Proper 9 – 7/4/2021 – St. Paul’s
It’s the Fourth of July, the day when we celebrate our national independence, the founding of our republic. We celebrate the day when a group of very talented people—the so-called founding fathers—gathered together and took the risk of founding a new republic. The national day of independence is, for most people, a day to get off work and to enjoy the delights of summer. Sometimes, amid the fireworks, the vacation trips to the beach or mountains, the Fourth of July is a time to step back and take stock of our nation. If we do that, then we often give thanks for the blessings of this democracy. Sometimes, if we are in a reflective mood, we might give a critical assessment to our nation: How can we be better as a people? What might our nation do to be a true democracy with blessings for all?
Here in church, with this morning’s gospel set before us, I propose that we reflect upon the founding of the Christian church. Because that is what I hear celebrated in this Sunday’s gospel from Mark 6. Let me put this in context:
Jesus, as we have heard, appears to have been rejected by members of his own family. Though he and his teaching have attracted crowds, they turned against him. And maybe that is part of the reason why Jesus turns toward a small group of ordinary people and commissions them to be his disciples, sending them forth to do the work that he has been doing: He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts…. So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people….
Jesus burst forth on the scene preaching that God’s realm is coming near. He has been teaching about that coming kingdom. He performed signs and wonders to indicate that the time for a change of administrations has come. He is going head-to-head with the powers-that-be: religious, governmental, and demonic.
Now Jesus turns to these twelve ordinary people and calls them and sends them out into the world to do the very same things he has been doing. He is sending them out to proclaim and to call people to transformed living. He’s sending them to go head-to-head with the demonic and to perform acts of healing.
This is a rather remarkable moment in the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel begins with an introduction of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. With an opening acclamation like that, we expected some amazing signs and wonders. But did we expect that the same Messiah, the Son of God, would then turn around and delegate his messianic, saving, world-transforming work to this group of ordinary people?
And by the way, as we have seen in Mark’s Gospel, these disciples are very, very ordinary. They misunderstand Jesus from the very first. They never seem to get the point of his teaching. When Jesus performs some miraculous act, they seem as befuddled and baffled as the crowds who clamor after him.
Maybe you are thinking that Jesus has waited until the sixth chapter of the gospel to call these disciples—vetting them, observing their behavior, discovering their talents until he was at last ready to call them.
Forget it. These disciples moved from dumb to dumber. They remain clueless, stumbling along after Jesus, all the way to the end of the gospel. Mark seems to go out of his way to demonstrate that the reason they were chosen to be disciples is not their gifts, their talent.
And I am saying that we are to watch closely because what we are seeing here, in Jesus calling to himself and sending out from himself these Twelve, we are seeing the birth of the church. Our founding as God’s people. This scene ought to be the equivalent of the church’s Constitutional Convention.
This story is the rationale for why we are gathered here this Sunday. In fact, even though you may not have been consciously aware of it, this story of Jesus calling and sending of the disciples explains why you are here this morning. Those first disciples are the precursors for all of us.
I’m sorry if you thought that God works solo. Maybe you thought that because God is omnipotent and omniscient, God does anything God wants all by God’s self. This God who comes to us as Jesus Christ calls ordinary people to work with him. Jesus, the great delegator. The Savior who chooses not to save the world by himself.
In his revealingly titled Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer charges that the church’s view of vocation is an act of violence toward ourselves, in which a vision is forced on the self from without rather than grown from within. Palmer’s conventionally American voice arises exclusively from within: I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about. Palmer says that vocation comes not from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be someone I am not; it comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be. . . .Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am (Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Your Vocation [San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000]).
Without a Christ who summons, Palmer’s sweet little voice within is the best we can muster. But who, intently listening to their own subjectivity, risks anything as costly and crazy as God routinely demands? Who tells themselves to forgive their enemies or to pray for those who persecute them?
Mary, how did you decide, by listening to your life, to become pregnant out of wedlock, have a sword pierce your soul, and bear the crucified Son of God into the world?
See what I mean?
Vocation is not an inclination within, awaiting discovery by rooting around in the recesses of the ego, or a means of getting what I want out of life. As Jesus succinctly says, You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit (John 15:16 CEB).
Jesus begins his work not by a solo dive into ministry but by putting the finger on a dozen knuckleheads and commissioning them to do what he wants done in the world, calling for them in order that you could go and produce fruit.Jesus sends these ordinary people out to do the very same things that he does. I wonder if Matthew or Mark thought of themselves as preachers. I wonder if they had any training or gifts for proclaiming the gospel. Jesus doesn’t seem to worry about that. Here he calls, commissions, and ordains them to proclaim the good news.
Had any of the disciples any previous medical training? I doubt it. And yet, they are sent out to do miraculoushealing work.
What a way to inaugurate and carry through God’s new kingdom! And yet, it is Jesus’s way of doing things. I’m not going to go into great detail to illustrate how you—yes wonderfully ordinary you—are the best illustration for the truth of this biblical passage.
I’m not going to go into great detail because I think if you are committed enough to show up here on July 4, worshipping Jesus, submitting to a sermon, I ought to give you a bit of a break!
I will say that you are here because Jesus put you here. You may have reservations about Christianity. There may be things you don’t understand and beliefs that you are unsure if you can affirm. Maybe you have problems with the way the church is organized or led. But you are here not because of what you believe, feel, or think about the church and its ministry. You are here because Jesus put you here. Some way or another, he found a way to call you. Just like he called those first disciples.
Perhaps you have reservations about your own gifts and abilities to do the work of proclamation, healing, and demon exorcism that Jesus assigns to you. Don’t worry too much about that. Your authorization rests not in your own abilities and talents. You are doing this work because Jesus has sent you. He has assigned you. You are a disciple, not first because of your faith in him, but because of his faith in what his love can do working through you.
Happy Founding of the Church Day. Let’s go out and celebrate!
Let us pray:
we have gathered here this day in order that we might better understand you and your will for our world. On this day, when we remember our nation’s founding and its freedom, help us to listen for your word as the scriptures are read and proclaimed; help us to meet you in the communion in bread and wine.
Above all, convince us,
that the greatest deed of patriotic love that we can render our country
is to be your faithful disciples.
We give thanks for the freedom that we enjoy gathering to worship you. Preserve us from using our religious freedom
as an occasion to be lax in our practice of discipleship.
Forgive us when we get confused in our loves and loyalties
and substituting anything (including our citizenship) for discipleship.
That you commission and send people like us is a daunting prospect,
— and a joyful thing as well.
We give you joyful thanks that you chose people like us,
even in our limits and our inadequacies,
to be your emissaries, your spokespersons,
your assistants in your wondrous work.
Give us the grace to witness to you well in our time and place.