Called Forward

Homily for Proper 5, Year B
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Richmond, VA

Lectionary Readings:

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

This week we step out of the changing, multi-colored liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter and we enter the long post-pentecost season of liturgical green that we call Ordinary Time. It’s interesting to enter this season of “ordinary time” now, when we are redefining the ordinary. We are simultaneously re-entering what was once the ordinary of our own lives: seeing loved ones, gathering in groups where we relearn how to socialize, how long it takes to commute, resuming activities that we once enjoyed and perhaps even appreciating things we earlier took for granted. It feels much different than it did before. There is an extra-ordinary excitement about resuming the ordinary, and simultaneously, there are moments of worry and hesitation as well. We are a generally cautious group here at St. Mark’s, having focused on loving the most vulnerable in our midst. We haven’t rushed back into pre-pandemic modes of worship and we are constantly thinking about and talking about what is best for everyone…not just the risk takers who are willing to dive right in, but everyone…even those for whom it is complicated or even impossible, geographically to resume formerly ordinary things. In fact, we are learning that moving into this ordinary time isn’t so much about going back is it is about moving forward together, to envision new ways of being, to integrate what we’ve learned from the past year with what we’ve loved and found to be familiar. The task going forward for us will be to learn what forms our ministry will take in the new ordinary time into which we are entering.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we encounter Jesus preparing to enter an ordinary yet extra-ordinary time of his earthly ministry. In the opening chapters of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry with a tour around the Galilean seaside, performing miracles and accumulating followers. Just before today’s lesson, Jesus has gone up to the mountain and appointed his closest followers…his Apostles whom he named and sent to spread the Good News. After the naming of this group, Mark simply tells us that Jesus went home.

When I read this passage, I imagine that Jesus went home for all the human reasons of the heart: seeing people that he loved; desiring some stability and respite from what surely was a whirlwind time of his early ministry. It’s possible that Jesus was seeking to return to something ordinary…the beautiful, heartfelt ordinary.. But, there was nothing ordinary to be found in the place that he once called home. The crowds were pressing in, the stories had travelled and conspiracy theories were abounding: was Jesus a prophet of God, or someone overtaken by forces of evil? Jesus was battling not only with groups that did not understand his message, but with the recognition that the ordinary safe space of home was no longer what it once was.

If we’re honest with ourselves, this Gospel resonates with our own lives right now. As much as we may think we want to, we cannot go back. So we don’t lose heart, I’m here to tell you that is GOOD NEWS.

It was at this time last year that we were thrust into a summer of racial justice reckoning. Our sensibilities and our sense of urgency were heightened as we responded to utterly devastating and senseless acts of police violence and racial hatred. Our country and our church are still wrestling with this, and now is no time to think about going back to places of white-washed safety, power and privilege. On the contrary, we are called to the front lines of promoting love and advocating for justice as the actions of our daily lives in full participation with our baptismal covenant. We have professed to live into that call to work for justice, freedom and peace every single week during Eastertide, and we have answered affirmatively the call to seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being. Friends, our hearts have been broken open in this past year just as Dorothy reminded us last week. We have come to see with new eyes and hear with new ears the proclamation that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and that includes the house of God, the Church. We have seen injustice in our world and within our historic walls. We have begun to tell the truth, to repent and repair, to move to secure justice and a spirit of reconciliation. We CANNOT go back to what we were, even if it once felt comfortable. Healing miracles have been taking place and we have been called as followers of Christ in this ministry of love and justice. We can’t go back…we have to keep going forward.

As we regather, too, we are tempted to ask “when will we be back?” But what do we really mean by that? What is the “back” where we think we want to go? Perhaps we are now realizing that as appealing it may seem, “back” was a time when not all of our beloved church family could be physically present on Sundays. “Back” was a time before we all navigated the loss, chaos and confusion of a global pandemic and its ripples of socioeconomic, health and mental health impacts.. We have learned new things, we have grown in new ways…and while we are and will continue to worship together in the virtual and physical space of St. Mark’s we are not ever going to be back exactly as we were. There is both grief and opportunity in this recognition but most of all, there is the accompanying and real presence of Christ in our midst.

Just as Jesus sought to go home and could not, Jesus is present with us in our yearning to experience equilibrium by seeking out things to be as they once were. Jesus loves us as our hearts are broken-open and as we realize that the work we are called to do, we cannot simply do by picking up things just like they used to be. Jesus, breaking free of constraints, gets called back to the loving normal by those who knew who he was. And Jesus…changed…also changes this picture and gives his hearers a new meaning of family, a new ordinary of experience in Christ: “whoever does the will of God is my mother, and my sister and my brother.”

This phrase that Jesus utters can be utterly stunning to us. Is he dismissing and disrespecting his family? That would be the old ordinary talking, clinging to special privileges for a select few with whom one is fully at home. A new ordinary is breaking forth on the horizon where we welcome what was, what is, and what is yet to come not with suspicion, but with a mutual recognition of God in each other so that we are truly family and siblings in Christ

Moving forward does sometimes mean that we need to let go of old, familiar ways of thinking and knowing and being. Moving forward with God in the guidance of the Holy Spirit means that we allow our hearts to be broken open so that those who have been strangers become family, and that those we kept outside the circle of community now become family. In this new world, we can all be siblings together in this beautiful, diverse, expansive realm of God.

Our foray into ordinary time in this season of our lives brings us to a crossroads. What will we do with the lessons this year has taught us? How have our hearts been opened, and our understanding of “church” and “family” expanded? How is God calling us to be the family of God in new and expansive ways? Where are we holding back? What are we afraid of? Where is the Holy Spirit burning in our hearts and helping us see new ways forward?

In the closing refrains of today’s Gospel, I could so easily go to the place of a family member feeling marginalized. But what if instead, we get ourselves inside the perspective of all the “others” who were outside that inner circle? What does it feel like to hear Jesus’ declaration of family through the ears of those who were, in that moment, seen and called and named by Jesus as family? What about the new followers who were just named Apostles and who were just beginning to wrap their minds around the journey on which they were embarking as followers of Jesus. Letting go of the familiar opens us up to hear a new call, a new way of being, an ever more widening and expansive circle of who we love and how we serve as we expand our awareness and understanding of our family in Christ. If we can stand in this Gospel story and hear Jesus extend the call of family to us, we are compelled to extend that to others in this world, far beyond the reaches of what currently feels safe and familiar.

This is why we can’t go back, friends. If we live and walk in the love of Christ, we have to go forward. We will not lose heart.

I’m going to close today with the words of a hymn which might be known to some of you, but is likely not as familiar as some old favorites. It’s a hymn from the Iona community that I turn to often in prayer. I’ll read the lyrics to you for now, and look forward to the time we can sing it together. That time is coming, friends, and now is the time to open our hearts to the new call that God is placing in our hearts, on our lives, and within our community. Welcome to ordinary, extra-ordinary time, friends. Why go back when we are called to go forward:

The Summons: John L. Bell & Graham Maule

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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