Yesterday morning I sat in a coffee shop waiting to join my sisters at the Women's March on Madison, and I was thinking about fishing. Well, not so much about fishing as fishermen, and not just any fisherman, but those first "fisher guys" called for job retraining by Jesus.
And so I was thinking, Donald John Trump gets inaugurated the 45th U.S. President, and Matthew's Gospel has Jesus inaugurated (installed, like we do ministers) into his public ministry. The irony does not escape. While Donald John Trump's call to serve is a joyless one. Jesus' call is extravagant in its love and generosity. Donald John Trump says, "Fear me." Jesus says, "Follow me." The Madison March, what I hope to be the first of many non-violent public demonstrations, is a demand from "we the people" for our government to represent all of us, and not just the moneyed ones.
Donald John Trump took his oath under God and promptly assumed the bully pulpit, literally as a bully. His previous claims to be Christian proven false by his ignorance of Jesus' great commandment to love. Jesus takes his oath when John the Baptizer's arrested; beginning a three year long protest march of his own to proclaim a new government by, of, and for God. It's a tale of two inaugurations: One of human imbued hate and the other of divinely inspired love.
A closer look at these two men tells us a lot. Donald John Trump, a son of wealth and privilege, and a man who made and lost more cash than all of us combined - and then some. He opens his mouth and the most vile, hateful, and factless opinion rolls out. His call to the highest public office in the land is all about his personal brand. Jesus, on the other hand, comes to public service as the ultimate calling; service to others, not just himself. Actually Jesus steps up not because his cousin John's "arrested," but because John's "handed over." That's really the phrase used by the oldest translations of the Gospel to describe what happened and what calls Jesus to step forward. John's handed over to evil, greedy men; much like Jesus will be handed over by Judas Iscariot later on. In fact, the Gospel uses the same word in both places. This is important, because in the world of men and women we must be on guard against the worst behaviors and motives of our own people. Once our people get anxious and uncomfortable with something or someone, it's only a short distance from there to the likes Donald John Trump.
Jesus' calling stands in stark contrast to human history. He moves into public service with no delusions of grandeur. He represents the greater good. Like all movements for justice, Jesus steps forward when his forerunner is "disappeared." Jesus stands firm in spite of, or maybe because of, the threats of violence and intimidation by the opposition; both by those who follow him and those who do not. No matter how much the world hems him in and attempts to suffocate and co-opt his message, Jesus doesn't back down. Holy love's that powerful.
I woke up Saturday morning and for the first time since November, I felt despair. I was tempted to give up all hope. The propaganda from the worst of us can affect us that way. It's then I remember, Jesus' first act after taking up his mission isn't to campaign to be emperor. His first act is to organize. "Follow me," he says to the fisherman. "Leave your nets and mundane lives and I'll show you a new way. Let go of your toil and strain and come follow me into a higher burden - a holy burden. Be fishermen no more. Be the church!"
When faced with very steep odds, Jesus doesn't quit. He organizes. He calls trainees to the first seminary. He prepares them to lead a new movement for love, justice and inclusion. We're their decedents. While Donald John Trump angrily offers a bleak picture of the state of the union here and abroad, Jesus by contrast calmly strolls along a seashore and invites everyday people to inaugurate a new meaning to public witness and to do it together.
(point to Friday night slide) And those trainees in our time who've heard the call once more, came together on Friday evening to do the only thing a follower of this Jesus can do - organize. We came together to reach out, first to each other, and then to children and families in our neighborhood school. The joy and love was real. Good News was everywhere. Remember, to be a part of Jesus' Gospel we must consent. We must hear God and offer our unqualified "Yes" in response. The Donald John Trump's of this world want only our obedience; not our consent. They won't wait for us to consider our answer. They'll cajole, lie, and use force if needed, in order to get their way.
For the final word on our inaugural Gospel journey, I've got to give credit to Douglas R. A. Hare. Being fishers of people, he tells us, is a "summons to evangelism," which means speaking and acting as good news wherever we go. But "...for evangelism to be real it must be non-manipulative." Unlike the governance of the likes of Donald John Trump, "People of faith can't be coerced into the Kingdom (of God). Our task" as followers of the one called to organize in love "is to share a faith that's exciting enough to be contagious." (Point to the slide again) Like that!
It's a tale of two inaugurations. Which one will be ours?
