Sunday, July 8, 2018

From Here I Stand to Here We Go (Sermon)

“From ‘Here I Stand to Here We Go’”
Mark 6:1-13
Allen Huff
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

         Brian McLaren is a pastor, preacher, teacher, and writer who grew up in a strict, fundamentalist household and community. As a young adult, he shifted toward evangelicalism. His theology was still fundamentalist, but its contemporary clothing freed him from some of the wagon-circling confines of his upbringing. Still feeling restricted, McLaren began to ease toward broader understandings of God, scripture, and humankind. Through all of that evolution, each step had one thing in common: As he progressed, Brian was simply moving from one static theological encampment to another. He was searching only for a place to stop and to say, “Here I stand.”1
         In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, McLaren calls his own bluff. And he challenges the Church to consider where God is calling it to go in the future. “The Bible,” he says, “is a book of migrations.”2 Humankind is always on the move, and “Jesus himself [is] perpetually in motion, leading his disciples from town to town, their physical movements mirroring the spiritual odyssey on which he [leads] them.”3
McLaren’s argument makes sense to me. Just think about the stories of creation, the flood, Abraham’s and Sarah’s journey, Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, and that’s just the first two books of the Bible.
         Back in Nazareth, his hometown, Jesus confronts the immovable feast of theological and cultural stasis, the self-satisfied entrenchment of Here I stand. After preaching in his childhood synagogue, he gets a blistering review from the crowd. Where’d this guy get this stuff? Who does he think he is? We know him, and he’s no better than us!
         The people around whom Jesus grew up can’t seem to handle the idea that anyone of significance could arise from their midst. Indeed, Nazareth has a reputation for being a uniquely unremarkable place. In John 1, Nathanael initially dismisses Jesus saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) If the Nazarenes are given to such self-loathing, then they’ve earned their reputation. When folks are that stuck, life has more in common with potted plants than pilgrims on a journey. Jesus upsets them because he challenges not only their assumptions about who God is and what God does, but about who they are, and what they are capable of doing.
         After being dismissed in his hometown, Jesus laments the people’s uninspired faith with a familiar Greek proverb: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country.” Jesus expands that proverb to include the prophet’s “hometown…kin…and house.”4 The lament isn’t a selfish thing. Jesus isn’t upset that the crowds don’t swarm him with celebrity worship. He aches for those he couldn’t help. And he couldn’t help them because of the community’s spiritual inertia.
         Jesus leaves Nazareth and heads into nearby towns to continue his work. And somewhere in the midst of it all, he seems to decide that while he will do what he can, if he empowers his disciples to do what they can, together, they’ll reach a lot more people. That sets Jesus apart. He’s not another Pharisee. He’s more like Moses – the leader of an Exodus. Like God taking some of the spirit that rests on Moses and using it to empower more leaders, Jesus shares his spirit with his disciples and sends them out. As the mastermind of a new and continuing spiritual migration, Jesus comes not to say, Here I stand. He comes to say, Here we go!
         Yes, sometimes we must make a stand and hold firm for justice and righteousness. Racism, genocide, sexual abuse, exploitation of people and the environment – such things cannot go unopposed. But we make such stands precisely because we journey with the one who fearlessly stands with the oppressed and stands against brutal authority. When we separate piety from discipleship, when we separate “whosoever believes” from “when you did it to the least of these,” a place merely to stand can allow us to ignore the commands that bookend Jesus’ ministry: Follow me and Go into all the world.
         In one of her books, Barbara Brown Taylor distinguishes between Christians who are ordained to full-time ministry and Christians who make their living doing something else. Vocationally speaking, all Christians are called not simply to mission, but to the same mission of experiencing, following, and sharing Jesus. The Church just hasn’t always been faithful about empowering the laity to see themselves as ministers. The unfortunate result, Taylor says, has been to “turn clergy into purveyors of religion and lay people into consumers.”5
Religious consumers, ordained and lay alike, look for a place to stand. “I’m comfortable here,” they say.
Ministers, ordained and lay alike, look for a place to launch, a place to say, Here we go. They say, “There’s work for us to do together.”
Like Pharisees, many clergy have become satisfied with, or maybe addicted to, their authority in the community. And much of the laity has turned loose of its call to live as the priesthood of all believers in the work-a-day world. I understand that, too. To work a regular job and then to layer kingdom ministry on top of that sounds exhausting. In a lecture on the ministry of the laity, Taylor called lay people “God’s best hope for the world.” (And there are a whole lot more folks like you than there are of folks like me!) After the presentation a woman, perhaps from Nazareth, came up to Taylor and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be that important.”6
         Taylor imagines that no one ever suggested to the woman “that her ministry might involve just being who she already is and doing what she already does, with one difference: namely, that she understand herself to be God’s person in and for the world.”7
         That can be a hard place to get to in wealthy and entitled cultures. Having chosen to associate ease and excess with divine blessing, western Christianity struggles to make sense of Jesus’ call to journey with nothing but a staff, just like the Nazarenes’ struggle to make sense of someone from Nazareth being anointed by God. Shaped by a culture of scarcity and fear of loss, Here I stand theology trusts a stance on Jesus rather than Jesus himself. It reduces faith to church-attendance and creedal orthodoxy.
         Here we go theology – migratory theology – is the theology of discipleship. Come what may, it trusts and follows Jesus. Come what may, it proclaims and relies on God’s abundance. Maybe the truest affirmation of faith is to pick up a walking stick and say, “Jesus has called us. Come what may, here we go.”
         Now, how do we know where to go? More than once I’ve shared with you one of Frederick Buechner’s most famous quotations: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”8 That’s not a call to some self-centered and nebulous follow your bliss. It’s a call to claim your baptism, to claim your Belovedness of God and your God-given gifts and to go where you can develop them, delight in them, and offer them for the sake of the whole creation.
Discipleship is hard work. But it’s life-giving work. And all it requires of you is a staff. On one end of the staff, the end that grounds you and stabilizes you, is gratitude for who you are and for what God gives you. The other end of that staff, the end with which you reach out to help, to forgive, and to heal, that end is love, love for God, love for neighbor, and love for the earth.
         You have your staff. Where are you going?

1Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. Convergent Books, NY, 2016. Pp. x-xi.
2Ibid. p. x.
3Ibid. p. ix.
4Efrain Agosto in his article, “Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year B/Vol. 3), Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2009. p. 215.
5Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, Cowley Publications, Lanham, MD, 1993. P. 28.
6Ibid. p. 29
7Ibid. p. 29.
8Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. Harper & Row, NY, 1973. P. 95.