Asbury First United
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Today we find ourselves under the guidance of a passage of Holy Scripture, which it is our privilege and our responsibility carefully to interpret. The Lord Jesus Christ has called us to a spiritual journey. The Lord Jesus Christ has sent us upon a spiritual journey. This is your condition. You are along the road, on the road of a spiritual journey. Not by your choice, but by the choice of one who by grace and love has sent you and called you.
Our choices according to this passage are of a lesser variety. In the main they involve whether or not we will be attentive to our spiritual wall. That is, will our minds be caught and cluttered by the material world all around us, day and night, morning or evening. Or, along this journey of faith will we cling solely to our staff there leaning and then be guided by God's spirit. Guided along a different road, a path of new life.
We are on a spiritual journey. The scripture cautions us not to focus on sandals or on bags or on more than one tunic so we are warned at the outset that our focus should be on things invisible and we are sent along our way. This is a season in which a number are traveling. Some are involved in summer pursuits. Some families are gathering for reunions. Our youth have just returned from a mission trip of excitement and power in Belize. Many in our church, some still there, have been traveling through central Europe. We are on the road at this time of year. But more generally, our condition is that of an itinerant. Other than tithing in our tradition it is the itinerancy itself, perhaps, which speaks most closely to our own condition. We are along the road.
The freedom and love in today's Scripture lesson provide an alternative. Authenticity, finally, is at the heart of any godly authority.
Today on this date in point of fact, marks the beginning of the end of five years and the beginning of our sixth year in ministry at Asbury First. We remember the spring of 1995 coming over and among other things, touring the Brighton High School with our three children and the principal. She guided us carefully, but you know it's hard to change, change is difficult and so our chins as a family were a little bit low, they were dragging. We had to reach up to touch bottom. It was a time of a kind of depression. The principal guided us. Fortunately we had with us, one of our youngest son's best friends, Ben Weinheimor. A blond haired, blue-eyed, freckle faced, young man, who had spirit and spunk everyday of his life. I hope he still does. So though we were chin down he went with us and came to each room and said the same thing, "A library? Wow. Spiffy!" "A cafeteria? Wow. Spiffy!" "A gymnasium? Wow. Spiffy!" So that when the principal guided us through the last room, a television studio, through which they do the morning show, she closed and locked the door. We complimented her on the equipment and she said, "Yes, it's nice. It's Spiffy!"
We are on a spiritual journey, itinerant in general and specific ways. The scripture today asks us to be attentive to that which cannot be readily seen, to turn our eyes away from the second tunic, to let go of that cloying and clutching to the material world and to take on the things of the spirit that will save and help and heal us on the road.
So what shall we put in our metaphorical kit bag? We are thinking of Martin Luther and some of the things he endured in the 16th century, so let me suggest that we begin packing today with a mental map. You know wherever you're going it is helpful to have a map. From 1519 until 1546 Martin Luther in young adulthood through the time of his death endured a series of conflicts and traumas on a daily basis through which the faith of the church was strengthened and the order of the church was shattered. Luther reminded and reminds us that unity is not to be found in uniformity, but that unity by grace comes out of difference and variety. Nailing the 95 thesis to the Wittenberg door in standing as he did at the "Diet of Worms" and saying, "Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me." Take along a mental map describing where you are.
The psalmist will help us in the 24th psalm, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof". The firmament proclaims God's handiwork; this is God's world and this place through which we travel is under attack by the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ who is offering us a new creation and making all things new.
Some in the congregation will remember a former member, Larry Hoffman. We didn't know Larry until this trip. Larry bicycled across the United States this spring. Starting with his back wheel in the Pacific Ocean and the Santiago Bay and ending with his front wheel in the Atlantic on Plymouth Rock. Over dinner we asked him, among other things, "Larry, could you tell us the most spectacular, the most beautiful site you had. Was it the Rocky Mountains, was it the desert, was it the river banks in the mid-country?" He responded, "For me the most beautiful part was found in Upstate New York along Route 5 between Utica and Albany, the Mohawk Valley". Heavens are telling the Glory of God, the earth is the Lord's in the fullness thereof. Let's take along a mental map as we make our Spiritual Journey on the road.
