Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On the pope, gay people, and being a judge

So the pope has made some waves, I hear. He's gone and said that he's not in a place to judge gay people who are seeking God. That's pretty cool.

Now if I understand the context correctly, he was actually talking about gay priests who have to be celibate anyway. So--and again, this is if I understand correctly, which I might not--there's still a certain air of, "Well, it's fine if you're gay, just as long as you don't go and do anything about it."

But still, a pretty powerful statement from the leader of the Catholic church. And one that certainly resonates with biblical texts, what with "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged" (Matt 7:1 or Luke 6:37) or the whole "the one who judges being the one who was judged unjustly" thing.

But I actually disagree. I think we're in a pretty competent place to judge.

It's just that we've been flat out judging wrong for a really long time.

We've got all the resources to make the correct judgment that LGBTQ folks are created in the image of God, gifted by God, and called by God. We've got plenty of reasons to judge that the church shouldn't for one second think about getting in the way of that image, those gifts, and that call. We've got all the information we need to judge that gay people are human beings, and that they deserve rights and dignity and love. We've got the church membership data and the biblical texts about God's extravagant welcome to those "on the outside" and the answer to the question "Who's my neighbor."

Do you know who else is in a position to judge? Gay people. They're in the position, in my opinion, to judge society and to judge, perhaps particularly harshly, the church. For being exclusive and narrow-minded and downright mean. With every friend I know who leaves the ordination process or switches denominations because the church won't honor their call; with every young person I talk to who sees the church as basically a haven for bigots; with every church trial I hear about, I am again reminded: we are being judged.

And things are not going in our favor.

It's time that we discern something more in-depth than "we agree to disagree." It's time to judge, justly. Which should have been the point all along.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Deep Well: Morning Prayer (a bit grudgingly)

Here's the deal. I'm not a morning person.

Anyone who's ever lived with me knows that I'm pretty much ok sleeping through the morning. I'm not one of those people who feels like I've "wasted the day" if I don't get up early, go for a run, and get cracking on my to do list. 

I hear sunrises are very lovely, and I've even seen a few great ones (although I've also had more than a few "well, I guess it's too cloudy to see the sun" experiences). But if God could just let me know once a year or so that there would be a really beautiful sunrise, that would be about enough for me.

So when my friend Rachel suggested that we do morning prayer together, I was a bit skeptical. 

This is the second time I've attempted this, the first being with my housemate Jen. I don't remember how long I lasted before I started sleeping through it, but it wasn't very long.

But one doesn't create a more disciplined spiritual life by sitting around waiting for it to happen, I suppose, so one evening as I was hanging out in Rachel's room I made a decision. "Ok," I said, "what time are we getting up tomorrow for morning prayer?"

We settled on the prayer in the United Methodist hymnal even though Rachel's Presbyterian because the Presbyterian one was sort of unwieldy. We wanted efficiency. My eyes are sort of blurry in the morning, so I didn't want to have to choose between a lot of prayer options. 

We've been doing this for about a week now, so don't get too excited. There is yet time for me to cop out and stay in bed: "C'mon Jesus. Just one more hour."

And I certainly haven't turned into Gandhi or Dorothy Day; haven't started levitating, either literally or in the figurative sense of floating above the world's problems. Maybe after two weeks.

But I do think it matters, starting the day off with this:

"New every morning is your love, great God of light,
   and all day long you are working for good in the world.
Stir up in us desire to serve you,
   to live peacefully with our neighbors,
   and to devote each day to your Son,
   our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord."

Instead of with this (at around 10:30): "I wonder what important emails I have. Oooo....and Facebook notifications!"

I do think it matters, starting the day with praying for the community, the church, and the world. In particular, praying for those people in my community, church, and world who I am inclined to disagree with or be disagreeable to. The people I pray for a bit grudgingly. 

I've been blogging, more sporadically than intended, about things that point me to the deep well of spiritual strength that I see in my heroes drawing from, the MLKs and Peter Storeys and Jean Vaniers. 

I'm not exactly basking in the glow of the Spirit every morning. Half the time I'm distracted and grumpy.

