Proper 4, Year C
On November 2, 2015, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, made a video about what he believes is the Jesus Movement, which set the tone for his leadership for the next nine years. In this video he stated:
"God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the Way. He came to show us the Way to life, the Way to love. He came to show us the Way beyond what often can be the nightmares of our own devising and into the dream of God’s intending. That’s why, when Jesus called his first followers he did it with the simple words “Follow me.”
“Follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people.”
Follow me and love will show you how to become more than you ever dreamed you could be. Follow me and I will help you change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. Jesus came and started a movement and we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. "
He goes on to say:
"A few years ago I was in a coffee shop in Raleigh, North Carolina, just a few blocks away from our Diocesan House there. While in line I started a conversation with a gentleman who turned out to be a Mennonite pastor. He had been sent to Raleigh to organize a church in the community on the streets without walls. As we were talking over our coffee, he said something to me that I have not forgotten. He said the Mennonite community asked him to do this because they believed that in this environment in which we live, the church can no longer wait for its congregation to come to it, the church must go where the congregation is.
Now is our time to go. To go into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ. To go into the world and help to be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation. To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free.
This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world."
These last two weeks have been a whirlwind for me. Just after Pentecost, I spent time with my colleagues talking about how the Diocese of Eastern Oregon is participating in the Jesus Movement. We talked about partnerships across denominational lines, we talked about how we serve our brothers and sisters outside of the church walls, we talked about how we offer care, comfort and challenge to those within our immediate communities. We celebrated who we had been under various bishops, and dreamed of who we might become under Bishop Pat’s leadership. I was inspired, energized and incredibly hopeful.
And then this week that hope and energy became larger. Gathering with young-ish clergy from around the country in Portland, we created sacred space for hard conversations about addictions within our church and the role we play in helping to heal our communities. We shared stories of marginalization faced by women and women of color in leadership positions, and invited our brothers to stand with us and heal our system. We sang hymns together that brought us to tears. We told jokes that made us laugh until we cried. And we shared visions, dreams and hopes for how we might do our part in the Jesus Movement. New relationships were formed, and old friendships were renewed. It was a beautiful and hard week overall.
So all of this talk of the Jesus Movement brings me to Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Now Paul is not one of my most favorite people in the bible. He’s complicated...sometimes he gets it right, and sometimes he gets it wrong. And I think part of why I’m not particularly comfortable with Paul is that he’s too much like all of us--sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong. Paul, like us, can be zealous, argumentative, egotistical, and a know it all. And like us, Paul also deeply loves the people he ministers with, and is committed to Jesus. He didn’t need a Presiding Bishop to declare that we are part of the Jesus Movement...he knew it first hand because of his lived experience on the road to Damascus. He was a man whose heart was transformed.
Let’s put Paul in his context for this morning’s reading. Our reading is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, and he is writing to explain whether or not non-Jews had to convert to Judaism in order to then become Christians. In other words, he’s trying to explain who can identify themselves as a follower of Jesus. Unlike some of the disciples, Paul makes the claim that conversion to Judaism was not a prerequisite for Christianity. While this may not seem like a big deal to us today, it was a very big deal at the time because it meant that the identity that those early Jesus followers had shared--the ritualistic and legalistic life of Judaism, the identity that sustained them in slavery, in exile and in wandering the desert, was no longer a necessary requirement to be a Jesus follower. It meant that people who did not share the values, practices and heritage of the Jewish community would be welcomed into those early Christian churches. For Paul, the Jesus Movement meant moving beyond the Jewish world, and inviting Gentiles into a new community that was based on the love and message of Jesus. In many ways, Paul was a heretic...and as we know, this idea of inclusive, divine love that he preaches...gets him into a lot of trouble. For Paul, “One’s status and condition do not need to be altered in order to be invited into divine love.” (Wendy Farley, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3)
My favorite part of this particular section of chapter 1 is this:
Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
That right there, is the hard work of the Jesus Movement. Who’s approval are we seeking? Who is invited in?
I know I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again...just in case you forgot. When I was in seminary, I went to an Episcopal Church Women’s conference in Los Angeles. There, the guest speaker was Jane Williams-- the wife of Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. And what she said in her remarks has stuck with me all these years. She said (and I’m roughly paraphrasing), that if you want the church to be made up of people who look like you, think like you, and believe like you, then you’ll be all alone. In other words, the Jesus Movement isn’t predicated on us all being alike. For Paul, it wasn’t predicated on being Jewish before being Christian. Being a follower of Jesus in the early church, as well as today in 2016 is based on love; a love that, “is not conditioned by anything but God’s own self-initiating love for humanity…[it is a gift] which reveals that every single human being is an object of divine love.” (Wendy Farley, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3)
So when I read Paul’s words, “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people?” I immediately recognized the challenge that Paul is presenting to us in the here and now. What role does St. Mark’s play in the community--are we here just taking care of ourselves, inviting like-minded individuals to join us--or are we meeting people where they are, in their varied life circumstances, inviting them into a loving relationship as members of the Jesus Movement? Are we being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves?
