Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hometown Prophets

Proper 9B July 7-8,2012 Mark 6:1-13
Jesus has just preached in his home town.  And those who have heard him have been scandalized by him.  “Who is this upstart carpenter—this kid from just down the street that he should preach to us?” they say.  “We know his family.  We know he is just a carpenter. Where did he get this wisdom?”  And the most poignant phrase in the passage is:   And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

What is it about human nature to reject that which is near to them as being déclassé?  Is it because it is familiar and ‘familiarity breeds contempt?” –Or is it that we think so little of ourselves, that we cannot find joy in one of our own doing well?  In Mark’s Gospel we do not hear what he spoke to the people of his home town as we do in Luke’s Gospel.  But we get the idea that Jesus called the people to repent—the same as he was doing in the countryside.  And perhaps Jesus got a little too close to home—to coin a phrase.  He was preaching a message of service to the poor; he preached against the acquisitiveness that had broken down Jewish concerns for widows and orphans and he was teaching that the yoke of the Law had destroyed the sense of community and respect for each other as it was intended.  In short, Jesus’ prophecy was pinching his neighbors.

Prophecy in the Hebrew sense was not a matter of telling the future.  It isn’t a matter of being psychic.  Prophecy was uttered by those who had been called by God to speak God’s word about the world.  For the great prophets of Israel, prophecy was a warning that society had gotten off track –off the path toward holiness and righteousness—the way of God.  It was a call to return to the ways of loving-kindness, humility and sharing.  The job of a prophet was to remind the people of Israel that fidelity to God was more important than consorting with that which abolished trust, care for others and honesty.

The kind of dishonesty that kept the Roman Empire in place during Jesus’ day was undermining the fabric of society.  And Jesus taught that freedom came in truth.  Reform came in repentance and a way of living that proclaimed both God and Light.  Repentance, reformation and recommitment led to throwing off the slavery of imperialism.  And while whoever heard Jesus were moved by him, not all welcomed this brave new way of relating to God.  They were comfortable in their religion, in their acquisitive world, and feared change.

Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable even today.  “Blessed be the poor, Blessed be the peace-makers, Blessed are those who morn, the merciful, those who hunger for righteousness.”  These still make us uncomfortable because we know that though we may strive for them, we never really become all that Jesus calls us to.  Prophecy is always a call to be more than we are.

While I speak, in Indianapolis, our Church is meeting in our triennial General Convention.  The General Convention is the way we govern ourselves in the Episcopal Church—we decide how we are to worship, how we are going to spend our resources, how we are going to meet the various social crises of our day—in short how we are going to live out the Gospel as Church.  Of course, in this economy, the biggest test is how we are going to be Church with diminished funds.  Our convention is designed on the Congress of the US and consequently I expect that some legislation will be blocked by the same political machinations that our Congress is being blocked by those who love to control.  It is the nature of democracy to NOT be nirvana.  Democracy is always tempered with compromise—even in the Church.

Our Church is undergoing a tremendous change:  Those areas which have always led—like the Northeast are losing members at an extreme rate—as much by population shift as from disenchantment.  Arcane organizational powers resist change in the face of a new era.  Fear of loss causes those to dig heels deep into intransigency. 

 We here in Ft. Worth have seen how destructive that is and what it can do to tear the fabric of society in ways that the whole Church does not.  We have deep wounds in the fabric of Church here and yet we have survived in a very vital way.  We are being resurrected not by programs, outpourings of cash or reorganization.  We are being revitalized in faith and organization by the resiliency of love, of care and welcome in the name of Christ. Somehow we have heard the call of Jesus to repent and to have faith and to follow.  We have taken the message that we don’t have to have great wealth in order to be Episcopalians—all we need is truth, fidelity and love.  It is a message that our larger Church needs to hear.

We have found here in Ft. Worth that we don’t need to have grand buildings to proclaim the Gospel. We have found that we don’t need to have packaged programs to live the Gospel.  We have found that sharing our faith with one another spreads the story, welcomes others, and embraces those who are seeking to know the Holy in their lives.  And this is precisely the message that those in other dioceses, heavy with too much property and not enough people need to hear. 

 People of the Rust Belt need to know that inventive ways of being Church are available to them if they are but willing to respond to the Spirit moving among them.  People of the West and Northwest need to know that Eastern modes of being Church are not necessarily what it means to be Church there.  The people of the Southeast need to know that Anglicanism does not demand the evangelical certainty as does the popular religion of their surroundings—and they do not have to drink that Kool-Aid in order to be faithful to the message of Jesus Christ.  And those dioceses that have drunk deeply from the well of Anglo-Catholicism do not have to ape Rome to know themselves as catholic.  These are things that we are learning here in the Diocese of Fort Worth simply because we have experienced the pain of schism.

We here have a faith we can proclaim to the Church at large.  And we must become the voice of prophecy to the larger Church.  We must be willing to share what we have learned from God in all of this and we must be willing to not return to the ‘same ole-same ole’ of being Church 'if and when we get the property back.'  

 Church is changing.  It has already changed!  We cannot be the top-heavy organization of the past.  We cannot expect national offices to direct the Church.  We must be willing to say:  “Look, our lay-led parish is flourishing!”  We need to be willing to proclaim: “It isn’t our lovely buildings that draw people to holiness—it is community!  It is belonging!”  We need to be able to herald that the love for God is alive and well not because we are better or holier—but simply poorer. Paul said it in our Epistle today:  "So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

We are prophets in our own community and we need to proclaim that message.  We may not even be heard here in Ft. Worth, but hopefully the whole Church will.  It may transform us in ways we have no idea.  But our faith in the One who loves will allow it to be heard.  AMEN

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