What then shall we do? I was pondering this question as I picked up my tree from Kate Sabatini yesterday. She's the one who coordinates ordering the outdoor trees for our neighborhood. She creates community once a year on her driveway as neighbors who don't know each other come to pick up their trees. Now, if we can organize a neighborhood to decorate for Christmas, why can't we organize it to practice Christmas the rest of the year? If we can buy trees, why can't we feed the hungry? Why can't we come together to find solutions to the housing crisis in this city? All I know is that if we don't come together to save others, we will not be prepared for God to come and save us.
I sometimes think how the world would be a better place if people were more like their pets. Forget the political parties; let's recruit some new candidates from the Humane Society! Remember the dog that was elected three times as mayor of a little town in Minnesota? Dogs are so electable because they are so lovable and, what's more, they seem to know it. They are certainly eager to share it. It makes me sad to think that the average person has so much trouble believing what the average dog seems to intuitively know: that they are beloved.
But clergy are not the only ones with a calling around here. The job is far too big, the challenges are too complex, and the old ways are too resistant to change for pastors to do it alone. Note that Jesus didn't call any clergy. He called everyday folk. If you want to fish for people, you need some fishermen. If you want to collect people, call up a tax collector. If you want to preach repentance, better be sure there are some sinners in the audience. The point is that all the raw materials (and I mean raw!) that Jesus needed to start a revolution of radical love were right there in front of him. And I strongly believe that everything we need is right here in front of us, too
Here in the Gospel of Mark we learn that exorcisms were a hallmark of Jesus' ministry. "And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons." [1:39] The practice sounds perfectly medieval to us, but it is not. In fact, casting out demons is making quite a comeback in Christianity these days.
So we're right back to the question: how do we get in to see a soul specialist? And will our insurance cover it? The only insurance that the man in Capernaum has is an ambulance policy in the shape of four faithful friends. Even when we're sick, some of us would never go to a doctor if it weren't for people who love us enough to force us to go. If it's hard to get us to take care of our physical ailments, think how hard it is for us ever to admit that we have spiritual ones? There are times in our lives when we are only dimly aware that we are heading down the wrong path, that everything is out of joint and starting to spiral out of control. That's when we could use four faithful friends to stage an intervention. How many addicts do you think get into treatment by themselves? That's about how many sinners find their own way to salvation.
You might say that Ruby is strong and independent, and that would be true. But as a spiritual redwood, she has always been interconnected, too. Consider this: Have you ever seen a redwood growing all by itself? Redwood trees need each other or they would fall over. That's because they have no taproot. Their roots are shallow and grow laterally. But as they grow, they intermingle with the root systems of other trees to form a strong foundation for the whole grove. I think that's a wonderful metaphor for Christian community, and no one practices it quite like Ruby. She knows that you can't be a Christian all by yourself. You can't learn how to love others if you have no others to love. For her, the church has always been her big extended family. And how firm a foundation!
What we have in Paul's letter is an image of the persuasive power of God and the attractive power of the Gospel. Paul doesn't need any threats. He simply says, "our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours." Likewise, God's heart is wide open to us. There is no restriction in God's affections, only in ours. There's no wrath or violence in God's heart. Only in ours.
As John Wesley kept reminding his followers, if it goes on for any length of time, physical pain will cause emotional pain which usually ends up causing some kind of relationship pain and without a lot of grace, will result in spiritual pain. Chronic pain can make us feel physically depleted, emotionally depressed, socially isolated and spiritually forsaken. And no pill or procedure, no matter how much it costs, can make all those layers of pain go away.
Last year, Hurricane Harvey dumped over 40 inches of rain in many parts of Texas. The flooding in Houston overwhelmed the capacity of first responders to rescue everyone who needed to be rescued. Enter the "Cajun Navy," an all-volunteer force of people with bass boats, jet skis, canoes, trucks and even dune buggies, who jumped in to rescue the folks that the fire fighters, police and national guard couldn't get to. And the video footage of their rescue efforts says it all: Americans are more united than we think we are. No one paid any attention to race or class, gender or religion. No one asked any questions about political persuasion or sexual orientation or country of origin. They just acted on the belief that we are one human family and we are all in this together.
So this is what it all means to me: Lose this life that doesn't really know life, deny this self that doesn't know how to love itself, take up this cross and carry it until it teaches you that your weaknesses can become the source of others' strength and the story of your getting lost can lead others to being found.