The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
In the 10th chapter of Matthew, from which our gospel is taken today, Jesus prepares his friends to go out and do, on their own, what he’d been doing. They would soon travel to villages all over Galilee, preaching and healing and forgiving sins. They would teach the revolutionary message that Jesus himself had been teaching.
I wonder how they were received. After all, there was no big movement surrounding Jesus on the cross. That would come later. In fact, we get some clue as to what the disciples were in for as we read the rest of the chapter that precedes today’s gospel.
Jesus warned the disciples that as they went out, in many places, people just wouldn’t listen. If so, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on. Members of the same household would be divided over what the disciples said. Sometimes they would be handed over to councils and flogged in synagogues, hated because of what they taught.
Why? What was so offensive? Weren’t they all about healing, the peace of God, forgiveness and love? Well, yes, but they were also about the proud and powerful being humbled, getting past resentment towards those who mistreat you and learning to love them, and not being a slave to money. These are hardly the kind of easy, feel-good affirmations that most want to hear.
Nevertheless, a few would welcome them into their village, into their hearts. Those who had ears would hear, those who had eyes would see. They would risk having their assumptions challenged. And they, Jesus said, would receive their reward. They would enter the kingdom of God, the divine dimension, even here and now.
Last weekend our consultant Tom Brackett spoke with us about welcoming God into the village of our hearts. Tom used different language – he called it our Yes to the Spirit.
Again and again, he challenged many of us to name the Yes that the Spirit was inviting us to say. That Yes would probably be exciting, something we cared deeply about, but something that also asked us to risk, to act in faith even if we’re a bit scared.
For one of us last weekend, that Yes would be starting a Divorce Care group, and all the vulnerability that would bring. Our parish’s corporate Yes seems to be about becoming more relational, more porous to new folk and to the world around us, more bottom-up, rather than top-down, in how we generate ministry. My personal Yes has something to do with remaining attuned to the Spirit in the moment, even as I re-enter the demands of busy parish work.
But the opportunity to say Yes to the Spirit does not just take place in church life, obviously. And it isn’t always just about what moves us and feels good. The opportunity to welcome – or rebuff – what God sends into the village of our life happens all the time.
Every day is a new world. We wake up, go about our business, and the day presents what it presents. As a meditation teacher of mine used to say, “there’s only one thing we can count on: life will be what it will be.” Some days are fun and energetic, others are terrifying or confusing, and some sparkle with possibility. We’re not in control of what the day will bring. The question is, how do we respond? Or, as Richard Rohr likes to ask, “What are we doing when we’re doing what we’re doing?”
One response we can make is to welcome what the day brings us, to say Yes to whatever it is. This is something I had the uncluttered time to do lots of on sabbatical, but I still have the same opportunity now. We always do.
Am I rushing between a hospital visit and a meeting about our buildings and grounds? Say Yes to the quickly-flowing stream. Is my work interrupted by a drop-in? Welcome the human spontaneity. Am I deeply unsure how to respond to a conflict in the parish, among the staff? Welcome the unknowing and the waiting in faith.
This is all fine when the day brings things that are good, or at least tolerable. But what about an injustice in the workplace, a war that shouldn’t be fought, or an unloving spouse? Are we supposed to say Yes to everything? Aren’t we given the gift of No for a good reason? Perhaps there are some messengers who come into our village that need to be turned away.
Here’s where I want to make a distinction. Of course we should say No to cancer and fight it with all we’ve got. Of course we should say No to people and to systems that are destructive. But even within those No’s, there can be a Yes.
When we’re faced with something we don’t like, whether it is an illness, a bad boss, or a stressful day, our tendency is to color the whole thing with badness. This person, this situation is simply intolerable, we say, and there is no good in it. Our No is complete, and our whole energy is spent in trying to rid ourselves of this thing that should not be. We become all resistance, all defense, all rejection. And because almost every negative thing that happens to us is at least partly beyond our control, we are victims. This bad thing controls us, because it should go away. But it doesn’t.
This is the point at which we might want to try welcoming it, or at least welcoming something within it. Instead of torturing ourselves about the awfulness of an illness we’ve got, perhaps we can say Yes to the lessons it brings. When we’re bored, instead of responding with compulsive activity or distraction, maybe we can welcome the emptiness and discover something spacious and free in the resignation. When someone is telling us something we don’t want to hear, we might stop pushing back and wait for what is true - and what is not - to emerge in its own time.
This kind of welcoming involves faith. For if we do not trust in ourselves, if we do not trust in God, then anything that threatens us will have to be rebuffed. But if we trust in ourselves, we know that even the most difficult visitor in the village of our life will not destroy us, and they may even surprise us with healing and liberation. And if we trust in God, we will understand what St. Paul said, that All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
There is nothing that can happen to us that does not contain within it something that we and God can use for good. That is what faith is. That is what it means to welcome whatever the day, or our life’s journey, might bring.
This isn’t necessarily easy, and sometimes our Yes takes a while to get to. It’s like I imagine it was between some of those villagers and the disciples. At first, what they heard Jesus and his friends say seemed like crazy talk. A prostitute was higher in God’s estimation than an upstanding religious leader? He said what to that rich young prince, to sell all his goods and give the money away? No way. Get out of town.
But then they heard him again. Blessed are the poor in spirit. The last shall be first. Forgive yourself, and then you will be able to forgive others. Gradually they took it in. Gradually there was a Yes that the Spirit was inviting them to make, and they welcomed what had, at first, seemed so alien to their basic assumptions.
We begin with a No to the circumstances or the people we don’t like. But our rebuff doesn’t make it go away. We find ourselves negative and powerless. But as we learn to look for the Yes, as we open ourselves to welcome what, in fact, is, we are no longer a victim of circumstance.
At this point we are, by God’s grace, powerful, because we choose to look for good in whatever life hands us. And we are only able to do this because we trust that all things shall work together for good.
By all means, say Yes to those opportunities that shine with possibility for you, even if they are a little scary. But also make your way towards welcoming those other things that are not so shiny, that seem like unwelcome intruders into your comfortable village. For the kingdom of God is everywhere, even in them.