Monday, July 9, 2012

What is Necessary?

Scripture for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9) includes II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; II Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

One suit, one sport jacket, two pairs of dress slacks, two pairs of chinos, a pair of shorts, four polo shirts, five dress shirts, three bow ties, one cassock alb, one clergy shirt, and four pairs of shoes… not to mention all the incidentals. Such was the load I lugged to New Orleans, several days ago, for the black tie optional (and rather grand) wedding Diana and I attended.

My list of “necessities” could have been longer: I could have brought my tuxedo. I chose to slip through that loophole, figuring that my vestments would cover me at the ceremony, and candlelight at the reception would make that black suit look formal enough—and a Williams bow tie would be all the gilding my lily required.

But did I ever flunk simplicity! My packing list was a polar opposite to our Lord’s marching orders. Except for going out two by two. That we did.

I filled two suitcases and a shoulder bag in an effort to fit a social occasion (actually, several social occasions, all part of Guy’s and Lacee’s gracious wedding weekend, which started on Thursday evening and ended Sunday, taking place in five different venues ranging from a Po’Boy bar to a cathedral). Diana and I did a pretty good job gauging what it would take to fit all those settings; but if you had watched us hauling our bags through the Albany Airport parking lot (from the outer rim of Longterm), you might have thought of something else Jesus said, right in keeping with today’s Gospel. I’ll paraphrase it, to make my point: Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who would lug half his wardrobe to enter the kingdom of God.

To enter anywhere, one must fit through the doorway! While the kingdom of God will never shut out a person who chooses to enter, our stuff won’t fit along with us. And choosing to enter that kingdom requires certain attitudes toward stuff. It has to fit our mission.

Jesus also told a parable about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. Royal henchmen were sent out to compel his subjects to attend. This one poor bloke didn’t have time to go home and change out of his overalls; and didn’t the king single him out and expel him for not being properly dressed for the occasion. More on this in a moment… but doesn’t it seem as if nothing is simple, not even simplicity?)

To be a guest at any table, at any celebration, is to be honored. It is to be given the gift of inclusion, belonging, mattering to the host. If that’s the receiving side of being a guest, there is also a giving side: the giving of a wedding gift, the giving of time and effort and expense in traveling… and also the giving of response (one might even call it responsibility) to contribute to the festivity by one’s attitude, appearance, and behavior.

Clothing is not irrelevant to the celebration and blessing of a rite of passage, such as marriage. The apostle Paul, coaching the Christians at Colossae, used clothing as a metaphor for living one’s faith. He did this also in his letter to the believers in Rome, when he urged them to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, suggesting that our Savior’s intimate love is the finest, most enduring apparel we can wear. So, in his letter to the Colossians (which Guy and Lacee chose to be read at their service) Paul counseled, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.”

There is clothing used as a figure of speech to represent attitude, behavior, and personal mission. Something like this is going on in that parable I mentioned: to take your place in the kingdom of God, you must put on the Lord Jesus Christ. You must clothe yourself in his grace, and allow it to work: for power is made perfect in weakness.

Which brings us back to today’s Gospel, where Jesus is asking his interns to consider what they need to fit… not to fit into the society they’re returning to serve, but to fit the calling he has given them.

Our Lord’s teaching style is bold, confrontational, paradoxical. He doesn’t engage us gently with sweet reason. He would spare us endless trial and error, by issuing clear orders that cut to the chase.

Here’s what you won’t need to do, in order to do what matters most to me, he explains. You won’t need to make reservations for lodging on the road: I want you under the roofs of seekers just like yourselves, so that our fellowship may extend into the world.

Nothing personal, but you won’t need to put your trust in what you can prepare and control ahead of time. Leave the thermos and picnic basket at home: I need your hands free to be my hands. I want your attention to be on what matters to the people you’ll be touching, not on protecting your own possessions. We’re doing what we’re doing because God is at work in society, and needs us to do our part. Reach your empty hands to God to free and fill them with the Spirit’s power. You can’t do that and be holding onto your wallets—or your smart phones-- at the same time.

Care first how your choices fit you for the calling I have given you. Do you remember when I called you from many preoccupations in the work you were doing? Matthew, when you were a tax collector holding every poor soul to what he owed… Peter, John, James, when you were working around the clock following the fish wherever they ran and ran you ragged… Now I’m sending you back into your old neighborhoods, and you have something newer and finer to offer than the old compulsions. But it’s a spiritual authority I’ve given you. Be aware how your choices serve not your fitting-in, but the making you fit for the calling I have given you.

Be outstanding—stand out—in ways that people will notice and be drawn to: Trust the God of surprises to have an abundance that will meet and exceed the needs around you. Open yourselves to learn how to gain access to that abundance. Remember that you will see clearly only with your heart—anything truly essential will require this kind of seeing, and the reaching I teach you.

To practice that reaching, take with you a walking staff. The span you create when you thrust it forward, the short distance between your extended reach and your perceiving heart, that is how close I call you to draw to my people, your neighbors, that you may know them as I know them, and love them as I love you.