Monday, July 16, 2018

A Greater Belonging In Jesus

Brad Sullivan
Proper 10, Year B
July 15, 2018
Emmanuel, Houston
Mark 6:14-29

A Greater Belonging In Jesus

John the Baptist was killed because of a hastily-made promise given by a man who was overly aroused by his step daughter’s dancing.  With little thought as to possible consequence, Herod spoke his promise to give her whatever she wanted.  He was acting out of emotion, feeling more than thinking, and so in his lust and over excitement, he got a man killed.

I’d like to say that as disciples of Jesus, we don’t fall into that trap anymore, the trap of speaking and acting out of our emotions and letting our rash words cause harm to others.  I’d like to say that we don’t cause harm with our rash words, but of course we all still do.  As researcher and author BrenĂ© Brown points out, we like to think of ourselves as thinking people who also have emotions, but really, we are emotional people who also think sometimes.  We are often driven by our emotions and even our rational decisions are often clouded by our emotions. 

We may not often get people killed with a hastily made promise like Herod did, but remember that even before Herod had John killed, he had him imprisoned.  This was probably another hastily made decision, probably based largely on emotion.  Herod was the named Jewish king.  He was a puppet king of Rome, but even so, his assigned duty was to lead well the nation of Israel, so when he decided to marry his brother’s wife, John pointed out that doing so was against Jewish law.  Now usually, Herod liked listening to John.  He was perplexed by his teachings, but something about John’s teaching about God and about the ways of the people of Israel seems to have connected with Herod.  Then John called into question Herod’s unlawful marriage, and in what was likely a tantrumy fit of emotion, Herod decided that there was no longer room enough in Israel for both John and him, so he had John imprisoned. 

“I don’t like what you have to say, so you’ll have to go.”  That was Herod’s basic operating model with John.  We don’t often get people killed with our rash words and emotionally clouded decisions, but “I don’t like what you have to say, so you’ll have to go,” is something I hear with increasing frequency.

In our nation, with much of the vitriolic, emotional language surrounding any issue, people tend to be painted in absolute, binary terms.  On one side of what we hear, if you agree with anything President Trump does or says, then you are described or thought of as a hateful racist (which is completely false).  On the other side of what we hear, if you don’t agree with something President Trump does or says, then you are described or thought of as an anti-American nincompoop (also totally false).  Put another way, much of what we hear is, “I don’t like what you have to say, so you’ll have to go.”  That’s Herod’s way.

This way of thinking with our emotions, lives not only in our political thoughts and civil discourse.  The putting away of and rejection of the other ends up living in our church and our faith as well.   My guess is that most of us don’t believe in overly emotional labels of the other.   Most of us, when our emotions are down, don’t really believe in the “I don’t like what you have to say, so you’ll have to go” mentality.  Most of us would not want to kick out of the church those who have different beliefs about our faith or different beliefs about various laws in America.  We may disagree, but I’m guess that most of us would not want to declare those with whom we disagree no longer welcome in the Episcopal Church or no longer a part of the Body of Christ, and yet people continue to feel like that is exactly what they are being told.  “Because of what you believe, you no longer belong.”

I had a question recently from a friend in the Episcopal church, wondering about the Episcopal Church’s stance on a variety of current hot button issues.  Ultimately, he was wondering if he still belongs in the Episcopal Church.  He has more conservative views on most of the hot button issues of the day and he was wondering if because of his conservative views, he was going to be seen as a bigot in his church.  Hearing what some in his church have said, hearing what some leaders in the church have said, he was guessing that he wasn’t welcome.  Now, none of those leaders said he wasn’t welcome, but we hear it so much, that we hear “you aren’t welcome,” even when it is not being said or thought.  Based on conversations and observations of others in his church, he was afraid.  He felt that if he were to say that he agrees with some of President Trumps policies, that he would be labeled a hateful racist and be shunned. 

