There´s a lot about coming and going mentioned in our Scripture today. King David is enjoying being settled at home after his comings and goings and now wants to make sure God settles down with him. Paul writes to the Ephesians about those who were far off from God coming near. Jesus and his disciples are wandering the countryside, trying to have a quiet leadership retreat but thwarted by the restless and hungry crowds who follow them everywhere, like 1st century papparazzi. ¨Many were coming and going¨: it sounds like San Diego in the summertime.
I´m getting my own share of comings and goings, having been in Austin for 11 days at General Convention, welcoming our guest speakers for Pride who came from Colorado and the UK, and now preparing to go on vacation for a week, while entertaining house guests who are here for Comic-Con.
The neediness of the crowds in the Gospel reminds me of the many people who cried out in the Pride crowd last Saturday for a blessing and a sprinkle of holy water.
At General Convention I lived in the midst of a large crowd, and we were often rushing about, as the events were spread among three hotels and an enormous convention center. We heard a lot of good news at convention: the Presiding Bishop stirred us up with his strong message of God´s love; we welcomed the Episcopal Church of Cuba back into the fold; we affirmed and strengthened the inclusion of LGBT people and those with disabilities; we heard about successful initiatives regarding racial reconciliation, evangelism, and creation care.
But we also attended to the neediness and brokenness in our world. We joined in a liturgical listening session, where, in the context of prayer and repentance, bishops read the stories of some who have been abused and harrassed in the church. We stood outside the convention center and protested the senseless epidemic of gun violence. We gathered over a thousand strong at the Hutto Detention Center to pray, sing, and express solidarity with the 500 immigrant women held there, many separated from their children at the border.
We encountered lots of homeless people in the streets around our hotels. We heard testimony from the Shentrup family, faithful Episcopalians, whose daughter and sister Carmen was shot dead at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on Ash Wednesday. We didn´t have to look far to find people just as desperate for healing and peace as those people in Mark´s Gospel. And we don´t have to look far here in San Diego either.
We need reminders to come away and rest with Jesus, to simply give thanks for all that we have been given, and let go of the urge to earn salvation. That´s the lesson God offered King David in the Samuel reading, when David expressed his intention to build a temple, a dwelling place for God. There was no need for him to work so hard: he already had God´s approval and love. But he didn´t quite believe it. He was anxious to build something solid, to create a monument, a visible legacy that would tell future generations that he had been faithful. But God said no.
There´s more than one lesson for us here: it turns out that God doesn´t need a building, that we can´t capture God for our own purposes. This story suggests that the common human desire to build things is something we should examine: are we doing it for God, or are we doing it for our own glory? When we opened those new bathrooms in the Great Hall building a couple of years ago, I felt a sense of personal fulfillment because now there would be something that had been built on my watch, the “Bridges Memorial Rest Rooms”, something that would still be here long after I am gone. As I reflect back on that occasion I am not proud of that feeling. It seems that I too am still learning to accept that God loves me for who I am, the same message that we wanted to convey to the crowds last Saturday.
At the opening Eucharist of General Convention our Presiding Bishop preached about – what else – the God who loves us without limits and without conditions. Bishop Michael spoke about what it means to be sprigs on the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. He spoke about showing the world whose disciples we are, not by intellectual achievement or sophistication of doctrine but by the way we love each other. In a world that, as he said, is often profoundly unloving, we have the high calling to remind people how to love by living our lives in loving ways.
He offered us a rule of life: that´s a group of practices that together form us as followers of Jesus. He called it the Way of Love, and you´re going to hear a lot more about it in the weeks and months ahead. The purpose of the Way of Love is to guide us as we seek love, freedom, and abundant life, the things God promised us through the life and ministry of Jesus. There are seven practices in all, expressed as verbs: I´m not going to go into them all now because seven is too long a list for a sermon, but let me just share the first one on the list: turn. As members of the Jesus movement we commit to being willing to turn: to pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus every day, in every circumstance of our lives.
The world is filled with crowds rushing hither and thither, looking for the next miracle cure or get-rich-quick method or silver bullet. We are assailed by powers that seek to divide us, to create fear and mistrust and hatred. Many of us struggle with our own sense of inadequacy, anxious to earn God´s love, to convince ourselves that we are worthy. There is confusion and need all around. In the Gospel, people rush to Jesus and crowd around him, because he brings peace and healing. They clamor for his touch. They demand attention. They are quite pushy. They evidently aren´t Episcopalians!
We line up patiently for Communion, we wait our turn to greet the clergy, we don´t shout out our needs and hurts during the prayers of the people. But that doesn´t mean we aren´t needy, hungry, and hurting. We need Jesus too, and we can find him among us and within us. We don´t actually need to try that hard. We can turn, pause, listen, and we will know that he is present. As our Collect says, God gives us all that we need in the midst of our weakness, unworthiness, and spiritual blindness.
Last Saturday morning we held a street Eucharist as we waited to step out on the Pride parade. It was messy and loud, as we were surrounded by all the glorious diversity of Pride participants. Even in that very secular and distracting environment we experienced the peace of Christ and shared it with our neighbors. Church isn´t a building: church is a community, and we created community, we made church, right there on Lincoln Street behind the DMV.
Of course, more often our worship is formal, orderly, and measured, to counter the uncertainty and stress of lives filled with anxiety about finances, family, health, and the state of the nation and the world. We come here on a Sunday morning to be reassured of God´s limitless love, to rediscover the peace of Christ in our midst and to be fed by his body and blood.
Our offertory hymn today is one that expresses our deep yearnings for that peace, especially in the fourth verse, which I offer to you as a prayer for these troubled times:
“Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease.
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace,
the beauty of thy peace.”
The Very Rev Penny Bridges
(Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Hymnal 1982 #653, words by John Greenleaf Whittier).