St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Pentecost 5, July 2

Proper 8  July 2

Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welomes the one who sent me” (Mt. 10:40).  We, as welcoming disciples, actually “embody” Jesus as a welcoming Kingdom-bearer.   

Jesus believed strongly that the disciple who went out in his name was not just a “representative,” but was, in fact, an extension of his own being and authority.  Put another way, when the world encountered a disciple of Jesus Christ, ********find what got lost!********


 is encountering -- Jesus himself.

To borrow a passage we know well (well, borrow and amend slightly) -- we, the agents of Christ, are “the way, the truth, and the life” to the world.  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, Jesus is judged through us, by the way our faith flowers or fades.

In some sense, as much as it ought to make us tremble at the prospect, our witness establishes not only who we are, but who Jesus is.  Our level of commitment, our willingness to be transformed by the Spirit -- i.e. what we stand for and how we stand for it -- validates Christianity in the world.

The point here is that Jesus intended the Gospel to be spread less “propositionally” and more “relationally”.  That’s a couple of hundred dollar words.  Let’s say “less by reasoning from a hypothesis,” and more just “person to person.”  That’s how Jesus did it.

Kind of like our everyday lives.  It was not a proposition, a hypothesis from which we reasoned, that got us out of bed this morning, dressed and fed us, and drove us to church.  It was not a proposition that got us baptized, not a proposition that welcomed us -- and continues to welcome us -- into the household of God .  It’s not dry-a-dust propositions that support us in our everyday walk through life, in our determination to be faithful to our Lord and Savior.  It wasn’t propositions that prayed with us before bedtime, loved us in spite of ourselves, and delivered a swift kick in the butt when it was called for. 

We don’t come to and strengthen our faith propositionally, but rather relationally.  Faith isn’t so much taught as it is caught, as it is absorbed.  Jesus doesn’t want our passive acceptance of Kingdom loyalty -- the way we decide to commit to, say, reading some slightly boring book that your sister recommends.  Jesus calls for a whole-hearted commitment.  We are -- or should be -- acting as His agents.  That’s agentry, (which is a new word for me).  Agentry under anything less than a definite single-minded decision for him and his way -- well, Jesus isn’t interested in that.

There is a lot in this world, a lot in our own circles, a lot in our own families, that puts so much pressure on us, on our whole-hearted  commitment to agentry, that devotion can fade.  That the salt can lose its savor.  That the light on the hill can grow dim.  Christianity can indeed become less personally contagious and become more and more a set of dry propositions.  To the point that William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury toward the middle of the 20th Century, said, ”I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.  I only regret [that] it doesn’t exist.” Similarly, in the mid 19th Century Ralph Waldo Emerson asked, “ . . . in Christendom, where are the Christians?”  Maybe that’s not so out of touch with the world today.  Martin Luther King Jr. called us to be Extremists for Love.  We are not called to get jobs with stratospheric salaries right out of graduate school.  Getting jobs like that right off the bat is pretty extreme.  We are not called to sit on the boards of Fortune 500 corporations.  Doing that is pretty extreme too.  But what about being extremists for love?

Hmm.  Maybe that kind of extremism won’t work so well for us.  How about “vague adherence”?  I was raised a cradle Episcopalian by a conservative mother.  We didn’t have extreme conversations about anything -- not even about doing homework or drying the dishes or about scrubbing  my incredibly dirty ankles -- but that’s a story for another time.   Conversation, especially at the dinner table, never included money, politics or religion.  That was pretty much a rule.  We talked so little about religion that once when I was a guest for dinner at a friend’s house (that was, I think, in the 8th grade) I was asked to say grace -- and I didn’t have the faintest idea what to do.  At home that night I explored my Book of Common Prayer without having a discussion with anybody, and I found and memorized a grace before meals so that the next time I was welcomed into someone’s home for a meal, I’d be prepared. 

But maybe Mother had a point.  When Jesus tells us to strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to us as well, he isn’t calling us to be rigid, inflexible religious knotheads ******is there a better word?******** for his sake.  He’s providing  us instead with the answer to our search for significance, for the answer to a question we might not even have thought to ask:  “Why were we created?” 

What is the personal purpose, the reason for the creation, of every Christian?  It is . . . to express Christ.  The secret of life -- in whatever ways it happens to be fleshed out according to our own giftedness -- is first to lay claim to this sacred responsibility -- to express Christ.  When we use this purpose as a lens through which to view the totality of life, then everything we do takes on a devotion, a dynamic devotion.  When we take on that responsibility successfully, we embody its significance.

Our wills become aligned with God’s.  Personal purpose no longer lies hidden or dormant.  It becomes the radiating center out of which soul force proceeds.  Isn’t that a cool phrase?  Soul force. --  The spiritual life no longer is a theory or a philosophy -- a proposition -- but something personal and passionate. . We are possessed by the “fire” of Jesus, and we become flame-bearers -- even flame-throwers --  in the world.

I’ve referenced Emerson and William Temple and Martin Luther King, Jr. and my mother.  Now it’s time for that great 19th Century Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard, who said “The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wants me to do.  The thing is to find a truth for me.  To find the reality for which I can live and die.”

To be the living sign and symbol of Jesus Christ -- of the faith that we profess -- is the high calling Jesus extends as that “agentry” to all of us.  So we can pour the Divine life into the world by being disciples who give “little ones” even something as small and welcoming as a cup of cold water.