Listening and Speaking

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I have a confession to make to you. When I was a child, I once hit my sister in the leg with the vacuum cleaner cord. Really hard. Hard enough to leave a red stripe. (She totally deserved it), but I do feel sorry for it.

The most vivid part of the memory is working to convince my sister not to tattle to Mother when she returned home. I cried more than my sister did, trying to convince her to keep quiet and not tell. I bargained with her, tried to bribe her by offering to do her chores. I think I even offered money.

It didn’t work. As soon as Mother came home…the truth was out. I got in trouble that day (even though my sister totally deserved to have her leg striped by that cord).

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown.”

I love this line from Jesus. It makes me feel all nice and warm during those times when I try to say something to someone, and they flat out refuse it, or ignore me. When they don’t listen to me, I can remind myself, “Well, I’m just like Jesus that way… Jesus had this problem too. ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown.’”

And, maybe one reason that prophets have no honor in ‘their hometowns’ is because no siblings like the one who tattles.. But, were it not for the tattler, sometimes the truth would not be spoken. And, the truth needs to be spoken, because only then can healing take place. And healing is what we need now…a space for truth and healing and wholeness.

Jesus knew that the disciples were going to face resistance. They didn’t know it. I don’t think they would have followed along so easily if they knew what lay in their futures. I look at the stained glass windows in our chapel, noticing the images for many that show how they were killed: saws, axes, swords…. Jesus knew that discipleship is costly.

So, he worked to prepare them. He wanted them to see a glimpse of the struggle that comes from embarking, as our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, on this “Jesus movement.” This “Jesus movement” that seeks, above all, to embody God’s love in this world and invite others to participate and take their place in the Body of Christ.

Friends, we have now fully stepped out of the days of nominal or cultural Christianity, where folks went to Church because, well, that’s what our family does. Where it was just a societal norm, filled with catchphrases and slogans…and assumptions…even though there is a spectrum of beliefs within Christianity itself. We all get the same polls and news stories, with the apparent decline in church attendance. But what’s interesting is that, for one, the Episcopal Church is roughly the exact size it was in the 1920s.  It’s very important to be aware of the whole picture. Yes, maybe we can say that the days of this cultural Christianity have ended….this time when we see no longer see a ton of folks who are nominally Christian…

What we’re left with, Bishop Curry would argue, and I would agree, is this rich space to fully practice our faith. To live it. Embody it. Be intentional. Be mindful. Be the Body of Christ in the world. We’re not going to be able to count on the wider culture to carry the momentum while we continue to drift through half-heartedly. We are in a space where we’re being asked, honestly, sincerely, “What does it mean to practice Christianity today?” No more easy answers. No more claims of the monopoly of truth based on some frozen, concretized, taken-out-of-context Bible verses that resist us moving into spaces of greater compassion.

It’s like a wonderful description I heard: “Going to church doesn’t make you any more a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”

Our faith is something that we embody.

Our practice is going to be counter-cultural.

Our practice calls for deep theological reflection, as we Anglicans would describe, as engaging with Scripture, mindful of our Tradition, and discerning our reasoned experience. We need a new level of proficiency.

In a world of violence, poverty, alienation, and just plain mean-spiritedness, “They will know we are Christians by….our love.”

Yes, Jesus knew that this life he was inviting the disciples into was going to be costly. He knew, deep down, just how much a message of God’s love was going to demand.

“Sell all you have and give it to the poor,” he tells the rich Lazarus. Care for the orphan, the widow, the hungry, the alien in your midst. The Bible explictly lays these demands out for us…

Faith is not going to be easy.

And that’s why Jesus didn’t send the disciples out alone. He sent them in pairs: after, of course, they had taken personality tests to determine which of them fit together best and wouldn’t fuss and fight the entire way down the road.

“He sent them out two by two.” After giving them time to pack a trunk on a camel and make arrangements and check their calendars to make sure they had no conflicts. Not exactly: “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff (to ward off snakes I’m sure); no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals (Birkenstocks or Tivas or something comfortable I’m sure) and not to put on two tunics.” I don’t go anywhere without two tunics, so I wouldn’t have been able to go.

He sent them two by two. This is so absolutely crucial, I think, because community is mandated from the very beginning of this Jesus movement.

Even with each of the pairs of disciples who were sent out, they brought with them different perspectives, different histories, preferences, biases, assumptions…bad habits. They had to live together as they journeyed together.

And one thing that has always struck me when I study these early texts is this: nowhere did Jesus send the disciples out to convince anyone of anything. Think about it. Jesus didn’t send them out to convince anyone, to hold anyone up to some doctrinal standard. He sent them out to love, to care for those who were suffering, to cast out the demons of that day. He sent them out to embody grace in the world. He sent them out to, in essence, be his Body in the world.

Friends, we have inherited this call…all of us, the entire “holy, catholic, and apostolic church” that we affirm each time we share Holy Communion.

We are called into community, to share a life, to keep our hearts open to the different points of view around us, to always, always, do justice and love mercy, to respect the dignity of every human being—to never let our own fear-based or ego-driven assumptions impose limits on God’s pervasive love.

Some have said that we’re called “to speak the truth in love.” Some have told me this in the past three weeks. And, this is true, but I think maybe we’re first called first to be silent… and listen to someone else’s story, as Fr. Alan reminded us in his first sermon at Grace, to receive the grace that someone else has been given.

Put another way, as our Ema Cynthia reminded us with the image of King David, we are called to be people “of God’s own heart.”

So, let us step forward, together…side by side…

Just like the disciples, pre-formed in community, listening for the Spirit, as it calls us into ever-expanding spaces of grace. Let us be truth-tellers…always daring to speak the truth about God’s love for each one of us..and for all.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below
Praise God above ye heavenly host
Praise, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Fr. Stuart Higginbotham
Proper 9, Year B
Mark 6:1-13

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