Uncomfortable Places

            A few months ago, your Vestry and clergy spent time doing some serious reflection on what has been important in our lives throughout the past year and a half. If you have not yet read Father Steve’s Window article from this month’s newsletter, he goes deeper into this process. And it’s true that I’ve said, “never waste a pandemic” more times than I can count, because it has changed us, there is no going back to normal, unless we choose to pull a blind fold over our eyes and pretend like nothing’s really changed. But if we take up this moment, if we answer the call upon our lives at this time, then we may begin to see invitations to grow and to change, and when we do so faithfully, we will draw closer to God. And the thing about the faith that we share, is that it’s not one that really allows us to pull the blind fold back over our eyes. Time and time again, the Christ choose to see those who were hurting, those who were overlooked by others, and choose to act to change things. Christ models that our faith motivates us to see, and our seeing motives us to act, and what we hear in today’s gospel is that this action doesn’t always lead to an easy, joyful path.

            In our lesson from Mark, Jesus returns to his hometown with his disciples, and begins to teach on the Sabbath, and the reaction is less than enthused. Critiques begin to fly about him about his validity, his class, his work, his birth, and his family, and Jesus offers the few healings he could, despite his acknowledgement that prophets are never valued in their hometown. After this intense rejection from the people that watched him toddle around and grow into a man, Jesus then sends out the disciples, instructing them to carrying nothing except the bare minimum so that they may spend their lives and work accepting the hospitality of strangers.

It’s important to note here that Jesus doesn’t send the disciples out after a big meal, or a fancy reception, but rather, he sent them out after he modeled for them the uncomfortable parts of discipleship. He literally showed them what it looks like to face cruel rejection, to shake the dust off your feet, and move on, all the while continuing to rely on the hospitality of strangers. Jesus knew that God tends to call us to uncomfortable places, and he set the stage for the disciples directly before they are sent out, equipping them to become comfortable in the discomfort.      

            I wonder if when we collectively hear this gospel account read, who we imagine our church being? Do we see ourselves as the disciples, being tasked to go out into the world to share the Good News of God in Christ? I hope so, discipleship is complex and a lifelong journey, and we can only do it together. But I also wonder if we can see ourselves as the group who hurled critiques and questions and mocked the Christ? And in a bizarre way, I hope we do as well.

            Not because I see that in you, but because my friends, we will mess up; we will get it wrong, and if the account of the gospel of Jesus Christ only makes us feel comfortable, I want to ask is that because we’ve got it all figured out, or because we’ve instead molded and shaped the gospel to our own preferences? It is vital, I believe, to remember that God calls us to uncomfortable spaces. Sometimes that means that we acknowledge where we were wrong, where we have room to grow, where we can do better at following Jesus. There will be times when we are like the disciples, going out to do the work we have been given to do, times when we will go to uncomfortable places and receive radical hospitality of those who are different than us, and times when we must shake the dust off our feet and move on. And, unfortunately, there will be times when it is our own words, our own actions, our own beliefs that create the uncomfortable spaces for those God loves deeply.

            This week, I was called to an uncomfortable space, as I watched videos of Indigenous peoples take “A Long Walk Home”. The event was held in cities across Canada this weekend, in response to the vast number of unmarked, mass graves of Indigenous children that have been found at Residential Schools, where children were taken from their families to be separated from their Indigenous ways of life. The numbers are horrific, as are the stories of those who have survived these church-funded schools that sought to quote: “kill the Indian and save the man.” The numbers of skeletons found in these graves keeps climbing, nearing 1,000 now; 1,000 souls taken, lost, and dead. And while these were Catholic-funded schools in Canada, it’s not just there that these types of schools existed, they were in our own country, some of them funded by the Episcopal Church. Investigations are yet to begin, but the premise that these types of schools were built on alone is something of which we ought to collectively repent. As I watched a video of a survivor of these schools talk violently about the Christian Church and all the ways in which things done in the name of Christ were used to torture them and their families, I felt called to an uncomfortable space.

            I love the church; I know that I am a better person because of my faith and because I choose to be a Christian every day, and so I felt a sense of defense. “It’s not all churches,” I felt myself saying, “We’re doing it right.” I wanted to distance myself from the horrors that the Christian faith has enacted on Indigenous folk, but because of today’s gospel, I knew that I couldn’t. I knew that I had to witness the grief and the pain, and to listen to the stories that I would rather not hear because this was an uncomfortable place to which God was calling me.

            My friends, I truly and genuinely believe that the gospel is Good News, but there is not a single bone in my body that believes that it’s easy news. It requires us to go to uncomfortable spaces, it requires us to lean into hospitality from strangers, it requires us to name, confess, and repent of our sins, collective and individual. And then it requires us to move, because the call of the gospel, as theologian and writer Debie Thomas put it, is not to stand still. The call of the gospel is not to stand still. Not in the face of grand atrocities or in minor inconveniences. God is calling us to uncomfortable places where we might be rejected, where we might have to see ways that we have failed, and where we will have to push into our own growth.

            I can’t tell you what this will look like; I can’t tell you what this will look like for you, or for us, or even for myself. But I know that to share the Good News of God in Christ, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that we will always get it right; we must not choose to stand still. Rather, it is our task, the task of our faith, to answer God’s calling to uncomfortable places and to go out as Jesus commanded. We have to be willing to admit where we get it wrong in order to do better at getting it right, and it is my prayer that today we will have the courage to answer God’s call to those uncomfortable places, that we will be willing to be vulnerable enough to be rejected like Christ, and that we will be able to see the opportunities to go out into this world like the disciples. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on July 4, 2021 for Proper 9B.

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