A sermon for Integrity volunteers assembled at the beginning of General Convention
Mark 6:1-13, 2 Cor. 12:2-10
As usual when I am going away I underestimate how long it will take to get ready, and so my packing gets very little attention. I end up throw things into a bag and running out the door. Yesterday I meant to collect some things at the drycleaner, but it being July 4th they were closed, so I came without. As I put my clothes away last night I wondered if I had really brought enough for two weeks. Fortunately I have my credit card with me in case I need something I didn’t bring. The disciples were not so lucky.
When Jesus sent them out he told them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no money, no bread, no bags and only the clothes they were wearing. Why? In fact, why did he send them at all? Was it because there was more work to do than he could do alone? Or was it some kind of test? Or a rite of initiation? Or was he just tired of their company? Or depressed after the failure of his healing ministry in his hometown? Scripture doesn’t give us any information. All we know is that they were sent with very little except a staff and authority over unclean spirits. Which reminds me of Moses – he was sent to Pharaoh with nothing more than a staff that could turn into a snake, and a commission from God.
We are here today because we have been sent. We have been given a commission by God and by the community of people who have given generously so that we might be here to represent them. We are privileged to be here. There are others who would like to have been able to be part of this team, but we are the ones who have been called, we are the ones who have been sent.
Like Moses we have been sent to represent our people in the halls of power. We have been sent with a legislative agenda to urge those with power to do justice and to set free those who are oppressed.
Like the disciples, we are sent not to trust in our advance preparation, our talking points and our alliances but to trust in God. For that is surely the reason that the disciples had to manage without adequate provisions for their journey – so that they would learn to depend on God alone. It is very tempting for us in the middle of a convention to forget that this is not about us, it is about God. It is easy for us to get so caught up in the conversations and the conflicting voices around us that we fail to hear or even to listen for, God’s voice. The reason we are here is to advance the reign of God. We are here to witness to God’s extravagant and unlimited love for all beings.
The way we are doing that is by calling for all the sacraments to be available to all the baptized. That is our immediate mission but we have to place that within the wider mission of reconciling all beings with God. If we lose sight of that, then all that we do becomes little more than promoting our own agenda so that we will have a happier time in the Episcopal Church.
Like the disciples we are called to dependence upon God. The definition of sin is independence, thinking that we can manage without God. It is tempting to say a quick prayer at the beginning of the day, and then spend the rest of the day thinking and behaving as though God doesn’t exist. It’s a little like putting your head round your boss’s door first thing in the morning to say hallo, and then going off to do your own thing. But our calling as disciples is to stay in touch, to do all things prayerfully, to live as if God’s presence in our lives really matters… to live as if God’s love is real.
If God’s extravagant and unconditional love is available for us as well as for everyone else, then we can know that we are held in that love and grace. Whatever happens we do not need to be anxious or fearful because we are being held by God in whom we can have complete trust. I think this was something St Paul fully understood. Some people think the thorn in his side was his attraction to other men. I would prefer to think that if he were attracted to other men he was able to enjoy it, not think of it as a continual pain. Whether the thorn was his eyesight or his sexuality or something quite different, he experienced it not as something to separate him from God, but as a way to experience God’s love more fully. “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness”.
That is as true for us today as it was for Paul then. God’s grace is sufficient. God’s grace is abundant. Our God specializes in resurrection. Our God specializes in bringing the outcast into the fold.
Our mission this Convention is to witness to the love and power of God in our lives.
The Barna Group, which conducts research into religious issues with an evangelical flavor, just published a report showing that a lower percentage of gay people have a relationship with the divine than straight people. Are you surprised? Of course not, because again and again we have been told we are not good enough. In fact their research was condemned by some evangelical leaders who said that it is not possible to be both homosexual and Christian. We know that it is possible. We are here because we have experienced the power of God’s love in our lives and our communities. We are here because we know that God’s love cannot be restricted to human boxes.
Perhaps that was why Jesus sent the disciples out, so that people would realize it was the power of God they were seeing, not some magic that only Jesus could do. Perhaps he sent them out to help break people’s preconceived ideas.
Whatever happens in our legislative agenda, we are here to witness to God’s love for all people, not just LGBT. Each and every person you meet will be God’s beloved. Each and every person, whether we agree with them or not, is your sister or brother in Christ. Our task is not to try to convince anyone – that is the Holy Spirit’s job. Our task is to share by our words and actions our conviction of God’s love for all. Our task is to be willing to do what it takes to meet people where they are and share God’s reign with them.
The disciples were not told to curse those who wouldn’t receive them but simply to shake the dust off their feet and move on. When we meet difficulties and frustrations, let us remember that God’s grace is sufficient, shake the dust off and move on, knowing that no obstacle is too great for God to move.
My hope and prayer is that during this Convention we may help each other to remember that this is just one piece in the plan for the realization of God’s reign. What happens here in the quality of the relationships we make across difference, and the way we witness to God’s love is more important than our legislative goals. Let all that we do be done prayerfully, in a loving spirit and in the knowledge that God’s grace is sufficient.