What Could We Do If We Weren’t Afraid? – The Rev. Michelle Meech
September 03, 2023
I love how these readings start today. This collect is just beautiful:
God of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works.
This past week, I spent my mornings with kids. Every day from 9-12, Christ the King in Stone Ridge hosted our Vacation Bible School. We had 14 kids, give or take a few on any given day. And we had a blast. We did crafts, we did yoga, we sang and danced, we made plant medicine, we ate snacks, we collected food for the food pantry. And each morning, I got to lead the lesson with the kids – how different parts of scripture talk about creation.
It was good. I felt nourished. And alongside Rev Marcella of Christ the King in Stone Ridge and Rev Allison of St. Andrew’s New Paltz, I felt as though we were really able to bring forth good fruit.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of work. It was a lot of energy. There were mornings when I would have rather slept a little longer. There were mornings when I doubted my skills. Because sometimes ministry is not easy. And, I’m always humbled by this recognition, most of the time ministry is not about me. Rather, it’s always about what God needs me to do.
And, overall, it was good. I felt nourished. And I learned so much. And I’m excited about what this means for all of the Episcopal Churches here in Ulster County as we work together, beyond the walls of our singular congregations, to build the life of the church.
The truth is, we never really know what God is doing in and through us. We get caught up in our stories so much sometimes that we forget: God is here. Doing something through us. Doing something with us. And sometimes we have no idea what that is.
Moses certainly felt that way. Its evident in today’s reading from Exodus that God is calling Moses. I mean, how many times have you received a burning bush as a call to ministry? Usually, I would argue, it’s more subtle than that – we get a phone call, we see a need, we suddenly see someone’s name pop up and wonder how they’re doing. Regardless of how the call to ministry comes, I think it can be hard to receive it. And if it’s hard to receive it, then it’s really hard to say yes to it.
What I’m talking about is the process of discernment. How do we know when the burning bush is actually meant for us? And what gets in the way of us saying yes, when it is meant for us?
The image on the front cover today is a piece of public sculpture by Tom Frantzen. It’s found in the middle of the city in Brussels, Belgium along the Senne River. It was created to be a comic image.
We see a policeman almost in mid-air, ready to topple over forward. His mouth opened wide in an OMG expression, his hands outstretched ready to catch himself, his left foot in the air behind him, indicating just how off balance he is, and his right foot, the toe the only thing still on the ground, as someone else’s hand firmly grabs the ankle. This hand belonging to a worker who has popped up out of a sewer, the manhole covering hovering at an angle. The story that is being told here is that the workers are rising up to topple those in authority. And they are doing a good job because it’s working.
I chose this image partially because of that… because that’s what Jesus is usually trying to do – topple the authority. But mostly, I chose it because of the image itself. The image of something coming from behind and tripping us up.
A difficult interaction with someone. A fear that we won’t be able to do it. A feeling of shame that comes up because the last time we tried it, it didn’t work very well. A fear that if we do it, nothing will ever be the same again. I think this image depicts our experience of what is happening when we’re trying to ignore those burning bushes.
Something is tripping us up. Some belief. Some prejudice. Some cynical thought. Some desire for the world to be manifesting in a way other than it actually is. Some desire that the whole thing is going to be easy. Some need for our ego to be reinforced rather than to be challenged. Some wish that we will not be responsible for the outcome.
In other words, some way that we have been conditioned to deny the presence of Love. The presence of the Love that we receive from God and that, therefore, we are called to bring to the world. We are conditioned to forget this. This is the human experience.
This is what keeps us locked in place, needing things to stay the same. So that we don’t have to be tested and found unworthy. But that is such a lie. And Jesus knows this.
He’s the one who shows us exactly what it means to be bold in the face of fear. Jesus is the one who helps us find the brightness that we have hidden away under a bushel basket. Jesus is the one who makes everything clear when all of it is covered over in the murkiness of our painful beliefs about ourselves.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is telling the disciples about his own version of the burning bush, his own calling. He tells his disciples that he has to go to Jerusalem and face suffering and death, so that his purpose can be fulfilled. And his disciples are concerned about this news. Alarmed, even. Peter actually takes him aside, away from the disciples, to scold him.
And, if you remember from last week, Peter was the one who when Jesus asked “who do you say that I am?” responded with: “You are the Messiah. The son of the living God.” And Jesus said, Peter you have great faith! This is what I will build my church upon and nothing will ever tear it down!
But today, we have Peter, the one of great faith, pulling Jesus aside to scold him for being the church. So much for faith, right?
Peter is scolding Jesus for being bold and bright and clear.
Jesus sees this very clearly: “Get behind me, O temptor!” Jesus says. “You are a stumbling block. You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
I have compassion for Peter, actually. I understand how scary ministry is sometimes. As a matter of fact, when I think back to when we were planning the vacation bible school I told you about, a part of me wanted to say no to Marcella’s request that I teach the kids about scripture because I had never been a part of a vacation bible school before.
And Jesus says, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
I was forgetting that God was going to be with me. And that all I was asked to do was to bring the gifts I had. I had to trust that, if I didn’t have the gifts to do this, I would not have been asked. It turns out, the kids did learn the lessons. Each day, at the end of the day, the kids talked about what they learned. And they always talked about the scripture lesson.
Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works.
When we focus here in the smaller places, we miss HERE, at the Table of abundance. When we focus on what makes us scared, we miss the abundance of Love that is already present and waiting for us.
This happens. We are human. But this is not church. This is not the ekklesia that Jesus is talking about.
And we are the church. We are the church! We – you and I – are called out by God. We are called out to be in the world but not of it. We are called to be church together, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, to do the very things that Jesus did. We are continually renewed by the Holy Spirit, re-formed to become the church that the world needs. In this time. In this place.
We don’t know the end game. All we know – you and I – is that we are called out. Because we are being renewed here at St. John’s.
I recall what our Bp Coadjutor Matt Heyd said on the day of his consecration: What could we do if we weren’t afraid?
Fear comes in many guises – cynicism, criticism, denial, anxiety – among others.
He asks: What could we do if we weren’t afraid?
Peter is so afraid today he actually tries to stop Jesus from fulfilling his call. We may understand Peter’s fear, but you and I, we have seen the Resurrection. We know that death is never the final word. We know that Love is always the final word.
Bp. Matt reminds us: The world needs a Gospel that is bright, bold, and clear.
We are called out – you and me – to bring the Gospel to a world in deep need of healing. That’s what the church is. That’s what the church does.
Let us not be toppled over.
Let us be church, you and I.
Let us be church.