I assured him that as far as any official stance within the Episcopal Church goes, of course he is a part of the Episcopal Church, and of course his views are welcome in the Episcopal Church, and he is not viewed as a bigot for having conservative beliefs.  Nor is anyone viewed as a nincompoop for having liberal beliefs.  There are bishops, priest, and laity throughout the Episcopal Church on the far right, on the far left, everywhere in between, and all of those beliefs are welcome.  It’s not as comfortable as it is to say, “I disagree; you don’t belong.”  That’s a lot easier, but that is not the way of the Episcopal Church.   One of the longtime hallmarks of the Anglican/Episcopal church is that we are united in Jesus, and our unity in Jesus overcomes any other divisions we have. 

Sadly, much of how we talk about our differences leaves us feeling like there is only room for some of us.  I’ve been guilty of this in how I’ve talked and written.  I’m guessing many of us have, when we talk emotionally about an issue and end up saying things in such a way that those with opposing views end up hearing very clearly, “I don’t like what you have to say, so you’ll have to go.”

A one sided church is not, however, the way of the Anglican/Episcopal Church.  The Anglican Church started off with bloodshed.  When a catholic monarch was in charge, they killed the protestants, and when a protestant monarch was in charge, they killed the Catholics.  Finally, Elizabeth basically said,
We’re not doing this anymore.  This isn’t the church of  Catholicism; this isn’t the church of Protestantism.  This is the church of England.  Furthermore, this is the church of Jesus, and we are going to be united around Jesus and be united around prayer.  So all of you Catholics who are so upset that there are Protestants here, terribly sorry, we’re keeping them.  All of you protestants who are so upset that there are Catholics here, terribly sorry, we’re keeping them too, and we’re going to unite and come together in that tricky, messy middle place where we remain as one, united in Jesus. 

We continue to this day to seek a middle way between opposing views.  We continue to believe that our unity comes from Jesus and that there is room enough for all of us, even with our opposing views. 

In Herod’s kingdom, there was room enough only for what pleased Herod.  If someone challenged him or made him uncomfortable, then there was no longer room for that person.  In Jesus’ kingdom there is room for all of us.  We are all the Body of Christ and individually members of it.  Not only is there room for all of us, but there is need for all of us. 

One of the issues my friend asked about was immigration.  While he isn’t a fan of detaining children, he also believes that enforcing our immigration laws is a good thing.  He is aware of the human tracking that happens everywhere in the world, including along our southern border, and as much as he wanted children to be reunited with their parents, he was also aware of the possibility that some of those children were likely being trafficked by people who weren’t their parents. 

As it turns out, on the issue of separating families on our southern border, both sides have truths that we need.  We need to be compassionate in how we treat and speak about immigrants, and we need to enforce our laws with compassion and dignity, and we need to enforce our laws in order to keep people safe.  Both sides are needed for America to be the nation we were founded to be, and both sides are needed for us to truly live as the Body of Christ.  We need each other, and there is plenty of room in Jesus for all of us.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians that basically there is no room in Jesus’ kingdom for enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, etc.  There is room, however, for being wrong.  There is room for disagreeing.  There is room for striving for what is right and good, and coming up with different solutions for doing what is right and good.  There is room within Jesus, within the Body of Christ for what Paul calls the fruits of the Spirit:  love for each other, joy in creation and our faith, peace in our hearts, patience and kindness as we live with others, assuming each others’ goodness, faithfulness to Jesus, gentleness and self-control as we live with our differences.  These fruits are how we live with one another in Jesus because these fruits are part of the character and nature of who Jesus is.

Unlike in Herod’s kingdom of his way only, of rash words and decisions based on raw emotion and arousal, we belong to Jesus’ kingdom.  No political or social belief unites us or divides us, and no rash words spoken by any of us in the heat of emotion get to declare that someone else doesn’t belong.  We all belong in Jesus. 

1 comment:

Nancy Shaw said...

I've just returned from General Convention and saw exactly what you say here. There was lots of disagreement but the final conclusion seemed to be that we are united as the "Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement."