Let's go! (even if it's cold up there...)

Proper 9B

In the name of God who calls us and Christ who leads us.  Amen.

About this time, 20 years ago, I was moving closer and closer to my end date in Louisiana.  I had graduated from LSU and was about to begin graduate school at Drew.  I was about to move to New Jersey.  I didn’t know what this time would mean for me, and honestly, I didn’t know I’d be here for this long.  I didn’t know what the future held for me at all, really.  I just knew it was time to go.

As word spread in my little sphere about my leaving – through my family and friends, my colleagues and coworkers – every time I shared the news about this exciting development in my life, the same initial reaction – the same refrain – was repeated to me literally dozens of times.  I would excitedly share the news – “I’m leaving in about a month and a half to go to grad school in New Jersey!”, and really, you wouldn’t believe the number of people who would clap back, without even taking a beat, “You know it’s gonna be cold up there, right?”

Not questions about my field of study.  Not curiosity about why I’d chosen this place in particular.  Not even any notes of sadness that I’d be going away.  Just: “You know it’s gonna be cold up there, right?”  And honestly, a lot of people would really fixate on that one fact.  It seemed to be the only thing that they knew at all about New Jersey – that it can be colder than Louisiana.  Clearly they didn’t know about our summers here, which remind me more of Louisiana than I’d like.  And with the unrelenting march of climate change, even our winters lately have been more like what I grew up with than I’d care to admit, but I digress…

The thing is, I think it’s easy for people to get stuck at seeing the world as they’ve always seen it.  They become comfortable with their surroundings, and they can’t imagine life in any other way.  Inertia is more than just a principle in physics – it is an emotional force, too.  Once we’re “at rest” it’s just so easy to stay that way.

But following God means getting up and being ready to follow.  It means being ready to move – to break the inertia.  The prophet, Ezekiel shares an aspect of his calling story that shows this truth explicitly.  When God spoke, God said, “stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.”  And then, he says that a spirit entered him and brought him to his feet, and only then could he truly hear God.  First, he needed to be brought to his feet – to a place where he would be ready to go.  And once he was there, God sent him out.

For pretty much my whole life, and I’d bet you could all say the same thing, the focus of Christianity has been on “going to church”.  When I was growing up, part of how people got to know you was by asking, “where do you go to church?”.  Sort of like, “What do you do?”, or “Where do you live?” it served as a kind of shorthand for starting to get to know people.  “Where do you go to church?” said something about who you were and who you associated with and what you believed.

But it was always about going to church.  That’s a huge part of what we were taught that it meant to be a faithful Christian.  To go to church.

Our failure, as a Christian culture, though, was that we let it stop there.  “Going to church” wasn’t just our first impression of what it meant to be a Christian, but it became the final word.  If you went to church, that was all that mattered.

The problem is, that’s pretty far from any kind of understanding of the relationship with God that Jesus understood or called us to.

In the story from the Gospel that we read today, we hear Jesus’ own experience of the inefficiency of inertia – and maybe not just inefficiency, but the ways that it can lead to stagnation; the absolute opposite of going where we’re called.

He had established himself and developed a reputation for being a person of power – a person with a unique connection to God.  He was a respected teacher.  But when he made his way back to Nazareth – his hometown – all of that screeched to a halt.  He tried teaching in the synagogue, as he’d done in plenty of other towns before, but there the people couldn’t hear him.  Wasn’t he just that kid we knew?  Isn’t he just a carpenter, the son of Mary?  We know his siblings, and they’re nothing special, what makes him think he’s so special?

I love the way this little episode ends.  It says, “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”  Oh.  Just that.  Everywhere else that was everything.  That was enough to bring people to God.  But in his hometown it was just a nothing.  An afterthought.  And, while everywhere else the people were amazed at his deeds of power, and amazed at the ways he healed the sick and cast out the evils spirits from those who were afflicted.  But in Nazareth it was Jesus who was amazed – amazed that nothing was good enough.  They couldn’t see through their own inertia.  So he knew it was time to move on.

To follow God – and to bring people to God – he couldn’t remain under the shelter of the familiar.  He had to go out.  And more importantly, he had to send people out in his name.  The point wasn’t to go to a sanctuary – like we might go to church – the point was to go out into the world.  To go out to make disciples.  To go out to bring healing to a hurting world.  To go out to teach the people about the good news of God.  To go out to proclaim life in a world blinded by death.  To raise them up, just as God has raised us.

Of course, I know it’s important to go to church.  It’s the classroom where we learn about following Christ and the laboratory in which we practice it.  But going to church isn’t the final step in following Christ – it’s an early baby step.  Going to church just gets us up on our feet where we can start to hear God.  To follow Christ, it’s not enough to just go to church.  We also have to go out into the world with Christ, on behalf of Christ, and as the Body of Christ.  We have to go out into the world to teach, to heal, and to raise.  We have to go out to identify the evil we see in the world and to cast it out.

We may be most comfortable here in our own community, among our own kind – among the people who are familiar to us.  But we can’t be prophets here.  For that, we have to step outside.  For that, we have to break free from the inertia that holds us and find a new path.  To be prophets, we have to hear God, and to hear God we have to get up onto our feet and be ready to go.

So let’s be prophets.  Let’s be the people God is calling us to be.  Let’s get up and go.  Amen.