Turn Toward Jesus

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23B)
First Lesson: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Second Lesson: Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

7d0c57ecfa43c9e8ffca4a238ecba2e921e428f7A couple of years ago, a new video emerged online featuring our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. By the way, this was before the world knew him as the charismatic, superstar bishop who preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

In the video, Bishop Curry talks about the Jesus Movement. Now, this should come as no surprise to any of you who have heard our Presiding Bishop speak or deliver a sermon. He loves to talk about the Jesus Movement! Everyone in the Episcopal Church is talking about it. In fact, the phrase has become so popular among Episcopalians over the last three years that it’s even shown up in our merchandise. You, too, can buy a bumper sticker that says, “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.”

But what, exactly, is the Jesus Movement? In the video, Bishop Curry paints us a picture of it by reflecting on a pivotal moment that occurs every week in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Slowly walking in the midst of the noise and commotion of New York City, the Bishop describes that moment in our liturgy when we stand for the proclamation of the Gospel, that moment when we stand and sing praises to God as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive God’s Word through the reading of the Gospel. We stand, and we sing. The Gospel book is held high as the procession moves from the Altar to the center of the Nave where the Gospel will be read by a deacon or a priest. And, as all of this is happening, everyone in the congregation re-orients themselves in order to see the place where the Gospel will be proclaimed. “That Gospel moment,” according to Bishop Curry, “the Church has become the Jesus Movement, with life re-oriented around the teachings of Jesus and around his very spirit- teachings and a spirit that embody the love of God in our lives and in this world.”

I love Bishop Curry’s message in this video. It’s still available, by the way, in case you want to watch it on your own. All you have to do is go to YouTube and type in “The Jesus Movement… Michael Curry,” and you shouldn’t have any problem finding it. It’s certainly worth watching.

Normally, when we hear about a “movement” taking place in our society, we think about an event of some kind, such as a rally or a march, or a series of events taking place at a specific time in history. One that comes to my mind most recently is the #MeToo movement. But, what I love about Bishop Curry in this video is that he invites us to think about the Jesus Movement not as a single event or series of events occurring at a specific time or place but as something that’s been going on for thousands of years, something that we, as members of the Body of Christ, are called to participate in with those who have gone before us and those who will come after us. The Jesus Movement is what happens when the people of God stand up and re-orient themselves toward the Gospel of Jesus. That is the Jesus Movement.

There’s so much beauty in the way that we worship, not only in the words that we speak but also in the way that we use our whole bodies to express our love of God and our commitment to Christ. And, what’s even more amazing about the way that we worship is that our worship of God is actually preparing us for the work that God has given us to do when we leave this place. So, there’s a reason why we stand and turn our bodies to face the place of the Gospel. Not only is it a sign of reverence for the words of Jesus, but it’s also preparing us to stand and turn toward Jesus in our everyday lives, to turn toward those whom the world has turned away- the poor, the hungry, and the neglected.

In our lesson today from the Gospel of Mark, we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who comes to Jesus and asks him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus looks at the man and basically tells him, “You already know what you need to do. Follow God’s Law.” The man tells Jesus that he’s lived a good life and followed all of God’s commandments, but Jesus tells him that there’s one more thing that he has to do in order to inherit the abundant life that he seeks. He says to the man, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” I can’t imagine the look of shock and disappointment that must’ve been on the man’s face when he heard Jesus’ instruction. In the end, it’s too much of a burden for the rich man to bear. He isn’t willing to let go of his wealth and possessions in order to follow Jesus. He turns and walks away.

Contrary to what some people may believe about this lesson from Mark’s Gospel, it isn’t intended to cast judgment on the rich or to tell us that wealthy people can’t inherit the abundant life that God desires for us. It isn’t about what we own or how much we have. It’s about what we do with what we’ve been given and realizing that everything that we have has been given to us by God. The rich man in our Gospel lesson is so attached to his wealth and worldly possessions that he’s unable to see the grace that’s right in front of his eyes when Jesus offers it. It was easier for him to walk away from Jesus than to sacrifice that which he cared about the most.

The story of Jesus and his encounter with the rich man teaches us that, in order to inherit the abundant life that we seek, we must be aware and willing to let go of those worldly attachments in our lives that cause us to lose sight of our need to follow Jesus. We must keep our eyes open and continue to re-orient ourselves back toward Jesus, the one who calls us to let go of those things that are weighing us down and to move beyond the walls of the church to love and serve the least among us.

This is why I have such love and admiration for our Presiding Bishop and why his message about being part of the Jesus Movement resonates so deeply among Episcopalians. Being a part of the Jesus Movement and participating in the reconciling work of Christ is noisy and messy and often sacrificial. Like the rich man in our Gospel lesson, it calls us to move beyond our selves and pushes us to do things that may be difficult or uncomfortable. I think that it probably looks a lot like Bishop Curry in his video- moving from beyond the comfort and safety of the headquarters of the Episcopal Church into the chaos and uncertainty of the streets of Manhattan.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to this- not that we can’t be happy as Christians but that true joy and true peace can only be found when we’re willing to give up our lives in order to follow Jesus.

If you were the “rich man” in today’s Gospel lesson, what would Jesus be calling you to give up in order to follow him more closely?

My friends, I invite you to reflect on this question in the days ahead, and once you’ve come with in an answer, I invite you to consider a follow-up question. What’s holding you back?

Amen.

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