Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 4, 2021

Amandus J. Derr, Interim Senior Pastor

Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Saint Mark 6:1-13

In nomine Jesu!
Grace and peace to you from God – Father, ☩ Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

What does it mean to be faithful in a post-Christian world?

How do we live out our communal faith in an increasingly hostile, self-isolating society?

What is our vocation –– our calling –– as followers of Jesus Christ and, simultaneously, as citizens of the richest and greatest world power in all of human history?  

245 years after the Declaration of Independence; almost 20 years since the world-altering events of September Eleventh; a tad less than 6 months after the January 6 melee at our nation’s Capitol; a mere two months since we began to resume a semblance of “normal,” in-person life after 15 months of Covid lockdown, what does it mean to be a faithful member of the Christian community in a nation and a world rent asunder by competing faith-based fundamentalisms and the increasingly strident clash between the adherents of scientifically, provable facts on the on hand, and fear-driven conspiracy theories on the other?

July Fourth, our premiere national holiday, and today’s readings bring these questions –– questions with which you and I and many others have been struggling –– into sharp focus.  These are wrenching questions with no short, snappy answer; questions about whose answers we may faithfully disagree. If all we had were our own, or our national, self-interest; if we didn’t have a conscience; if our God remained silent and did not speak to us through the scriptures, the Church’s tradition, and our own communal conversations, then we would have no questions, we would need no conversation, we would face no moral or ethical struggle.   But God is not silent and, because we were baptized into the death and life of Jesus Christ, God continually speaks to us and encourages us to engage in conversation with God and with one another. Furthermore, God promises us that in all our faith-filled conversations three things will always be certain:

  1. That the questions will not end. That, through the scriptures and through the trends, changes and upheavals of our current reality, God will continue to engage us: “O mortal,” God says, “stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.”
  2. That, as we gather together around Christ’s Word and Meal, the Spirit will enable us to hear and respond to what God has to say.
  3. — and this is the hard part –that, no matter how earnest our conversation or how faithful our response, there is no guarantee of success.

Not a very upbeat context is this?  Yet it is precisely because of this context –– “the waste of our wraths and sorrows” –– as a favorite prayer puts it, that we ask God for “the courage you gave the apostles.”  It is precisely within this context that we affirm, that “in our baptism [God] called us to proclaim the coming of [God’s] kingdom.”  It is precisely in this context that we commit ourselves to “faithfully witness to [God’s] love and power.”

Witnesses to God’s love and power.  With all these questions, how can we be that?  In the Gospel for today, set in a remarkably similar uncertain context, Jesus frames his answer.  It’s all about community, he says.  So he sends them out “two by two.”  It’s all about confronting evil, he says. So he gives them authority to root evil out.  It’s all about obsession with “stuff,” he says. So he tells them to take nothing for the journey.

What Jesus said to them, he also says to us.

In the midst of rampant individualism, Christ calls us to listen and act communally.  In the midst of epidemic “buck-passing,” “finger-pointing,” and “truth-spinning,” Christ calls to listen and act with authority.  In the midst of runaway consumption and consumerism, Christ calls us to cling to nothing.  Individualism. Blame.  Consumption. These are deadly sins, “the waste of our wraths and sorrows.”  Community.  Authority.  Trust in God.  Jesus calls these “peace.”

In our hearts, we know this to be true.

One of my favorite 20th Century theologians, Janis Joplin, sang: “Freedom’s just another word for ‘nothin’ left to lose.’”  If we would be faithful as members of the community of Christ and as citizens of this nation, if we would be “faithful witnesses,” we must learn again, and teach again, this reality.

Every time we gather for Christ’s Meal, we experience this reality anew.  We come bringing nothing; God welcomes us with open arms.  Christ comes bringing nothing – but himself – enough to nourish, sustain and revive us.  Through these means God speaks.  Through these means Christ sends us out to proclaim – “the kingdom of God, on earth as in heaven.”  Through these means Christ gives us companions and authority to announce the beginning of a whole new world.  Through these means Christ promises to be with us.  But Christ does not promise us success.

In April 1945, just before his martyrdom under the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words in his poem, “Stations on the Road to Freedom,” under the subtitle Action:

Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,
Seizing reality boldly, not weighing up chances,
Freedom’s in action alone, not in wavering thought.
Leave aside anxious delay and go into the storm of our history,
Borne alone solely by faith and God’s will and commandment;
Freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.

Freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.

Amandus J. Derr