I usually end my sermons with a poem or song. Today I will start with one. Many of you know that I am a student of Parker Palmer and especially like what he calls “Circles of Trust.” The approach uses poetry as a focus of discussion, a third thing (you, the others in the circle, and the poem). It is hard to argue with poems, but they do call for a response. They can draw people together in reflection on difficult topics.
The process is distinguished by principles and practices called “Touch Stones” that are intended to create a process of shared exploration where people can find safe space to nurture personal and professional integrity and find the courage to act on it. Take a look at the sheet with the “Touch Stones” on it.
I’d like to experiment this morning, by doing a shortened first step of a Circle of Trust. Usually the poem is read twice, but for time sake, we’ll just read it once. Greg will read the poem, slowly. You have a copy and can follow along. After that I invite your brief responses to the poem, just a sentence or two, leaving a moment of silence between each response. You can share what the poem says to you in your life, or simply read a line that jumped out at you and say why, or perhaps answer the question in the next to last line of the poem. Mention whatever it is that speaks to you. There are no wrong answers…
Poem: Pot Bound – by Diana Chapman Walsh
[Allow silence for responses…]
In the Gospel passage today, we have two stories – 1) Jesus being rejected in his home-town, and 2) Jesus sending the disciples out, in pairs of two, for the first time. The old lectionary separated these stories and appointed them on two consecutive Sundays. Now they are linked. I like that… Let’s look at each and compare them…
First – the setting of each story…,
- Jesus goes to his hometown, Nazareth. The people are initially astonished at his teaching ability, but upon reflection they have 2nd They think they know him and his family well, so they put him in his place and instead of being proud of this home-town boy, they insult and reject him. This then astonishes Jesus and he decides not to waste any more time. He leaves his village in the dust and proceeds to travel around the country side teaching. BTW- Nazareth never again appears in our scriptures.
- Jesus then commissions his disciples to go out two by two. They must take nothing for the journey except a staff (to ward off attacks) and sandals (a flat piece of leather tied onto the foot, poor-man’s shoes). No bread (food), no bag (for begging), no money (to buy food or lodging), and only one tunic (nothing extra). They are to be totally dependent on the communities they visit. And he gives them permission that if they are rejected, they too should just shake the dust from their feet and move on.
Now, the results…
- It turns out that Jesus could do little in the way of miracles while in Nazareth, because of the people’s unbelief. He wasn’t impotent – he did do a few miracles while there, just as in other stories when miracles happened despite a person’s lack of faith. But the lack of faith seems at least here, to have a restrictive and dampening effect on his work. One has to wonder…What could and would Jesus have been able to do had the people believed?
- The disciples go out, calling people to repent – actually a better word would be convert – although not in the sense of conversion to another religion. It really implies a change in and opening of the heart. They were clearly welcomed in at least some locations, and were successful – They were able to cast out demons, anointed the sick with oil and healed people!
These two stories, back to back present us with both a warning and a challenge…
Warning: Earlier in the Christian tradition (and unfortunately sometimes still), the story of Jesus being rejected was incorrectly and unjustly used to justify anti-Semitism. But Jesus isn’t judging and turning away from Israel, he is leaving folks that he personally knows. Nazareth was a small village, maybe 300 people. It is not even on maps. These are folks who are very familiar to him – distinct people, family and friends. He grew up with them and worshipped with them.
And who is it that supposedly knows Jesus best today? Who are the ones that have a relationship with Jesus? We do! Every Christian congregation that professes Jesus is his family today. We think we know Jesus well, but do we really? Or have we, like the villagers, domesticated Jesus to suit our expectations, our culture, our needs, our politics…? Friends, Nazareth is not in the past – it is US, right now. Might we be left in the dust? That should alarm us!
Challenge: Jesus’ ministry was all about inclusive compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. It was filled with expansive generosity and blessing, and was unapologetic about justice and peace. It was a ministry not just of tolerance of those who are different, but one of utmost respect, of an open welcome that encouraged overwhelming love instead of fear. When Jesus said “follow me” he meant us to do so in a life of radical discipleship that is both intensely personal and specifically communal. It is all echoed in our Baptismal Covenant.
So, how do we live up to that as a community of faith – here, today, in the face of our individualized culture and raging politics? What are we called to in right here in Lewiston, in light of someone being murdered a block away from our church, and in light of the resulting racial overtones? In light of no housing for people when they leave prison? In light of children being poisoned by lead? In light of cuts being made in health care and social services? Or in light of the refugee crisis, when we have hundreds of asylum seekers right here in our town? (Some of the newer ones BTW, are Christians.)
I could go on…
Given the realities of these issues, one commentary suggested: We are ALL in this Gospel story, and are ALL in need of conversion to a more open and profound faith. That is the challenge – to any congregation (not just Trinity) that wants to survive the next couple of decades. “Doing the same old thing and expecting different results, is insanity” it is said. It WILL leave us in the dust. We have faced such times of decision in the past. Doing so always resulted in a call with various responses – Outsource Works, The Jubilee Center, Tree Street Youth, and the women’s center. Those projects are now are all grown up children and out on their own. So…
It is time to consider what is calling us now. It will take some effort because over the last months it has become clear that we are not all on the same page. And I don’t think it should, or needs to wait until our next priest arrives. Because of baptism, we are ALL the priesthood of all believers. Peg has begun the discerning by generously and determinedly interviewing every person in this congregation about their hopes for Trinity. She felt called to find a way for every person to be personally and deeply heard. What a gift of love. I am eager to read the compiled thoughts.
* * *
Before closing, let me return to the poem… I first experienced Pot Bound in a Circle of Trust retreat with Parker Palmer when on my pilgrimage two summers ago. That circle time, as do most, continued on with questions for reflection. They were worded in the first person singular. Here they are re-worded in third person to apply to our Trinity community.
Despite… just try please… do what’s expected… bloom where you are planted…
- When is it that we know we have to go someplace else?
- What are signs of decay and dying in our communal life?
- What do we need to smash in order to rescue ourselves?
- What are signs of vitality and growth in our life together?
These are hard questions, but you can’t live into a question and answer it, until the questions are asked. (YoYo Ma, On Being) Unfortunately, there is no time in this sermon to continue the Circle process with these questions, and we have a vestry meeting after church which means conversation following worship is not possible today either.
So, I invite you this week, in light of the scripture today, to reflect on Pot Bound, and the questions both in relationship to yourself and our life at Trinity. Please take the handouts home – the “Touchstones” and the poem with the reflection questions. Meditate on them in your heart and mind. Hold them in prayer.
I hope that soon, we can all come together to continue the Circle of Trust process with the poem, and share the deep thoughts of our hearts. That, in addition to Peg’s efforts, can lead us into a time of discernment around what we are being called to do next, right here and now. Let’s do so in a mutual, intentional, inclusive way, as disciples of Jesus, so that we are not left behind… in the dust… and neither will be those whom we are called to serve.
So be it – Amen.