"Emerge: Coming Out—the Art of the Possible" Message from Sunday, July 4, 2021
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Emerge: Coming Out—the Art of the Possible
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
At long last, after more than 15 months outside of this sacred space, here we are gathered again. It is a blessing both to be here and to be connected still through our online presence to the broader Epworth community. So let me ask you, Is this how you imagined it? As we look around, we see longed for friends, but we also see masks. We are experiencing wonderful music together, but our singing is limited. We celebrate that many are vaccinated in the Bay Area, but we know we are still in a lingering pandemic globally.
Reunions, though we might long for them, often don’t match our expectations. My grandmother was one of 9 children. She grew up on a farm in Northeastern Oklahoma. Between her own children and those of her brothers and sisters, they had 32 kids, with an even greater number of grandkids. Many of us, though related, didn’t really know one another. One summer, around the time I was 12, someone had the idea for a reunion. I was excited to meet new second cousins and great aunts and uncles. A location was sought. It wasn’t easy finding a building large enough for this extended family, central enough to be driving distance for most of us.
Looking back, I don’t know why we didn’t just rent a church’s Fellowship Hall. We set off in our car, and we followed directions written on a piece of paper. Then we drove off the main highway into a remote area of northeastern Oklahoma. As we neared the destination, we began to see a high fence with big circles of barbwire at the top. Just exactly where is this reunion taking place, we began to wonder?
In our scripture for today from Mark, Jesus is engaged in a reunion of sorts. But it’s not in a new location for him. He has returned to Nazareth, his hometown, after a stretch of preaching and teaching in the broad Galilean countryside. The scripture doesn’t tell us why he returns, just that he does. It may have “seemed like a good idea at the time.” He may have been looking forward to being back in familiar territory, seeing his parents and family, stopping in at his favorite gathering spots, returning to the temple of his youth.
He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and begins to preach. Now, this isn’t just some travelling evangelist. This is Jesus! But what happens? Those in the synagogue begin to grumble. “Where did this man get these things?” they ask. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these miracles he is performing?” We can just see them shaking their heads. Then they say, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And the scripture tells us, “they took offense at him.”
It’s unlikely that Jesus expected this. His notoriety and following was growing. Maybe he expected to be received as somewhat of a local hero. Maybe he just expected to be received as one of their own. But instead he got skepticism and derision. The truth is that we never know what will greet us when we step into a new situation, even if we are stepping back into a familiar one. And while my guess is that the synagogue looked very much like it did when he left it--same scrolls, same seats, same people--the other reality is that Jesus himself had changed. He is not the same person he was when he left. Sometimes it can be hard to accept changes in those we know well, even when they are quite obvious. Even when these changes represent the person coming into their own God-given uniqueness and purpose. And Jesus comes into his fullness, in the eyes of those who knew him as the boy, the precocious teenager, he’s not what they expect. He’s changed..
As we step back into what we left, there is both familiarity and newness. We see the same streets, the stores we may be returning to look as we left them. But what has changed is us. Each of us. We have been on a journey. We’ve been through an experience that has been traumatic and frightening. It has included loss and insecurity. AND We’ve found new ways of being together and taking care of ourselves. New portals to God and the transcendent. Some of us have established new routines, found new wisdom, discovered new places of beauty. We’re returning, but we’ve changed.
The scripture tells us that once Jesus had returned to Nazareth, he found that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” But maybe it wasn’t all them. Maybe this was just another sign that who he had been was not who he now was. His expectation that he knew everything he needed to know about what he returned to in Nazareth ultimately limited what was possible there. And it was necessary to recognize what he could and couldn’t do, and where he could and couldn’t do it. As soon as he returned to Nazareth, he saw he needed to focus on the possible, but also to continue to spread his wings, to uncurl, to lean into his own becoming.
The writer Anais Nin is famous for writing, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Christianity is very much a process of progressive risk, of accepting that God is always calling us into our own becoming. As things open up again, this way of being, of trying to live on the growing edge may feel in conflict with the overwhelm of everything being back open at once. It’s a challenge to live this way with the magnitude of integrating all that has been experienced and learned.
And here Jesus’ teaching to the disciples in the second part of today’s scripture is so crucial. The disciples have been with Jesus in Nazareth. They have seen his reception and how the remarkable miracles he had previously performed just weren’t happening there. And what does he say? Does he say, “We all need to stay here and keep working at it! Things will eventually come around and be what we expect them to be!” No! He says, “Time to acknowledge what is working and what is not. Time to move on toward the possible, toward the unfolding.”