Well, the youth will remind us that we probably should have a passport, a personal passport that marks our citizenship and reminds us of our citizenship in the community of those who suffer. It's easy to forget now and then that we are a part of a hurting and aching humanity and so a mission trip to Central America can acquaint us again with our passport, our personal citizenship among the community of those who suffer.
Martin Luther is remembered as saying rightly, "It does matter whose ox is gored". Those who suffer and those who care for those who are suffering are part of the same community. We carry, let us carry closely, this personal passport that marks us from birth to death as a part of a community in which many still are hurting. We walked last Wednesday afternoon through the grounds of the Dachau prison camp. Past the barbed wire and the tall walls and the turrets along the open grass and the remaining barracks down towards the back to the crematorium. It reminds us doesn't it of the ordinariness, the brutality and quotidian nature of radical evil. Here and there, near and far are those who are or part of our citizenry, who are hurting. We heard again of this model camp begun in 1933. That there were interned and sequestered and later eliminated the weak, the physically handicapped, the mentally handicapped, homosexuals, gypsies, communist, Jews. We dare not forget that our passport connects us to those who are hurting, for the psalmist said (it's the 137th), "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept as our tormentors said 'sing to us one of the songs of Zion'. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" Take along that passport that marks us as part of the community of the suffering.
Well we might want to pack our methaporical bag also with some heart medicine. Some heart medicine to give us courage as we move along. You know Martin Luther said, "Whatever you do-do it boldly. If you pray-pray boldly. If you walk-walk boldly. If you sing-sing boldly and if you sin-sin boldly. Whatever you do, do with that holy boldness." So we may want to take along a little bit of heart medicine because on the road traveling we encounter change and change is difficult and change hurts. So Martin Luther great hymn "A Mighty Fortress" is based on the 46th psalm. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble therefore we shall not fear though the earth should change. In the midst of change given a little bit of heart medicine we can be carried along according to the wish and the word of the psalmist.
Our poet laureate Robert Pinsky has spent the last two years asking in communities across the country for people to recite their favorite poem. I love to hear now and then when a woman or man from our community will mention on such. Perhaps one day we will be able to hear what yours is. Mine has become Robert Frost's famous poem about change about itinerancy, about new life:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both.
And be one traveler long I stood and looked down one as far as I could.
To where it bent in the undergrowth. Then took the other as just as fair.
Though having perhaps a better claim for it was grassy and wanted wear.
Though as for that the parting there had worn them both about the same and both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh I kept the first for another day, but knowing how way leads to way, I doubted if I would ever get back.
I will be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence.
Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference.
May a little heart medicine, chance for courageous choice, travel with you on the road this season.
But you know you had better take as well a companion or two, certainly a literal friend as you go. A friend is one who says the same thing to you when you are present as she does when you are absent. A friend is one who is willing to sacrifice the friendship for the sake of the friend. A friend is one who makes a joyful noise to the Lord with all the lands serving the Lord with gladness. May some of your friends be not literal but may they be memories from the book of Holy Scripture.
Mrs. Roudebush from the history of this church is well remembered because she made friends with Elijah and Paul. She made friends with Mary and Peter and was able to tell their story around the dinner table. May a companionship, yes literal but also figurative, carry you as you travel on the road this and every year.
Well, we've packed our map and we've packed some heart medicine. We have our passport and we have a companion or two. We've heard the psalms, we remembered Martin Luther. Is there anything we lack?
Maybe just one other spiritual ingredient. Perhaps we could take a compass along as well. You know Martin Luther reminded us as he taught in the 16th century that what counts in life is faith and by that he meant "Solo Fida". Faith alone. We are saved not by what we achieve, but by what we receive. We are saved not by our works, but by the gift of almighty God who is nourishing and sustaining us along the road in the person of Jesus Christ. This gift again in the speaking of the word this day comes to us to be received and opened. Now with you I have recited a number of Psalms. As we close today and the choir already has helped us so they at least will know. I am gong to ask you to join with me in the 23rd psalm which along the path of life reminds us of Christ's presence and love:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake
.I fear no evil; for thou art with me; they rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen.