Proper 9B 2012: God is at work

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10     Psalm 48     2 Corinthians 12:2-10     Mark 6:1-13

Our church is meeting on a grand scale this week.  We are in the middle of the Episcopal Church’s triennial meeting called “the General Convention,” and this is the 77th one.  Several thousand Episcopalians are gathered in one place, praying together and addressing the business side of our life together.  Reports from General Convention are that the worship is really incredible; the business part, mostly difficult.  Still, expressions of family, faith, and hope are also coming through.  Our own Bishop Gray has written some information about General Convention on the Diocesan web page; I hope that you will take the time to read what our bishop has to say.

Beyond the business part of General Convention, know that these conventions are part of being the church.  Church, including our governance, is not something that we do on Sundays and put aside the rest of the week.  We are the church, whether we are gathered together as friends, or here in formal worship, or on the grand scale of a once-every-three-years convention.  And in spite of what some enthusiastic bloggers-talking heads-people say, God is at work.

The Episcopal Church is considering a number of sites for General Convention #78, which means that we plan on being around in three years.  That’s good news in the midst of crises about church enrollment and attendance.  With God’s help, we will meet again.

We have approved the consecration of eight new bishops – eight – in our national life together.  These bishops will serve in Rhode Island, Atlanta, Virginia, Texas, and in other states.  We are raising and bringing forth spiritual leaders.

Our own Bishop Gray submitted a resolution, heard by the Evangelism committee, to celebrate Sudanese communities within the Episcopal Church.  This resolution came out of the realization that “Sudanese refugees in many parts of the country have not felt fully welcomed by the Episcopal Church and as a result are leaving the Church for other denominations (B007).”  We are asking one another to step forward and be the church and to build up the whole body of Christ, not just to those with whom we are familiar, but with a faith and a welcome that says “come in” to all of our neighbors.  So while the origin of the resolution comes out of a problem, I see its submission and approval as a sign of hope and a commitment to be the church in a very real way.  Sometimes we have to learn a new language, whether it is the language of another country or the language of poverty or of something else that we just don’t know about.  God shows us how to be the church.

Jesus set out some very specific guidelines for how to be the church, for how to be Jesus’ hands and feet beyond his hometown.  This (dare I say it?  Of course!) evangelization came out of yet another rejection of Jesus.  It is “yet another” rejection: Jesus was healing and preaching, amazing people in the region of Galilee … and making others very nervous.  The Pharisees held counsel with the Herodians about how to destroy him (Mark 3:6).  He spoke in parables, calmed the sea, healed a man with a legion of unclean spirits.  Jesus did not make the herdsmen happy when two thousand of their pigs ran into the sea.  When Jesus went back to his own country, Nazareth, his own neighbors questioned him; there is indication in their amazement that they thought that there was something mysterious, maybe not quite right, about what Jesus was teaching.  Where did he get all this?  “They took offense at him.”  (Mark 6.2)  Jesus either could not or would not perform astonishing miracles here.  “He could do no mighty work here, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.” (Mark 6.5)  Jesus did not throw up his hands; no, “he went about the village teaching.”  And “he began to send out” the disciples “two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”  It is now we who are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.  Wherever the world tries to thwart Jesus, (even at General Convention) the more people he sends out, and we are never alone in our journey or in our faith.

So strong is Jesus’ message to us about being made welcome that he tells us that when we leave that place, “to shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.”  This act of shaking off our feet, like shaking off the sand from the beach or the snow from our snow boots, is a great insult; it shows a total rejection of where we are – we want nothing of that place to touch us anymore.

We want nothing to touch us that will fuel our unbelief, and part of our task is to shake of those things that contribute to our unbelief.  Paul in his prison had a thorn in his side – it may have been a physical ailment, depression, or persecution, and he found God even from his weakened state.  His thorn gave God and opportunity to come into his life.  God gives us that same grace, we need only open ourselves up to let God work.

Let God teach us the language of hospitality, of faith, of confidence in God alone.  Let the Holy Spirit cover our lives, from Columbia, to General Convention, to the Sudan, so that it is impossible for the dust of rejection to take hold of us.  Let any rejection fuel us to send more God, more Jesus, out into the world until God’s kingdom breaks forth right here among us.

God is at work.  Amen.

(I give thanks to Bishop Andy Doyle and his blog:  www.hitchhikingthebible.blogspot.com for the words of inspiration and the words: “God is at work.”)

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