The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Watch the sermon here.
Happy Independence Day! Here’s to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Some say that if the Gospel writer Mark lived today, he would be an on-air journalist.
Picture this…. you are sitting in your home in ancient Nazareth and a CNN breaking news bulletin appears on the screen.
The star reporter known as Mark appears with a late breaking story about Jesus, a local boy, who Mark and many others find quite amazing.
You’re familiar with Mark’s coverage, its eyewitness reporting of Jesus 24 -7 – Jesus on the move – Jesus in action – doing what Jesus does, being baptized, healing, confronting demons, forgiving sins, calling disciples, calming storms.
You’re beginning to think Mark’s lost his reporter’s objectivity, he seems to be buying into some of the talk around town, that Jesus indeed is the promised Messiah, the Son of God.
Yet you’re hooked – you can’t look away.
This is a continuing story with lots of breaking news.
Tonight, the breaking news isn’t very good at all.
After performing miracles on both Shores, even in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus returns to his hometown – perhaps expecting a warm welcome, if not a full-blown ticker tape parade.
He’s confronted by the local folks who knew him as the kid on the block, Mary’s son, the little boy who got in their way, the teenager who played pranks with his friends, who didn’t seem to show much ambition until he was thirty.
They are not caught up in the buzz about Jesus that’s in the local gossip columns.
Instead of praise, the crowd makes Jesus the object of scorn and disbelief.
Mark’s camera man scans the crowd of protesting cynics, skeptics, and outright non-believers.
Jesus cured a few but seems to be having trouble with his power.
A lack of faith seems to be Kryptonite to this Superman.
Now for any skeptics out there, if you ask me, skeptics get a bad rap.
Ancient skeptics were investigators – (the word derives from the Greek “skepsis” meaning investigation). It’s the discerning person of faith who brings a healthy skepticism to belief, who mines the depth of faith digging deeply below the surface.
Questioning non-believers spark a quest for more understanding. Some of my more interesting conversations are with Agnostics who challenge me to articulate my faith, to ante up the goods with what I really believe.
These folks weren’t letting Jesus off the hook, they were asking him to ante up the goods, what he really believed.
They posed some really good questions.
Who is this Jesus?
Where does he get his authority?
And exactly what he is attempting to accomplish?
Mark answers them all. His has a lot of notes in his reporter’s notebook.
Jesus embodies the perfect faith.
He lives the Will of God, the source of His authority.
He speaks in truth, loves openly.
Heals, brings comforts, befriends, tells stories, and reveals God divine thirst for beloved community.
He is life giving, life restoring and liberating.
One might say – Boundary breaking.
Nothing, not belief, color, gender, identity, socio economic status, or lack of acceptance by others should keep anyone from being part of the beloved community, from God’s love, God’s justice, God’s mercy.
This is the mission he sends the disciples to continue. This is our mission too as people called to faith.
Yet, we need to be prepared, life is full of Nazareth like encounters, times when we meet those who hunker down in bunkers built by their own preconceived notions, cynicism and disbelief.
It’s not always so easy to just “shake off the dust from our feet” and move on unscathed. We pay an emotional toll for each encounter.
This past Sunday I was on a high. The parish Pride celebration left me feeling the love and acceptance of this faith community.
Ronnie, my partner and I, decided to eat at one of my favorite restaurants in the West Village and to make the pilgrimage to Stonewall. Walking by a Church he suggested we go in, bask in the sacred space, say a prayer, and give thanks for liberation and the work yet to be done.
The young Dominican friars at the entrance appeared welcoming. When I approached to ask if I could enter, they told me no. We are being insulted by the crowd. I paused, apologized for the crowd’s reaction, and introduced myself as an Episcopal Deacon. I told them I was from St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
Sadly, it meant nothing. I couldn’t get past the step I was standing on, the answer was still no.
The moment stung, but my concern was not me. I knew my non – Christian person of color partner, who initiated the idea of the Church visit, who is exploring his own faith was standing behind me witnessing the encounter.
Churches and rigidly held views have hurt a lot of people, most especially those in my LGBTQ community, this wasn’t helping.
The gays taunting the friars were acting based on assumptions, past experiences or preconceived judgments.
Both camps appeared hunkered down in their cynical distrust.
None of this is life giving, life restoring, liberating or boundary breaking. None of this is of Christ’s love.
Sadly, sometimes our actions shatter the bond that must exist between word and action – letting distrust, fear, uncertainty and cynicism rule the day.
We miss opportunities for change.
I wonder how different it would have been if the friars chose to distribute cold drinks to the revelers or if the pride participants smiled and waved at the friars?
I wonder if I my sharing what I was thinking would have made a difference to the friars or to Ronnie?
When we fail to rise above our fixed notions we leave others feeling undervalued, we begin to believe nothing will ever change, we kick our aspirations to the curbside.
Today is American Independence Day, the fourth of July, a time to celebrate the birth of our nation built on the aspirations of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
I always loved that expression. To the Founders, imperfect men, it meant life, liberty and landownership. To me, it’s the aspiration to build beloved community.
The shining City on the Hilltop, the land that flows with milk and honey, the beloved community – God’s reign – life-giving – with the common good at the heart of all we do, supporting all to live into their best selves – liberating – doing all we can to break down the boundaries that prevent all from loving who they love,/ being who they are,/ with opportunity to dream and achieve like everyone else – pursuing happiness – where the happiness of others means as much to us as our own, where all have equal access, most especially to faith institutions.
Truth is, with plenty of evidence from this past year, we seem to have kicked these aspirations to the curbside.
We’ve let uncertainty lead to cynicism, disbelief and rejection. And the list of those we undervalue seems to be growing longer each day.
On this day in Nazareth Christ’s message is clear. He stares directly into the faces of those rejecting him, sends the Disciples forth, sends us, to herald the message.
The message of divine love, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies and to build communities based on the aspirations of our faith, – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.