Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dropping everything

Psalm 62: 5-12; Mark 1: 14-20
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 25, 2015

Calling Disciples, He Qi (c) 2014 all rights reserved

            Never mind that water being turned into wine. Or a whole host of demons cast out into some nearby pigs. Or five thousand people fed with five loaves of bread and two fish. Or any of those other miracle stories. This miracle story in the gospel of Mark is my favorite. What miracle, you ask? As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, the one where Jesus “created faith where there was no faith, created disciples where there were none just a moment before”. No thinking about it, no what ifs, no goodbyes. Immediately they left their nets, their families, everything that was familiar, and walked off with Jesus. 

            A couple of weeks ago in confirmation class we talked about if we had ever met someone so compelling that we would drop everything and follow after them. It’s hard for any of us to imagine that someone could have such power, that it would seem like we were so weak. And yet we don’t think of the disciples as being weak-minded, as though they had just signed over their lives to a cult. Their actions sound foreign to us. We ask, “Is that what God wants from me? I’ve got responsibilities, family, work, friends.” Church begins to feel like one more thing on a very long to-do list.


           Authors Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin, in their recent conversation with Krista Tippett, remarked how many of us feel as though we’re supposed to save the world but to do so efficiently. Parker commented that “[our] society is obsessed with effectiveness, outcomes, results, and that the tighter we cling to these, the smaller the tasks we take on. However, faithfulness trumps effectiveness.”

           Jesus wasn’t after effective disciples. These were fishermen who knew nothing but nets, and not a clue about building a church. Heck, much of the time Jesus sounded as if his teaching was knocking itself against a brick wall. What Jesus was after and still is, is faithfulness; in essence, showing up, putting ourselves and our will in God’s hands. 

            So very often we are powerless over our circumstances, our mood, our emotions, our thoughts, our attitude. We are in the grip of something so compelling that it seems there is no other way we could be. Which is why Jesus came preaching that the time for repentance is now, the time to change one’s thinking is now, not by our own merit or power, but by dropping our assumptions, pre-conceived notions, our fears and judgments and allowing God to come into that empty space. Instead of fishing for answers, we’re invited into making community that has the power to change our lives and the lives of those around us.

            The psalmist reminds us that God alone is our rock, our refuge, fortress, that which saves us and keeps us from being shaken. We live our lives and we are the church as though it all rests on our shoulders, as though the future hinges solely on what we do or don’t do. Then what role does God play in this? Does God exist merely to keep us company on the journey? Do we not believe that not only is God still speaking but God is still creating?

             I don’t think that what we’re evolving toward is the human race saving itself, by itself. It seems pretty obvious that we need help. And even if that help comes off like a trick of the mind and the heart into believing that the power of love can change human lives, what difference does it really make? Here we have process and results, both of which matter. Love which leads to a human life lived differently. That kind of love we need help with. The kind of love that is patient and kind; love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love that does not insist on its own way; love that is not irritable or resentful; that does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It is a Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. A practice of love where we not only give it away, which can lead to burnout, but a practice where we also find it for ourselves and allow that love to sustain us. Which is why we need Jesus, the person in whom Christians witness the fullness of the power of love.

             Jesus shows us how to show up and to do so fully, with all our gifts and all our brokenness, our beauty and our flaws. It’s not up to us to figure out if we’re all on board with this; only if we’re doing it ourselves and let God take care of the rest. It’s really not even up to us to save the church. We’re called to be faithful. If the Church goes out of business being faithful, then indeed it will be the Church triumphant. Let us not forget that we follow a man who was by all worldly accounts a glorious failure being faithful to the call that God had given him. Our tradition tells us that Jesus did not raise himself but was raised from death by God. It is God who does the heavy lifting.

           Ultimately, Courtney Martin writes that “[our] charge is not to save the world after all. It is to live in it, flawed and fierce, loving and humble.” Perhaps that is how the world will be saved, not by making the world’s salvation our aim, but by allowing our saving to be Love’s aim, by allowing Love to work a miracle through us and in us.

          The time is fulfilled, and God’s beloved community is as near to us as this moment; let us think differently and actually believe the good news, that love has the power to change our lives and our life together. Amen.

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