Proper 9, Year B, 2018
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Mountain Home, AR
Last week, I shared with you my reflections on the story of the hemorrhaging woman from the Gospel of Mark, and how that relates to our lives as followers of Christ. I offered thoughts on how we should approach our walk with Jesus and how we can look for opportunities in our daily life to always be improving our expression of the values of the Kingdom of God. I think it was a pretty good example of the type of scriptural reflection and exegesis you can expect from me. It was an opportunity to say ‘here I finally am at St. Andrews and this is what I have to offer’.
I can think of no better way to follow that up than with what our readings have in store for us today. This story from the Gospel of Mark, which is really two different stories taken together, offers a point for us to begin our more extended and ongoing conversations about what it means to live as Christians. To ask why we bother to come to this place throughout the week, and most importantly to acknowledge that while we are here as one body, which shares one bread, we are not going to always be one mind. I’m sure this is even more poignant considering what part of the country I have come from, and especially the ways in which the Gospel is interpreted where I studied for seminary. Being challenged in one’s faith is, in part, the importance of the first part of the gospel today.
This very well known scripture, and often repeated to those who want to minister in the church that raised them up, gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ early work. He is in his home town, teaching, healing, and going about his ministry. But the people there look at him, and say, ‘Isn’t this Mary’s son?’, ‘Isn’t he the carpenter?’, ‘What could he possibly have to say about scripture?’. Perhaps it is because he is young, comparatively. Perhaps he is saying things that people don’t agree with. But a very important piece of this is just simple human nature. We probably have all heard the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”. It’s sort of the opposite of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. One could argue the solitary benefit of a long distance relationship. When we spend time with people, especially over years, when we watch them grow up or grow in to themselves, we can’t help but notice the bad along with the good. It is our nature to find ourselves exhausted with the nephew who reminds us every Thanksgiving what being a vegan is, or the uncle that is consistently wound up by all the talk radio he listens to. This is a reality, and while we might be a bit tongue in cheek about it, it is absolutely why the church does its best not to place clergy with the congregations they attended before ordination. It is hard for people to see God at work when the familiarity of a person glosses over their gifts and highlights their rough spots.
So that’s what’s happening here with Jesus. Some commentaries on this part of the passage wonder if the miracles Jesus is performing have just become too commonplace for his hometown folk. They can’t see the wonders or hear the truths because it is no longer out of the ordinary. Lamar Williamson JR writes, regarding this passage, “Our unbelief does not render God impotent, but when it is dominant in a congregation its dampening effect on the mighty acts of God in that time and place is evident and sad.” Now I am certainly not saying that is applicable here. Instead I am pointing to this as a possible stumbling block. Part of our work as followers of Christ is to keep a renewed perspective on the Kingdom of God and constantly reawakening to its values. Every morning when Luther would rise from his bed, he would declare ‘baptizatus sum!’ meaning ‘I am baptised’, and that is the sort of daily renewed energy we should put into living into this Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ has invited us to.
Renewal often needs challenge, and I want to acknowledge that. As clergy, it is not my job as someone called to walk alongside you to offer platitudes, it is not my role to placate or play politics. It is my job to help in that renewal, just as I hope you will offer it back to me. You and I are not always going to agree on how scripture should be interpreted, what the Kingdom of God looks like, or what following Jesus in this particularly Anglican way is. What we need though is the ability to share our ideas, our concerns, our fears, and our joys in ways that reflect the Love of each other that Christ commands of us. That is my hope for my work here, and it is also my hope that you all will offer the same to me.
That brings me to the second piece of today’s passage. The sending out of the twelve. This is a really good juxtaposition to that first part about Jesus in his hometown. It’s also apropos to our work. Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs. They do not go alone, and no one in particular is mentioned. This is a communal effort. After the rejection of his hometown, Jesus simply begins to call disciples and send them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal. This is not work we can do alone. Being a prophet of the Kingdom of God has always been a dangerous past-time, and that is still true today. Speaking the Truth of the resurrected Christ and God’s love for the world is definitely not a chapter in ‘How to win friends and influence people’. We must be in this work of the Kingdom of God together. We cannot be tempted to do this work alone. The Reverend Canon K. Jeanne Person has this to say, “If you do go it alone, you might end up like Don Quixote, whose passion subsumed his perspective. When Don Quixote and his friend Sancho see the windmills on the horizon, Don Quixote girds his loins to fight the giants on his own. When Sancho tries to warn him that the windmills are not the giants he should be fighting, Don Quixote casts him away….Then, as Don Quixote moves in, in full gallop, a windmill sweeps away horse and rider. They are sent rolling over the plain, in sad condition indeed. … If you go it alone, like Don Quixote, you might end up fighting the wrong giants. You might lose your perspective. You might get far flung, looking very foolish. You might also end up being crucified on a cross, with little import whatsoever.”
We are one body, because we all share in the one bread, and the one cup. We stand in a line of saints and disciples who have walked and struggled with the path to follow Jesus Christ just as much as we do today. We are constantly surrounded by challenges to the command to lose ourselves for the sake of Christ. Told that there should be conditions on loving our neighbor as ourselves; conditions like race, conditions like orientation, conditions like man-made nationalities. These and so many other reasons are offered for why we have to be careful how Christ-like we are to others, instead of what Jesus actually commands us to do. We are tempted to take the easy road. Even the disciples were. Jesus knew that. That’s why he tells them not to try to improve their accommodations in a town once they’ve stayed at a home. That’s why they are asked to rely on the support and kindness of strangers. To rely on the same loving hospitality we are called to in our lives.
For those following the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church through Facebook or Twitter posts, you may have seen The Rt Reverend Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, post Saturday morning the blessing that was used at the end of that morning’s mass. These words are adapted from Bishop Phillip Brooks. “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger people for the living of life. Do not pray for mission or ministry that is equal to your gifts, talent, and treasure. Instead pray for gifts, talent, and treasure to meet the mission or ministry that is before you. For when you pray this way, when any mission is accomplished or ministry undertaken it will not be the miracle. Instead, you will be the miracle. And, every day you shall wonder at the grace, mercy, power, and love that has come from God through you.”
Jesus has called us to go forth into the world, whether that is abroad or these few square miles of the twin lakes region, to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, the healing love which God pours out continually for us, and the way to live into that Kingdom. We are not called to this work alone, and it is my prayer that we will all go together. It will not be easy, it will not be comfortable, but that is our mission as Christians, as followers and proclaimers of the risen Christ.