Sermon - Rev. Brian McIntosh
Called and Sent, One and All
First, I must say – and not just because I should! - that it’s an honour and a privilege to have been asked by Robin to offer a sermon at this Covenanting Service tonight. Having known Robin as long as I have, rest assured I’ve seen him at his worst as well as at his best – his worst, thankfully, having far more to do with trying to hit a little white ball hundreds of yards across green grass up hill and down into a tiny cup, or trying to hurl a heavy smooth stone across ice with precision and accuracy to land somewhere in a few concentric circles, than it does with trying to offer a timely and transformative word or applying the gospel to the public events of our times or attending to the hurting and those who need healing, these latter being things he’s really quite good at, even on his off days. Robin has been a mentor, colleague, confidant, coach, and supporter of and for me through the years, and I’m glad to call him a friend. What’s more, he’s a terrific minister – but then you all likely already know that!
The thing is, perhaps the chief word I want to offer tonight is something of a shock, when given the proviso and introduction I’ve just shared, namely: this Covenanting Service is not primarily about Robin at all! Yes, he’s definitely involved, but the God of the gospel is a God who calls not only individuals like Robin and the rest of us misnamed “ordered” folks but entire communities of faith like Glen Rhodes and Southeast Presbytery to ministry, and who not only sends individuals but entire communities of faith to join the mission God already has undertaken since time and space were given their genesis by the divine hand, namely to not only build up the community of faith in our time but to claim more of the world’s weary and imperialized people’s in our time and in time to come for God’s governance of justice, mercy, and faith. In short, not only Robin but each of us individually and all of us together are called and sent in discipleship of the anti-imperial Jesus to a world that tempts and lures and contests us with other gods, other loyalties, other authorities. Amid such a calling and sending, therefore, we are all urged to not only support Robin in his ministry here but to covenant together to engage our discipleship with all the collective passion and imagination we can muster, relying upon but not passively resting in God’s grace to grant us a faithful future not of our own making.
Our call, friends, at least the one which we honour tonight, is not to join a successful or safe institution or to support a budget; it’s not to sign up for a happy game of ecumenical sheep-stealing or membership gamesmanship or sign on for a live-or-die church growth project for the next five years. Our call is to live up to our baptismal vocation and stake our lives and reputations, our minds, hearts and bodies, on a different, alternative account of what is real, what is true, and good, and beautiful, what is worthy of our trust and worship, than the dominant account of the real that is on public display every day in every way and into which we are all inevitably inducted by the time we’re old enough to say, “I want” … whatever the latest fad or fashion or trend or technology seems to be.
When we consider our call, or our sense of the God who calls, it’s clear that the God of the Gospel calls us away from the dominant, dehumanizing values of consumerism and endless commerce that are always and everywhere present around us. This calling God claims us for gospel values of peace, justice, mercy and reconciliation by endlessly urging our disengagement from the postures, habits, and assumptions that define the world in which capital is king and profits are the superpower, a world devoid of compassion and empathy in every arena. The call, in fact of faith, is away from so-called normal life, from ordinary motivations and prospects, to a way of life that the world, like the rich man who had great possessions but was poor in spirit, deems impossible.
As it turns out, discipleship is not a one-day-a-week activity, but a summons from what suffocates abundant life, namely the possessions that possess us and the dispossessed, the consumption that consumes us all and this earth at ever-increasing and dangerously close to irreversible speed. This way involves our being called to follow a leader, not named Robin but named Jesus, who has strange, odd, costly habits – which means, by the way, that you should consider closely anything Robin says or does that may seem strange or odd or even costly, for there might just be abundant life waiting in the wings of his words or actions. Can you imagine anything stranger or even suicidal, at least metaphorically speaking, than for your minister – and, by the way, Robin, I wouldn’t counsel this kind of thing, at least within the first few months to a decade, that is if you want to avoid an unceremonious defrocking! - in the manner of Jesus, telling a new and ridiculously rich potential member who comes in to his office that there’s only one requirement to join, namely to give everything you have away and start from scratch with this church, a church not unlike any others I know or don’t know, an aging, uncertain collection of misfits, pretenders and do-gooders who, but for the presence and power of the Spirit, would fail to inspire even mediocrity, let alone passion, in many? Yet the sheer obscenity to God of such richness existing side-by-side with the deathly squalor of poverty among millions around the globe, including even the comparatively better off millions, a high percentage of whom are children, who live in Canada, means we are called to follow this strangely unsuccessful, crossed-up leader Jesus so that in our discipleship of him we might, often unwittingly but sometimes fiercely, disentangle ourselves from the ways in which we’ve been schooled and to which we’ve become addicted so that we may, in a prophetic recovery program, form new habits and ways of being and thinking and acting.
