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As you may know, I just returned from a trip to London. I went with a group of ministers eager to study the church planting and revitalization happening in the Church of England, our mother church. Everything I witnessed there was powerful.
I met with new a new church plant that just built a secular community center and recently got their coffee shop up and running. I met with an Anglo-Catholic church that is trying to expand their traditional worship beyond their walls by worshiping out in the streets of London.
I met with an old reformation-era church that installs provocative social justice artwork in their sanctuary in order to create dialogue with the secular world around them. I met with a charismatic church that has started worshiping together with an older more traditional congregation and together they are discerning what their hybrid worshiping style looks like. And that’s just to name a few of the faith communities we visited.
We met with several leaders of the work happening in London and as you can imagine, I took lots and lots of notes.
I was eager to figure it out what the magic secret that was that was making these new ministries possible. Over the last week, as I’ve read through my journal, I have come to realize all my notes boiled down to these three basic things:
- If your faith community is not willing to risk growing, it will decline.
- This Gospel is all free, so take what has been freely given and give it away.
- There is no where, no place, that Jesus cannot be present.
That’s it. That’s the magic formula. 1. Take a risk and grow community. 2. Give the Gospel freely. 3. Jesus is always possible, is always present, everywhere you go. This is a recipe for discipleship and it runs parallel with our Gospel passage this morning.
Today, we hear Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus’ first public act of his ministry. Jesus, along with his newly assembled and eclectic band of disciples, goes into a synagogue on the Sabbath and begins to teach. While teaching a man with “an unclean spirit” combats Jesus and his response to this confrontation is to heal that man, and free him from the “unclean spirit”.
What’s remarkable about this story is that Jesus wasn’t kicked out when he began to teach, uninvited, on that Sabbath day. He took a risk. He put himself out there. And those present were not only listening to his teaching, they were also astonished because Jesus was teaching in a new way.
It says in the Gospel that Jesus was teaching “as one having authority and not as the scribes.” In other words, Jesus wasn’t teaching in the old way where one’s authority relies on textbooks, tradition and academic formulas. Rather, Jesus was sharing a message from the heart of his witness to God, his calling and his ministry. He goes into that synagogue and demonstrates to those present that his authority comes from God and his witness to God’s call to him.
The other remarkable aspect of this story is that Jesus performs his first public act of his ministry: the casting out of the unclean spirit in the man who confronts him. I think it speaks volumes about the nature of our God that Jesus’ first public act of his ministry was to heal and restore a marginalized, downcast member of society.
This is Jesus’ first public display of his ministry in Mark’s Gospel. He was just baptized by his cousin John the Baptist and the heavens opened up and he heard God speak aloud his calling. People have heard of Jesus by now, and they are waiting to see what he will do. And so he intentionally walks into that synagogue in our story this morning and puts his cards on the table, to show the world what he is capable of.
And the story of this teaching and act of mercy, love and healing performed by Jesus spreads across the community: “What is this?!” Those present exclaim. A new thing has started! This man Jesus has come with a new teaching, one based on the power of God’s unconditional love. And his fame began to spread…
In this story, Jesus is showing us a picture of discipleship: he surrounds himself with faith community in his disciples. He does not ask for permission but goes into the synagogue and bears witness to God. And he bears witness in a new way by sharing freely the ministry that God has given him. He takes a risk, puts himself out there to show the world around him what his ministry is all about and what it means to follow God. And he demonstrates this all by restoring and healing one who is suffering.
This story outlines a recipe for discipleship:
1. The power of community
2. Risking to share vulnerable and personal testimony to God’s call
3. The witnessing and sharing of God’s unconditional and healing love.
This echos the recipe for discipleship that I heard in my visit to London and it’s amazing what that community has accomplished in simply following these basic steps. New faith communities are cropping up left and right in London and no two look the same. But they are all following Jesus in community, taking risks and sharing God’s love, freely.
This recipe for discipleship is the same one we are following here at Good Samaritan. Your discipleship, your witness to God, your faithful following of Jesus, is beautiful and inspiring and I feel so blessed I was able to journey with you these last 20 months.
Today, I say goodbye to you and begin a new call to ministry with All Saints, one of our partner congregations in the Pathways Program.