Jesus says to his disciples, “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
The practice of Christianity is also the practice of taking the next right step, to come out of the familiar or the comfortable. And Jesus shows us that in coming out, we will be sent out into even more possibility. Our purpose is to keep moving forward, keep following the path that God opens up in front of us, wherever it may lead. Remember that your voice, your presence, and your love are what brings Hope to our world. You are a part of all that is good as God works in you.
Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh in his bestselling book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, writes, “in the Buddhist monastic tradition, monks are urged not to live too comfortably. A life that is too comfortable will make spiritual growth difficult. Food, clothing, and lodging should always be adequate but not excessive… when we are caught in notions, rituals, and the outer forms of practice, not only can we not receive and embody the spirit of our tradition, we become an obstacle for the true values of the tradition to be transmitted. We lose sight of the true needs and actual suffering of people, and the teaching and practice, which were intended to relieve suffering, now cause suffering. Narrow, fundamentalist and dogmatic practices always alienate people, especially those who are suffering. We have to remind ourselves again and again of our original purpose, and the original teachings and intentions of Buddha, Jesus and the other great sages and saints.”
When our family finally found the building holding that extended family reunion, to our relief, it was not inside a prison complex. But the low slung building that matched the address on our paper didn’t inspire much more confidence. We parked in the gravel parking lot of this non-descript building in the middle of the flat Oklahoma countryside. As we entered, the sounds of laughter and accents more southern than our Kansas ears were used to greeted us, along with tables of food and displays of photos of generations and a giant family tree. Though it was called a “reunion,” for many of us, it was a stepping in to a whole bunch of new relationships. And for those who had known each other once, what they found in meeting again were cousins and uncles and nieces and nephews who had changed.
And of course, that was the gift, the blessing. This new, emerged into place, not to be feared but to be received as gift, because it was reality. If any ideas existed in their minds of what this person was or wasn’t, the reality was revealed as persons emerged into the now in the reunion in that low slung building.
As we emerge from lockdown and quarantine, from grief and loss, from comfort or insecurity, and yes, eventually from pandemic, may we emerge with the Jesus who gives us permission to name what no longer serves us or others. To let go of anything that does not serve God’s purpose. May we emerge and embrace those who are ready and waiting to embrace our changes. And may we know that God is ever calling us into that reality that is, and into that future that is heaven on earth. Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - Sunday, July 4, 2021
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; Independence Day
The Community Gathers...
Rev. Jerry Asheim, Caroline Lee, Cathryn Bruno
Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Judy Kriege
Opening Music: "Down to the River to Pray"
To Hear the Word...
Scripture Reading: Mark 6:1-13
Passing the Peace
Leader: The peace of the risen Christ is with you!
People: And also with you! You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.
Anthem: "By Way of Sorrow "
Erin Adachi-Kriege, Cathryn Bruno, Judy Kriege, Caroline Lee
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment...
*Hymn of Response: "This is My Song"
UM Hymnal # 437
Prayers of the People
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
If you have a prayer request or are interested in longer-term spiritual accompaniment from a Stephen Minister, please email email@example.com
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer)
Our Creator (Father/Mother), who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom (kin-dom) come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom (kin-dom), and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Offering Our Resources and our Energy
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Give online at www.epworthberkeley.org/donate
Or, send a text message with the dollar amount you wish to give to +1-833-276-7680
Offertory: "What Does the Lord Require of You?"
Jerry Asheim, Cathryn Bruno, Annette Cayot, Charles Lynch, Sally Nasman, Gregg Richardson, Cathy Travlos
Praise be to God, who breathes the breath of life. Praise to the Christ who sets us free. Praise the Spirit whose wind and fire give power to move and light to see. As it was before the world began, is here and now and evermore. Alleluia! Praise the three-in-one whom we worship and adore.
Prayer of Dedication
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
*Closing Hymn: "Lift Every Voice and Sing"
UM Hymnal #519
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special Thanks To
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Worship participants: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Erin Adachi-Kriege, Annette Cayot, Susan Jardin, Judy Kriege, Caroline Lee, Charles Lynch, Chris Poston, Gregg Richardson, Sally Nasman, Cathy Travlos. Ushers: Connie Adachi, Jeff Bruno, George Haley
Coffee on the front lawn: Dana Buntrock & LeRoy Howard
Audio Engineer: Paul Nasman Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey
Prayers © 2021 enfleshed.
Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.