Our discipleship, friends in faith, requires a new kind of boldness and daring to have the kind of internal conversation that will enable the good news of Jesus’ alternative, non-violent, anti-imperial vision and social program to deeply capture and convict us as a people. That conversation, if we actually undertook it, would utterly change the church, enabling it to truly become a cooperative, caring and sharing community, a Jesus society that isn’t about bleeding-heart liberalism or exclusivist conservatism but is about overcoming the too long and too easy accommodations that the church has made, from musical sweetener to charity laws to survival strategies, with the dominant cultural values that hold sway in the world and in the worldly church, values that often fly in the face of the purposes of God.
Canadian Mennonite author and teacher Rudy Wiebe once said it this way, in a book called The Blue Mountains of China:
“Jesus says in his society there is a new way for people to live:
you show wisdom, by trusting people;
you handle leadership, by serving;
you handle offenders, by forgiving;
you handle money, by sharing;
you handle enemies, by loving;
and you handle violence, by suffering.
In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, toward everybody. Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward
women, toward slaves, toward all and every single thing. Because this
is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking differently.”[i]
The God who calls us, one and all, to such a new society of thinking and acting is also the God who issues a compelling commission to nothing less than the mending of this creation and all its creatures. There is no call from God that does not also include a commissioning into this world God still loves and labours to give rebirth to. The sending of Moses to “let my people go” came as part and parcel of God’s having heard the cries and groaning of the covenant community, Israel, under the harsh conditions of their oppression. God didn’t call Moses to set up a shrine or sanctuary to enable individual navel-gazers to escape the trials and tribulations of life. The call is, at one and the same time, a commission to confront the powers and principalities who believe themselves to be destined to rule as overlords above the rest. The mandate of Moses, and by extension the mission of the timid faithful ever since, which means us, is to stand before and confront the powers-that-be, be they political, militaristic, economic, ideological, or even ecclesiastical, that embody false theologies of control and accumulation, with words and acts of liberation and transformation.
Those liberating and transforming words and acts claim that an old yet ever-new governance is in effect, a gospel governance that doesn’t seek to make everyone part of the church but which does claim everyone, including the poor and sick and suffering, as God’s children, as worthy of the rights of citizenship in God’s domain in this one creation. That reign or governance of God, friends, is in our midst when the creation begins to resemble the originally blessed, twinkle-in-your-eye intention of the Creator. In the word-acts of Jesus God has drawn near, incarnate and embodied, to effect that new reality of God’s governance in this creation, a creation built for such governance and, as surely as time, unable to be sustained without the bold enacting of that governance by faithful humans who embody the mission Dei in the manner of Jesus themselves.
Friends, we’re not just disciples, followers of Jesus, as the called body of Christ: we’re also apostles, those who’ve seen and been sent by Jesus as the commissioned body of Christ. We’re the covenanted ones, and not just for the sake of the survival of Glen Rhodes United Church but for the sake of this entire creation, called and sent, one and all, to be a counter-force of love, sustaining a kind of aching vision and an intentional inconvenience among us in praise and risk, in worship and work. To be called by God is a counter-cultural summons; to be sent by God is a counter-cultural practice. In being called and sent in such a way, we are essential for the earth and for life, despite what we sometimes think, because, as Walter Brueggemann has said, “God’s people are always departing the lethal grip of the ordinarily possible.”[ii] Like Moses, Robin said, “Here am I” to that calling and sending many years ago, and again more recently to be among you here, and all of us are invited to do the same every day of our lives. We may think it an invitation that is impossible to respond to and be responsible for faithfully, like the rich man who walked away from the hard sayings and intentions of Jesus, but remember, strangely and by the Spirit “all things are possible with God.” Amen.