First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
October 7, 2018
Scripture: Mark 6:7-13
I was invited by a friend TruDee and I had made shortly after we had arrived in Wichita at the Iftar, breaking of the fast, at one of the Mosque’s. He invited me to a men’s prayer group that met the first Saturday morning just before dawn for prayer and fellowship. I will offer the disclaimer, though I am not sure exactly the extent to which I understand even now, then I am not sure I even knew enough to know what I was doing. Anyway, I agreed to join the group.
I arrived early in the morning to a house in a residential neighborhood that they had purchased and remodeled into a modest worship space with a kitchen and a couple classrooms. After removing our shoes and some brief introductions they invited me to join them as they formed a line facing east with the head of the mosque in front. I stayed behind the line of men and simply sat cross legged on the floor as I tried to absorb the chants and kneeling and movements the prayers went through for the morning prayers. While I was grateful for the opportunity to be present for this experience, I did feel a bit like being on the outside looking in… alone so to speak. That’s not negative critique, mind you, it was simply what it was. It can be difficult to get plugged in to a tradition, practice, understanding, language, experience, with which one is not familiar. After prayers, we gathered around a table with some simple snacks of crackers and cheese, coffee and ice water and visited about a whole myriad of things from religion to politics, to family and community.
This was the image that came to mind when I read the passage from Mark in preparation for today. Initially I was not sure why… but, I stuck with it as I pondered and reflected on the words the author of Mark shared in this story of Jesus sending out the twelve… and the other piece was what did this have to say to us this morning about stewardship, pledging, and building a budget for the coming year. “Good question…” I said to myself.
So, let me start here… the author of Mark has placed this sending of the twelve between Jesus experience of seeming rejection in his home town and the story of the execution of John the Baptist. One story, preceding, could make one perceive themselves alone, so to speak. To be rejected by the very ones who raised you to some degree; rejected by those who “knew you when.” This post-story sets one in a ponderous position by considering, if one is to believe many scholars who suggest Jesus was initially a disciple of John the Baptist who set out on his own with his own interpretation of the Kindom and the mission of the Divine, Jesus learns of John’s execution by King Herod. That could have an effect on one’s ministry and outlook on the journey. That could leave one feeling a bit on the outside looking in, if you will. Leave one wondering what was going on, is it all worth it, what are the risks? What are the rewards? How does one know? How does one expand the understanding of God? How does one connect with those who see things differently? How does one coexist with those who disagree or worse with the vision of what it means to be about the work of the Way in the world? I have a lot of questions.
Jesus is inviting the twelve to experience, to a degree, what Jesus experienced in the wilderness….alone. Though he does not send them alone… he sends them two-by-two. However, he sends them with very little… a staff, sandals, and one tunic. They have no bread, no bag, no money. Jesus is asking them to survive, to rely on the hospitality of others. Jesus is sending the twelve out on an immersion experience and asking them to immerse themselves in the world with little or no resource and experience the world as dependents. With the exception of some sense of hope that houses in the community and countryside might take them in (wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place), and with no expectation of anything in return, just a hope that someone will provide the resources for them to carry on.
As I said last week, Mark places things in the telling of the story of Jesus mission and ministry with a purpose. Of course, that purpose is always subject to the reader’s interpretation… such as where I am getting ready to go now… but there is a purpose for which the author does what the author does.
Here is what I think about this story understanding I am reading it through a particular lens as I work on this message. Mark’s Jesus is about building community. The first thing Jesus does after his own experience in the wilderness alone is to build community. He gathers the twelve… and others. The mission and ministry of the Way of Jesus is not a solo venture. He experiences his own hometown in an isolating and rejecting way. And so, he gathers the twelve together and sends them out alone, granted two-by-two, but alone so to speak. Alone to the point of forcing them to rely on others for their resources, bread, and shelter… a way to build community… to do what they have been sent to do and move on… seemingly without expectation of anything in return. If they are not welcome, just shake the dust from their sandals and move on. Build community where you can and keep moving.
I was reminded of a text from the Hindu Gita…
“Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill.”
We in the church, church as in broad picture and locally, can get so caught up in results and numbers we can lose sight of simply being. We focus on creating community… creating welcome and hospitality… planting the seeds of compassion, spirituality, action, justice, and love and just keep moving. We spend an inordinate amount of time counting numbers, creating and striving to meet goals… we lose the practice of simply being and creating community. This isn’t a solo venture… not by individuals or an individual church. It takes all of us to work on the vision of the Way of Jesus in the world. We are a part of the Body of Christ, not the whole of it. We are a part of the body even with those with which we do not always see eye-to-eye. But it takes time, intention, and practice to build community… two-by-two… three-by-three… and so on. It does not happen overnight.
I remember early on in my ministry and struggling with the notion of standing up on Sunday morning with the audacity of the task of trying to preach… of discerning a word from the Divine… to share with the gathered community something of worth and inspiration. I shared with my District Superintendent my struggle and here is what she said to me… “Remember you are a part of something larger than yourself. Remember the church you serve is part of something larger than itself. Every week as you study, read, pray, contemplate, discern, ponder… Every week when you stand up to proclaim the grace and love of the Divine. There are hundreds of thousands who are gathered with you, who have studied, read, prayed, contemplated, discerned, pondered the same stories as you. Those who have and are standing up to proclaim the grace and love of the Divine even at the same time you are. You are not alone here. You are part of a community… a worldwide community.”
It is something we share and acknowledge every week, but especially this week of worldwide communion: we are gathered here with hundreds of thousands of others… some with whom we see eye-to-eye… some we do no. But we are a community larger than ourselves. And I would dare say the table extends even beyond the Christian Church as we know it… into other faith traditions who in the midst of our differences find reason and resonance to connect and work for the common good of all.
My second visit to the mosque in the early morning hours of the first Saturday of the month included the same elements as the first with the exception this time I was given a sheet of paper translating the Arabic prayers into English which helped my understanding and helped me feel more included. My third visit to the Mosque as we gathered for prayers included my friend turning and looking at me and saying, “Come up here in the line with us… if you are comfortable kneel and rise with us as we do, brother.” And so I did. And even though I knew we did not approach the faith of Abraham in the same ways nor even understand it in the same ways… knowing we would probably never agree on everything regarding our faith… I felt as one of them… part of the community… a oneness.
And so here at First… I suspect if we gathered 100 of us together and asked a question… we would surely get at least 25, 50, 80 different answers or understandings? We find our common understandings and passions and carry on the work of justice, spiritual connection, and ministry together… building community even with those with whom we do not always agree… but we create safe space to coexist together.
That is one of the many reasons we give of our resources… a community grounded in planting the seeds compassion, welcome, justice, and love…not in order to count the return… but to create a community of grace. Connected in unity and welcome for all, where all means all.
I pray it is so.
Salaam, Shalom, Peace Be With You!