But this is a lifelong thing, and sometimes, you've just gotta start dancing, no matter how grudging you feel. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Who's in charge here?"

Our bass player at Crossroads was away this Sunday, and we were supposed to have a substitute bassist. 5pm rolled around; no bass player. So we started the service, which was fine.

During the sermon, I was sitting in back when a well-dressed gentleman came in. I went to greet him.

"Who's in charge here?" he said.

"Uh...what do you need?" I said.

"I mean, who's in charge of the service?"

"Well, what can I help you with?"

Turns out it was the bass player. He had gotten turned around on his way from VA (which just goes to prove one of my most important rules about living in DC, which is to try as hard as you possibly can to avoid driving in Northern VA) and wanted to let someone know why he hadn't showed up on time. I thought that was pretty considerate of him, so I thanked him, and then he left.

And I chuckled to myself about my complete inability to answer the simple question, "Who's in charge here?"

I mean, there's Dottie, the lead pastor at Crossroads, who was preaching at the time.

There's Christian, who leads the band, and Justin, the drummer, who is often responsible for communicating with substitute musicians. 

There's me, the "pastoral associate," whatever that means.

Then there's the nine or so lay people on our leadership team. 

I doubt any of us has the illusion that we're in charge.
Now, there are times in any organizational effort in which someone has to be "in charge," or at least organizing and facilitating the damn thing. But I kind of like that, at Crossroads anyway, nobody's in charge, or at least there are a whole lot of people in charge.

We're not what's called a "flat church" with no paid leadership. We don't exactly make decisions entirely by consensus. But there's still a feeling that we're all in this together, all doing this together, all creating and learning and serving together. 

Theologically speaking, we recognize that it is a homeless, executed Palestinian Jew who is the "head of the Church"--a paradoxical position for a failed messiah. That's who is supposed to be in charge...and he tended to do a lot of rejecting of the whole "being in charge" bit. (John 6:15, or Phil 2, for example) The rest of us, every last one of us, are just ministers. 

I hope, for you, whoever and wherever you are, a community that is getting less and less sure about the answer to the question:

"Who's in charge here?"


Shameless promotion: If Crossroads sounds like kind of a cool place to you...well, it is! Check out our website, or just come on by the St. Luke's Mission Center at 5pm on a Sunday to see who we are and what we do. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lightning Storm

The plane, a few tiny lights against a massive backdrop of clouds.

Lightning, multidirectional, strobe-lighting the sky.

A reminder:

"You can create magnificent things.
     But your magnificent creations
        are held by something vastly prior
             Creation itself."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Deep Well: Ocean

I'm at the beach with friends, and we're heading back to the ocean in just a few minutes.

The ancient Israelites were scared of the sea. For them, it represented chaos. Void. It was untamed.

But the ocean speaks to me of God. The vastness of it, the unchangingness of it...but the constant change. The dynamic, shifting, evolving reality.

Yesterday a run of fish jumped and jumped in front of our eyes, saying "Life, life, life."

Perhaps it's a tad bit literal, but the ocean is a deep well, waiting for us to immerse ourselves.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Deep Well: Church (no, but really...)

(A brief caveat. I really like a lot of the worship that I experience each week. But this post is about how I don't think whether I like it or not is the key question.)

Church is sort of a much maligned thing these days.

I'm not just talking about the fastest growing religious affiliation in the U.S. being people who mark "none" under religious affiliation. (This has led lots of people in church growth circles to talk a lot about reaching out to the "nones," a phrase which emergentyish author Christian Piatt--in an article I don't entirely agree with but is still worth reading--points out is quite problematic. One pastor in this area has actually started referring to this group as "the unheard" because their voices, including their valid critiques of the church, are often ignored by the church.)

I'm not just talking about people who are "spiritual but not religious," who want a spiritual life of some kind (whatever that means or looks like) but distance themselves from organized religion.

I'm talking about people who still identify as Christian, who might even attend church regularly, who are pretty critical of Sunday morning (or evening, or whenever) services.