Amy and I are into a new TV show called Travelers. Travelers are people from a future where humans have all but destroyed themselves. In order to repair the future, "travelers" enter our time and assume the bodies of key people in the present at the moment they're supposed to die. The travelers then continue the lives of those they replace while going about their ordained mission. Travelers must take orders from an unnamed person known only as "The Director." But as they adjust to their new lives travelers begin to get their own ideas and have doubts and fears about their Director and mission. Since The Director never fills them in completely on the plan, many are tempted to turn away. To help stay on the right path travelers follow a set of mission rules. Their only job is to trust The Director and each other, wait for instructions, and follow. None of this works without the consent of the travelers.
Does this basic plot sound familiar? Anyone? How about the Way of Jesus. As followers of our "Director Christ" we're reborn into a new life. We continue the daily demands of living, while going about our baptismal mission in order to create a better future. To stay focused on our mission we must be disciplined or disciples (from the same root word). We never get the entire story from our Director either, only pieces as we go. We too have rules to follow called Commandments. Our Director even simplified our rules to just two: Love your Director with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and Love everyone as you love yourselves. While on our mission, we too are tempted with the trappings of our human condition. We too have been inserted into lives we must live. Sometimes those lives seem overwhelmingly difficult. Those demands can make our mission from the Director Christ seem useless. Our own fears and worries can cause us to "go rogue" and forget our mission entirely. Every day we must freely consent to follow the Director of our life along with others.
In Matthew's story of baptism; the line - "Then John consented" is what got me thinking. Every key moment of calling in the Gospels revolves around consent. John must consent. Mary, Joseph, the Disciples all must consent. Consent or control; which one best describes our relationship with God and God's church? For the travelers on the TV show, everything breaks down the minute they stop actively choosing the relationship with each other and with their Director. Jesus shows us the way through his consent; his voluntary "Yes" to what God requires in every moment of every day. And the moment of consent begins with water.
John was sent to preach the kind of change needed to turn around this corrupt and self-serving world. It was change from the inside out. No one can idly approach the baptismal moment lightly. Although many do. Once we consents to baptism we've got to be disciplined and focused on the Director for the rest of their lives. The waters, although an important symbol, can do nothing apart from the consent of the baptized. If we don't stay focused on our Director, we get ideas and the rest is predictable.
In the show each traveler assumed both the name and life of their human host. They also had their true name and identity as a traveler. Jesus enters the waters of John's baptism as Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. He steps out of the waters and God names him "Beloved." The true name of everyone who consents to the waters of baptism is Beloved. As Beloved ones we join our Director Christ in a mission to renew the world around us along with the team members we're sent to join as church. We can never take a single moment of our lives together for granted. We must be on guard so our fears and personal beliefs don't take over our thinking and turn us away from our mission.
Witness is yet other key component of our lives as travelers under the Director Christ. Matthew's story of Jesus baptism is different from the other Gospels because the identity of Jesus is made known to everyone. (Mention Scripture) This public witness validates John's mission, and challenges the baptized to consent and follow Jesus, not just through waters, but throughout the rest of their days.
On the TV show several travelers break ranks. They no longer trust their Director and chart their own way apart from the community of other travelers. They offer all kinds of very human excuses for their lack of faith in the way of their Director. As this church of the baptized continues to chart an unsteady but clear path forward, I'm deeply disturbed as some of our fellow travelers insist on leaving our ranks simply because they're uncomfortable with the mission we've been given by our Director. "But Pastor," they say, "I'm uncomfortable with the direction we're going as a church." Well, I'm uncomfortable too but you don't see me leaving. God wants our consent, our willingness to voluntarily accept the discipline of a traveler in the faith and trust in the direction we're given along the way.
But don't we have the right to question leadership, our the pastor, or even each other? Of course we do. Unfortunately, few travelers who've left our church have taken the time to publicly question anything, publicly ask anything of anyone in leadership, and be challenged by what God or others feel. With rare exceptions, the people who've left Lake Edge are unwilling to speak their truth in love. Baptism's a commitment to a lifetime of work in community with other believers, yet some just awkwardly slip out the door without a moment's thought for their accountability to the Director Christ or their baptism.
We must learn from this Gospel lesson. Jesus didn't need baptism. He was already ordained for his mission. We needed baptism then and we need it now. In Jesus we can have a name far greater than the one our mothers and fathers gave us when we entered this world. We can have a name alongside the one above all names. But these waters of initiation must be seen as something more than a casual ritual or a one-time initiation we can take or leave whenever we feel like it. Our Gospel story is all about consent; the willingness for the person to walk into the waters and confirm in their lives the mission of the Director of their days. We who come through these waters aren't finished with our mission. We're travelers whose mission together has only begun.
Mary agreed to carry God into the world of men. Is this all Mary should be credited with in understanding God with us? Was all womankind's role in bearing God simply about the 9 months and that final labor and birth?
