2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 Psalm 48 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13
Our church just finished meeting on a grand scale this week. The Episcopal Church’s triennial meeting called “the General Convention,” the 78th one concluded late this week in Salt Lake City, UT. Several thousand Episcopalians gathered in one place, prayed together and addressed the business side of our life together. Reports from General Convention are that the worship is great; the business part, which included well over 200 resolutions, difficult, sometimes boring, weighty, and at the same time filled with the Holy Spirit. Bishop Singh and our deputies – representatives – have shared news and insights about General Convention on the Diocesan web page; I urge you to browse through the writings and videos. Our own Susan Woodhouse is in one of the videos. I have asked Susan to share her General Convention experience with us in an upcoming week.
I offer comments on a few pieces of legislation from the General Convention. First, know that the next General Convention will meet in Austin, TX in 2018. That means that we the church plan on being around well beyond the next three years. For those worried about the future of the church – we have a future. God is at work.
At this General Convention, the national church voted to allow marriage in The Episcopal Church between two consenting adults, heterosexual or homosexual. We are the second major denomination to change the definition of marriage in this way. This decision followed the Supreme Court decision last week of allowing same-sex marriage in every state. For some, these decision are very good news. For others, these decisions are distressing. In the United States, then, civil law and church canon (rules, law) will be in one accord. I ask that each of us be sensitive to, and considerate of, the deep-held beliefs of all of our brothers and sisters. What is heralded as victory, equality, and just in some circles will be held as deeply divisive, sinful, and against the word of God in others. We are called in this time, as in others, to honor one another, to continue to look for the word of God in all things, and to see Jesus in each other, whatever our convictions may be. We who are the church ought not to hold up dualistic positions of victory versus failure, winner over loser; that is not God’s way. We remember that God is at work.
Of the 44 elections held at General Convention this year, one made history – and the national, if not international, news. Our representatives elected a new Presiding Bishop, and that was done in an historic way, with the election completed in one ballot. The Right Reverend Michael Curry, most recently of the Diocese of North Carolina, will become our next Presiding Bishop on November 1st. He is at this time scheduled to speak at our Convention in Rochester the following week – we’ll see if his new schedule will allow for this visit to Rochester. Bishop Curry is known for loving Jesus, for “broad church” views, and for being a dynamic, animated preacher. We offer a prayerful welcome to our PB-elect as we offer thanks and thanksgiving for the ministry of The Most Reverend Katharine Jefforts-Schory.
Beyond the business part of General Convention, 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. With God’s help, we continue to meet as God’s children and Christ’s body.
God’s children, Christ’s body. Christ’s body.
It is interesting that the timing of our General Convention coincides with lectionary readings about the work of God and Jesus in the world. Paul cannot seem to decide whether or not he will boast about himself: “on my own behalf I will not boast, except; … But IF I wish to boast, … But if I refrain from it … So I will boast (all the more gladly) of my weaknesses.” Paul’s goal is grand: that Christ might dwell in him, and that is our goal, too. That we might “dwell in him and he in us.” We can forgive Paul his boasting – or not – and maybe appreciate his back and forth bantering. Sometimes the bible is meant to be funny, and this is one of those times. “I will, I won’t, I will – for Christ.” God is at work in Paul.
“Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Thanks be to God for Paul, a member of Christ’s body.
Jesus can be said to have had a thorn in his side from early in his ministry; in Galilee, the thorn of unbelief came from his own hometown. “They took offense at him” and his ministry was rejected. Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” I find an element of humor here, too – Jesus could do nothing here, except that he did: he healed. Perhaps it wasn’t enough. There was more to be done than one person, one God, could do by walking around.
Jesus had a plan. God was at work. Jesus sent people out, “two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” It is now we who are sent out, we who are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Wherever the world tries to thwart the miracle of Jesus, the more we are sent. We notice that we are not sent alone, but in pairs; we are never alone in our journey or in our faith. Those whom Jesus sent were told to “stay until you leave.” That’s another bit of humor, stay until you leave. More important, though, is the next part: travel lightly, and when you are not received well, shake the dust of that place off of your feet. Traveling lightly is hard work. A colleague took seven pairs of shoes with her for three weeks of school; when I counted my own shoes, lined up by the door and scattered in my suitcase, I knew that I, too, had something to learn about traveling lightly. Our question becomes another, not one about shoes or tunics, but about those things that are weighting us down, holding into a place of comfort if that is a place that keeps us from following Jesus, from being sent out BY Jesus. There is something that each of us needs to leave behind if we are in fact going out to do Jesus’ work, to eradicate evil and to heal through God’s power. Thanks be to God for Jesus.
The rest of the story is not any easier. We have dust on our feet, remnants of places or experiences that we need to leave behind, people who have rejected seeing Jesus in us or through us. For God to be at work fully, we might need to shake off our sandals – all of them – and our feet so that God might do God’s work.
Our work, friends, whatever it is, does not begin with us. We are God’s children, God’s family, made in God’s image. The work of the church, of budgets and billing and voting and healing, does not begin with us. Everything, including the dirt from which we are created, comes from God’s hand, God’s work in the world. Tout it as we may, “our” ministry is God’s ministry, done through those who accept the call to be in the world. That’s all of us. We are in the world, sent, to travel lightly and not let negativity gather on our feet. Shake it off! We children of God have the message of love, hope, redemption, salvation – that is what we are given. That good news is cause for celebration. Celebrate we will: our church universal, our St. Peter’s, and the ministries that we are called to do and to be. Celebrate. Boast. Or not. Stay. Shake off anything that keeps us away from the message: what is it?
Oh, yes. God is at work.