Message from July 5, 2009

Message – July 5, 2009
Scripture: 2 Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10 and Mark 6: 1 - 13

    In my former life, I worked in the general insurance industry – as a broker and manager of a small office.  We had about 12 people working there and I was the one to whom everyone came when there were decisions to be made or problems to be worked out.  What I said carried the weight of some authority – since I had the nameplate on my desk that stated I was the MANAGER.  I recall one day returning home after an exhilarating day, feeling pretty pleased with myself.  I entered the kitchen in triumph and was confronted by a heated argument of some kind going on between my husband and children.  I don’t recall the subject matter – just the high drama and emotion.  I pulled out all my mediation skills – nothing worked.  The argument ended when we all got tired out and gathered finally around the table.  I looked at my family and realized just how little my power and authority at work translated into power and authority at home.  Here around the table I was “MOM”.  And being mom plus 50 cents wouldn’t buy you a cup of coffee anywhere.
    Since that time, I have talked to others about the distinct difference between the authority we carry at our workplaces and that which we can carry at home.  It’s not just me who has realized the difference.  Skilled ER nurses, a pharmacist, other clergy, university professors and scientists, auto mechanics, - each of us felt that we could be listened to with authority outside of our homes, but were simply “Dad or Mom” at home.
    Jesus of Nazareth encountered the same problem, it seems.  The first unit of our reading from Mark chapter 6 is about Jesus of  Nazareth in his hometown, in his home synagogue, where he is identified in a number of ways.  The citizens know him as a carpenter, as Mary’s son, as sibling to four brothers and several sisters.  They know him as a small village knows their children – they’ve seen him growing up.  They simply would not give him the kind of authority that they would give to someone they hadn’t seen in diapers or tagging along holding the skirt of a busy mother at the market.
    Yet they have heard about the wondrous things he had done, they knew he was developing a following outside of Nazareth.  Even so, the teaching that Jesus does falls on deaf ears. Proclamation of the good news by a hometown boy was greeted with suspicion – by those whom we would expect to be the most receptive.
    And so the stage is set for the second unit of this passage...the account of the mission of the Twelve...Mark names them in Chapter 3: “Simon whom Jesus gave the name Peter; James and his brother John (the sons of Zebedee); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Patriot, and Judas Iscariot.  They have walked away from Nazareth into the villages of the Galilee, and Jesus continues to teach and heal.  In the midst of all this, Jesus calls his disciples to him, he equips them for ministry of healing and teaching, and sends them out to do as he has done: preaching repentance, casting out demons, and healing the sick.
    He sends them out with only what they have learned from him – no money, no books, no props of any kind – just the teachings and the authority he gives them to accomplish their goal.  And when they are rejected (notice that Jesus anticipates that they will be rejected at some places), they are simply to move on.  They are instructed not to pronounce judgement on the inhospitable and unbelieving, but simply to follow the custom of shaking off that dust from the places where they are rejected...and go elsewhere. One thing jumps out at me from this story.... the disciples are told by Jesus that they are not to have judgement about people who do not believe or accept the things that they have to say to them.  Mark has written a story about Jesus’ work that had a special message to his own community and, I would say, to ours today.  The work of Jesus is to continue, and for that purpose the church is called and sent...Mark’s community was called and sent...Trinity/Berwick/Harbourville United Church is called and sent.  We are called to be able to know what it is that we believe, what it is that we trust to be so, what it is that we give our hearts to, what it is that we would give our lives for, and then we are sent out to teach and to heal.  The depth of our knowledge and the depth of our commitment will be strongly identified as our authority. We are to equip ourselves not with money or props or books, but with the teachings as we are able to understand them...and to tell those stories to others. 
    The first thing we need to be sure of is this: what do we trust to be so about God, about the Bible, about the Church, about the Christian life?  In a book called “The Evolution of the Idea of God, and Other Essays:...” Jim Dollar writes about “What makes us think that what we think is so?”  In his essay, he asks us to use the scriptural notion of questioning: ask, seek, knock...he says.  Questioning carries us to the heart of spirituality. We need to be intentional about questioning what we have been told about the Bible, about Jesus and his teachings, about the Church, and about God and God’s presence in our lives.   Jesus asks us to question...to ask, to seek, to knock...
    And this all takes a great deal of effort, commitment and determination...we need to decide if we are simply going to accept all that has been told to us by others...to decide for ourselves if we are going to let others do our knowing for us and side-step the work of spiritual growth.  Or, we can go on our own spiritual journey...walk our own walk...wrestle with the question of what we actually do think, and what makes us think that what we think is so.  Dollar warns us that questioning can go on eternally – through layers and layers of answers.  
    The layers of questions and their answers lead to more questions and answers, which lead eventually to the heart of spiritual truth, if we are willing to ask, all along the way, “What makes us think that what we think is so?” If we are willing to keep walking around what makes sense to us, looking over it, digging around in it, examining it, poking it, prodding it, holding it up to the light, and thinking about what we think after we have thought about it, we will become increasingly aware of inconsistencies, and incompatibilities.  We will find that, at the end, there are some things we need to discard to make room for other ways of thinking...throwing some things out to make room for insights, enlightenment, transformation, and growth.  We have to be able to hold conflicting views in tension...to befriend them...because therein lies the hope and the wisdom – the very source of blessing.  At some point, we will be able to say, “this is what I believe, because it makes sense to me...” knowing that not all of our questions will have answers – and that they don’t need to for the moment.
    To assist you in this journey of questioning, I have brought with me today a number of books that you are encouraged to sign out, take home, and wrestle with over the coming weeks of summer.  They all have something important to say – some I agree with, some I don’t, but I take them all seriously.  I trust that you may find them helpful to begin or to continue your journey of faith discovery.
    And I leave you with a poem written by Marjorie Dobson of the U.K., entitled “God of the Unexpected” (Seeing Christ in Others..page 74-75).