The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Sixth Sunday after Pentecost—Year B (Proper 9); Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; II Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13 Video
What a week in the life of our faith community! Monday morning saw Ann Smith cross over from this life to greater life as she joined the communion of saints. Monday afternoon, Jim Parnell underwent surgery to remove a melanoma from his intestine. Wednesday, Karl Doege had open-heart bypass surgery. And, this morning, we baptize Rex Charles and welcome him into the Body of Christ. From the cradle to the grave, we walk this journey together. We die together, we rise together, we sustain one another in times of sickness, we celebrate with one in times of joy—that’s what it means to be the church; that’s what it means to be the Body of Christ. And, we strengthen one another, we encourage one another, we challenge one another, we help each other hear the call from our Lord to be his Body in the world. Because Jesus is never content just to be his Body for his own sake; his Body was, is, and always will be, a Body offered to the world.
Today’s scriptures focus our attention on that piece of our work and call. Ezekiel reminds us that God’s got something to say to the world, and more often than not, God’s going to use us to say it. The prophet’s call—it may not be comfortable, but there is a piece of our work that is most definitely prophetic. And this isn’t so much about proclaiming this position or that position; it’s more about the capacity to hold before people’s eyes that tragic gap between the kingdom of God as God envisions it and longs for it to be and the reality of the world as we have constructed it through our choices and actions, individually and collectively. It’s the gap between the values we aspire to and the values we are actually practicing. God longs to close that gap, and it’s the prophets who voice that holy longing in the nitty gritty stuff of life.
In a world that focuses so much on getting to the top and status and position, St. Paul reminds us that power is made perfect in weakness and that God’s grace is sufficient. There is something about vulnerability that allows God’s power to shine all the more radiantly. There is a certain strength to be found when all you have left to do is surrender yourself to the mercy and grace of God. None of us goes to this place willingly, but when you are taken to this place, you discover the incredible depth and power of a love and grace that will not let you go, ever.
And then, Mark’s gospel picks up this prophetic theme and our call out into the world. Jesus is teaching the hometown crowd. On the one hand, they are astounded by his wisdom and the deeds of power being done by his hands. On the other hand, he’s just the hometown boy; they know him, and they can’t square what they are seeing with what they know. Sometimes, the perceptions we’ve formed of people place this box around them, and they can only stretch so far. Have you ever experienced being boxed in? What’s that feel like? (pause) It’s pretty confining and limiting. Even Jesus felt the constraint of their definitions of who he was and what he could do. He could do no deeds of power there. The only thing he could do was lay his hands on a few sick people and cure them. And why could the sick receive his power? (pause) Quite simply, because they were open to it—they were willing to let their preconceived notions go and simply trust in the power. But the rest of that hometown crowd, Jesus was amazed at that their unbelief, amazed at their lack of trust.
So, if you can’t get a hearing in your hometown, or wherever the boxes are boxing you in, go where you can. So, Jesus went about the villages teaching, and he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and he told them to travel light, really light. In fact, they didn’t have much of anything—just a staff to lean on; no bread, no bag, no money, not an extra tunic, totally dependent on the hospitality of strangers.
Is that how you like to travel? Not me. That doesn’t sound like much to go on. But there were some things that Jesus did give them in addition to that staff to lean on, and they are no small things. First, Jesus gave them authority, exousia, POWER. Even Jesus knew that it wasn’t about him, but it was about God in him; Jesus knew that it wasn’t his power, but that it was God’s power working in him and through him. Whatever power and authority had been given to Jesus, he now gave to the twelve.
And this same power and authority is given fully and completely in baptism—yep, it’s all given, right now, today, to Rex—not even a year old! All that power and authority is given fully and completely in baptism; it’s just that we spend our lifetime figuring out what to do with it.
And this power and authority is tethered to a core identity—you are God’s beloved and in you, God is well-pleased. And around that core identity is woven a set of rock-solid practices that will sustain you, encourage you, shape you, challenge you, call you, guide you. Rex, this is what we are doing today—we are calling forth the identity that God has already given you as a beloved Son, and we are lifting up the values and practices that will help you mind the gap that just seems to be part of the warp and weft of being human. These baptismal vows:
Continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers;
Persevering in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repenting and returning to the Lord;
Proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;
Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself;
Striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being;
these baptismal vows will guide you as you endeavor to live as a beloved Son of God; they will help flesh out your prophetic call; they will show you the paradox of power that is made perfect in weakness; they well help you see the wells of grace that are all around you; they will help you travel lightly in this world and allow you to focus on what truly matters; they will help you steward the awesome power and authority that God is granting you this very day.
And you thought you were just getting wet.
No, it is an awesome thing we gather to witness today, and it is most definitely the power of God through the Holy Spirit who is doing the acting. The ritual actions may be performed by human beings, but it’s God who is doing the acting.
In addition to power and authority, Jesus gave the twelve something else. Any guesses? (pause) Jesus gave them each other—they went out two by two… they were to stay in the house where they would be welcomed—we don’t do any of this work outside of relationships with others. We are not meant to be Lone Rangers as we go about this enterprise of dealing with the unclean spirits that are active in our world—and their name truly is legion—many. And correct me if I’m wrong, but even the Lone Ranger had a sidekick anyway. We are meant to do this together.
So, Rex, as you grow, and as you go to do the hard and joyous work of proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, as you make it your mission to help everyone know that they are God’s beloved, and as you help them understand what it means to live as a beloved, you need to know, we’ve got your back. And in those moments when you doubt that, ask your parents and godparents to tell you about this community and what this community did for each another the week you were baptized—we prayed someone over as they died, we prayed two people through hard surgeries, we prayed over you as the Spirit knit you into the Body of Christ. Cradle to grave—we’ve got your back.
And from that infinitely secure place, we teach each other how to steward the power you, too, are given this day. We teach each other how to move into the world with authority. We help each other have the courage to dare to speak for God, and we dare to believe that God’s power really can flow through us. We dare to believe, that in the power of God, we can close the gaps in this world that are swallowing people whole.
So Rex, you are in for a wild, wild ride. You will die more times than you can imagine, but you will rise that many more. There will be rough patches along the way, but there will also be times of unadulterated bliss. And through it all, we will remind you, always, that you are God’s beloved Son, and you always have us.
Welcome to the Body of Christ and to a life that can teach you how to travel lightly, and yet, at the same time, be so incredibly, abundantly full. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
July 5, 2015