The Way of Love
July 22, Proper 11:
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
That sound pretty good, doesn’t it. It does to me, maybe because I’ll be going away this week for a family vacation. I hope you’ll be able to get some rest this summer too. Rest is important.
We don’t always think of it as an essential part of our spiritual growth. But it is. God rested on the seventh—the Sabbath—day, and commanded us to do the same. In fact, many scholar argue that the Sabbath is the final act of creation. It’s not that God took a break, but that creation wasn’t and isn’t finished until God created the Sabbath—and sanctified rest. Jesus rested, and he instructs the disciples to rest. It’s not optional. It’s part of spiritual growth. Part of the Way of Love.
Some of you might be aware that General Convention wrapped up last week. General Convention is the governing body of the Episcopal Church. That meets every three years. There’s a House of Bishops, and a House of Deputies made up of both clergy and laity. Between the two houses there’s maybe close to 1,000 people who show up and for 14 days pray, worship, and debate and pass legislation that affects the life of the church and our continued witness in the world. This time there were over 500 resolutions brought forward, debated, amended, concurred, or not. For those who love legislative wonkery it’s as close to heaven on earth as you can get. For those who are convinced that the tedium of following Robert’s Rules of Order is one of the forgotten circles of hell, it’s less enticing. What is easy to miss, I think, is that it that for over 230 years it has been a model of that increasingly rare species: an actual functioning democracy. Our weekly e-news contained a link to a summary of what happened there, you can look at that at your leisure, and I’m happy to have conversation about it. What I thought was most significant and resonant with the Gospel today was the framing of General Convention done by our Presiding Bishop.
Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Curry. Probably now best known as “the royal wedding preacher” also sometimes knows as our CEO—Chief Evangelism Officer, in his opening homily framed the entire convention using the Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life, which you have in your bulletins.
The way this came about is that Bishop Curry invited a group of people to “come away to a deserted place”—Ok, it was actually the Atlanta airport—he called a group of people together to help him “think and pray through how do we help our church to go deeper as the Jesus Movement”—that’s how he refers to us, “The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement”—how do we help our church go deeper “not just in word, but not just in deed, either, but for real. How do we help our folk to throw themselves into the arms of Jesus?”
Great question. And what this small group apart realized was that what we need is not a new program…not a new initiative…not a new set of criteria or metrics…
What they realized…is that we already have everything we need in the traditions of the church. And if you’ve been coming here for a while you will have heard me say much the same thing…
The things we do here are ancient (many of them)… and we keep doing them because they actually work! Bishop Curry says: “For centuries monastic communities and religious communities and people of faith who have gone deeper in this faith have lived by what they often call a rule of life; a set of spiritual practices that they make a commitment to live in, practices that help them open up the soul, open up the spirit, helped them find their way, a way of throwing yourself into the arms of God.”
And so, Bishop Curry began wondering, what would happen…if he asked every Episcopalian to adopt this way of love, these practices for a Jesus-centered life? What would happen if we all committed to these practices?—
Now, in truth if you’ve been baptized, and if you’ve been here any time we’ve reaffirmed the baptismal covenant you’ve already made these promises—you’ve already made these commitments…this is just a way of reminding us, and helping us recommit to and deepen them.
So let’s take a look. [full resources can are here]
You can start anywhere on the wheel, but Jesus today starts with rest, and I started with rest, so let’s start there. As I said, it’s not optional. So rest…have a Sabbath…
Then next on the wheel is Turn. Pause. Listen, and choose to follow Jesus. Every day we have opportunities to turn away from the powers of sin and death and toward the power of love…toward God. Bishop Curry likens this to a flower turning toward the sun. It’s interesting because that’s the way the Gospel today starts…The disciples are out doing the work…and they turn back…turn to Jesus and gather around him.
What helps you turn again and again to Jesus and the way of life?
Next: Learn. Reflect on scripture especially on Jesus’ life and teaching. Again in the Gospel today we hear, “and he began to teach them many things.” He’s still teaching…if we’re open to learning and committed to learning.
Bishop Curry told the convention: “before you march, before you protest, before you do anything, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus…before you get up to speak…before you go over to the water cooler and start whispering something into somebody’s ear…meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.” You can do it in the privacy of your own home, or you can find companions and friends to help you with it…but take time to reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus early and often.
And then: Pray. I know this is one of those things that trips people up…we want to do it “right.” But really the only wrong way to pray is to not pray. Prayer is simply opening yourself up to God and God’s presence. You can think of it as “wasting time with God.” But you have to make time for it. What practices do you have that help you dwell in God’s presence…if you need help or people to talk to about it the DOK would be glad to talk to you.
What’s next? Worship: Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God. Well you’re all here so achievement unlocked for you this week!
Prayer and worship were the two pieces I couldn’t exactly find in the scripture this week, until I remembered that there’s a big chunk missing from the gospel…in between where it says: “and he began to teach them many things”…and “when they had crossed over to the other side” something pretty significant happens…does anyone know what? The whole feeding of the 5000! Where they gather. Jesus prays, takes bread, blesses, breaks it and gives it out…sound familiar? Sound like something we do here every week? Pray and Worship
And then Bless: Bishop Curry says, “O we have been blessed to be to be a blessing. How can you bless this world, how can you bless others?” Jesus and the disciples go across to the other shore and begin to heal, to cast out unclean spirits, to speak truth and love, to build right relationships. How do you bless others through sharing your resources, your faith, your story?
Bless and Go: This is one of Bishop Curry’s favorite phrases. Go! Go to listen deeply, and with humility. Go to heal a hurting world. Go to become the Beloved Community. And that’s what Jesus does as well. Especially in Mark, they go away, then they go to the other side, then they go to villages…Go!
And then rest again…turn…again…learn…again…pray, worship, bless, go…
It’s not a new program…it’s as ancient as the Psalms. As Bishop Curry says, “It’s been field tested”…and it works. Bishop Curry says, someone asked him “how do you live a sacrificial, loving life?,” And he responded, “Well I guess it’s the same way a first responder does… They’ve practiced. They’ve practiced how to save a life. And when the moment comes, it’s instinct. The spiritual practices are how we practice for when the moment comes, and the Spirit moves through us.”
You’ll hear more about this in the fall. I hope that you all get some rest this summer. And I hope that you all will take this insert home, and will really think about it, and work with it, and make a deeper commitment to these practices. For centuries, these have been the way that people have been built up as “living stones” into a holy temple…a dwelling place for God. This is how we can follow Jesus in our own day, and bring love and healing to a hurting world.