Faithful instead of Falling Overboard

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

A few years ago, I read about a boat in Texas that capsized, dumping all 60 passengers into Lake Travis. Two people went to the hospital, but were eventually sent home. That kind of story might have been a tragedy, except for the fact that no one was really hurt and the reason the boat capsized. It turns out that all 60 of the passengers had crowded to one side of the boat– to try to get a better view of the nude sunbathers on the shore.

I love that story because it reminds me of what can happen when we get overly concerned about what OTHER people are doing, and lose sight of what WE should be doing.

We can sometimes get tied into a knot by worrying about what others are doing: other states (politically, or around COVID), what neighbors are doing or not doing, and even what other people of faith may be doing or not doing.

I hear the Gospel saying, “Slow down a minute, John. Fine to notice issues, people, and even other churches all around, but you’re no good to those you love, to yourself, or to me if you’re consumed by resentment, envy, anger, or hatred.” What is it in YOUR life that causes you to sin? Take care of business at home, before trying to solve all your neighbor’s problems.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel from Mark, the disciples are all in an uproar—about other disciples. It seems that there are other disciples who are casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and yet, they’re not close followers of the present group. His friends and followers, the disciples, want Jesus to criticize the others, to condemn them, and to share in the outrage.
But Jesus doesn’t go for it. Instead, he basically says that if someone is not against him, don’t worry so much about them.

We can get distracted by the force of Jesus’s words, but he’s trying to get his disciples’ attention. But I think that here, as in other conversations with his disciples, Jesus is trying to wake them up, to startle them, to shock them into listening.

Pay attention to YOUR life, Jesus says. The anger at your neighbor is killing you. Another way of putting it often suggests, “Don’t worry so much about the trash in front of your neighbor’s house, when you’ve got your own side of the street to clean up.” “Take care of your side of the street.”

Just like the disciples get worried about other disciples who are doing things a little differently, or maybe not “doing them right,” according to their way of thinking, we see a similar situation in that early community around Moses. Moses gets help from 70 elders who agree to serve as leaders among the people. But then the squabbles break out. “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,” a young man reports. Joshua buys into the anxiety and agrees that this is a problem. “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses says “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”

This problem of losing focus on one’s own doings and starting to worry about others is not confined to the times of Moses or of Jesus. We continue to do this sort of thing both in our own church, among other churches, and outside of church.

In most churches, from time to time, a person or a group begins to feel that another person or group is getting all the attention. They’re getting all the money, the volunteers, or maybe even getting more of their share of the attention of the rector. But more often than not, if the person or group that feels ignored would simply focus a little more on their own tasks, their visibility would rise, they might get a say in the budget, and their energy and excitement would attract volunteers.

As a Christian, it’s very easy for me to worry about what others are doing—the Roman Catholics, the new incarnation of Jan Hus Church, now called “The Avenue Church,” just around the corner on 1st Avenue between 90th and 91st. I can spend time envying or fretting over what other Episcopalians are doing. I get upset by Christians speaking out on the far right, but also sometimes get annoyed with those speaking on the far left. But when I’m at my most healthy, I worry less about what everybody else is doing, and I begin to focus on what we’re doing here at Holy Trinity.

Especially at this phase in our church life, we have a lot to focus on. A few of our major leaders have died over the last couple of years—leaders who led financially, but also through being the energy behind getting things done. We feel their loss. We’ve also had a number of people move away. It didn’t feel as dramatic as some organizations—with people leaving in droves at the beginning of the pandemic—but for us, it’s been a slow trickle. But when we look around and realize that the center of gravity (attention, spiritual focus, or geography) for people we love is elsewhere, it can be scary.

And so, more than ever, Holy Trinity needs to draw on its spiritual and historical DNA of being scrappy, creative, entrepreneurial, and FAITHFUL. Faithful to who we’re called to be. Faithful to what we’re called to do. Are we reaching out as we should? Are we including everyone? Are we paying attention to our neighbors? Are we giving our time, our money, our talent to God sacrificially? Are we doing what we can to help this place be a place of welcome, refuge, joy, health, and new life?

Today’s Gospel ends by encouraging the disciples to be salty, to be distinctive, to stand out, and not to be stale, or just to fit in blandly. Too much salt can (of course) make everything taste the same, can sting, and can hurt. But with careful salting, all the other flavors are enhanced and brought to new life.

As we move towards St. Francis Day and our celebrations next Sunday, it’s good to recall the words attributed to St. Francis: That we should “preach the Gospel always, and when necessary, use words.” Peaching the Gospel in our own way, in our own place, might just keep us from falling overboard in the effort to look at all the interesting things along the way!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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