2 Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48: 1-14; 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13

Lately I have been reading a wonderful book written by Richard and Renee Stearns as they describe hundreds of stories of their encounters with people around the globe through their work with World Vision. They gave the book the title: He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World. They covered millions of miles in their travels, met people of all walks of life and recognized holiness in all sorts of situations. This is part of what they wrote in the introduction: “There is a misunderstanding we often have about the poor—believing that we who have so much are the ones in the position to offer help to those who have so little. But what we have discovered on so many of our trips is that we were the ones who were poor and they were the ones who were rich: rich in wisdom, community, perseverance, courage, faith, and even joy. They had so much to teach us about living, loving, overcoming, and celebrating. They had much to teach us about dependence on God. There is something sacred about their stories.” It is a book about two people going out and encountering the presence and love of God in places that some might call God-forsaken but clearly for them they were God-filled.

As a person of faith this is a skill that takes time to develop. Pushing aside the vast number of distractions all around us and reaching out for that which is central to all of life. We can spend our lives looking, searching, seeking that which Jesus described as a mustard seed or a fine pearl or a silver coin that had been lost but eventually found. When we unearth this, we start to see the holy presence of God in every aspect of our lives, we discover that that presence is not limited by anything except the limitations we ourselves place upon it. But this is not the starting point of the life of faith but is found along the pilgrimage. We might start our faith journey thinking it is about morals or salvation or a very strict path but we discover it is different from that. In fact our faith is about discovering the breadth and height of God’s grace. As Richard and Renee Stearns discovered, God’s presence is in all places and at all times.

In the gospel passage from Mark, we heard that Jesus returned to his hometown. There might have been quite a greeting when he first arrived with his band of disciples. Perhaps there was a welcome home dinner. Perhaps there was a time of long conversations into the night. Perhaps there was a great joy that finally he was back where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath he was even invited to teach in the synagogue, quite an honour. Perhaps they winked at one another when he stood up to speak, “He used to live just down the street from me,” maybe they said to each other. The people who heard his sermon were astounded, we are told. “Where did he get this knowledge?” “What is this wisdom that has been given to him?” “Isn’t this the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon and aren’t his sisters here too?” But clearly their pride and admiration for him changed on a dime; we are told that they took offense at him. Now let’s just pause there for a second. They were amazed at what he was saying and what he was doing. They were astounded that he had an incredible wisdom even though he had grown up in the same town they had. But it did not translate any further than that. They were offended. How dare he try to teach them anything. They had seen him as a child. The nerve of him speaking in their synagogue, they knew him as a teenager. You can imagine the words they used I am sure, not all that different than when we want to quickly dismiss someone else. But don’t you wonder what exactly Jesus said to them when he was teaching in that synagogue so long ago that caused them to take such great offense? Don’t you wonder what it was that he preached that got them all riled up? Don’t you wonder how he could affront so quickly the people who knew him and loved him? What did he say? Well we will never know for sure what he said but perhaps it was about inviting them to recognize God in their midst, that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. Perhaps he said that faith in God is not about only following a set of rules but recognizing God’s holy presence all around, within themselves, in their daily routines not only their religious routines. That he had the words of eternal life. That in fact God’s grace is bigger than they could ever have imagined. Certainly something to get very angry about.

The gospel passage didn’t conclude there. Jesus called the twelve together and began to send them out two by two. These were the instructions we heard in the gospel: He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” A funny set of marching orders.

Jesus sent out his closest followers to go to all the neighbouring towns. But what exactly did he send them out to do? This is an important question to ask as we continue to ask it even today. What did Jesus want his followers to do? They proclaimed that all should repent and they cast out demons and anointed the sick. But was this their purpose in going out or was it deeper than this? Was it much more about connecting people’s lives with the holy presence of God? Was it much more about recognizing the presence of Christ in the people they met? Was it as much about praying Peace upon all they encountered? Was it about preaching the gospel to the masses or much more about connecting the gospel with people’s lives? This is a much bigger question than you might imagine for the Church has been discussing this ever since. In fact right now here at St. Philip’s we have embarked upon a visioning exercise where we are asking this same question. What are we all about as a church? It may seem obvious that we are to follow Christ and worship God and have services on a Sunday morning but it must be more than that.

What did Jesus send them out to do? You see I think Jesus followers were told to go out and preach the same message that angered the group at the synagogue earlier in the gospel. My hunch is that it was about a broader understanding of the grace of God rather than a narrower one. Recognizing God working in the person Jesus Christ, recognising that indeed God has an incarnate presence in our world. God is not hidden on some cloud but is deeply and passionately connected to our world and our lives. As St. Paul wrote in the passage of 2 Corinthians we heard today: My grace is sufficient for you. Or in 2 Samuel today: the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

It was a radical message inviting people to recognize the love, the grace, the holiness of God in every part of life. It was about inviting people to be transformed by God’s presence and not simply follow a set of rules. It was about entering deeper into God’s Kingdom. As Thomas Merton phrased it: doing ordinary things quietly and perfectly for the glory of God. And in fact that is why we are here now: to be transformed by God’s presence known to us in Jesus and then to be sent out into the world to recognize that in fact God continues to walk among us.

Barak Obama was asked to preach at the funeral service for Reverend Pinckney. This is part of what he said:

“He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.”

What are we as a church called to do in this day and age? Surely our mandate is the same. We are called to spread and live a message that invites others to seek God in their lives. That there is a holy aspect to life that gets covered over and masked hidden under shopping lists, mortgage payments, RRSP’s, busy schedules, expensive toys and a number of other things. But when we can peel all that back and discover the real purpose to life we discover that indeed we too are being sent out to see God continuing to walk amongst us. He walks among us, not mere words but a guiding light.