by Lenny Duncan
1 Corinthians 7:25-31
Our first reading from Jonah would have us believe that Jonah simply heard the word of the Lord and followed. But we know that’s not true at all. I love Jonah because it reflects my own personal call story more than the call of Samuel from last week. I ran like hell from a call to ministry. I avoided the church like the plague. I thought clergy, while probably being well meaning folks, just didn’t get it. For me God was an alien experience that had plucked me from alcoholism, homelessness, and impending death; an invader in my life which was unsought and interrupted my path ruin, very rudely if you asked me. Even now, almost a decade later, I can’t tell you why associated that experience of my life suddenly changing course without my consent with Jesus Christ, or God. But I knew without a doubt that it was this God I had no experience with that caused this sudden change in heart to happen for me. I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone. No way would I declare the certainty in my heart that Jesus Christ had saved my life.
For one thing, I may not have been familiar with church doctrine or theology but I knew church history. The church was full of colonialism, oppression, fear, and people whom would never understand what happened to me. I was convinced of this. Perhaps the church was my Nineveh. I had watched in countless jails the church folks who came in to bring services and not one of them understood the way my values, perception, and soul was being warped behind bars. The few times I went to church services it was to get out of my cell and scoff. I watched guys have experiences in those services and for a few weeks walk around with a new Bible tucked under their arms. Everyone is a believer in prison for a little while. There are no atheists in a fox hole. Then a guard would slam them against the wall, or jailhouse politics puts them in a situation where they have to either perpetrate violence or become the victim of violence. I watch as they threw the thin veneer of Christianity to the side, and the guards rushed in to break it up.
All that and yet here I am, writing to you about the RCL.
I tell you all this, dear church, to let you know that there are Jonahs sitting in your pews. People who are fighting a great tide of grace that has swept them up on the shores of your congregation. They are going to fumble through the ELW, or drop a MF’er during fellowship hour. But I can assure you, much like Jonah, they are there to do great things.
I have to believe our brief reading from Mark takes for granted that the reader would know similar contextual clues about the calling of the disciples. That fishing on the Sea of Galilee was run by the elite. The rich and the powerful. That families formed coops to scrape a living out of the lake. The Gospel of John later adds this detail, but Mark forgets to mention that the disciples were already looking for a savior. That the world of first century Palestine was so oppressive and fragile they were ready to throw off the thin veneer of their lives of safety to fight back. In Jesus, they saw what they were looking for. They saw disruption. They saw a chance to change their community and their own fates with Holy Agitation. They recognized it inherently, and immediately. The oppressed often do.
So how do we get our people to recognize their own calls to discipleship this week if they aren’t being squeezed like grapes in a winepress by this society and world? We have to look at the incredible promise Jesus gives his disciples.
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.
We are long overdue in mainline Protestantism for a healthy ethic of evangelism. We have allowed it to become of a dirty word after we realized in the 21st century the terrible consequences of the churches 20th century exploits in this arena.
We are afraid of evangelism because the white protestant church needs to sit in its town square robed in sackcloth, marked with the words white supremacy and to throw the ashes on its head. To sit and repent for chattel slavery, for crushing its leaders of color, for leaving behind communities of color, for making them throwaway churches. For tokenizing the POC in our midst and treating them as an accessory to be worn to the “Allies Ball” in the hopes of claiming the prize of authenticity.
I don't know what this world would look like -- a world which truly repented for its sins. As a black man I can't imagine a world where I didn't have to fight. To grimace and push through a thousand microaggressions a day to get to my place in the church catholic. What I do know is we are given mere glimpses of it in scripture. We see a Jesus standing at resurrection scars still present yet whole. Eating with his friends whom he died for. Walking with them and opening up the meaning behind all we know of God. I know we see it out of the corner of our eyes when we break bread and share wine. When we hear the words do this in remembrance of me. I know the thin veil between the kingdom and this world is pierced bit by bit when we invite our people into discipleship.
If we invite our people to walk with us the way Jesus does, perhaps grace can slip into the cracks of our broken theology around evangelism. We can do this by going out and being in relationship with the people to whom we want to minister. Not a social ministry bulletin board in the back of the sanctuary: Accompaniment. If we start using our faith rooted community organizing skills and reveal the deep and meaningful impact doing the work of Jesus in our community can have, we invite them into this great legacy of ministry. This week let us highlight something tactile our people can do to go out and be fishers of people. Let’s be the justice we want to see. Give them the context to declare that #blacklivesmatter. A forum where folks can share #mettoo. That happened to me. Hold sacred space for our LGBTQ siblings. Tear down the social ministry bulletin board and use it to share the stories of black trans woman whom are murdered in 2018. Explain that their average lifespan is thirty-five. Thirty-five.
I don’t know what that looks like in your context, but I do know finding meaningful points of engagement you can tie into your sermon reveals the very nature of Jesus, and God to folks.
It’s how I ended up writing you about the RCL all these years later.