And why not? There's plenty to critique. If it's not boring, it's cheesy. If it's not a small dying church, it's a massive impersonal one. If it's too enthusiastic it feels cultish; if it's not we tune out. The hymns are dry, or they're the theological equivalent of cotton candy. There can be hypocrisy and politics and sometimes bigotry and outright meanness. There is certainly plenty of division along lines of race and socioeconomic status and political belief. There is certainly plenty of stuff that makes people wonder what church has to do with this Jesus guy, anyway. There's all sorts of things wrong with church.

"Why go to church," people wonder, "when I feel more of God watching a sunset or hiking in the woods? Why go to church when I don't have a spiritual experience there?"

But I need church, and here is why.

I, too, have often experienced God while marveling at the magnificence of nature, the stunning beauty of God's creation. I, too, have often experienced God while serving outside of the walls of a church building.

But every Sunday, or just about every Sunday, I sit down (and stand up and sit down again) in a group of people that I did not choose to gather around me, and we name the presence of God in our lives together.

I do not like all of the people I am in church with. I would not naturally choose to go on a hike in the woods with many of them.

And here I am, singing songs and praying prayers and passing the peace, sometimes with strangers.

Here I am, trying to learn about Jesus, in exactly the sort of messed up, flawed way that any of us can ever hope to do so.

The sunsets and the hikes in the woods are great for my own, individualized spiritual experience. But my own spiritual experience can happen just as easily without you, whoever you are, thank you very much. And if it does include you, it's probably because we share a common interest. We're part of the same club. As much as church gets a bad rap for turning into a social club, the rest of our lives are divided up neatly into clubs, too.

I need church, because it reminds me that God is present in our common life together, and not just when we "feel" it to be so. Now, don't get me wrong. Feeling is important. I'm a Methodist, which means I place importance in the experience of God's presence. (The Methodists on the frontier used to be referred to as "those shouting Methodists." My, how times have changed). But it also means I value reason, and tradition, and try to anchor that in scripture, and these things are not based on what I feel or who I like.

So yes, there are many problems with church. Yes, we can do more to create authentic worship, to foster a space of vulnerability and accountability and transformation. Yes, we absolutely have work to do to break down boundaries and overcome division.  But I think all of that is worth it, because there are just so few places in our lives where we come together in this way, not necessarily based on a common interest but instead on a common desire to be open to the workings of the Spirit in the midst of unlikely community.

Even on Sundays when I don't "feel" it--when I'm distracted during the sermon and I don't like the hymns and I sort of wish I had just slept in--I believe that the Spirit is at work, drawing us to that deep well that can sustain us and make us whole.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Deep Well: Imagination

When I was a kid, I used to tell stories about Martians.

My parents would listen to my stories and help make them into illustrated books. I'm sure we still have those somewhere. Monuments to childhood imagination.

I met my best friend because I was reading a book about monsters at the pool. Instead of, you know, swimming, like normal children do. Not only monsters--a game about monsters. You could pretend to be the monsters! Dan and I hit it off right away.

We were trying to defeat this guy. He was mean.

Dan and I were talking about this recently. About why we're so attracted to science fiction and fantasy, to flights of the imagination. So I was thinking on it, and then ended up pretending to be a wizard while playing a board game with some friends here at Wesley (I was the worst wizard ever. I died three times and lost us the game).

And I was reflecting on the fact that both in college and here at seminary, I have a lot of friends who like to do this. Who still like to play make believe. And I hope we can all hold on to that, because we need imagination.


This is Homs, in Syria. Envisioning a healed Syria, for example,
takes a lot of imagination.
Now I'm sure that a lot of the reason that a lot of us are attracted to this kind of thing is escapism, which is fine. We all need a little bit of that sometimes. But I'm also sure that imagination is a necessary ingredient in any sort of belief that another world is possible. I remember a few years ago my bible study at the time was reading a section of the book of Revelation (speaking of pretending to be dragons) and I was wondering out loud whether I even had the capacity to imagine a city renewed, a city without "unhoused neighbors" and "food insecurity" and "social safety nets" and all the other images and euphemisms we throw around to try to describe the fact that this is a city bursting with need and hurt. I wonder if that's a feat of imagination against which undead dragons sort of pale in comparison.

