As I read and re-read tonights Gospel thinking about it and wondering how it applies to us: this story about Jesus trying to minister in his home town and then sending his disciples out. I thought about what we are trying to do here as we continue to build this community. As we live through new and defining moments together.
A couple of weeks ago I was away in Northern California at a program called the College for Congregational development. We run the same program here and call it the Diocesan School for Parish Development.
And we spend these weeks together with people in leadership positions in churches thinking about our church, both our individual churches and our big wide Anglican church.
One of the things that we say in this program is that we believe that churches of all sizes and in all locations can seek to become more faithful, healthy and effective communities of faith that know their unique reason for being, that are connected to our particular ecclesial tradition, which in our case is as a part of the world wide Anglican communion.
Ecclesial coming from the Greek word ekklsia meaning assembly or church.
And we believe that churches can become self-renewing and responsive to the challenges and the opportunities that are before them.
So this is a program that I have been pretty deeply formed in and it is frankly what helped me to believe Andrew and think that maybe I could help to plant this thing that we are here doing now, this congregation called St. Brigid with you. And we did and here we are now.
When I read today’s Gospel about Jesus in his hometown and then sending out the twelve and he says to them: don’t take anything with you and wherever you enter stay there until it is time to move on. I was reminded of a model that we teach in the program called Benedictine Life.
Benedictine spirituality is connected to and embedded in our tradition as Anglicans. Benedict of Nursa established twelve monastic communities around Italy and established for them a rule of life that still influences many people both individuals and communities today.
His rule holds three main points that I’d like us to consider tonight:
Stability, Obedience and Conversation of life.
Let me unpack these a little bit and then see if I can tell you why I have connected them to this Gospel reading for today.
Stability is about seeking God in who and what is right before us. Not in some place that we wish we were, with some other group of people. But right here. Right now. With these people and in this place.
Obedience is about listening to God through these people and in this place. Listening to God through prayer, in silence, maybe in a community meeting or in our shared reflections. Maybe in your family or with friends. It is about deep listening with your whole self: mind, heart and body for the word of God. And it is about listening in order to act. Listening in order to respond to God, to do something about what you hear God telling you. Because God is speaking to you – telling you something, nudging you towards something here, through and with the people that are around you.
And finally, Conversion of life. This is the action part that follows the listening. It’s about responding to whatever invitation you might be getting a glimmer of, that connects you to your ministry and then moving on it. Conversation of life assumes that we are constantly seeking to turn more deeply towards our God and into relationship with our Creator and each other through Jesus Christ.
So finding God here, in this place with these people, listening for the voice of God through the community, or friends or family or church. And then being prepared to have an action response to what we have heard or felt God might be inviting us into.
Now let me see if I can connect this model to the reading from Mark’s Gospel. There are two ways in for me here.
The first is in the inability of the people in Jesus’ home town to see who he was. ‘Who does he think he is?’, they ask. We saw him grow up. ‘Isn’t he Mary’s son?’ – they can’t hear God’s word through him, or they won’t. Maybe they are waiting on someone else, someone bigger, flashier, with a higher paying job. Not listening to the person in front of them for what God might be saying to them through him. Regardless of or maybe because of their established relationship.
How often and how much do we dismiss or miss completely because we write off the people in front of us or those we just know really well? Like somehow because we have an established relationship, God couldn’t possibly be speaking through them to us. Obviously words of wisdom come from sanctioned wisdom speakers like Bishop Tutu or someone else really famous.
But Jesus had important things to say to the people around him and sometimes those people were his parents or his friends. We have important things to say to each other maybe even because of our relationships with each other. Gods grace and wisdom is most often shared with us through the people who are closest to us. Of course well written books and famous preachers are also important, but they are not the only or even sometimes the most important voices for God for us. Sometimes God speaks to us through the wisdom and love of the people right in front of us, in the non-flashy every day way that we are together.
The second place I see a connection is when Jesus sends the twelve out and tells them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the town.” Don’t move around, don’t go from place to place. Stay present to the house that you enter and minister there.
Sometimes we move around because something about a community or a people are not exactly as we want them to be. There is some way things might be better or different in another community.
One of the gifts of community is what can happen if you stick with it.
To be clear, I would never advocate staying somewhere that is causing harm or where you are unsafe.
But if that’s not the case, then there is something to sticking with it and with the people who are here.
We will let you down, community is imperfect. And it is worth sticking with. It’s worth listening to the community and finding God in the midst of it. It’s worth paying attention and listening for Gods voice and then coming up with a plan together or a way that you or we want to be in response to what we have heard.
A plan like standing across the road from a church that has a pastor who has said some unfair and untrue things about trans people, to let them know that there are communities who will not let untrue or unfair words be spoken about people that we love.
Or a plan like wanting to connect more intentionally to the wider Cathedral community.
Or a plan like we want to be intentional about welcoming newcomers to this community so we are going to invite them to someones home and hang out with them and tell them about ourselves.
Or a plan like we want to host a tea for elders in the community, so partnering with a community house, baking some cookies and then going to drink tea with elders in the West End.
Those things come from listening to the voices of our community and then deciding to act on them. Some of those things happened once, some of them we tried a few times and then they stopped, some of them are ongoing. But they come as a result of listening in order to act. Listening in order to respond. And they happen when you stick with a community long enough to be in the conversation and with enough pauses that you can hear and then making a plan.
What if we were to develop a rule of life for this community? What would you want to include? How would attend to the Benedictine model to finding God here in this community, with these people, what are some ways that we want to listen? And then how to want to make space for action?
Maybe you have a rule that you follow individually. Maybe you would like to make a rule and I can help you with that if you want. Maybe your rule might help could help us to create one as a community.
Some of this we might be already doing but what would it look like to make it explicit?
What I hear in this Gospel text is an invitation to a way of being. We have also been sent out by way of our baptisms and as members of a Christian community, this Christian community.
God’s voice is speaking to us through the people who are right here and it is our work to discern it not write it off. And stay with your community for a while, see how it feels to stay and dig in. Maybe there will come a time to move on, and you’ll know when that is – it’s also our job to let each other go when the time is right. And certainly we have blessed some people on their way.
So I want to invite us to take that seriously. I want to invite us to be intentional about how we want to be as a community, as we grow.
Jesus invites us to take one another seriously, to be in community to listen for and with one another. Our faith is not a stagnant one but a faith of action, of response to God invitation to and through us.
We become self-renewing and more faithful and healthy and effective when we listen to God through one another. When we listen mind, heart and body to what we are telling one another and when we not just listen as a community in order to respond to the call the God is offering us.
We are here to be in ministry to and for and with each other. There is something that God wants from us and something that only we can offer. Because the particular invitation that God is offering to us is for us.
This community was brought into being in response to a nudge that Andrew and I felt about the kind of ministry that we felt called into. And you came because it resonated with something in you – or maybe you just came because the doors were open.
But here we are and Jesus continues to invite us into something together.