck than being a pastor.

What is it about this unrealistic Jesus that makes Ann and others leave their nets and common sense behind to follow him?

The answer is bad news before it is good news.

The answer begins in deep, midday darkness, when no one followed him except at a distance, where even God was nowhere to be found.

This Jesus, betrayed and abandoned, died bloody and alone on a Roman gallows before being charitably buried in a tomb sealed like a heart with a dirty secret.

The few women who had the stomach to watch all this from afar came to his tomb two mornings later to attend to his body.

But Jesus disappeared out of nowhere; the body was suddenly gone.

As they entered the tomb, Mark writes, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they soiled themselves (my translation). But he said to them, “Do not soil yourselves; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place that they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, being afraid because

End of text.

The period sealing up the sentence was rolled away like a stone, and Mark’s story suddenly stops, open-ended, with nowhere for the reader to go next.

Luke has not been written yet, or any of the other gospels, and the shell-shocked women aren’t talking, so … now what?

Where do we go from here?

These are the questions that pastors and other people ask themselves every morning.

Questions like these will appear, unexpected and uninvited, in the pastor’s inbox and voicemail and sometimes inches from her unprepared face.

What then?

The gospel writer Mark has a suggestion: start over.

Go back to chapter one, or maybe more correctly, move ahead to chapter one.

The story cycles forward.

The dark question, the sudden and startling news, and the terror behind it, are in fact, as Mark opens, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It is in darkness, in confusion and uncertainty and the thunderstruck world of soiled selves and startled lives that Jesus appears, unexpected and uninvited, saying change your mind and believe.

Trust the good news.

Mark chapter one is also Mark chapter seventeen: Jesus appears in Galilee, alive, just as he said, so no wonder Peter and Andrew and Ann drop everything and follow.

Easter changes everything.

Pastor Ann, the story still cycles forward.

The bleeding world and also the clueless disciples of Jesus named church still need the witness of terrified women like you who yet have love and guts enough to risk showing up in the dark shadow of death.

Terrified, as you know, is a Greek word that means “paying attention.”

It’s the proper response to the uninvited holiness that infiltrates human life, the kingdom of God that comes near to places like hospital beds and shared meals and budget meetings and children’s eyes and prison cells and tone-deaf choirs and tear-streaked prayers and Galilee and the Upper Peninsula.

You will enter places and situations where angels fear to tread because those are the places where Jesus goes fishing, and he says to you, Follow me.

There will be plenty of Herodian horrors that leave you struggling for words, and there will also be thunderbolts of Easter that leave you totally speechless.

Your silence and your speech will both point people to goodness so good that it really is news.

Your presence will both announce and embody the unforeseeable truth that God has shown up in our world, in our sleepy town, in our troubled lives that are so unprepared and cluttered with the debris of dreams and hopes and relationships as broken and crumbling as the bread in your hands.

Your pastor’s heart will shudder and crack with the weight and pain of love, and there will be episodes that are nothing but bleakness and panic.

Fishing for people sometimes takes place in deep, dark water.

Yet Follow me, he says, summoning you toward more bad news, into yet another place you absolutely do not want to go.

Repent and believe it or not, but this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God, who goes ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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