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Living on the Edge

July 7, 2018

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This past Sunday, I received a call from a parishioner telling me that I needed to grab my camera and head into the Rocky Mountain National Park. He had spotted two black fox kit playing outside of their den under the watchful eye of their mother. I grabbed my camera and we headed into the park. We were rewarded for our search by enjoying the time with Mama and her kits at play on the rocks.

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After a bit, Mama started barking and trying to lead us away from the den. We quietly backed off, thanked her for the time we got to spend with her kits, and headed to our car. What an amazing opportunity we had to simply be in the midst of such a wondrous creation! That’s what happens when you live on the edge of such a magnificent bit of God’s creation that is Rocky Mountain National Park.

When I read the passages from Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Mark 6:1-13, I think about another sort of edge which we are called to live on. In the Ezekiel reading, we hear how God has called Ezekiel to a very specific purpose that isn’t necessarily going to help him make friends with the religious establishment or the people of Israel.

“He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” (Ezekiel 2:3-5)

Wow… with a message like that, it would have been no surprise if he had been run out of town on a rail! As it was, he wasn’t able to be a part of the “don’t worry, everything’s going to be alright and we will soon be back in Jerusalem” party. His prophecies which the Lord gave him to speak to the people were full of harsh judgment. Ezekiel’s job, however, wasn’t to win any popularity contests. His job was to challenge the people of the religious establishment who were in exile.

They are impudent and stubborn… a rebellious house… I wonder how those words would go over in our time and in our churches? Sadly, I can put myself into those categories far more often than I care to admit. Equally sad, I can place the church into the same categories far more often than I would like. The passage hits close to home on multiple levels.

When I think about it, Jesus was in a similar situation to Ezekiel. He was charged to open the eyes and the hearts of the religious establishment. He was charged with upsetting the apple cart and bringing the people back to the covenant relationship with God which had been established from the very beginning of creation and from the time of Moses and the Covenant which had been warped into a rule-book devoid of the breath of the Spirit.

In Mark’s telling of the story, Jesus returns home after an incredible series of events in his ministry. Casting out demons, raising the dead, healing the afflicted, and calming the storm. By all accounts, he should have been welcomed home with open arms by the hometown crowd. It all starts out well… “On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.'” (Mark 6:2-3)

Hey, isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s kid? Have you heard what he has done? He has done nothing less than “Deeds of Power!” So with this beginning, I wonder why the crowd took offense at him? Was it because he had touched the unclean man who was possessed? Was it because he had touched the woman with a twelve year bleed? Was it because he had touched a dead body? As my partner in ministry Denise and I wondered, all of these actions would have rendered him unclean and unable to go the synagogue, let alone teach! Were some of his on the edge interpretations of Scripture already beginning to make him an outcast? Did the community wonder, as his mother and family along with the religious leaders had wondered in Chapter Three, whether or not he was off his rocker or possessed? Whatever the reason, Jesus was not able to teach in the synagogue or offer any “Deeds of Power” as Mark called Jesus’ miracle working.

So in frustration and amazement, he left his hometown with his disciples and hit the road teaching and healing. Putting myself into the shoes of the disciples, in good Ignatian fashion, I wonder to myself as I can only imagine the disciples did… wow, he has been kicked out of his hometown and the synagogue he grew up in… how is he and how are we going to fare as this journey continues. If you can’t even go home, where are we going to go?

As we walked and wondered to ourselves, pondering these and other questions, Jesus stops and calls us all together. We were sent out two by two with nothing other than a staff and pair of sandals. No extra cloak. No money. No food. No bag. Not even an extra tunic! He sent us out with his authority and what happened was amazing. Sure there were towns where we weren’t welcome. They didn’t like the message of repentance that Jesus had commissioned us to share. When we left those places we shook the dust off of our sandals as a testimony against them. Knocking even the dust off of our sandals so that we would carry nothing from that particular place with us! In places where we were welcomed, we stayed… and cured the ill and cast out demons… all in His name!

As I look at it, the disciples were being set up for the next phase of Jesus’ ministry and for their own ministry which they would pick up after his death and resurrection. Like the prophets before them, they were tasked with sharing the word of the Lord with the people. The word was the message of Jesus… it was a message of love… love God with all that you have… love ALL of your neighbors as yourselves…. It was the message of the Prophet Micah… Do Justice… Love Kindness & Mercy… Walk Humbly with God!

The funny thing is, this call and commission is ours today as well! While we may not be casting out demons or anointing people and healing them (in the fashion of Jesus’ day), we are being called to share the message. Sadly, this message is not one that is always welcomed by people inside or outside of the church. Look at the divisive and hate-filled rhetoric being spewed from far too many pulpits in this nation and world. Look at the greed and the lust for power and prestige. Sitting in our comfortable churches and places of worship, we contemplate a personal salvific relationship with Jesus while ignoring our neighbors in need or hating them because they are different.

While we were at the 223rd General Assembly of our denomination (PC(USA)) we got to hear and speak with members of the National Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for Moral Revival. These are people just like you and me who have taken to the streets to call our national leaders and our faith communities back to the basics. Like the Prophets, they are calling governments and religious establishments to account. They are willing to be on the margins… to live on the edge… to be arrested for peaceful, non-violent protest and acts of civil disobedience. For crying out loud, they were arrested for praying on the steps of the US Supreme Court!

The call today is strong, just as the call was in the time of Ezekiel and of Jesus and the disciples. Do Justice! Love Kindness and Mercy! Walk Humbly with God! Love God! Love ALL of your neighbors! Hearkening back to the words of Ezekiel from a bit later in the Prophet’s book: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)

If we but open our eyes, we cannot possibly miss how our nation, our government, and in too many cases our churches have missed the mark. In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Dr King penned these words which have come alive again in the Poor People’s Campaign of 2018:  “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Therefore, dear reader, we can no longer sit in our comfortable pews and focus on ourselves alone. The public rise of racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, and many other isms is calling us to walk out of the comfortable church building and into the streets. We are being called to live on the edge just as the prophets of old and Jesus and his disciples did. I honestly don’t know what it is going to look like, but I do no one thing… we must speak out!

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