a sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)
Jesus found that the ones who knew him best trusted him the least. But that didn’t stop him from sending out his disciples two by two, traveling light, with authority to heal the world.
Wow! What an amazing few weeks.
For me, it began on that Friday evening, when so many of us gathered in fellowship and prayer to begin a process of discernment for our parish. What do we hold as our most cherished values? I heard you talk of openness. I heard you talk of welcome. I heard you talk of mission and outreach and of wanting – somehow – to become more engaged with our community.
Then we moved into Vacation Bible School and a week of opening our doors and our hearts to so many young children. So many of you gave your time, your talent, and your treasure to help these children learn about God’s Kingdom and have a little fun.
Then, in the midst of this summer high came the terrible storm, the murder of the Emanuel Nine. Every single one of us were shocked. How could God let this happen, in a church, during bible study? How could one who was welcomed into the church with open arms do something so evil? And how would the community and the families of the victims respond? The answer to this last question came within 24 hours – they responded with grace, they responded with forgiveness, they responded with love. The community responded not in fear, but in the love they learned from Jesus. Jesus calmed the storm in Charleston.
Meanwhile, the rest of the state began to reflect on what it means to be a South Carolinian. And while there are still differences in how we might interpret the symbols of our state, a new consensus seemed to be formed, a consensus that however we might personally view these symbols, they need to serve the common good if they are to be endorsed by the state. And so our Governor began to build up support to remove what was, for many, one of the most inflammatory symbols of our state. This was just as amazing as the forgiveness shown by the victims’ families. This, too, was a response of love, not fear. This, too, was Jesus calming the storm.
Next we heard from our national leaders – a sermon by our “Reverend President,” and a ruling by our Supreme Court. Once again, not everyone supports the President, but we have to agree that his words were more healing balm And not everyone agrees with the Supreme Court decision on Same-Sex Marriage, but we have to agree that their decision extended a basic civil right to all. Once again, love overcomes fear.
Finally, in our own Episcopal Church, things have been changing rapidly as well. Last week, our General Convention approved changes to the canons concerning marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court decision: same sex marriages can be performed in the Church with the consent of the bishop. As Bishop Waldo has said in his pastoral letter to the diocese, this means that congregations who, like St. Simon & St. Jude, have applied for permission to do so, will be permitted to perform such legally binding marriages.
At the same time, we have elected a new Presiding Bishop – Michael Curry, the first African American to hold that office. And he preaches that regardless of our political views, Republican or Democrat, and regardless of our cultural background, or our gender or orientation – regardless of any of that, we are all members of the Jesus Movement by virtue of our baptisms. That it’s perfectly fine for us to disagree with one another as long as we agree on that Jesus is Lord, and get behind his mission to bring about the kingdom of God in the world.
By any measure, this is a lot of change and there are a good many people on either side of each of these issues who feel strongly about their views and beliefs. But I am convinced that in the end, Presiding Bishop-elect Curry is right. There is far more that binds us together than separates us.
Which brings us to Jesus and the sending of the disciples. After a long string of miraculous healing miracles – calming the storm, casting demons out into the sea, healing a woman who had been sick for 12 years and then raising a little girl from the dead – Jesus came home to Nazareth. And he found that despite all the amazing things he accomplished, those who knew him best trusted him the least. Without that trust, without that faith, he really couldn’t do very much to help them. His offers of ministry were rejected by the people.
But the interesting thing is that Jesus didn’t stop there. For even though his own village rejected him, he still had a lot of work to do. And so he commissioned his disciples to get up and go. He sent them out two by two, to do the same work he had been doing.
Now, Jesus didn’t organize them according to political party affiliation – Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians. Nor did he pair them up according to race or color or gender or education. He didn’t ask if they were homeowners or homeless, didn’t ask if they were white collar or blue collar or no collar at all. Jesus didn’t care about any of that
He just sent them in pairs, so that they could encourage each other and support each other. And he sent them with very little in the way of equipment, not even a change of clothes. That way, his disciples were completely dependent on one another and on the hospitality of those around them.
Jesus sent them out.
You see, we were baptized not into independence, but into mutual dependence – dependence on our Savior and dependence on each other. As Christians we are interdependent – one for all and all for one. Jesus sends us out to proclaim the Gospel by word and by action to everyone that we meet. We don’t need a lot of stuff to do this. We don’t need big budgets, or programs or committees. We simply need to support one another and go out tell people that by our baptisms, we are a part of the Jesus Movement, a ministry that extends the teaching of the Apostles and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers to friend and stranger alike.
Sometimes, we’ll be rejected, like Jesus was, like the Emanuel Nine were. That rejection can be devastating or worse. But sometimes, we just might be surprised at the response we get.
That’s what happened the other night when we worshiped with St. Paul AME. The fact of the matter is that we had never reached out to them before, and there was certainly more than enough reason for them to be cautious. Taking a step out for God is aways risky. And yet, two disciples decided to take a risk, Annette Bethel and Chris Carney. They supported each other and decided it was time to do something and Christ was with them.
The Holy Spirit was with us and with the good people of St. Paul and those of East Lake Community Church and the Universal Outreach Church; and the Holy Spirit was in the room on Wednesday night when the choir sat down, at first by themselves, and then gradually surrounded by the choir of St. Paul; and when the members of all of our churches filled the sanctuary. First, we found and they found that we all knew the same words to the same songs. Then, we found and they found that we all worshiped the same God and knew the same Jesus. Finally, we found and they found that we all are part of the same body of Christ – the same Jesus Movement.
The joy of the Spirit was palpable that night, as so many of you commented, “We need to do this again.” And so did they. And so we shall. But perhaps even more important is that find ways to go out into the mission field together, in pairs, supporting each other.
Two weeks ago, I told you that I didn’t know what action we needed to take in the wake of the murders in Charleston, but surely this church could think of something. All we needed to do is get into the boat, and with the leadership of Annette and Chris, we did. The worship service at St. Paul AME was a small step, and a huge leap at the same time.
As Christians, our interdependence is far more important than our independence. We are dependent on God. We are dependent on Jesus Christ. And we are dependent on one another. We might not all agree with all of the changes going on around us – the State and the Confederate flag, the Supreme Court and its rulings, the Church and its changes to the marriage canons. But Jesus didn’t worry too much about that. All that Jesus cared about is that his disciples go out together in ministry: to travel light, move quickly, and to support one another as part of the new movement proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Jesus called them and sent them out, two by two, and gave them authority to heal the world.
Thanks be to God.