This goodbye is hard. I have been with you all and watched you grow, and I have grown with you. I joined you as a seminarian, still on the path for holy orders. I remember when I first started working here that it was a big Sunday if there were 30 people in attendance.
Now, I can hardly believe how big we are. And here I am now a priest, I was ordained in this room. I promise you I would not be where I am now, or be the minister I am, if it hadn’t been for you and my time here.
So thank you. Thank you for walking with me on this journey. Thank you for your courage in joining this new community. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing yourselves with me and with others. Thank you for helping me grow and learn. Thank you for opening up to new possibilities, to creative ways of worshiping and to sharing your faith. Thank you for sharing your love, kindness and hospitality so fiercely and openly. Thank you for your generosity of spirit and your commitment to God’s justice and unconditional love.
I’m a better minister having worked with you over these last two years and above all, I’m a better follower and disciple of Jesus having journeyed with you all on this road to making God’s kingdom manifest.
And I’m so grateful I get to preach today, on this your in-gathering Sunday of your first public act of pledging as a faith community.
I’m so honored to have known you and grown with you all and I couldn’t be happier that I get to say goodbye on a day where we are celebrating how much you have grown and how far this community has come.
It’s astonishing what can happen if we follow Jesus’ example. If we have the courage to answer God’s call for us and freely give and share our witness to God’s unconditional and healing love.
Like maybe if we do this we could start a new and thriving faith community in our diocese. Like a new church without walls out in the suburbs, that meets in a school where we can freely give and demonstrate God’s unconditional love. A new #churchthatserves where we do regular service projects for the wider community on a weekly basis.
With this recipe for discipleship we could build a community that is open and inclusive to all people without exception. And we can go from 30 people on an average Sunday to 80 people to 130 people in just two years…. because we are disciples and as disciples we are freely giving the Gospel of love, and offering a way to follow Jesus, with no strings attached.
As your previous Director of Discipleship and as your Pathways to Vitality Priest, I feel I can say with some authority and confidence that you all are an outstanding example of discipleship. You are truly a group of disciples who are making the Kingdom manifest, here and now.
What I saw happening in London, we are already doing in this place. And what we are doing in this place is helping other disciples across the wider community enhance their ministry. And together we are all part of that larger work of making the Kingdom manifest.
Today is a big day for us as Disciples at Good Samaritan. Today we will perform a public act of our ministry, our first public act of pledging as a faith community. Today you are walking into the synagogue, taking a risk, stepping up to the plate and showing the world what this community is capable of.
Today you are bearing witness to God’s call for you, and to God’s call for this community and you are putting your cards on the table (literally).
In my time with you I have heard your stories of why you have chosen to be here. In our Cottage Conversations we heard why you have decided to make Good Sam your church home and how you want to help it grow.
You have come to Good Samaritan because you have witnessed something new happening in this place. You have witnessed God’s love being shared and Jesus’ work being practiced here. And you come to the table to give of yourselves in order to help this community flourish.
We give of our time, talent and resources because we want a safe and loving place for all people to exist in this corner of Indiana. We want a place to learn about a God who gives unconditional love to others. We want a place where God can be freely experienced and a relationship with Jesus can be known without shame or fear.
You are literally building a community that is making this world a better place because of your witness to God’s call to follow Jesus, and this is just the beginning.
A new teaching has begun at Good Samaritan, a new work has started and you are the vessels for this work. And because you have said yes to this call, whether you like it or not, you have become leaders of the faith in the wider Episcopalian community.
Your work in this new community has spread and is getting a lot of attention. “Look, a new teaching at Good Samaritan, and with authority and truth!”
Your ministry is getting so much attention that other churches in our diocese have agreed to help enhance our resources by matching our financial gifts dollar-for-dollar up to $90 thousand dollars in this, our first act of pledging as a community.
A new work has begun at Good Samaritan, and this is just the beginning.
Today we celebrate taking risks. We celebrate the desire to grow. With our act of pledging we are celebrating our ministry of sharing God’s love and we are showing the world what we have to offer and what we are capable of. Today we celebrate our discipleship, of following Jesus with open minds and hearts to serve the world.
And this is just the beginning. A new teaching, a new work, and with authority and truth, is happening in this place….. Thanks be to God.