15 Jul 2012
“[Jesus] instructed [the Twelve] to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” (Mark 6:9) In the name …
My family and I have been back for only about 12 hours from our three day vacation up in Montreal. To go away for just three days takes arranging for someone to watch Wilbur, our dog. We brought the van in for an oil change. We had to go the Post Office and get a couple of passports, made hotel reservations and punched in the hotel’s address at both Mapquest and on the GPS. It means also going to weather.com to check on the weather to know how to pack, then actually packing, and finally loading all those bags in the van. Then there’s also the cleaning of the house. You have to leave a clean house when you travel because God forbid anything terrible happens to you while you’re away. You don’t want people coming into the house and having their last impression of you being: “My God these people were sloppy.” And then because I don’t like missing Sundays, there’s getting everything ready for Mass by Wednesday instead of Saturday. Is it any wonder that I don’t travel much? The arrangements are exhausting.
But look at just the opposite example when Jesus sends out His novice disciples to preach and to heal. There’s no reservation, no GPS, no luggage. He sends them away with the barest of provisions and forces them to trust only in God and the goodwill of strangers. Why? Is it sink or swim? I don’t think so because the disciples more often than not sink. They fail Jesus on numerous occasions in the Gospels and yet Jesus keeps pulling them out of the water to try again. So why does Jesus send them out with almost nothing? Maybe because one of the most effective methods of teaching is self-discovery. Maybe the Twelve have to learn for themselves to trust in God when they speak, to trust in God when they confront evil, and to trust in God when they try to heal. And maybe they also need to learn for themselves to trust in others as well. With no physical provisions for the journey, their needs have to be met by the goodness of others. For all of the spiritual power that Christ gives to them, they still must depend on the kindness of others for their basic needs. By sending them out with almost nothing, Jesus is giving them the opportunity to learn firsthand to trust in God and to trust in others.
That lesson of trust taught through self-discovery is an important spiritual example, and if Jesus thought it necessary and helpful to emphasize self-discovery, then so should Jesus’ church. Church shouldn’t try to regulate all of our spiritual experiences. Church should, like Jesus, every once in a while, give us a push and let us discover for ourselves what it means to believe.
I’ve heard Rev. Peter Gomes speak twice in person, once in a sermon and once in a lecture. I’ve read two of his books, one of which he signed for me. He was a professor at Harvard and also the dean of the Harvard Chapel. He died about a year and a half ago. He was an alumnus of Bates College, and as such they are going to rename their chapel after him. Since Kristin goes there and so does my money, they send out little notes to us about campus life. The announcement of the chapel’s rededication spoke of Rev. Gomes as “a man of God and a man of joy, a friend of many and a brilliant preacher, and an influential author and a principled religious voice in America.” Rev. Gomes was also gay. He, therefore, had to discover his own way to become a joyous man of God because of the conflict between the institutional church and who he was as a man and as a Christian. He could have become bitter or unbelieving or both because of this conflict, but instead he found for himself joy in a God who loved him. This is why he’s not called an “orthodox religious voice,” but instead a “principled religious voice.” Gomes internalized the Christian principle of God’s love for all people, including the marginalized and the outcasts. He didn’t just accept the teachings of others even if they were called orthodox. He found God for himself, and in the process became a powerful voice of God for others and for the church.
And before we start to think that this is just a modern phenomenon of a too liberal world we should go back to this morning’s first reading from the prophet Amos who was writing in the 8th century before Jesus. Amos was called by God to prophesy, but Amos never considered himself a prophet, and he says so in today’s reading. This shepherd traveled to the king’s sanctuary in Bethel and so upset the priests stationed there that they got the king to force his removal. The king and the priests were saying one thing, Amos the shepherd came there to preach another, and it is his words that we now call inspired by God, not the orthodox ones of the king and priests. And remember last weekend’s story of Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in Nazareth. He was rejected by the people gathered there for traditional worship.
Institutions are not infallible – including the church. People are not infallible – including us. Both need to work together to discover the only one who is infallible – God. And this is why as church we need to encourage those spiritual journeys of self-discovery. The church and the people who are the church need to trust in God and each other just the way the disciples had to when Jesus sent them forth with no provisions. We need church for a thousand good reasons from things as simple as the community we foster at events like next weekend’s YMSofR picnic to an outing together at Tanglewood, to things as profound as the celebration of Mass. And we need the people of the church to be spiritual searchers to keep the church honest and on course. We both need each other. Neither one of us can do it on our own.
May the same Jesus who sent the Twelve off to learn for themselves the lesson of trust, and then used these same Twelve to begin His church, may He keep that spirit of self-discovery alive among us so that the institution of the church never becomes institutional; and may believers always be able to find in the church the encouragement and the direction needed to re-discover Christ in our world, in others and in us. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo