The Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5)
The Reverend Jo-Ann R. Murphy, D.Min.
It’s difficult to be confronted with a challenging scripture on our first Sunday together. Today’s Gospel upsets our favorite images of sweet, kind Jesus, meek and mild. Today we hear Jesus speak harshly, perhaps even angrily, to dismiss his family. I hope those great, mysterious liturgical gurus in far off cathedrals somewhere aren’t clasping their hands in glee saying “Hee hee, we’ll throw them a challenge as they begin a new chapter.”
I’d prefer to think that today’s Gospel is included just to bring us up short, to get our attention, to cause us to rethink our assumptions. Jesus tells us “Whoever does the will of God is my disciple. “Ah ha!” Therein lies the rub! How do we know the will of God?
How do you know the will of God for your life? You can’t have lived as many years as I have without having made at least one serious bad decision. In fact, that’s one of my very favorite parlor games - - your fairy godmother appears – poof – and offers you one “do over” – one chance to change a decision (and the consequences) you once made. What decision would you change?
And, what is the will of God for St. Bartholomew’s? Who are we supposed to be? Finish the sentence … “Oh, St. Bartholomew’s in Laytonsville, that’s the church that _ _ _ _ _ .”
There are many ways I can think of to finish that sentence. Oh, St. Barts’s, that’s the church with that beautiful labyrinth. St. Bart’s, that church with the prayer bead ministry; or, that’s the church where everyone is truly welcome. But what would you say? There is no shortage of houses of worship in Montgomery County. Driving here this morning I passed at least half a dozen churches, mosques, synagogues and even a Sikh Meeting House. What makes Saint Bartholomew’s unique? “Oh, Saint Bartholomew’s, that’s the church that _ _ _ _ _?”
There’s a story I want to tell you. It’s the story of the grease factory. You may have heard this story. There once was a factory that made grease - - very good grease. In fact, this factory manufactured such excellent grease that it became famous for its grease. It started to offer factory tours to visitors who came from all over to visit this superb factory. One day a man came to the factory and registered for the factory tour. He got his name badge, and his guide escorted his tour group through the sparkling plant. He watched as the large vats of grease were mixed, poured into containers of all sizes, and labeled. There was even a gift shop where visitors could choose a souvenir. The tour guide told his group that all of the factory’s employees were well paid and very satisfied with their working conditions. It was a good tour but at the end this man raised his hand and told the tour guide that he had a question.
“We didn’t see the shipping department,” noted the visitor. “Where is it that you package and ship out the grease,” he asked?
“Oh,” laughed the tour guide, “We don’t have a shipping department. We don’t ship any of our grease anywhere. We need all the grease we manufacture to run the factory.”
Where’s that fairy godmother when we need her?
So, our task is clearly set out for us this day as we officially embark on this time of transition. It stretches before us, uninterrupted for months to come. All the major and even minor liturgical feasts are behind us - - Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, even Trinity Sunday. Here we are at the beginning of the long, green season. It stretches week after week all the way until next November when we will begin a new church year with Advent. It’s a straight clear path. We have one task. It’s not a simple task - - God knows we live in a complex, changing, challenging time. We are emerging from a devastating pandemic to an unknown “new normal” and dealing with climate change, political disruption, and racial and ethnic reparations, our national news is what - - unsettling, disturbing, how would you describe it? None-the-less, our task, St. Bartholomew’s task, is to seek and know and do the will of God.
In biblical times it was the desire for healing that drew people to Jesus, and it is no different today. We, too, seek Jesus because we need a savior. Like the Jews of the first century, we live in troubled times. Living out the form of discipleship Christ bids us follow means a new solidarity with all of humanity. It requires that we learn to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. It asks us to love into the depths of human joy and suffering. It calls us to find ourselves precisely in our willingness to give up our self-absorption. This is a demanding task, requiring us to follow him into a new solidarity with God’s whole human family.
I’m betting that St. Bartholomew’s is up to the task. Take that, you liturgical gurus who thought you’d stump us today!!! AMEN.