Saturday, June 18, 2011

Get out there! Pentecost 2 Year A

I was watching a movie yesterday.  It was called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Now, this sermon is not going to be about that movie, but there was something in the movie that really got me thinking about today’s gospel reading.  In the movie, the Apprentice is told that once he starts on the path of learning, there is no going back.  Once the Apprentice steps into the circle, there is no going back.

I was thinking that stepping into the light of Christ is sort of a similar thing.  Once we take being a Christian seriously, we will find that we are in the same place; once we take our call to be Christian seriously, we find that our lives are changed in ways that will never allow us to go back.

Yet, unfortunately, being the humans that we are, we may not want to go back, but we may be very content to stay where we are.  We find something that we like and we decide that this is good enough.  We get to know people and decide that these people are the ones we want to stay with.  We find a place of comfort and decide that we just don’t want to move from there.

Really, this wanting to stay in the same place makes sense.  If we know we are safe, then we don’t have to be spending a whole lot of time keeping watch for threats to our health and well being.  If we find a safe place, then we can spend our time doing other things like raising our families, cultivating friendships, and pursuing our passions.  But, eventually, staying in the same place begins to fail.  We run out of food.  We become bored and complacent with each other.  We begin to see enemies where enemies don’t exist.  When groups become to content with their surroundings, it is then that the group begins to fall apart.  This almost sounds counter-intuitive, but I have seen this happen too many times to just write it off.

This was a problem that was facing the early Christians after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They were all together in a room because it was safer to be there.  Stories were being spread that sightings of the risen Christ we hoaxes that were being perpetrated by the disciples.  The disciples were huddled together in the upper room to avoid the very real danger that awaited them outside their walls.

But whether the walls of a cell are imposed on people by another or the people choose to stay where there are; cell walls are cell walls.  The disciples were locking themselves away.  Their fear was placing them into a jail of their own making.  The disciples may have felt safe, but that safety would eventually destroy them.

When we look at the world, it can seem big and scary.  There are so many things out there that can feel threatening to our well being.  There are things that are unknown.  There are murky gray areas which seem to have no right or wrong answers.  There are multiple options out there with no sure-fire guarantee that any of the options will succeed.  When the world looks scary, movement becomes difficult.  When resources like money become scarce, staying put looks like a pretty tempting choice.  But in today’s gospel reading, Jesus calls us to move beyond that tempting choice.  In today’s gospel, Jesus calls us to be something more.

Many of us have gone through the heyday of being Church in America:  All we had to do was plop a church down and open the doors and the people would walk in.  Churchlife was part of the fabric of society.  This was a very comfortable place to be!  We knew that the folks who were walking in were of a similar mindset as we were.  We knew that although we may differ on a few points, for the most part we all agreed.  But now things are changing.  We cannot assume that people believe the same things we do.  We cannot assume that a person’s understanding of scripture is similar to our.  We cannot even assume that a person adheres to the same scripture we do. (Possibly tell “Our Father” story here)  With all the changes that are occurring in the world, it may feel safer to stay within the walls of our churches than to go out and face the challenges of the world.

And we may even convince ourselves that staying inside is a good thing.  We may convince ourselves that by closing ourselves within our walls that we are protecting the faith and building up our congregations.  In a former congregation, I had a person seriously tell me that she liked her small congregation and that we needed to be spending our time caring for ourselves rather than looking out into the world.  Unfortunately, that congregation is now closed.  When a congregation becomes totally inward focused, it just starts to feed on itself.

However, Jesus was not about to let the disciples become that inwardly focused.  While they were all in the upper room trying to be safe, he called them and sent them to Galilee.  And while he was there with them, he told them what we heard in today’s gospel; the words which we have come to call the “Great Commission.” 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Jesus wasn’t telling them to spend their time looking after their own little congregation and make sure they were all dealing with their grief in appropriate manners; he was telling them to move out into the world.  He was telling them to go out to the nations and spread the word that they received from Christ, himself.  He didn’t tell them to make sure they were all ok with the system, even though we are told that some doubted what they were seeing.  He told them to go out; go out and make disciples of all nations!

That is rather scary!  But Jesus does not give us any wiggle room.  We may say that we don’t know enough to go out.  We may say we are too old to go out.  We may say we are too young to go out!  We may try to come up with all kinds of excuses to not be out in the nations making disciples.  But like I said before, Jesus does not give us any wiggle room.  If we are afraid to go out, Jesus reassures us that Christ himself will be with us.  We are not being sent out to the nations on our own, we are being sent out with Christ himself as our traveling companion!  Could we ever ask for a better companion?

I am guessing that you, as a congregation, are going through something similar.  Your beloved priest of many years is no longer with you.  The tendency may be to feel like it is better to draw together and keep safe to heal.  But the words of Jesus would challenge you to think differently.  Yes, the disciples did come together for a time of healing, but then Christ sent them out; sent them out to baptize, to teach, to make disciples.  Christ knew that part of the process of healing was to reach out and help others.

We as Christians have been called.  And when we recognize that call, there is no going back.  If fact, Christ is not content to just let us stay where we are.  Christ is moving us ahead, sending us out.  Out into a world that needs to hear the message of Christ’s love.  It can be scary going out, and like the disciples, we may have our doubts, but even those disciples who doubted were not given a pass.  Jesus called them all and sent them all.

And because they went out into the world, people heard the message and lives were changed.  And those people went out and spread the message and more became disciples.  And those disciples went out to teach and baptize and still more learned of Christ’s love and followed.  And this chain of disciples has passed through the years and now comes down to you and me. 

So, what are we going do?  Who is waiting to hear the good news from us?  Even if we may doubt, Christ sends us out.  And in all things, we can be assured we are not alone.  Christ is with us, even to the end of the age.

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