Promises! The readings for today contain promises made by God. In the reading from Second Samuel we learn of David’s elevation to the throne of King of the Israelites as Saul’s successor and his capture of the City of David, Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem was outside the territory of the Hebrew tribes David made it the capital so no one tribe was favored over any other. In the last sentence is God’s promise to be with David: “David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of Hosts, was with him.” Psalm 48 describes the great things of Jerusalem, showing the holiness and the promise of God to be within Jerusalem and with the Hebrews: “this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.” Mark’s gospel has its own promise which I will talk about in a moment. Throughout the bible God’s promise to “Be with you” gave strength and encouragement to the recipients, from the Hebrews to each one of us. This promise supports us as we do the things we are called to do. For us the support begins at our baptism and is made tangible when God comes to dwell in us in the Eucharist.
The passage from Mark begins with Jesus’ trouble preaching to his closest friends and neighbors. They still thought of him as the carpenter-builder-repairman they remembered, a person they thought they knew all about, rather than the person who was standing in front of them. Their muttered words about Him were demeaning and unbelieving of the changes in Jesus since he had begun his ministry. They tried hard to discount Jesus’ message of repentance because the Kingdom of God was near. There were only a few who listened, believed, and were able to ask for and receive healing.
The people we encounter in our work living locally in our neighborhoods, particularly this neighborhood, may be seeing us as they remember us: busy, noisy, people who have good intentions but without knowledge of who their neighbors really are. Remember, most of us enter their lives only in passing as we come and go from our various activities here. We, also, see them as we remember them: the men from the boarding house across the street, the family in the apartment two doors down Holyoke, the children who wait for the bus… Both, of us are only partly correct and probably a whole bunch wrong in our expectations about the other’s thoughts and actions.
Jesus marveled at the unbelief in God and the lack of trust in Himself shown by his neighbors and childhood friends. You see, God works through relationships; their unbelief prevented Jesus from working many miracles with them because He cannot work with people who do not see Him as God. In the same way, our neighbors may be in similar states of unbelief, preventing us from touching them with God’s love. We will not know if this is true unless we have conversations with them and get to know them individually. On the other hand, we may be blocking the flow of God’s love if we are unbelievers in the power of God to work through us. Part of this unbelief may be fear, fear of being uncomfortable or fear of rejection because we are opening our lives to our neighbors to show how God is present for us.
Mark’s passage ends with his version of the same story we have heard in our Dwelling in the Word with Living Local: Joining God: the sending of the disciples in pairs to change the hearts of the people and work many miracles. Thinking about how Jesus was treated, I wonder whether the disciples were scared as they set out. I’m sure some of them were going to towns where they either had grown up or visited in their youth! If Jesus was badly treated in His home town the disciples may have wondered if they would get the same reactions in the towns and villages they would visit.
The disciples were sent with a sense of urgency by Jesus, going to spread his message about the Kingdom of God and that salvation was in the world. They were to rely on the hospitality of the people they would encounter and if their message was rejected they were to move on, not trying to change the hearts of those who rejected or did not listen to their message. They also were not to linger, but to keep moving, spreading the message to as many people as possible before returning to Jesus.
We have begun to explore this neighborhood, in pairs and in singles. Our efforts are tentative and unsure but we have been bravely sticking our necks out to try to make connections with our neighbors. The street-long yard sale has helped our efforts in getting to know the neighbors and hopefully will decrease the uneasiness of all of us while teasing our neighbors’ interest in helping with the neighborhood garden and getting to know us a bit better.
So where is the promise in the Gospel passage? It is in Jesus’ instructions to the disciples “He began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.” He will give us the tools we need to do the work He intends us to do, just as He gave the disciples the authority to cast out impure spirits.
Nationally, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry challenges each of us to be an integral part of the Jesus Movement. Our Living Local efforts are the first steps of this movement: listening for the presence of Jesus in our lives and the world; embodying the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus with each other; and encountering and honoring the face of God in creation. We need to continue our Living Local work to be living disciples of Jesus. Let’s remember the promises of the scriptures of today: God will be with us and give us the tools we need to do our work as we are Living Local: Joining God. The character Sister Monica Joan, from the Netflix series Call the Midwife, so eloquently pointed out, “God’s hands are at the ends of our arms.”
Also, St. Thomas Merton, in his book, Thoughts in Solitude prayed:
God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following Your will does not mean we are actually doing so. But we believe the desire to please You does, in fact, please You. And we hope we have that desire in all we are doing. We hope we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this, You will lead us by the right road, even though we may know nothing about it. Therefore, we will trust You always, though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. We will not fear, for You are ever with us, and You will never leave us to face our perils alone.
Keeping in mind the promises God has made to give us the tools to do His work and be with us, may we use our hands to do His work. Amen.