Proper 9, Year B
Sunday, July 8, 2018
This week, hundreds of Episcopal clergy have stepped away from their pulpits, Episcopal lay people have absented themselves from the pews, and all of our Bishops have removed themselves from their Dioceses in order to gather in Austin, TX for the Episcopal Church’s 79th General Convention.
Since the very first General Convention in 1785, every three years our Bishops and elected Deputies gather to hear testimony, pray and debate on the business of the Church. Over 400 different resolutions relating to our worship, the Book of Common Prayer, our denominational structure, our mission and budget are considered during the 9-day Convention. The days are long and the agenda very full.
In addition to all of the business, there is plenty of time for worship – which actually shouldn’t (in my opinion) be separated out from worship, because it, too, is ministry. Last night was “revival night” (some said the “frozen chosen” are thawing out down there in the Texas heat!). There is an earnest desire to learn about and follow Jesus Christ. In the Convention’s opening Eucharist, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached a fiery sermon – just as he did for the Royal wedding back in May – and he asked every single Episcopalian, that’s you and me! – “to make a commitment to throw yourself into the hands of Jesus.” It’s an interesting image to consider. To throw yourself into the hands of Jesus. It’s like one of those games we used to play at camp – the Trust Fall! Living that way, says Bishop Curry, leads to “unconditional, unselfish, and sacrificial love” . . . a love that can change the world!
But – there’s always a ‘but,’ right? - as today’s Gospel lesson points out, sometimes that happens, and other times, not so much. I mean it’s not as if Jesus hadn’t been trying. According to our Gospel lessons the last few weeks, Jesus was approaching rock-star status . . . healing the hemorrhaging woman, bringing Jairus’ daughter back to life, stilling the storm at sea. But now, he’s gone home, to Nazareth . . . .
Initially, the people were impressed. ‘Look, at how he’s teaching in the synagogue, with such wisdom and authority!’ they said with admiration.
But then suspicion began to creep in. ‘But we knew him as a boy, and he was just a carpenter . . . he’s just Jesus.’
Things got worse for Jesus, because then they started calling him names. ‘He’s just the “Son of Mary,”’ they said, which was actually slam on his family’s social standing in town. Because, really, what kind of legitimate teacher or healer comes from such a low pedigree . . . one where the father was either absent or dead?! Scripture never tells us, exactly, what happened to Joseph, but in that day, if Joseph was actually dead, then Jesus, the eldest son, would have been expected to come home and take over Joseph’s responsibilities. So not only were the people in Nazareth questioning Jesus’ authority, they were also knocking his character.
So in spite of Jesus’ miracles . . . in spite of his exorcisms . . . in spite of his seeming control over mother nature . . . the hometown folks in Nazareth weren’t buying it.
Even Jesus himself was mystified by their unbelief.
This Gospel is an example – one that’s especially relatable even to us, in this 21st century – of how difficult it is to “throw ourselves into the hands of Jesus.” Because to do that, takes faith. It takes believing “in spite of not believing,” as Frederick Buechner says. But that is what faith is all about. Remember that father of the sick son, "Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) Though it wasn't much, Jesus considered it enough. And the man’s son was healed.
Agnes Sanford, an Episcopal laywoman, deeply spiritual and founder of the “Inner Healing Movement” in the 1940s, shared a powerful image of this doubt and distrust – this lack of faith - in Jesus’ authority and power. (In an indictment of parish clergy,) She said, “In church services all over Christendom, Jesus is standing there, with his hands tied behind his back, unable to do any mighty works at all - - because the ministers who lead the services either don’t expect him to do them, or don’t dare ask him to do them. They fear that Jesus either wouldn’t or couldn’t, and that their own faith and the faith of their congregations would be threatened as a result.”
What a humbling and frightening thought. But it IS something we need to think about. Mark kept this story – frankly it’s one which, if I were editor of the Gospel, I might have taken it out. Because no one comes across unscathed here. But this discouraging story about Jesus’ rejection – or in our day, Jesus standing here in our midst, with his hands tied behind his back - is partnered with the remarkable news that two by two, the disciples were actually were an extension of Jesus’ ministry. Not only were they an extension of his ministry, they shared Jesus’ authority and mission. So together, they cast our demons, had authority over the unclean spirits, and anointed and healed the sick.
So today, imagine with me, what it would be like to un-bind Jesus’ hands, have him stand in our midst, and then throw yourself into his hands? Imagine it, as we pray for the boys trapped in the Thai cave. Imagine it, as we pray for the children separated from their parents. Imagine it, as we pray the names from our prayer list.
Then, two by two, four by four, 50 by 50. We repent. We believe. And we move into the world, proclaiming the gift of the Good News in Christ. Carrying no bread. No bag. Only our faith. Recognizing God’s kingdom where it’s already present . . . and building God’s kingdom where that “unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial love” is needed.
This week, I invite you to really examine your faith. I invite you to, in your imagination, untie Jesus’ hands as he stands here in our midst. And know that as we fall into Jesus’ hands, we bear the Good and Healing News of God in Christ to the world. Amen.