Follow Jesus Together, Into the Neighborhood, Travel Lightly
This sermon was preached on July 5, 2015 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, Maryland.
Follow Jesus together, into the neighborhood, travel lightly. These are the words that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori used to finish her sermon at the opening Eucharist of the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I was fortunate to be there, serving our diocese as an alternate deputy, gathered with thousands of Episcopalians from all over the world, to do the governing business of the church. A few weeks ago in one of my sermons I talked about an ongoing conversation that folks in the church have been having, about how we are called to reimagine the church, remember? And how there was even a Task Force created-- The Task Force for Reimagining the Church-- which asked hundreds of Episcopalians what they thought the mission of our church was. This Task Force took everything they heard and boiled it down to three things: Follow Jesus together, into the neighborhood and travel lightly. Those three things are at the heart of what it means to be church. Those three practices are what we are supposed to do as we join in God’s mission in the world. I think these three things are pretty spot on. And they are easy to remember! Follow Jesus together, into the neighborhood and travel lightly. So in preparation for convention I worked with a few people including Stephanie Spellers, whose book Radical Welcome we are going to read together this summer, and James Garry Hamilton, who is a priest here in Baltimore and rector of the new church start Church on the Square, in Canton-- we and a few others worked together to come up with some ways to help people focus on these three practice while we were at convention (and hopefully beyond!) We knew there were going to be some pretty big resolutions on the table, including ones concerning liturgical rites of marriage for all people, the proposed allocation of resources and funding for mission and new church developments, and even possible changes to our structure and the way we govern ourselves as a church. We thought it would be a really good idea to remind people on the front end, why we were here and what we were about. Not that they didn’t already know! But once we get into the nitty-gritty of debate, and people start taking sides, it is even more important to remember the heart of what our work together is all about. So that is what we did. We made buttons and cards and brochures, we made a Facebook page and videos, all with the hope of helping us stay focused on these three practices. We posed some questions to help people think about whether what they were doing-- be it working over legislation in committees or voting on resolutions, or just walking around Salt Lake City-- was in line with our mission as Christians. I wont get into all of the questions now. I have some extra cards and flyers if you are interested in reading the other questions at some point. (Or you can check them out here.) But the question that was at forefront in my mind last week and is still at the front, given today’s gospel, is this: “Are we taking a risk for the gospel?” As we follow Jesus together, into the neighborhood and travel lightly, are we taking a risks for the gospel? Jesus sends his disciples out two by two into the surrounding villages. He tells them to take nothing for their journey except a staff-- presumably to help them walk and to ward off wild animals. He tells them to take no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He sends them out without things that they are going to need—on purpose! They will have to rely on the hospitality of others in order to survive. I have always found this the most interesting and the most unnerving part of the story. Jesus has just experienced an overwhelming lack of hospitality in his hometown. He comes home and he is trying to do his thing-- to share his good news-- and his old friends, the people who “knew him when,” are having none of it. They only see him as a carpenter. The son of Mary. They reduce him to a single attribute-- where he comes from or his station in life. And because of their assumptions about him, based on the little that they know of him, they could not receive the gifts that he had to offer. He could not be who he really was with them-- because they would not receive him for who he was. But then, he sends out his disciples, telling the to expect the same hospitality that he has just been denied! Why in the world would Jesus do this? How in the world are we, as followers of Jesus, supposed to go out into the world expecting to rely on the unreliable for our most basic needs? We know we are supposed to travel lightly, but heading out knowing that we are not prepared, knowing that we don’t have all that we need— well that just seems foolish. Foolish by the world’s standards. But we are not dealing with the world’s standards. We are dealing with Jesus’ standards. The community that Jesus is forming, that he gives his disciples power and authority to help him form, will be built in interdependence, not independence; on mutuality, not exclusion; on vulnerability, not security. The community Jesus was creating would be all about the giving and receiving of hospitality. It is often easier to focus on providing hospitality than receiving hospitality. But in the community Jesus is forming both are required. In the community that Jesus is creating, all of ourselves are welcomed. We must be willing to receive others and welcome them for who they are. And we must be willing to be received, welcomed for who we are. For others to truly see us and know us and care for us. This is risky business! Only in this both and way of being will there be healing. As we think about how we are being called to follow Jesus together, into the neighborhood and travel lightly, how might all the things that we have get in the way of our receiving what we need? How might all our careful planning actually get in the way or being open to what God has waiting for us in the hospitality of our neighbors? On the last day of convention, Presiding Bishop Elect Michael Curry gave the sermon. He said that if we only remember one word from his sermon to remember this word: “Go!” “Jesus came to show us the way,” he said, “to change the landscape of reality, from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends and we, my friends, are part of the Jesus movement.” Go!” We are part of the Jesus movement! We are a Jesus community. And as Bishop Katharine said, “We won’t reach our journey’s end unless we go together in company, in solidarity and partnership, trusting that God has provided what is needed – if we share the work and the gifts.” God sends us out together, because we need each other. God sends us out into the neighborhood, because we need the people who are there. God has us travel lightly, because we need the gifts that we all bring to do this kingdom work. Follow Jesus together, into the neighborhood, travel lightly. Amen.