July 8, 2018
7th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
I’ve gotten stuck in the traffic circles in Washington D.C. I would get stuck in the inside lane, going around and round, passing my exit several times. Our minds can be like that. Or, at least, mine can. I can get stuck in a loop. I revisit situations when it dawns on me that I said the wrong thing. I practice what I should have said. I revisit arguments, and I make my case, point by point to my invisible and absent antagonist. Sometimes I just stew, usually over something ridiculous. Or, lately, it’s about politics. I’m afraid that fear is becoming the basis for our national life. Do you hear thatirony? I’m afraid of fear.
Our minds are like a dog with a bone. We can hardly let go.
I know some of you understand. There are times, even during the worship service, that I see your lips moving when we’re not saying anything. Something is going around and round in there.
There’s huge energy in stewing. It’s circular energy. It moves round and round, with no exit ramp. No entrance ramp for anyone else, either. Just round and round.
I wonder if this kind of circular energy gives us a way of considering these two little stories that appear as our gospel text for today. In the first, Jesus comes home to preach in his synagogue. What strikes me isn’t that the people are upset about his preaching. People have always gotten upset about preaching. What’s astounding to me is that, as a result, Jesus is not able to do any deeds of power. Something happens in that synagogue that keeps the energy of God’s reign–already drawing near–from getting in. There’s no entrance ramp. Even Jesus is shocked at its strength.
Mark doesn’t actually tell us what Jesus said in his sermon. He only tells us their reaction to the message. The energy in the room turns, and they get critical. Their comments turn insulting. Jesus is mentioned as “son of Mary,” a strange construction in the first century when the father would have been mentioned. Are they saying something about this “fatherless” child? This illegitimate voice? They say that he’s nothing but a carpenter. We hear “carpenter” as a skilled and prized trade. However, the actual meaning is more “manual laborer.” This is elitism. Who does this illegitimate, day-worker think he is?
I suspect all these comments were made at the coffee hour. You can almost picture the crowd turning from Jesus toward one another, whispering in each other’s ears, their communal energy closing off this outside influence. As a community, they draw the circle tighter, their energy a kind of centripetal force pulling them harder and tighter.
Is it any wonder that a community that uses insecurity and anxiety as a binding agent is impervious to the reign of God. It’s no wonder that Jesus can’t break through. It’s no wonder that this community can’t experience deeds of liberating power. It has closed itself off.
This is a warning to any community of faith that it should evaluate what kind of energy is connecting the community. Is it this kind of narcissistic energy, always turned inward? Does it spin so strongly that there are no longer any entrance ramps for new voices, new energy, new ideas? No exits ramps to get away from the fear and anger? Is it a closed system, impervious to change, facing only inside the circle.
This happens so easily in communities because almost by nature we use our deep insecurity or our prejudice to keep connected. The church will even couch it all in God language. We want to belong, but we organize around judgment of the other. We create a community that looks and sounds just like we do. God help the prophet who comes to announce a different perspective! You can see this in churches that become rigid and hardened theologically; no questions allowed. You see this in politics that is only win or lose. You see this in family systems that assign members to particular roles that are not allowed to change. You see this in congregations that are organized around the past or one personality or a particular cultural expression. It happens in just about every community, even this one.
The gospel text isn’t about this dynamic, per say. It’s Jesus reaction to the dynamic that is instructive. He’s surprised by the power of their unbelief. He’s amazed at how it can stop even the grace of God. But, instead of stewing, or arguing his case, or justifying his perspective, or just getting stuck, he moves on to another village. He sends the disciples out two by two to find places that will come alive with a new Spirit. Strap on your sandals, take your staff, and find the households that are open to you. Find the places where the energy is wide and welcoming of the message, places where the energy of the people will allow this new way of love, compassion, healing and justice to enter.
And, when you’re rejected, pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and move on. Don’t do what everyone else does: fight about it or stand your ground or prove that you’re right or just lay in bed terrified of being terrified. This is the power of Jesus advice here. Instead of meeting rejection with stewing, or holding a grudge, or becoming just as critical and judgmental as the others, he moves forward. He joins another stream of energy. Deep within his own being is another stream of energy. Life is too short, and the reign of God is too important, to let the wounds of hate or disappointment or rejection or pain determine your every step; to allow it to organize and center your world.
The crucifixion is symbol of the world stuck in the loop. Organized around fear, it marshals the weapons of power to kill the messenger; to demean the opponent; to silence the prophet. It is terrified of forgiveness and weakness, scared to death of losing, and it cannot trust vulnerability, love, or compassion.
Easter is God’s answer to the loop. It is the injection of a new energy in our circles. Jesus, now alive in a new way, suddenly appears on the inside of the locked doors; on the other side of our walls; inside our circles. Easter energy provides a way out, even as it lets the new voice in. Instead of the circle energy that limits, this Easter energy is energy that has possibility. Rather than energy that is against us. Easter energy is for us. Rather than the energy that divides, Easter energy unites. It enhances deeds of healing and peacemaking. It brings people together. The energy spins toward openness, energy where each of us finds ourselves coming alive again, turning back to the world with a kind of openness and generosity that is truly prophetic.
This energy is, of course, Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, filling all things. It pulls us together, makes us a community, binds us together powerfully in love, but then it sends us out, two by two, three by three into the countryside where the love of God is already flowing. According to Mark, this is no time to stew or to nurse our wounds or fuel up our resentments. Or to be afraid. The reign of God has come near. It has entered the intersection, and there is nothing that the world needs more right now than that.