Faithfulness in An Unfaithful Age

Presentation4
08 Jul 2018 – Preached at First Christian Church of Hampton.  Sorry, really late posting it! -Vinson

The Gospel of Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.   On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.  Then he went about among the villages teaching.  He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.  He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.   If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

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INTRODUCTION

She was a young woman.  A petty officer, one of just a small handful of women in that command.  Who would believe her?

It was one of four local commands that fell under my group and thus for which I was the chaplain.  The command had just completed its required “Equal Opportunity” survey.

They are a big deal in the Navy, taking a pulse on what’s working, what’s not, where there are potential issues as to discriminatory behavior and practices along the lines of race, gender, and religion.

They are an opportunity to have a truth-telling through anonymously completed surveys.

They are also how command leadership is held accountable for morale, as morale will always impact the mission – good or bad.

However, the senior enlisted for the command had cornered this sailor before she completed her survey.  Making it clear what outcome he wanted, he had coerced her into not reporting issues of harassment of females.

She knew even more:  He had doctored the data that was reported to my commodore.

Tortured about what had happened, she came to me.  Not wanting to be a witness, not -allowing me to speak to my commodore or anyone else about what she had observed at one of his commands.  My trolling efforts to find someone else willing to go on the record, well it was really a tightly controlled command, and there wasn’t anything I could clearly point to, had I gone to the Commodore – unless she released me to speak.

She was the key.

If she spoke, I knew, others would come forward.

It was nearly three months before she finally agreed to allow me to make a report, releasing me from privilege.

I went immediately to my Commodore.

Furious that this command’s commander had been recently promoted to captain, the Commodore was clear that he wouldn’t have allowed the promotion, had he known – because what had been done with the survey had been done with his blessing.  He would advance no farther in the Navy, and his command master chief petty officer was forced to retire.

The ship was righted, but only because of the moral agony of one sailor over what she encountered.

Born of her identify as a Christ follower, her voice had emerged to finally speak truth to power.

WHY I BRING THIS UP

In the face of fear, finding one’s voice is difficult.  In the experience of being beloved by God, that same voice is empowered.  If being beloved by God IS the very nature of the Gospel, and Jesus clearly sends forth his disciples into the world, how do we then see ourselves as the love-bearers of Jesus Christ amid our present society?

FOR INSTANCE

In reflecting upon the Gospel reading for today, perhaps the best description of what transpired in the synagogue are the now century-old words of an Englishman’s commentary.  “It is possible,” he wrote, “that what the Evangelist means to suggest is that they were half amazed, half annoyed.  They are half inclined to marvel and believe, but this very half belief makes them the more irritated and incredulous.”

Like the proverbial “cup half empty,” they have closed their hearts to the possible in Jesus Christ, and thus as Mark starkly wrote, Jesus “could do no deed of power there.”

It has led me to think about the insight of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and re-read his 1963 letter from the Birmingham jail.  Said King:

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.  In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.  Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’  But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man.  Small in number, they -were big in commitment… By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

King’s prophetic word is just as relevant now.

Jesus did not send the twelve out that long-ago day to merely be a thermometer amid the ills of society.  “they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  At other times “shaking the dust” from their feet, not having received even the most basic hospitality of having their feet washed free of dust, but kept at a distance.

They knew the temperature.

The disciples mission was to be God’s thermostat, to be effective in addressing the spiritual sickness that ailed people, through the Good News of Jesus Christ, being that “leaven in the lump” which challenges and transforms… to created God’s beloved and expansive community, as the Kingdom of God broke into human history.

If the manner of their lives and witness of the ancient church, as Dr. King noted, so impacted society that the widespread and immoral practice in the empire of killing newborns that weren’t sons or weren’t perfect ended, then what do we have to say now to an expression of this ancient spiritual sickness?

We cannot turn away from the painful facts that the administration now acknowledges it separated perhaps 3,000 children from their parents not even certain how many because they haven’t bothered to track kids properly and are now having to use DNA to match parents to kids because of an inhumane policy… a policy that has caged children in warehouses lit 24-hours a day, scattering them all over the US with an uncertain screening process for those ultimately taking kids, and even forcing toddler’s to represent themselves in what is little more than a kangaroo court with ever fewer protections and Department of “Justice” mandated outcomes.