This is what these last two weeks have been about for me; wrestling with the question of how I am a servant of Christ. One of the questions we were asked this week was to create a six-word story of our ministry. Mine was “I can’t say no to God.” What’s your six-word story as a member of the Jesus Movement?
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be immersed in clergy stuff. This upcoming week I’ll be at the diocesan clergy gathering, meeting with Bp Pat and others from around our diocese, and we’ll talk about who we are, why our churches matter in our communities, and how we might live more fully into being disciples in the Jesus Movement. And then the week after that, I’ll be spending time with Episcopal clergy under 55 who meet every three years to share the joys and struggles of ministry, how we move beyond the walls of the building to bring church into the community, and how the Holy Spirit lives and moves among us. And while all of that sounds exciting and invigorating, the truth is that we are much like those disciples in the upper room; we are nervous, a little scared, and we continue to wrestle with discerning how to continue the work that God calls us to do. Part of the reason we meet is to be revived in the Spirit.
But this is not an exclusively clergy experience. We are all disciples in the Jesus Movement. Last month Linda shared about her experience of working with hospice. Next week Mark is going to share about his experience of working with Athletes for Cancer. I’m willing to bet many, if not all of us have this sense of wonder and trepidation when we seriously ask God, who are you calling me to be….
Last Sunday when Bp Pat was with us, it was such an honor to share with him how we are a people living in the midst of a Pentecost experience. In the last few years, we have moved into unknown places with our outreach programs, wondering if we would experience peace or kick the dust off our shoes. We have opened our hearts to the unhoused, we have supported people in times of crisis, we have fed the hungry and clothed the naked. Like those early disciples, we have experienced the death of teachers, mentors and friends, and wondered how to make sense of it all. And like those early disciples, we have stepped out from living in fear to a place of living in abundant love. Each of us has felt the presence of the Holy, and responded to the Good News in its various ways of speaking. We live not in isolation, but in community.
Now next Sunday, Marilyn will be preaching on the Trinity and I don’t want to steal her thunder, but when I think of Pentecost, the gifting of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ friends so they could be empowered to do their ministry, I can’t help but think of the Trinity as a whole.
God--our Father and Mother, Creator of all, in whose image we were created, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush--this same God calls each one of us into ministry. For some this might mean a calling to ordination, but for all of us it means being called into the further work of the Kingdom. It’s in this work--be it nursing, teaching, accounting, parenting, volunteering, really, wherever we find our heart’s passion--it is through this work that we claim our identity as children of God. And as children of God, we can hear with our minds and hearts how God wants us to carry on the Good News.
Jesus--our Redeemer, our friend, our teacher, our campion along the way--this Jesus calls us to be fishers of people. Jesus uses our identity as children of God, he uses our passions, and shapes them to bring about justice in the world. Jesus offers forgiveness for all, peace for our troubled souls, and balm for our broken hearts. And Jesus invites us to do the same--to forgive, to love, and to ease one another’s burdens.
And the Holy Spirit--our Sustainer, the wind that moved over creation, the breath of life, the burning passion that motivates, inspires, and enables us--the Holy Spirit is the gift that pushes us to continue to be prophetic witnesses in our community, to use our words for healing instead of harming, to act in ways that bring peace instead of strife, and to work for liberation and dignity of all. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. This Spirit lights a fire in each of us in a variety of ways.
The Spirit is dangerous, playful, and daring. It calls us to be truth-tellers and witnesses to the gospel. It calls us to a place that says “All are welcome” and no one is denied access. The Spirit calls us to tear down walls, to build bridges, and to extend a hand. It is this Spirit who is both an Advocate for peace, and a Comforter to the discouraged and brokenhearted. The Spirit, in her wildness, calls us to live and act and be a proclamation of the Gospel. Or as St. Francis would say, “Preach the gospel at all times. Only use words when necessary.”
The celebration of Pentecost reminds us that as a people, a community and a church, we are still a work in progress. Together we work to build the Kingdom of God. And we do this sacred work empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray:
We ask for the gift of your Holy Spirit to help us pray as we ought.
We ask for the energy and vision of your Spirit for those who are tiring in the battle against injustice and oppression: for those exhausted by the struggle with poverty and hunger.
We ask for the hope and comfort of your Spirit for those whose lives are overshadowed by illness or pain; for those whose lives are darkened by sorrow or bereavement.
We ask for the peace and joy of your Spirit for those living in the shadow of war and violence; for those eaten up by guilt and anxiety, and whose life has become hard and dry.
We ask for the guidance and strength of your Spirit for those uncertain how to use their time, talents and gifts; and for those tempted to do what is wrong.
We ask for the love and courage of your Spirit for those reaching out to comfort the distressed; for those reaching out to others with the Good News of Christ.
We ask for the assurance of your Spirit to know your presence with us in our daily lives: in our relationships; in our work and service; in our worship; in our times of joy and pain. Holy Spirit: Help Us. In Jesus’ name: AMEN
—posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday site; adapted for use.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.