So today I'm reflecting on imagination, on the connection between pretending to be a wizard and the deep well of spiritual sustenance that we are all going to need if we're going to be in this "hope" thing for the long haul.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Deep Well: Music

A couple of days ago, I decided that for the next few weeks I'm going to post on here, each day, about something that I've witnessed or experienced that day that, to me, points the way to the deep well of spiritual strength that I witnessed when I heard Peter Storey speak.

Yesterday was a frustrating day, for no particularly remarkable reason. Some days are just frustrating, is all.

So I took about 30 seconds in my dorm room to just focus on something good. And what I focused on was music.

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the time with having to pick songs, or at least help pick songs, for two different worship services this weekend. And feeling a bit overwhelmed about this is a bit problematic, since this is not a rare occurrence.

But it sort of struck me all of a sudden what a privilege this was. That I have this opportunity to help create a musical environment that invites people into a more hopeful, more imaginative way of living.

I don't know if I succeed at that, and I really do believe that any success any of us have in doing something like that is through grace. But to even have the opportunity to try is a pretty amazing thing.

So I sat down with my guitar and played a few chords, and remembered how magical it is that I can make something that sounds like music with my fingers and some wood and steel. I just took it in, for a little bit, the miracle of music.

Without a doubt, music helps point me to a deep well of spiritual nourishment, and I am grateful for it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On Peter Storey, not getting tired, and needing prayer

Last night, Rev. Dr. Peter Storey spoke at my church. Storey was the Methodist Bishop of Southern Africa during the struggle against apartheid. He was a powerfully prophetic anti-apartheid voice, a pastor of a church in District 6, and served as Mandela's chaplain during his imprisonment at Robben Island. He was on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

He's...uh...he's pretty cool.

His talk was fascinating, consisting of an overview of South African history, an analysis of current South African politics and the need for the church to recover its voice, as well as personal stories of his work in South Africa and his encounters with Nelson Mandela, a man he obviously deeply admires and respects.

At one point during the talk, he mentioned the role of outside economic pressure in challenging apartheid. "Whenever I speak to a crowd of people with gray hair," he said, "I feel the need to thank you. Because it was your economic pressure that made a difference."

Well, if you know me or have read me since my City of... days, you know that this was a bit of an opening for me. After the talk I approached him, thanked him, and asked him what he thought of the role of economic pressure in a just peace for Israel/Palestine. What did he think about the modern day BDS movement?

He had been smiling, and suddenly grew very serious. "Oh yes," he said. "We support that." He went on to tell me how he and others in South Africa recognize their own struggle in the struggle of Palestinians for freedom. "It's about justice and injustice," he said, "and we South Africans have the t-shirt for that. We recognize that. So we support the boycott."

I will not pretend to be a saint: I felt pretty vindicated, particularly after the discouragement of our annual conference resolution on divestment being tabled at the end of May. I left church feeling really good. And I kept feeling really good throughout the evening. And as I reflected on it more and more, I realized that I wasn't feeling good because Peter Storey agrees with me about a contentious political point (though that helps, not gonna lie).

The reason that I felt so good, and feel so good today, is this man, after five decades of struggle for justice and reconciliation in his homeland, is not only not tired of that struggle but isn't tired of standing in solidarity with other people's struggles, either.

He is not tired.

And I get so tired.

Now, Storey himself spoke in his talk about how he believed South Africa needed the Truth and Reconciliation Commisions to happen at the local level, and that it was the church who could have done that. "We didn't," he said, "mainly because we were so tired." So I don't mean to make him or other antiapartheid activists into superhumans. But nevertheless, there he was, after decades of work, emphatically and passionately defending a movement for international justice because he saw it as the right thing to do.

And what I realized listening to him--and the reason I left feeling so good--is that he is only able to do this work out of a deep, deep well of spirituality. That he draws on spiritual resources for this work.

And that what I want is that deep well of spirituality. That why I'm in seminary and why I want to work with churches and why I want to have conversations with people about faith, because I want to be part of the process of pointing the way to that deep well.

And that is a confirmation of what I am doing, here, even if I often forget what I'm doing.

And that made me feel good.