What are our words and our deeds to change the temperature, as Christ’s witnesses within our society?

If the manner of their lives and witness of the ancient church, as Dr. King noted, so impacted society that the widespread and immoral practice in the empire of gladiatorial games ended, people no longer set upon each other in order to satiate the most base part of humanity in order to ensure the empire’s control of society, then what do we have to say now to the present expression of this ancient spiritual sickness?

We cannot turn away from the painful facts that the administration’s means of control is apparently to set people against one another in a reality TV kind of painfulness.  It has reminded me of the 1960’s book Games People Play in which one of the games is entitled “Let’s You and Him Fight” – an emotional gladiatorial game with only one victor.  The victor isn’t one of those in the ring, but the one who has created the savage contest itself.  Let’s be honest, the game that is unfolding before us is very much about race.  It should be no surprise that we see the rise of white nationalism, a new blend of the Klan, Nazis, and white supremacists, with somewhere between 9 and 17 white supremacists and far-right militia leaders even now running for House and Senate seats, governorships, and state legislatures.  Or, that we see weekly news reports of folks misusing the police, in the words of one commentator, as though they are contemporary slave catchers.  Using the energy of fear, the endgame is to dishonor and disempower those of color.

What are our words and our deeds to change the temperature, as Christ’s witnesses within our society?

As one minister has written in recent days,

These are historic days and they will be recorded…  These will be marked as the moments we succumbed to a thousand small assaults on decency—or when we decided to stop the bleeding altogether… this… abomination.

It is an abandonment of empathy, a rejection of personal liberty, a human rights violation, a squandering of radiant lives.

There is nothing redemptive or life-giving in it.

The only question remaining is if (we’re) okay with it—and (we) get to answer for (ourselves), by (our) movement or (our) inaction….

Step out of the cloistered place of (our) private despair, and into a jacked-up world that (we) can alter by showing up.  Use (our) gifts and (our) influence and (our) breath and (our) hands…

We uncomfortably find ourselves in a time when it is necessary to find our courage, express our voice, speak of how our faith in Jesus directs our sense of justice remembering that a just law is, in the words of Dr. King:

An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.  To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.  Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

SO WHAT?

So what do we make of all of this?

We are not so far removed from the actual events being perpetrated as to be immune from it.  King was right when he said:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states… Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

And so in such a time as this, it is to take risk, if we are to fully participate in the creation of the beloved community beyond this microcosm of this congregation and our Welcome Table.

Of this time we are challenged to:

Affirm life, speak truth, defend the vulnerable, call out injustices—and gladly brave the criticisms and the wounds you sustain in doing it, knowing that they are a small price to pay…

And so,

We need to speak and write and work and protest, and do all the things we’ve been waiting for someone else to do….

We may leave someone “half amazed, half annoyed,” not unlike what our Lord encountered, but the way of Jesus is not just an invitation to the feast, but to carry that very feast-ly invitation to where true repentance lies – not just in individual life, but in the heart of our society.

AMEN!

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Pastor’s Notes:
Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” 16 April 1963.  Accessed on 06 Jul 2018, at:  http://www.massresistance.org/docs/gen/09a/mlk_day/birmingham_jail.html
Rev. Michelle Jean-Mary, “Whether They Hear or Refuse to Hear,” 8 Jul 2012.  Accessed 06 Jul 2018, at:  https://www.fhcpresb.org/worship-music/sermon-archives/2012/07/whether-they-hear-or-refuse-to-hear-ezekiel-2-1-7-mark-6-1-6/
Dr. C.G. Monefiore, “The Synoptic Gospels, Edited with an Introduction and a Commentary.  London:  MacMillan and Company, 1927, pg 118.  Downloadable book accessed on 01 Jul 2018, at https://archive.org/stream/EpistlesMacknightJ1984.rOpts/GospelsSynoptic%20Montefiore%201927_djvu.txt

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