Sunday, July 8, 2018

Pentecost 7B, 2018: Empowered, encouraged, and entrusted to serve

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

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In our Collect today we prayed: “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection… (BCP, 230)

This brings two things to my mind: the vestry retreat we had Friday and yesterday, and the news from our General Convention happening in Austin, TX.

At our vestry retreat, I witnessed and experienced pure affection for one another and for each one God has led to be at St. David’s in this moment of our corporate history. I also witnessed and experienced a devotion to God among the vestry which carried us through those moments when we were necessarily in what we called the “groan zone,” the space between divergence, through emergence, into convergence.

It’s the experience of “going blank,” where our thoughts and ideas escape us and we have to wait together in the discomfort of that self-emptying until the Holy Spirit fills us with inspiration and insight – which happened reliably for us.

I contrast that with my experience of catching up on the news from General Convention. I read the articles from Episcopal News service as well as the posts from our diocesan deputies and our bishop on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m always fascinated by the machinations of our institutional system. Some of it I find ridiculous, like being trapped in procedures that make it so complicated to accomplish a simple, straightforward, uncontested act like formally including the Diocese of Cuba into The Episcopal Church now that we can.

Some of it I find soul-killing, like reading the comments from Episcopalians on contested issues such as the Prayer Book revision which passed the House of Deputies, by the way, and awaits the vote of the House of Bishops.

The modern practice of rudeness, disrespect, and arrogance in conversation has infected our church and we publicly embarrass ourselves when we behave that way. Worse than that, we betray our mission to “love and serve…as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (BCP, 366)

This is probably similar to what Jesus experienced when we returned to Nazareth after conducting his ministry in the surrounding areas where he preached with wisdom and authority and accomplished astounding works like those we discussed last week: healing the bleeding woman and raising the dead child back to life.

Jesus’ reputation had already spread far and wide and his home-town people knew of it. Yet, as he came among them, he too confronted rudeness, disrespect, and arrogance. Who does he think he is? they asked. Where does he get such wisdom and power? Isn’t he Mary’s son, the carpenter?

Please let me point out the subtle insult contained in Mark’s telling of this story. In Jesus’ time, people were identified by their paternal lineage. This public reference to Jesus as Mary’s son, instead of Joseph’s son, subtly questions the legitimacy of his birth, dredging up the scandal of the Christmas story – pregnant, unmarried Mary and her devoted fiancĂ© Joseph, who, everyone knew, hadn’t fathered her child.

I wonder, however, why people continue to do this? Does discrediting or disrespecting Jesus have any impact on the wisdom of his preaching and the power of his ministry? Does it change, for example, the fact that he raised a dead child to life?

No. Then what is the purpose?

My guess is it’s a shield against their fear that they might have to change their understanding of themselves, God, and how God is calling to them to live.

Jesus brought them amazing gifts and they simply refused to receive them. They refused to change. So he responds by lamenting their disbelief and turning his attention and his ministry in a different direction, going out about the villages teaching.

He didn’t force them, or argue with them, or appease them. He just went on without them.

Churches need to heed to this lesson.

Then, Mark tells us, Jesus chose this moment to move his ministry from one he did himself to a corporate mission, serving together with his disciples.

Mark shows us that empowered his disciples, giving them authority over unclean spirits, that is, anything that inhibits a person from a transforming encounter with God. Jesus encouraged the twelve to serve, trusting in God with their whole hearts and leaving behind earthly security represented by supplies and extra clothing. Then Jesus entrusted them to do their ministry on their own – out there.

Mark tells us that the disciples went out, proclaiming repentance, that is, the need for people to change their thinking and understanding, and their way of being in community with one another and the world.

They also anointed many who were sick with oil and restored them to wholeness. As a result, the disciples witnessed the power of God working through them in extraordinary ways.

This is what happens when we are empowered by Jesus to serve, encouraged by him to trust the gifts God has given us and their purpose, and entrusted by him to accomplish our unique ministry in the world.

This was the basic message of our vestry retreat and it represents our first steps together into the new life God is offering to St. David’s. I pray we receive the gifts Jesus is offering us and respond with the devotion of our whole hearts and a unity of pure affection for one another.


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