So I think that this summer, while my coursework load is pretty light, I'm going to try a little project. For the next few weeks I'm going to post on here, each day, about something that I've witnessed or experienced that day that, to me, points the way to that deep well of spiritual strength.

I'll never be Peter Storey, or anyone like him, that's for sure. But I hope and pray that I can learn how to draw from that same well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

On "What does a pastor do?" and the missio dei, or something like that

I was at the doctor today, getting my routine physical for the ordination process in the United Methodist Church. (As a brief aside, I'm glad they care about our mental and physical health, but this stuff is not for the poor. Ordination is expensive. Jesus would be less than impressed).

So my doctor asks why I need a physical, and I tell her I'm going to be a pastor, and she asks me the inevitable first question, which is "Can you get married?"

"Yes, I can get married."

"Well that's good. I mean, if you want to. It comes with it's own set of problems."

I chuckled at her response. 

"So, what would you do as a pastor?" she asked.

Now, in fairness, as she asked this she was simultaneously sticking a light up my nose, so you will perhaps forgive me for stumbling through my answer a little bit. But I pretty much told her I would plan and lead worship, organize the work that the church does, and counsel and visit people who need counseling and visiting.

When she left the exam room, it hit me that I had given her an answer that was entirely about taking care of the people already within the church. 

This, for the church nerds out there, is called an attractional model of ministry. It's what one of my professors calls the "If you build it, they will come" form of ministry. The idea is that if you have great programs and great preaching and great classes, people will come to church to experience all that. This worked very well for churches in the 50s and 60s, when you could hang a sign on your door that said "All Are Welcome!" and people would come through your doors to see if that was true.

The attractional model of ministry, though, is coming under some scrutiny. For one (obvious) thing, it just isn't working very well anymore. Mainline denominations are struggling, while evangelical churches are seeing their growth slow to a halt. People just aren't pouring through the doors anymore.

But more importantly than that, the attractional model of ministry is built on a theological assumption that the point of church get people to church. Church is a sort of refuge, and a place to grow and to learn. 

But what if the point of church is what happens outside of church? This is an idea (if I understand it correctly) called a missional model of ministry. The attractional church tries to draw in; the missional church sends out. Theologically, the missional church sees its goal as participating in the mission dei--that is, the mission or activity of God in the world. 

For me, the missio dei is all about a God of vulnerability and solidarity, acting in the world to overcome alienation, to heal, to reconcile. So if that's a valid understanding, then the church needs to be about participating in the overcoming of alienation, in healing, in reconciling.

So back to my "you-have-a-light-up-my-nose" answer. The understanding of a pastor's job that I communicated to my doctor was all about taking care of the people in a church. It didn't say much about what I do outside of church, or about the church equipping people to go out and participate in God's reconciling work in the world. 

Now, this isn't to say that what goes on inside a church--in a worship service or a classroom--is worthless. Churches can be places of radical hospitality and of spiritual formation. My understanding of worship involves the naming of a God who forms us to be sent out into the world, so I think worship is very important. But it's the sending-out-into-the-world that is the goal. And that sending doesn't primarily ask, "Do you go to church?" It asks, "What is your story? What is your passion? What is your longing? What are your questions and doubts?"

This year, I will help plan worship for 4 separate faith communities. That's a lot of worship. Will I be participating in the missio dei? Will I be equipping others to do so? What might an answer to the question, "What does a pastor do?" look like?

I was having a conversation with my friend Dan recently, and he asked me--half-jokingly--"What do you Christians do, anyway?"

So--what do we Christians do, anyway? Do we mainly gather together on Sunday morning (or evening), and then get together once or twice a week for study and fellowship with each other? Or (and?) do we try to participate in the missio dei? Do we heal? Do we reconcile? Is the church for us? Or are we for the world?

None of these are new questions, I know, but as usual for me they were brought home most strongly by perfectly normal encounters. By a conversation with a friend and a light up my nose. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sermon: "Our Whole Story"

This is a sermon that I preached at Crossroads yesterday. It's about telling our stories. I hope you like it, and that you get a chance to tell your story.

The scripture was Mark 6: 6b-13, 30-32.

