"Went out and proclaimed"-Sermon for Proper 9, Mark 6:1-13
So, today we celebrate the birthday of our nation’s Declaration of Independence. And, I think that is a good thing to do. To give thanks to God for the gift of being born into a country that indeed has provided us great privilege and many blessings and, further, inspired and created much good, much light experienced by countless people well beyond our own boarders. Further, today is an occasion to give thanks for the many lives, the many people, women and men, of all races and faith traditions and backgrounds, who gave their blood, sweat, tears and toil in the pursuit of perfecting our highest ideals, over and against, those forces, which we must acknowledge and name, that have also been at work in our nation that have promoted something very, very different, even violently hostile, to those highest ideals. And, as we give thanks for all that is good and Godly in our past and present and all the good and Godly people whose light has shined in our brightest moments, my hope is that the gratitude we experience, that fills our hearts, will overflow into a commitment to work ourselves, sacrifice our own blood, sweat, tears and toil, to continually perfect this union…that the pursuit of happiness…the experience of freedom and justice might indeed be the experience of all of the rainbow colored people of God who now and will in the future constitute this nation…all without distinction…and not just to the benefit of this nation…but for the whole world.
For the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution truly are marvels of human wisdom and ingenuity…but there is and must be a moral and spiritual anchor that lies behind them and props them up…the place where our work and efforts rightly find their ultimate devotion and empowerment…and that create and hold to no borders…and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…Jesus…who came to show us the perfect way of love…a love that finds it perfection in submission to the will and commandments of God and in the emulation of the life that Jesus lived…sacrifice, service, humility, inclusion…a love that can only be fully know as it is freely given and freely received from others…all others…without distinction…entirely unbeholden to any way we humans have devised to separate one person from another. So, I see Independence Day as something even more altogether wonderful than a patriotic holiday…but as holy opportunity to, as our “Prayer for the Nation” in our Book of Common Prayer reads, ask God in fervent prayer to supernaturally increase in us…a “zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with [God’s] gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
And so, I want to turn now to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in particular, as recorded by Mark. And to do so, I want to mention another birthday that is worth remembering and celebrating today, and that is the birthday of our church. This past Monday, June 28th, St. Julian’s turned 12…so happy birthday y’all! I peg that date for our birthday to our first public service at Henry Middle School on Sunday, June 28, 2009. We have worshiped every Sunday since that date in 3 and soon 4 separate locations through tempest and storm…though pandemic and snow-pocalypse…through great loss and grief…and through much joy and celebration…life-long and life-giving relationships forged. So, again, happy birthday y’all! I love you all so much and am so grateful for each of you.
Now, I know that many of you know this story…but some who are newer to us do not…and I don’t think we can remember it too much. Just like in our gospel lesson today, St. Julian’s began with two people being sent out…those two apostles…a word that means "sent ones"…were, of course, Ashley and Miles. We were, indeed, two then, as our first child was still just a twinkle in our eyes, as the saying goes. And, soon after we set out on this missionary journey, we invited a dozen or so people to join us in prayer and dreaming. Then some months later, we invited many more folk to a visioning event at St. Matthew’s that collected another couple of dozen faithful adventurers…most of whom are still with us today in one way or another. And, that group, of 30 or so apostles, prepared and prayed. There was indeed much toil, some sweat and tears…it was summertime in Texas after all…and even some blood was spilt in the creation of church in a box…that box being a trailer…a trailer that was then prepared and organized and pulled to Henry Middle School on June 28, 2009. And, then it was unpacked, a lovely church created in a cafeteria, and the Lord of Life was worshipped in spirit and truth…in the breaking of bread and pouring of wine…in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…and the Lord began to add to our numbers. Today, again, in now our 3rd location some 350 children and adults call us home…their family of faith…and we still have only just begun. Next month we close on 9 acres of land on Brushy Creek Road…and we turn the page to the next chapter in our story.
And, as we look today at Mark’s description of Jesus sending his followers out on their first missionary expedition, you see that there are many corollaries to our own experience of planting St. Julian’s…just beginning with being sent out in two’s. Though I can’t say we began with no money in our belts, for we have always had the generous support, even to this day, of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, we did begin simply…no space of our own…and everything we did own could fit in the aforementioned 7’x 14’ trailer. We learned quickly that even that was more than what was required to worship the living God and to begin to form a family…for all that was really required was 2 or 3 spiritually hungry people and some bread and wine. We experienced some rejection along the way…good folk who simply had a different vision for what church should be or needed to be for them. And, though every loss was painful, we learned to dust our feet off and move on…never in judgement or condemnation of those who choose a different path…but simply to not become mired in what was…to use every disappointing experience as an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow…and then refocus ourselves on our God-given vision and move forward…always believing that God in Christ was and is leading the way.
And, everywhere we went, we proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ…which Mark describes with the word repentance…which doesn’t just mean confession of sin…but to turn and follow a new path. We were and are inviting people to discover a new way of being…a new path to follow…that looks like intimacy with Christ…and a willingness to love all well without distinction…and a desire to grow and nurture new relationships, sometimes with people very different from ourselves…people we would not have ever known, maybe even chosen to know, if not for the formation of St. Julian’s…our family of faith. And, we have cast out many demons…like the demons of bigotry and stereotyping and shame and the need for control. And, finally, we have anointed countless people with oil and prayed for them and, indeed, healing and new life has welled up among us. And, when I speak of healing…I speak not only or mainly of the body…for all Christian healing is really first and foremost about the heart…making the heart whole…connecting with the Spirit of God that rests in our hearts…for therein…in that deep well of love…lies hope and peace and wisdom. And this has happened at St. Julian’s, and I know it because you have told me so. It is a glory. We are a glory to behold.
And there is a connection that I would like to draw…and that I think should be drawn…between our experience of planting St. Julian’s, which I have tried to make the point is nothing less than a present-day incarnation and continuation of Jesus’ missionary efforts which Mark describes and…and the brief reflection on Independence Day with which I began. And that connection is this…I believe with all of my heart that our greatest aspirations both for who we desire to be as a nation and for the life of the world actually begins here…find their root and anchor right here. You see, all that we do together, believe, pray for, the forgiveness offered, the values we hold in common, all we learn together, and the service to those who need us that we offer…all of this…should and does shape how we relate to, participate in, and serve the greater whole…that is who we are as citizens of the nation and of God’s whole world.
For as Christian people our only or ultimate mission is not actually to perfect this nation. Our God-given mission is actually something even more wonderful, more compelling…and that is nothing less than to build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. For the line between good and evil does not run through nations…but through the human heart…and the human heart can never really be legislated. Yet, the human heart is the fundamental building block of any community…from family, to church, to civic organization, to corporation, to the state…for all communities, great and small, are, of course, collectives of individual humans…with hearts of flesh and blood beating in our chests. And, our hearts are what we are working on here together…allowing them to be formed by God’s own love that sits at our center and that we generously share with one another…from our first worship service to this day and on. The life of love…flowing from our hearts…shaped by the commandments of God and the desire to live like Jesus…is the gift that we get to cultivate together in this family of faith…it is our reason for being…and not for ourselves alone.
For the life we live together, that we have founded together, exists such that the love, God’s love, we have come to know in this place might be one small, but very important part, of God’s greater Easter work to redeem, transform, and resurrect our local community, our nation, our world, and all of creation, in the fulness of time, into the very image of God…who is never-ending love. Amen.