2 Samuel 5:1-5,9-10; Psalm 48; Mark 6:1-13
As you may be aware, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is currently underway. This is our church’s primary governing body, which meets once every three years. Created at about the same time as our national government, it is a bicameral legislature—the House of Bishops, which is exactly what it sounds like, and the House of Deputies, made up of clergy and lay representatives from each diocese. They are meeting this summer in Austin, Texas.
There are many subjects up for consideration, the most attention-grabbing of which is debate over revision of our Book of Common Prayer. The proposal on the table is that we would undergo an extensive process of revision (like the one last undertaken in the 1970s), with a goal of ratifying a new Prayer Book by 2030. Undoubtedly you will hear a lot more about that in the weeks and months and years to come.
What I find more interesting is the opportunity that the General Convention gives for us to think together about what matters to us, and to set a spiritual course for the next three years. To that end, the Presiding Bishop gave a rousing sermon this past Thursday that I was able to watch via Facebook. Bishop Curry called upon us to embrace spiritual practices that lead to a Jesus-centered life.
“Called the ‘Way of Love,’ [he outlined] seven practices—a Rule of Life—that all Episcopalians are encouraged to adopt.
- Turn: Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus.
- Learn: Reflect daily on scripture, especially the life and teachings of Jesus.
- Pray: Spend time with God in prayer every day.
- Worship: Gather in community for worship every week.
- Bless: Share one’s faith and find ways to serve other people.
- Go: Move beyond one’s comfort to witness to the love of God with words and actions.
- Rest: Dedicate time for restoration and wholeness.[i]
I am quite excited about this new initiative. I think it provides a great structure for us to pursue, and to use as our own template to become more what Jesus would have us be. I invite you to explore the resources on the episcopal church website (if you type “way of love” into your search engine, it comes up after the Cher song of the same name) and dream with me about how we might together follow this rule of life here in the St. Paul’s community.
Today’s Gospel reading is about trust—or rather, mistrust. First, we learn that the folks from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth don’t trust that he is who he says he is, or that he can do what he says he can. Jesus is not believed by those who have known him the longest. It would seem that they know too much about who he was to be able to see who he has become. As the text says, he is a prophet without honor in his own country. (By the way, that adage was well-known in the Jewish and Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ time—this phrase is not original to Mark, or to Jesus.)
Then Jesus entrusts his healing power to the disciples, but it seems that he expects that some of those they visit will not trust them. He explains what they should do, shaking the dust off of their feet.
All this talk of trust makes me wonder whether we as the Church are trusted these days. More often than not, I think we are not trusted. And furthermore, I am not even sure if we are always worthy of trust.
Think about some of the recent headlines involving the church: Scandals where children are abused and then church leaders protect not the victims, but the perpetrators; or insane claims from televangelists about how hurricanes or epidemics are the result of whatever sin they hate the most; and actions taken by folks which folks claim to undertake in the name of the Christian faith—actions that do not seem to follow the way of Christ.
Of course, we are not any of those church folks (although I don’t think we want folks rummaging around in the Episcopal Church’s closet too much—our actions and words have not always been stellar), but the fact that our views may differ matters little to most of society: They see us all as one and the same.
In years past, the church didn’t have to work to have that trust. Most people went to church, and thought of themselves as part of the church by default. I’m not sure we were that much more trustworthy in those days, but since people rarely find fault with a club they are members of, we got a pass.
But these days, we who go to church, who find meaning not only in gathering with others to explore the questions of faith and working together to keep ourselves going in the right direction, but also who believe in the importance of the institution itself, are a shrinking percentage of the population. This is not your grandmother’s church. And more and more, folks think we are antiquated—and irrelevant—and maybe just a little bit crazy.
What can we do to regain the trust of our society?
Theologian Rick Morley explains that this week’s gospel shows us what we must do. As Jesus responds to those who doubt him, Morley says that Jesus “has to earn their trust. He can’t just get it right there and then. He has to keep going. He has to keep teaching. He has to keep changing people’s lives. He has to die on the cross. He has to rise again.”[ii]
So, if we want to become more trustworthy, we need to do what we do best: We need to be the church, even when those we hope to serve don’t see us as very God-like.
Morley suggests several ways that we might look to the example of Jesus to regain society’s trust. First, he says we need to fall on our knees in humility. “We have to make it clear that we have made horrific mistakes in the distant past, and in the not-too-distant past,” he says. “And, this wave of humility and repentance can’t just be a once-and-done thing. We need to repeat over and over again that while we’re an institution with divine aspirations, we are a human institution which has failed, continues to fail, and will fail again.”[iii] This was also done at our General Convention this last week, when the House of Bishop’s presented a “Liturgy of Listening”, a service of lament and confession centered on stories of sexual abuse and exploitation in the Episcopal Church.[iv]
Second, we need to remember Who we represent—in every encounter. Morley says, “Before we open our mouths or make a bad decision, we need to remember that when we look bad, we made God look bad.”[v]
I think we also need to dare to act like the Church. What does that mean? I think it means keeping our focus, always, on the way of love. Love of neighbor; love of the outcast; love of family; love of God. In a culture that most often places self above everything else, we must practice a love that is selfless. We needn’t worry that we will be unloved, though—the primary byproduct of love is love!
I think we also need to become more aware of the baggage we carry. As I wrote in the introductory blurb in today’s insert, I became intrigued this week when I studied the gospel, by the idea that when Jesus talks of traveling light, perhaps he is also talking about the emotional baggage we so often feel burdened by. This collection of past hurts and tangible fears and unrealized dreams is important—these things are real, and they not only need to be understood and soothed but also appreciated for the ways they have made us stronger and more empathetic. But they also often inhibit us. They make it harder to focus on love.
Is it possible that you may be inhibiting God’s work in the world? Are you putting up resistance to God’s activity in your life? Is there some area—some regret you can’t get over, some grudge you can’t let go, some hurt that has come to define you, some addiction that imprisons you, some anger that has taken hold of you—that you are having difficulty entrusting to God? Or is there some opportunity that God might be inviting you to, or some challenge God may be setting for you that you find difficult to embrace or entertain?[vi]
Bishop Curry has something to say about this too. In a paraphrase of the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he has reminded us: “By himself, God won’t. By ourselves, we can’t. But, together with God, we can and we will.”
Let us pray:
God, our church is composed of people like me. I help make it what it is. It will be friendly, if I am. It will do great work, if I work. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver. It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if I invite and bring them. It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve you, if I am open to such growth and service. It will be trustworthy, if I focus on love for others, and reflect your glory. Therefore, with your help Lord, we dedicate ourselves to the task of being all the things you want your church to be. We dedicate ourselves to the Way of Love. Amen.[vii]
[v] Morley, op cit.
[vi] Lose, David. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1620, accessed 06/29/2015.
[vii] Ibid. (paraphrased)