The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 3 July 2016

The Rev. Michael Hiller
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 3 July 2016

“Failure and Rejection”

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6: [1-6] 7-16
Saint Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


This morning we are greeted with what seems to be two almost divergent themes, and one wonders whether the framers of the lectionary haven’t treated us to the text from the last of the Isaiahs to ameliorate the possible hurdles in the Gospel. The Isaiah text is beautiful, and directed to a people who have seen so much difficulty. The images are comforting and satisfying. What we are met with here is the abundance of a mother’s love, the plenty of a mother’s providing. This is this Isaiah’s image of Jerusalem, the city of return. These satisfactions greet the exile that comes back, returning from the foreign land and foreign gods. So they are greeted as hungry children.

There are discordant notes in this reverie over Jerusalem as well. “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her – that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.” In the midst of joy we may yet mourn, or is it that our mourning is moderated by the joy that God promises to us? What an appropriate theme for the people of God at Saint Mark’s. For some of you the last months have seemed like an exile, torn away from the church of your expectations and hopes. In the past weeks, in our parish forum, and in small groups meeting about what it means to communicate with one another, you have begun to talk with one another about your sense of grief, loss, and frustration. The journey has been difficult and taxing. Some of you have given to it beyond your means. In a way we are only beginning to understand and apply Saint Paul’s lesson for us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

I think, however, that I am rushing ahead to a conclusion that is not taking into account Good News. I think that there is more Scripture with which we need to wrestle and be aware. Last Sunday we met a Jesus who had set his face toward Jerusalem, in spite of what it will mean for him. There is a determination to face all things. There is an urgency that wants to be on the way to Jerusalem. Will this Jerusalem be the mother of the Isaiahs, the Jerusalem that feeds and satisfies, and the Jerusalem that comforts the one who returns to her? No. And in spite of Jesus’ determination and urgency, there are other lessons to be learned by those who wish to follow him and learn from him.

There is a sense of abundance here, much like the picture that Isaiah paints for us in the first lesson, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” It is the present situation of both abundance and need that Jesus wishes to address before he continues on the road. Thus he appoints seventy others to precede him as he continues on his way. In a way they have the same mission, as did the Baptist. They go before Jesus and announce his presence to all who might listen and hear. Unlike the Baptist, who attracted the people to himself and the Jordan, these emissaries are sent out into “every town and place where he himself intended to go.”

It is here where the instruction and the situation become very interesting. It is here that the words become Good News for us at Saint Mark’s. Jesus warns them to strip down for the task, and to be ready for adversity. They are made aware that they will be welcome in some places, and rejected in others. The peace they offer will either be accepted or returned. The reaction of others to them will reflect what the others think of Jesus.

Someone can help us at this point, and that is Father Dwight Zscheile, Episcopal priest and professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. His book, The Agile Church – Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age, can teach us to deal with what we might see as failure, or what is actually failure. He writes, “The central challenge facing churches today is rediscovering who they are in a society that has in many ways rejected Christianity.”[1] This is news that Jesus seems to have warned us about and that we have forgotten. The lesson, however, is not the primary one that Fr. Zscheile teaches us. Perhaps a little background can help us to understand his message. He was born in Silicon Valley, where he watched his father work with technology and innovation. He observed how companies had failure after failure before finally finding the solution or the product that would make their way in the world. He began to understand that it was the iterative process of failures and successes that made the innovations of the valley work – and his goal is to get the Church to see the Spirit active in this endeavor.

Now we come back to Saint Mark’s and our experiences with success and failure. Many have expressed their feelings to me, and now to others, about their sense that what the parish has gone through is failure. Perhaps it was. But we need to ask the question, “Failure to what end?” Jesus wants us to expect rejection along with acceptance, failures along with successes. Do the failures need forgiveness, or do they just need a healthy look again at what caused them. I’m afraid that I’m going to quote Yoda, “There is no try, only do.”

Jesus sends out the seventy to experience how the world receives Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of Heaven. That ought to be our aim here as well – first to ourselves so that we understand how God has accepted us, and then to others so that we might share that Good News. It must be done over and over again regardless of the results. It is inherently risky, and it will challenge us. What did we learn over the last few years? What can we learn as we pick ourselves up in forgiveness and joy to try something else – something new?

Isaiah’s mother, giving food to her children, is a wonderful image of the church. What we need to see, however, is that we are all the mother, giving acceptance and forgiveness to one another as the Body of Christ. There may yet be mourning and grief amongst us. If that is shared so that we bear one another up, there will be joy amidst the mourning, and that is Good News.