Isaiah 58: 1-9
Mark 6: 6b-13
Will you pray with me: Creator God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts lead us into what is becoming. For you rock and our redeemer. AMEN
This past week, I decided I really needed to finally do something about the desk chair in my office. The chair that I had been using for years was too big, too uncomfortable and despite trying to wedge a pillow here or there, I always felt like I was about to slide right out of it.
So this week, I decided the time had come. I rolled that old desk chair out of my office, went on line and after a couple of clicks had ordered a new chair. After a few days, a big flat box appeared on my front porch. The box was surprisingly heavy, but I managed to drag it into the living room.
I took a small knife from the kitchen, sliced through the over-abundance of tape and opened up the flaps of the box. Inside were various chair like pieces in bubble wrap. I unwrapped each piece and laid them out carefully on the living room floor. Once I had laid out the pieces, I picked up that all important white sheet of paper with those critical step by step assembly instructions. I slipped on my reading glasses and reviewed carefully the 6 steps that would turn the disparate pieces on my living room floor into a fully functional desk chair.
Step one — take the various screws out of the accessory bag and along with the allen wrench, lay them nearby within reach.
Step Two – take each wheel out of their wrapping and snap them into the casing on the base of the chair.
And so it went, Step by step, until after about 20 minutes or so, the pieces on my floor actually had become the chair that I had seen online. A perfect replica. I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself! Though in retrospect, I see now that my mastery of putting that chair together, had little to do with me. All I did was follow the instructions.
Last Sunday, we had 17 artists from common art arrive at this house. Common Art is a program of Ecclesia Ministry that ministers to people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. These artists came in our doors last Sunday carrying large boxes that they brought down to the vestry, the large room downstairs below the sanctuary. The artists opened up their boxes, but unlike my box, theirs did not contain a white sheet full of step by step assembly instructions. Unlike my box, theirs did not contain pieces of an exact replica of someone else creation. No instead, their boxes contained the most beautiful artistry crafted by their own hands. I watched as the artists tenderly lifted each piece, beautifully complete in and of itself, and offered it for display.
I had the chance to talk with some of the artists as I hope you did too. As I paused before a beautiful painting of blues, pinks, yellows, I ask the artist standing nearby how it was that she came to paint this beautiful picture. She smiled and said that it just kind of came to her. She had no idea what she was going to end up painting when she began. “It just happened,” she said.
I then wandered over to another artist’s table. I asked this artists how he came to be able to weave such beautiful tapestries. How did he learn how to do it? He told me he had never intended on becoming a weaver. But that three years ago his beloved partner died a terrible death. He was so distraught in his grief that his life began to unravel. Then he said, he began art therapy at St. Francis house. It was there, he told me, that he began to trust again and he began to believe that something more was possible for him. He said that when he sits down to create, he has no idea what is waiting in the unknown for him. And he is ok with that. He is even good with that, He said. His job is just to get started with the materials at hand and to let whatever is waiting happen.
The disciples had been waiting. They had been following Jesus for a while now. They had been watching Jesus every move and learning from him day in and day out. They had been waiting for this day when Jesus finally thought that they were ready to go out on their own, two by two.
As Jesus gathers them to him, to give them their instructions as to what they were supposed to do, I bet the disciples were so excited. It is a big deal to go out and practice in the name of your Teacher. A huge honor. So I am sure they were fully expecting him to give them everything they would need — maybe a pouch with some money, or special spices, or a special tunic, or some fancy new sandals — something. And I bet they were expecting him to give them step by step instructions as to what exactly they were supposed to do once they arrived in the house.
But that is not at all what happened. No special walking stick. No special sandals. Nope. Nothing. The only thing they get is the command “take nothing.”
And in terms of the step by step instructions of what exactly they are supposed to do so that they can ensure that their ministry will be a replica of his? Again nothing. The only instruction they get is how to enter a house and how to leave it. Not a word about what they are supposed to do once they are inside.
There had always been a part of me when reading this passage that thought that Jesus had kind of dropped the ball a bit. I always thought that as the disciples mentor, he had kind of let them down a bit, not really giving them all they needed to be successful in their first solo venture into ministries of their own.
But now I am coming to see otherwise. I am coming to see that the life of faith is not about following step by step instructions and having absolutely everything on at hand for whatever situation presents itself. Instead, the life of faith is about being present to what is so that what needs to be can emerge.
I am coming to see that the life of faith is more about artistry than it is about mastery.
Jesus does not give the disciples matching tunics to wear and well-stocked purses to carry, because by following him, Jesus’ intention is not that the disciples will become exact replicas of him but instead, Jesus intention is that, like him, they will learn to become what Theologian Carter Heyward calls “Co – Creators” with God.
What if that is still true today? What if we are being called as co-creative partners with the Divine in the art of becoming? What if this is what the life of faith is to look like?
I think this is what the Prophet Isaiah so long ago was getting at. I think that is why the passage for this morning begins with the divine bristling with frustration. The people to whom Isaiah is speaking are pretty sure that what they see is what they get. And so they conform to that reality. They go about the motions but they don’t really believe that is much of a future for them. That things could get any better than how they are right now. That the divine could be interested in anything more than what is.
But the Divine does not want automatons, bowing down their head like a bulrush, or lying in sackcloth and ashes. “Is that what you think this life with me is supposed to be all about?”, the divine voices asks. No not at all! The Divine voice is crying out for partners who will join with the Divine in breaking down all that is keeping God’s good creation and everything within it from flourishing. And when we join with God the conversational natural of reality (to borrow a phrase from Poet David Whyte), Isaiah says “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”
We don’t know exactly what happened when the disciples that Jesus set out in pairs entered the houses of those who received them. We are not told. But it is clear that something powerfully generative must have happened between the disciples, those they encountered and the Divine. For we are told that demons where cast out and many who were sick where cured – something powerfully generative happened in that place of encounter for wholeness was restored and healing happened. “ the Light that was waiting to break forth.” And the “healing that was waiting to spring up” as Isaiah says, did break forth and did spring up in the encounters the disciples had. Wholeness was restored and healing happened.
I believe with every fiber of my being that wholeness can be restored and healing can happen in our time as well. I believe the Divine is craving a co-creative partnership with us, right now.
What might that look like?
If the Biblical witness is to be believed and I think it is, than it may look very different than what we may expect. It may look like “taking nothing”. It may look like letting go of our agenda for how things are supposed to be, or even more importantly for how others are supposed to be. It may mean letting go of trying to make others into some version of ourselves, a replica of what we think is right. It may mean that instead of squaring off as winners and losers, right and wrong, good and bad, we are instead being called show up with a willingness to engage, to partner, to stand shoulder to shoulder, opening our hearts to each other and to the Divine as together we create a space of encounter where healing and wholeness can happen.
So yes, when a chair needs to be assembled let’s be sure to pick up the instruction sheet and follow it step by step. Let us make it into what we know a chair to be. But when we are to join with the Divine in calling forth healing and wholeness, when we are to set about the good work of being church, let us cultivate a disposition, not of mastery, but of artistry. Let us “take nothing”. Let us take nothing so that like Jesus and the disciples after him, may be freed up to really show up, and take up our place as co-creators with the Divine Presence in the world healing, life giving, joyful artistry of becoming. May it be so. Amen