Readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 | Psalm 48 | 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 | Mark 6:1-13
The packing list is small. What a gift that is! Just a staff, shoes, the clothes on your back. No need to worry about bag fees or security measures. No images of trudging down dusty roads dragging behind you a pile of luggage, with that one wheel that broke on that last leg of the trip giving you fits as it drags a wave of dirt with it, kicking up dust, your shoulders getting tired.
None of that. Music to the ears of those of us packing for NPH Honduras this week. Instead, they are sent out with nothing, these disciples. Their power is in themselves and the Spirit they carry with them lightly. Their power is in their need, in their willingness to be dependent, open, expectant. They boast in their weakness.
No outward trappings, no financial resources, no indications that you are more successful than another, but simply, and clearly the vulnerability of your humanness and Christ in you—as the church has said it throughout the years: by virtue of your baptism. You have what you need. It has already been given to you as a gift. You have no need to be someone else, to be something else. Simply pay attention to the presence of the Holy that dwells in you, the Holy that is already living in you as it meets the holy in the one who welcomes you.
One big, heavy question this gospel lesson brings up for us, combined as it is with Jesus’ encounter with his hometown folk is whether we are really going to believe this Word or not, and by that I mean are we going to live in the “as if”? Are we going to shape our lives around this ideal, or are we just going to give it lip service?
Because the story also seems to make pretty clear that if we refuse to give ourselves to it, as Jesus’ hometown folk could not bring themselves to imagine Jesus as anything but a familiar, predictable quantity, we will bear the consequences. It seems our life and our well-being are at stake. If you want to be strong the way to get there is through your weakness. If you want to save your life, you must lose it.
Friends, do you believe this gospel? Do you believe it with your actions, with your priorities? Do you believe it with your generosity, with your forgiveness, with your love? Of course the answer for all of us is yes…, and no. We are always a mix of holding and letting go. So perhaps a better question today is what do you need to leave behind today? What is it that is weighing you down, that is keeping you from the lightness of being that is offered to us, simply?
I hear a lot of concern about the well-being of our congregations. And it isn’t just us. The reshaping of religion is undeniable in this age of transition, in this new reformation. And, as much as we might like to think otherwise, the solution isn’t a mystery. It is a simple fix, but it isn’t a new growth strategy. It isn’t a new plan or program or approach. Sure, these things are useful and worth our time, but the need is simple—to live by faith, to believe this gospel as if your life depended on it. You see, the need is not for more knowledge. The key is in the execution—and I mean by that the death of our self-reliance and pride and fear so the seeds of faith have room to germinate and grow.
I am often struck by the unintended consequences of our actions. The presence of the ARISE men last month, and the Center of Hope families these next two have me thinking about this again. Over the years we have worked to simplify our processes when it comes to hosting and providing sanctuary for these beautiful and vulnerable souls in our midst. And yet, as we’ve learned how to do this, as we’ve simplified the effort we put out, it seems to me we’ve also ended up becoming less connected to these ones who have brought with them next to nothing for their journey—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—just the shoes on their feet, a few belongings and a tremendous amount of need and hope.
You see, if we are to take a close look at this story, these men of ARISE, these women and children of the Center of Hope, they are the disciples coming into our midst, receiving our hospitality, taking sanctuary within this building. And they are the ones with the power to heal and bless by virtue of their emptiness. It is they who journey to us.
And yet, in our generous and well-intentioned work to ease the burden of housing them, I wonder if we’ve also forgotten how much we need them, how much we need to spend time with them and learn from them what it means to live by faith, what the power of God that is made perfect in weakness looks like.
Perhaps it’s time to volunteer again. Not to work—not that it doesn’t make sense to share the load—but that would be the easy part. It’s easy to come into the room dragging with us our degrees, our resourcefulness, our readiness to fix—like so much baggage kicking up the dust. Perhaps it’s time to just show up and listen, to be present and remember what the presence of Christ looks like beyond the familiar.
That’s why I’m going to Honduras, of course. Because I always encounter faith there in a way that changes me. But the thing is, we don’t have to travel thousands of miles to see that. It is here in our midst every day from 8pm to 7am during July and August. It’s here on Sunday afternoons and just about every day of the week when the Manantial congregation shows up, and among them many who live—by virtue of life and language—on the edges, and yet by faith and with astonishing power. It is here in your brothers and sisters next to you in those stories that we share only when the time is right and love is present. And it is here in perhaps the most familiar place of all—within you, calling out quietly, longing to set aside all those distractions that you hold onto, those possessions that end up possessing you, those fears that call out for faith, that weakness that knows true strength, those assumptions that you’ve given yourself to for so long that you can no longer see the extraordinary power for healing standing right in front of you.
I think you know those voices. I think you long for something more. What do you think?
What would it look like for you to give yourself to what lasts? How would that journey be different than the one you’ve been taking? What would you lay aside and leave behind? What do you need to open yourself to? I think you may already know the answer.
Give yourself to it. Let that hidden self go strong. Give yourself again to this table and its bread, and its promise that a little bit will not only go a long way, but it will be more than enough. It will come back with more leftover than we began with. Give yourself to this tiny font and its little amount of water that is an ocean of rebirth. Give yourself to this idea that the God who had you in mind before the rivers and streams, the lakes and oceans were formed, continues to form and create you too. Give yourself to the idea that the God who in Christ brought nothing with him, left more than enough for everyone. Give yourself again to this Good News. Live your life as if you refuse to believe we can be more generous than God and see what just might happen.
St. Andrew Sermons