Tossed Into the World, Together

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The actual opening scene of The Lion King.

Mark 6:1-13

Many of you already know that, thanks both to church structures and decisions on my part, my pastor life got started two different times. The first time was my commissioning in the United Methodist Church in 2011, before I began serving my first church in Montgomery, Alabama, as a solo pastor. The United Methodist Church has pastors prove themselves in the parish for some years, calling it “commissioned ministry,” before finally ordinating them. Because of this policy, my pastor life got its second and final start with my actual ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 2016. 

Both times involved being blessed by a bishop and sent out. Both services felt exactly the same way in only one regard, though I felt this much more acutely in 2011 when I was fresh out of seminary. Like many things these days, it’s best expressed in a thing from the Internet. 

There’s this gif, this moving picture, of Rafiki, the baboon and wise man from Disney’s The Lion King. As in the opening scene of the movie, Rafiki is holding the main character, the Lion King himself, Simba, as a cub. In what is clearly a ceremony atop the highest rock, Rafiki holds up the young cub  before all the other animals. 

Except, in the hilarious internet version of the scene, Rafiki bends his elbows back and launches the young, freshly ordained cub off the rock and straight into the wild wild world. 

And that is what I felt like fresh out of seminary after a ceremony to commission me to pastor. [imitates gif by throwing stuffed penguin into congregation]
“Goodbye, kiddo! Good luck!” 

If you’re over the age of eighteen, or even if you’re not, youve probably felt that way at some point yourself: maybe after a graduation, a wedding, getting your driver’s license, having your first child, landing your first job in a new career: any time there’s a moment of celebration followed by the sinking feeling where you think “Uh oh. The training wheels are off and I have to actually do this thing.”

Image result for lion king gif
Good luck, kid!

I imagine that’s how the disciples felt in the Gospel story today: thrown into everything. The whole thing begins with Jesus getting rejected by the folks in his hometown. He’s teaching in the synagogue, and they reject him by saying, “Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s son?”

I think we forget sometimes that Jesus was only 33. An advanced adult by the standards of the day — the average life expectancy, after all, was only around 60, and most people got married and had children very young. Even so, at 33, there were still plenty of people who were old enough to think Jesus was just a local punk. There would’ve been folks around who remembered him in holy diapers.

They say, essentially, “Who does that Jesus punk think he is, lecturing us? 

Then, maybe because he’s tired, he sends the disciples out two by two, and they are catapulted Simba-style into a world unknown to do God’s work. He tells them to take nothing with them, but to depend on others for everything.

Unable to be dependent even on the people from his own hometown, Jesus sends the disciples out with just each other to depend on the people they serve. They may have felt catapulted into worlds unknown indeed, but the lesson seems pretty clear to me: if you’re going to preach love and Good News, you have to trust each other and the world around you — even with little to no evidence that doing so is a safe bet.

Over the past couple of years, thanks to you guys, I’ve learned that one of the proper ways to spend the Fourth of July in western Massachusetts is at Tanglewood with musician and songwriter and Mass native James Taylor. In an age where we all feel like we in America living in a powder keg and giving off sparks, where we can’t agree with our neighbors on basic reality, where we ourselves feel thrown into the wild wild world, James’s voice singing “America the Beautiful” is soothing, I hope, for everyone. I always leave feeling like I’ve been to church: loved, inspired, and challenged.

One such song’s lyrics, highly appropriate for the Fourth of July in any age, but perhaps especially this one, go like this:

Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound…” (1) [Listen here]

In a world filled with division and anxiety, one that, thanks to the Internet, functions (as one of my favorite podcasters says) as a perpetually furious small town, we are bound. We are bound to each other and to the people we’re supposed to love and serve. 

And like it or not, that includes everybody. Including the ones you block from your Facebook feed and the ones who hate people like you. 

Some of us, due to various parts of our identities, are more acutely aware of this than others, but it’s true for all of us: no matter who you are, someone somewhere really doesn’t like people like you.

Still, we are bound and we are bound. 

This story about Jesus not being accepted in his own hometown and his advice to the disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” if a town doesn’t accept them hit me differently this year than it did three years ago. Three years ago, and three years before that, I had been quite focused on letting go, shaking that dust right off, and moving on — important skills, but not the only lesson this text has to offer. 

This year, I think we could do with a little less dust-shaking and a little more boundedness. 

Note: this is not to say that there aren’t still times to shake the dust off your feet and let go — when relationships turn abusive or are just sucking the life and the joy out of the rest of our lives, it may indeed be time to move on. I do not condone enduring abuse or yelling at someone you know right well will never listen to you. Jesus taught us how to shake that dust off, and chances are good that you’ve had to do it before already.

But for the rest of our relationships, the ones in which we still see hope: we are bound and we are bound.

This year, when I read this text about Jesus getting rejected in his own hometown, it occurred to me that (while not in actuality), but in some ways, America, and more narrowly, New England, is American Christianity’s hometown.

It would often seem that the church has lost any sense of relevance that it once had. That we’ve lost our voice. That no one really cares what the church says anymore and that we are the only chosen crazies who still care to show up on Sunday mornings. I don’t know how it seems to you, but often it feels like this is a world that the church has been launched into before we ever saw it coming. 

Yet, here we are: we are the church in a world that is quite jaded by church.

And we are bound and we are bound. 

We still have the Gospel and the world still needs Good News. 

And we still have each other.

It’s not just the church: at times we all feel like we’ve been cast into the wide wide world alone. We feel cast into a new job, cast into addiction, or cast into a difficult relationship, or cast into grief. We feel alone, so we feel like we have to explain and justify ourselves every step of the way, lest anyone think we’re not doing things correctly. 

But the truth is that Jesus already did the work of justifying us, and then Jesus gave us to each other. In a time of turmoil and division, when it seems like we’re living in the church’s hometown, where familiarity has bred contempt and then multiplied it, we are given to each other, and God is given to us as bread and water and wine and story. 

Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us…
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound…” 

We do not know how this story ends or where the road leads. We only know that we have been cast into it — and that God is with us, and that, thank God, we are together. Amen.

1. James Taylor, “Shed a Little Light,” New Moon Shine (1991).

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