Today’s reflection/sermon was offered in a different style. Instead of presenting the scriptural passage in its entirety and then giving my reflection at its conclusion, I broke the passage into two parts: Mark 6:1-6 and Mark 6:7-13. After each section, there is a brief reflection.
Mark 6:1-6 (The Message)
He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. "We had no idea he was this good!" they said. "How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?" But in the next breath they were cutting him down: "He's just a carpenter—Mary's boy. We've known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?" They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. Jesus told them, "A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child." Jesus wasn't able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that's all. He couldn't get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching….
As many of you know, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the national gathering of the United Church of Christ last weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The gathering - called General Synod – is a glorious time when delegates from around the country gather for a time of worship, spiritual formation, mission, and fellowship.
Since I had never attended a General Synod before there were many experiences to which I was looking forward – and one that I was NOT. The thing I was dreading? The committee meetings.
You see there were 16 resolutions that had been put forth for the delegates to consider. The delegates were divided evenly into several committees so they could tighten up the resolutions before they were voted on by the entire group. Delegates had no control over which committee they were assigned. And to make matters worse, there were approximately 100 delegates in each committee. You ever try to get 100 UCC members to agree on something? Let’s just say it isn’t pretty. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to serving on a committee.
When the committee assignments were finally handed out Sunday morning, I was pleased to see I was assigned to a committee that was to deal with what I thought were two straightforward matters: a resolution urging the UCC to support a document called the Accra Resolution – a statement opposing economic globalization that had already been supported by 213 other denominations; and a resolution concerning about global hunger.
“What sort of person could be against those resolutions,” I thought. “We’ll be done with our work in half an hour - tops!”
Two hours into our first committee meeting, I was going out of my mind – for a controversy arose that I hadn’t expected. You see the organizers of the national gathering were committed to making our Synod a green event. This meant they refused to print copies of the documents. They left it up to the delegates to download and print copies for themselves. Well there was a faction on our committee that felt it was wrong to ask delegates to vote on a document that had not been printed out for them. The two sides went back and forth about whether or not we should even vote on the resolutions.
As I listened to the argument, I felt a tinge of what I imagine Jesus must have felt in the first half of today’s Gospel reading. I had entered a situation where I expected to deal with substantive issues that would effect healing and reconciliation in people’s lives; instead, I found myself in a situation where folks were missing the point.
As our committee meeting hit the 2 hour mark, I thought to myself, “It’s time to shake the dust from my sandals and move on. There’s no bother in me returning to the committee meeting in the morning – for the community is holding me back.” Like those who would twist the moral of Jesus’ teaching in the first half of today’s reading, a part of me began to think, “It would be best for me to leave my community in the dust and live out my faith alone - on my own terms.”
But is that REALLY the lesson Jesus left us with? That we are meant to go it alone?
Mark 6:7-13 (The Message)
Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: "Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. "And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. "If you're not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way." Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits...
Okay, Okay. I get the point. The message from today’s FULL passage is a bit more complicated than I realized at first. I kept the second half of this week’s passage in mind last Monday morning as I trudged back into the meeting room for what was supposed to be another 3-½ hours of work.
And then something remarkable began to happen in our committee. The log jam began to break. Overnight the environmentalists and the social justice folks had reached an understanding that they could live with. This was nothing short of a miracle! And the semantic changes that seemed tortuous just 12 hours earlier – changes about whether to use a semicolon or dash in a particular sentence, and how to order the clauses in the resolution – suddenly started to make sense. In the span of just 2 hours, our committee did the unthinkable: we produced 2 resolutions that were so much stronger that the ones we had received just one day before.
As much as I wanted to hold onto my warped reading of the first half of today’s Gospel lesson and use it as an excuse to withdraw from community and live out my faith on my own, my experience in Grand Rapids last weekend showed me a much deeper, more profound lesson. As Christians we are stronger when we gather together as the body of Christ than we are when we go it alone.
And no where is that lesson about the importance of community more clear than right here – at the Communion Table. For when we step forward to the Communion Table, we do so not simply as a collection of individuals; we step forward as members of a Community. Members - granted - who don’t always see eye to eye. But members who can lay aside those differences and allow ourselves to once again be re-shaped: not in our own image, but in Jesus’.