I was reading chapter 10 in John Dorhauer's book "Beyond Resistance" this week. (Say something about this "all church" read here) Dorhauer speaks of an encounter with a young mother who had been crushed by the "mighty fortress" that is our church. She literally had a break down on her way from avid church-goer to what's now categorized as a "religious none." This young woman in the face of the worst behaviors of church people in our day, still remained a seeker, still nurturing a calling to explore the deeper nature of the holy in her life. Over time she wondered if there were others who felt like she did. She began to talk to friends and acquaintances, and their friends and acquaintances. Soon some 40 people were meeting regularly in her home to explore how God could be experienced without the - and please forgive my bluntness - without the burden of wrote prayers, set responses, stale Bible talk, standard hymns, and condescending clergy.
Tired of having been told at an early age she must "color between the lines," whether at Kindergarten or at home or in church or simply as a woman she decided it was time to explore how she felt and what those feelings had to say to her about the nature of God. Now, I already know the hardest part about opening our minds and hearts to the ideas presented by our General Minister and President for many of us gets stuck on the idea that worship can be something other than wrote, structured, and repetitive. Many of us church folk like the comfort of the structure of Sunday worship. There's a sense that in a world that gets further and further out of control we can count on the refuge of the sanctuary every Sunday. I understand.
Mary provides so many layers to the emergent story of the church that no single sermon could do them all justice. But regarding the duel church identities of worship and acting out of that worship, Mary was the first to declare "Yes" when God asked her to color outside the lines.
The life of woman in Gospel times was pretty lousy. It was a man's world, and in religion doubly so. If men could've figured out a way to conceive and give birth, I've no doubt women would've been replaced altogether. So here's this teenage girl from a nobody family, unwed and without much in the way of prospects beyond getting married to some older guy, tending his house, and having his babies. She's chosen by her God to be the vessel to birth a new way to bring color to this drab and dreary world. It had to be a woman. Yes, women were the only ones who can give birth, so there's that. But more, Mary herself would later be seen by some as a "bad girl of the Bible." "Bad" because she's a nobody in her world, defying both gender and social norms. God impregnates her? "Sure, he did," say the leaders of men. From this unwanted and unworthy person comes the perfect "delivery girl" for the Holy Light to burst onto the scene. After centuries of attempts to "teach" men to recognize another authority over life and living besides whichever one of them was in charge, God decided what was needed was to come down here and start offering private and group lessons.
Mary definitely defied all convention. She also risked a lot in the process. She'd have a target on her from the moment King Herod caught wind of the child she carried. Her husband would have every right to kick her to the curb (if there were any curbs back then) and she'd be the worse off of people - destitute, homeless, female, unwed, and a mother. Yet, her song of praise we read today doesn't sound at all like the words of a woman burdened by her situation. In her "God is magnified." She "rejoices in a God who rescues her" along with all people. She feels "favored" and not cursed by her circumstances. It is the "Mighty One who has done great things" for her in giving her the honor of carrying this child into such an unjust and inhospitable world for women, let alone into poverty. Unlike the greedy and self-possessed world ruled by men who lift up their own greatness over that of the God whom they claim to honor, Mary doesn't regard herself as important. Her name isn't lifted up, but God's. "Holy is God's name," she proclaims. Then she catalogs all the things such a God has already done and will do again: Mercy, Strength, Standing for the Little Ones and scattering the big shots, Feeding the hungry and pushing out the rich, and most important, this Holy One's word is worth something. Our God has integrity and stands on what's promised.
Mary would take her umbilical crayon and draw an image so radical that her name would never be forgotten. Here's the hardest teaching for us to embrace today. Church as we know it once more is in need of a radical makeover. Do we have faith in God's promises; the integrity of the Holy to deliver a new day and a new way? Or will we stubbornly stand firm in our insistence to be church in only the way we see fit? Will we open our minds and hearts to people of all stations in life who seek a new way to experience God in community? Or will we turn away with a million and one reasons to disagree?
Church, I'm not asking you to do anything in particular. But I am asking you to be God bearers in our moment in time. To hear God calling us as vessels of Good News today and to have the courage to say "Yes."
"My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior." I don't care how many good deeds we do or how many dollars we put out there in charitable pursuits or how much our worship is reverent and moving for us, if we can't declare our relationship to God in as glowing and exuberant terms as does Mary, then something's wrong.
God's calling us Lake Edge, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid...You'll take your crayon and conceive a new way of church for a new day, and it will be overshadowed by the Holy and the offspring of this moment will be called the child of the most high God."
Can you color such a picture with your God? Are you ready to say, "Yes?" Pick up your crayons and let's get to work.