Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace from Jesus the Christ who calls us outward, sending us into new territories and new adventures — new missions and tasks! AMEN.
How exciting to be with you, here at last! Amen? And yet, what absolutely shocking and so terribly tragic events have accompanied us in these transitional days and weeks!
I couldn’t have chosen a better Scripture text around which we are first gathering than this one (that the lectionary chooses for us) from Mark 6! This is where the mission together begins in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has been impressing everyone on his own until now: this is where Jesus sends us/disciples out. And it’s where Jesus reminds us that things might not always go well as we go about the work of spreading the Gospel of God’s grace and peace and healing.
One of our daughter Katie’s favorite songs is “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift. It’s been out for a number of years and so I remember not too long ago, little Katie jumping around the living room trying to get us all to dance, “Shake it off.” (Just an image for us…) Despite all the things going on in our lives, in our world, in the news — little Katie pulled us up to dance.
Jesus, in a similar way then, is taking us by the hand and calling us in these challenging times: “Shake it off. Shake it off! Shake off the dust from your feet when trouble comes your way. Shake off of the death and the hatred and the fear that is all around, and ‘keep on’ in doing the work to which I have called you. Just because you’ve been met with vandalism and violence, just because you’ve had windows smashed in, pew seats ripped, hateful-horrific words written on your walls doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong,” Christ encourages us, his modern-day disciples. In fact the opposite: “You are doing something right. Following me just isn’t all that easy. Following me and embracing the welcome, love, justice and peace that I desire for you, for this nation, and for this whole world is going to bring with it — always — some serious push back! So, take a deep breath. Shake it off. Join hands — [I love how he pairs up the disciples: we don’t do this alone] — join hands and let’s go,” Jesus says.
New friends in Christ, God is most definitely here and with us. The Holy Spirit is swirling around, even as we reel. God’s still got us. And Christ still sends us out.
I’m not saying anything I haven’t seen you all at BLC aren’t doing already. I have already been so moved, impressed, encouraged, inspired as I’ve already watched you all respond to these recent break-ins and hate crimes.
I’ve witnessed, first of all, deep sorrow and pain: In a culture that often bottles up emotions and chokes back tears, I’ve already seen here Christ himself weeping in your midst. In response to words of hate and harm, come words of love and healing, and tears of longing...for a world where such violence will be no more. Mark’s gospel describes Jesus laying hands on these who are ill. It’s that laying on of hands that shows the compassion of Christ, the pain of the cross. Gashes in the seat cushions ~ gashes in Christ. As tears of longing and sorrow at “what is” filled this community, it was as if Christ is laying on hands and healing the broken, despite all the other things that were going on…
Did you catch this in the reading? It said Jesus could do no deed of power...EXCEPT...to lay his hands on a few and heal them. Tears at the world’s violence are the laying on Christ’s very hands in healing. Our tears are cathartic, yes. But it’s more than that: it’s the breaking in of hope for a world-as-it-should-be...not choking back and settling for the world-as-it-is.
I’ve witnessed your deep sorrow and pain; and I’ve witnessed that you all “show up” despite it: Christ calls us to be here for one another and for this hurting world...in these days.
That terrible morning after the last break in, I was amazed at how many just kept arriving and taking it in. “People just keep showing up,” I whispered to my father-in-law who was here too for the first time. He’s a retired pastor and has served many congregations—a great mentor to me. “That’s the sign of a strong church,” he whispered back. This place is small-but-mighty. That’s precisely what Jesus needs in his disciples! Not brute force, but mighty hearts and healing tears. Not burly arms and souped-up arsenals, but simply & profoundly robust faith — faith that stands the test of time and terror. Faith that “shows up”. God is here among us as we “show up” to make our stand together against the evil and wrong-doing all around us.
Jesus gives his disciples “authority over the unclean spirits” in verse 7. This is a radically welcoming community, but there is no place for hatred and violence here. Christ gives us too — as we stand together in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters (both Lutheran and non) — AUTHORITY over the unclean spirits of our time and community. That is to say: “Unclean spirits! You have no power over us.”
Back in seminary — you have to understand: I had been a Biology major as an undergrad so I liked charts and graphs — so as we were studying the Gospel of Mark, I kind of threw my professor for a loop when I decided to graph Jesus’ “power potential” (as I named it) on the y-axis as time passed through the Gospel of Mark on the x-axis. I did the same thing with the disciples’ “power potential.”
And faithful Christians might have found my results surprising:
As I had hypothesized, and as I believe the author of Mark intended to communicate: as time passes in Mark, as you read through the Gospel, Jesus’ power potential declines dramatically, and meanwhile, the disciples gain more and more ability, or power potential. This text today is that critical turning point, where — in a foretaste of what happens on the cross — Jesus is emptying himself in order to fill up his disciples. In this text, it says Jesus could do no deed of power, and yet by the end of our text, his disciples — that rag-tag gang of busy and broken bodies is “healing, casting out demons and preaching the word of life and love.”
This is our God. Showing up in weakness, in moments of sorrow and pain, and filling us with potential.
Friends in Christ, as we look forward to the days, and hopefully many years of life and ministry together here at Bethlehem Lutheran, know that Christ meets us in our most vulnerable times. These are things we preachers say all the time, but — I don’t know about you, but — aren’t we feeling that far more profoundly in these challenging days? Christ meets us in our tears and our pain, and fills us with the ability to cast out demons, heal the sick and share God’s love through words and deeds. This is good news of great joy, and this is our great news this day and forever more...no matter what.
Thanks be to God — who never leaves us; who made us for goodness, and to be together, and to go outward; and who shines brightly even and especially now! AMEN.
HOD - #726 “Light Dawns on a Weary World”