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Pentecost 6 July 5, 2015 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
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July 5, 2015 Pentecost VI
Mark 6:1-13 ▪ The Rev. Samuel Torvend
 
This past Tuesday, I picked up our share of vegetables from Zestful Gardens, a Puyallup farm sustained by members of community supported agriculture, people who purchase food directly from local organic farmers. As all kinds of lettuce are in abundance these days, I was impressed by the pale greens of the American mustard leaves, the darker greens of the zucchini, and the purple veins running through the beet leaves I placed in my bag. While most schools, many church choirs, and people who can afford a vacation find in summer time to slow down or take a break, the farms and gardens of our region are going wild with activity; the sun, soil, and water conspiring to produce an explosion of vegetables and fruits in remarkable diversity.
 
Little wonder, then, that the church has embraced the color green for the many weeks of summer that will extend into autumn. But let’s be clear: we do not adorn our spaces and dress the worship leaders with colors because we have nothing better to do with our time or to break the monotony of monochromatic space. Instead, at this time of the year, you and I encounter the living color of verdant growth as an invitation to reflect on our own greening, our growing maturity in Christian faith and life. The medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, sang the praises of green growth as she looked out over the vineyards of her monastic community along the Rhine River. Indeed, she claimed that greenness – viriditas was the word she used – is the capacity given by God to all, to you and to me, who dwell in the vineyard of Christ the vine master. Yes, you and I are not called to a static, unchanging faith, for you and I are capable of growing in spiritual maturity, a more expansive compassion, and a deeply rooted hope in our lives as Christians who live in the world.
 
But the same holds true for a community, a parish.  We are not simply individuals who just happen to gather at the same time every Sunday and do things individually together. Rather, we are a living, breathing organism woven together by our common humanity, our baptismal birth, and our sharing from the one cup and the one bread. I depend on others in the assembly to sing when life feels heavy and I can’t sing; you and I pray for others who may find it difficult if not impossible to pray; we see every Sunday that someone is helping another person come to the altar in order to receive the gift of the vineyard, the greening, life-giving presence of the vine master, Jesus Christ. Thus, in the gospel for this warm summer day, Jesus sends out his disciples together, not alone, sends them out two by two, into the lives of others. While he invites his followers to live intimately with him, adopting his way of life and his vision, he also recognizes that his vision of life in this world with God and others will utterly fail unless his followers receive and live into and share his life and his vision with friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
 
It should be clear to us, though, that Jesus had no one to screen his followers, no director of personnel, no vice president of human resources to do the background checks to which this world is now filled to overflowing. There is Peter who brashly talks big but whimpers when he realizes that to be a disciple is to be with Jesus among the powerless of this world; and Mary, his mother, who, with her family, believes that Jesus has gone mad and needs to be put away; and the people of his hometown who cannot grasp how a skilled laborer could speak with wisdom and authority. Indeed, the disciples –and we with them – are often marked by rivalries, turf wars, confusion concerning the core convictions he holds, occasional disdain for the poor, and suspicion of those who don’t look or act like them. And yet he sends this group out – this group that no one in their right mind would send out to promote anything publicly – sends them out to plant the vine of his generous life and gracious but challenging vision, sent out with next to nothing

For a good number of decades in the 20th century, Episcopalians were referred to as God’s Frozen Chosen, a stoic people who’d rather die than greet a stranger in their midst; as the Republican Party at Prayer, staunch conservers of tradition; as Whiskeypalians, who could effortlessly create a cocktail mere seconds after the liturgy ended. While the American Revolution of the 18th c. made clear that the Church of England would no longer be the established church in this land, the endowed wealth of Episcopal parishes and institutions, our presence in elite colleges, businesses, and high government office, and international relationships through the Anglican Communion and British Commonwealth could lead some if not many to imagine that we were a kind of religious club, with simply beautiful music, for upwardly mobile Protestants. But I’m not sure that this caricature – and it is a caricature – sits well with a gospel intended for the powerless, the least in the kingdoms of this world, for those wounded in life, for those called to a greening spiritual maturity that is capable of living with the ambiguity and paradoxes that accompany adulthood.
 
I have been a member of the Episcopal Church since 2004, a very short time compared with many of you in this assembly. What I have noticed during the past 11 years as a priest in our communion is the number of individuals, couples, and families who make their way to one of our parishes and report that they have been wounded by religion: wounded by preachers who transform the gospel  of grace into a set of rules and regulations, wounded by ministerial abuse, wounded by legalism ironically and deceptively masked with the language of love, wounded by the use of Scripture as a club to beat up those who somehow don’t fit in, wounded by preaching and teaching that cannot bear the weight of difficult questions that inevitably emerge in life. What always surprises me is the individual, the couple, or the family who declare with utter astonishment that they had no idea – no idea – having experienced our way of life, that religion could actually honor the intellect as well as the affections, could cultivate curiosity yet offer no pat answers; could rejoice in the gifts of this world – of science and poetry and psychology; could be so deeply rooted in ancient ritual and, at the same time, so open to the demands of social justice: not one without the other.
 
Dear brothers and sisters, when I hear people say, “We didn’t know that this form of Christianity even existed,” I am delighted – yes – and, at the same time, indicted. For I then wonder and ask you to wonder with me: are you and I keeping the gracious yet challenging gospel of Jesus Christ a secret? Do you and I imagine that those who hunger and thirst for this distinctive form of Christian faith and life must first walk through those doors? Or this: will co-workers, friends, and even strangers discern in your words and mine, in your actions and mine, the living color of verdant growth, the healing that God desires for all of us?
 
Fr. Samuel Torvend
Associate Priest for Adult FormationPentecost