The hymn we just sang “The Summons” was written by John Bell who is a member of the Iona Community. See video link at end of blog.
Bell is a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) minister interested in congregational renewal. He serves the Iona Community which was founded in 1938 by George McLeod. McLeod witnessed the extreme poverty and hopelessness on docks of Glasgow during the Depression. He took a group of men to Iona to rebuild the monastic quarters of the medieval abbey. The men shared a common life of working and living together and through their relationships they began to once again find joy in life.
Their legacy continues to shape the Iona community today. Iona is not only a center for tourism and pilgrimage, it also serves the volunteers and staff of Iona Community. The Iona Community
The Iona Community, as a radical movement and organisation, is committed to living out the Christian faith in the areas of:
- Hospitality, diversity and inclusive community
- Worship, faith and spirituality
- Social justice and human rights
- Politics and campaigning
- Gender justice and human sexuality
- Environmental stewardship
- Peacemaking and non-violence
- Healing and reconciliation
- We actively and urgently seek to work in partnership with all people of goodwill who share our commitment to just and non-violent action, irrespective of nationality, religion or political creed.
Today’s gradual hymn and the gospel call us to radical discipleship. Jesus is calling upon the disciples to follow him and radically change the world. He is not soft-selling them either. The Summons does not sugar coat what it means to be a true disciple-going to strange places; caring for all even those who do not like you; be vulnerable before God and finally love yourself as you are? Challenging words of us just as Jesus challenged the disciples in today’s lesson.
HIs language is radical-I come to bring not peace but a sword. Families will argue and rise up against one another. Not exactly the kind of language we want to hear from Jesus. Some listeners of the passage have difficulty with the Prince of Peace being less than peaceful. So let’s explore this thought. How does Jesus speaking this way make you think? Does it bother you? Does it repulse you? Give you hope for the forgotten and the lost?
Jesus in the first part of this reading prepares his followers go out and heal the sick and the lame; to cast out evil spirits and to bring peace to homes. He tells them is they are not accepted to leave the town. Nothing too controversial there. Now in the passage we are reading today, Jesus says that families will be torn apart and allegiances are going to be demanded. It is a wonder anyone stayed with him. This Jesus sounds scary and difficult. Maybe they are not ready or up to it. Imagine in a tribal community giving all up to follow a new tribe.
We here, well those of us who are not “cradle Episcopalians” understand what it is Jesus is talking about. If someone who grown up in a church, been faithful in attendance surrounded by family suddenly decides she is leaving her family church, we can well imagine family may be upset. Family religion is an identifier it is tribal-we go to this church and the world knows who you are and what you believe. It is natural for parents and grandparents to wonder what they have done that little Esmerelda would want to leave and go elsewhere.
Jesus says whoever loves father and mother more is not worthy of me. Perhaps what he is saying is if someone is willing to stay in place where they do not feel the presence of God then they are in church for the wrong reasons. The reason we go to church is to further our own relationship with God in a way which makes us happy and ready to serve the world.
Those who find their life may be those who are willing to make the difficult choice of finding a church which makes them feel complete. Perhaps this is your story or the story of someone you know. How many times have you walked into this sacred space and thought to yourself, “this is it, I am here and I feel at home.” How many of you have also stayed somewhere because you hope it will become better or different or you will become better or different? I would venture many of us have done such a thing. That is losing our life so to speak. But when we go where Jesus is felt among us we are losing one life to find a better one. When we find the place where we know we are to be what we have lost while significant is life giving.
John Bell’s fourth verse says Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. When we follow our hearts and listen for the voice of God then we know who we are truly following. It is not necessarily a life of ease but it is one of standing in the light proclaiming boldly who it is we follow no matter where it leads.
Who's on your Board of Directors?
In our gospel lesson for Sunday June 18th Jesus calls his disciples together and gives them their tasks. Two by two they are to go out and heal the sick, proclaim the good news, and to do it all without payment! They are to rely on the kindness of strangers. We can see Jesus as the CEO and the disciples as his Board of Directors. They are the ones who will follow the mission and vision Jesus sets before them.
If you notice Matthew lists who are the twelve Jesus has called upon. From experience we know if names are listed it must mean something. A closer read of the names shows that these twelve are not necessarily the best and the brightest. We have Judas who will betray him. Peter who will abandon him. James and John jockey for position in heaven. Simon the Cananaean was a zealot for the Jews so he would have been at odds with Matthew the tax collector an agent of the Roman government. It is a rather disparate group.
But out of this group Jesus finds something worthwhile in each of them. There is a reason they are on his Board of Directors. One of the reasons is he may have wanted to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. Or perhaps it is each one of them in his own way has a talent Jesus wishes to exploit. Finally, maybe they were all he could find who were willing to give up all and follow him.
Whatever the reason this group of men Jesus sent out to further the Kingdom of God. Which brings me to my question: Who's on your Board of Directors? Is it only those who agree with you? Is it only those you like? What Jesus demonstrates to us in this story is being able to lay aside personal grievances is going to lead us to furthering his mission here. Jesus doesn't ask us to like one another. He asks us to love one another. Liking is a different level of engagement than loving. Loving allows you to see the person has something to offer which will help you do what God has given you to do. So I ask, Who's on your Board of Directors?
As I was away last Sunday I did not have the opportunity to preach but did attend two, yes two church services, over the weekend. Both focused on, rightly so, the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? What does this mean for us in our lives of faith? If you recall Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them an Advocate which will be with them. This Advocate is the Holy Spirit. I have always believed the Holy Spirit is the guiding force to good.
The Holy Spirit is the one who is going to help us discern what God is calling us to in our lives. This can be in our individual or corporate lives. When a person is excited about being alive and seeing all the possibilities in the world, that is someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit. The same can be said for churches, a lively church we say is filled with the Spirit. But perhaps you have been in a church for worship that just feels dead. Dead to one another. Dead to the world. Dead to the Church. Worship feels lifeless; singing is non-existent and the preaching is boring. Sorry that is how I see it. This is a church that needs to re-commit to the one another, God and the world. What they need is a spring cleaning of their hearts and minds. It is my belief that buildings have auras and when a building has a bad aura, people do not want to enter. Those who do venture in, usually don't stay. They feel the energy is stagnant. This is a church that needs the Holy Spirit to move over them and invite them to a new life in Christ.
Fortunately this is not the case at St. Thomas. We do not allow the Spirit to stay stagnant. We are alive in Christ Jesus, faithful to his Word.