It started with minutes 2:00-3:00 of this video:

In it, Jean Vanier says:

“We need an experience of vulnerability....The danger in our strong civilizations is the last thing we want people to learn is to touch their weakness, their vulnerabilities. You can’t ask people to do a curriculum vitae putting all their weaknesses down. You have to show that I’m better than others...So it’s what will help people become conscious that I need help. That I am fragile. But at the same time I am beautiful.


I did my undergraduate studies at a little place called Washington College. It’s located in Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. About 10 minutes away from my alma mater is a place called Betterton Beach. Betterton is on the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s not the most impressive beach ever, but to this day if I visit there it feels like home.

Betterton was the place we would go to get away from school for just a little bit. To escape the stress and the drama of life at a small college. It was a place to recharge. For me, it became a truly spiritual place. Looking out over the sun-sparkled bay, ebbing and flowing, I got a hint of a God who is at once vast and unchanging and at the same time dynamic, ever in motion. I remember laying back in the sand and watching a seemingly endless migration of birds over the bay and marveling at God’s creation. I could forget for a second about papers and strained relationships and emotional struggles and just be. It was sometimes a place of solitude, and at other times a place to build community and strengthen relationships.

Betterton was a place of mini-pilgrimage for me. I would say that it has become a part of my spiritual history, of my story of faith.
            If I were to ask you to tell your faith story, what stories would you tell?

            I’m not going to ask you to answer out loud right now, especially not on a moment’s notice, but take a second to think about this:

            What stories would you tell?
            What people would you name?
            What places would you include?

            Take a second to think.


            Now I have to say that it’s fun to ask these questions at Crossroads, because I know people here have such different faith experiences. Some of you might have grown up in the church, and many of your faith stories will be church stories. That’s great! Others of you might have grown up Christian by association, or maybe at some point you drifted away from the church, and many of your formative faith stories might not be connected to church at all. That’s great too--those stories need to be shared! And some of you might not be that comfortable with language like “faith” and “church” at all. If that’s the case, I’m so glad you’re here, and I want you to know that your story is valuable. The church--and the world--need your story, too.
            If you think I’m alone in expressing this sentiment, I want to go all seminary student on you and quote one of the most prominent theologians of the 20th century, a German fellow named Jurgen Moltmann. He says that, rightly understood, “[The church] has no need to look sideways in suspicion or jealousy at the saving efficacies of the Spirit outside the church; instead it can recognize them thankfully as signs that the Spirit is greater than the church and that God’s purpose of salvation reaches beyond the church.” Now that’s a lot, and Moltmann isn’t known for writing in the clearest language ever, but I think what he’s saying is important: that the movement of the Spirit is not confined to the church or to church people. This is what we’re getting at when we take the time for God Sightings--looking for God in places other than our one hour of worship together inside this church building.
             John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement that our community here at Crossroads has inherited, talked about a similar concept. He talked a lot about grace--grace upon grace upon grace--and about “prevenient” or “preventing” grace--the love of God active in our lives before we are even aware of its presence. Christ is at work in the world before we are even able to name God or grace. God is not only at work inside the church.
            This evening I want to talk about telling our stories. Our whole stories. This past several weeks we’ve been talking about finding ourselves in biblical stories, seeing how these stories intersect with our own stories. So this evening I wanted us to look at a biblical story about stories. It’s a bit meta but stick with me:

            Jesus had been traveling and teaching and healing with his disciples for a little while now. Just before the story that we heard Barbara read he’d gone to his hometown, Nazareth, and it hadn’t gone well. He basically got kicked out. Nobody would listen to him. All they could see is the carpenter boy that they grew up with, now pretending to be somebody important. So they ignored him.
            So it’s in this atmosphere of frustration that Jesus calls his disciples together and sends them out to do ministry in the surrounding villages and towns of the Galilee. It’s an odd sort of mission that they’re on. They’re supposed to go out empty handed, relying entirely on the hospitality of strangers--couchsurfing or perhaps networking via distant Facebook friends--telling all that they had seen and heard of Jesus and the coming of God’s kingdom. So the disciples, despite the bad experience in Nazareth, head out into the Galilee and, from what the story tells us, things go well. “They cast out many demons , and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” And then the disciples come back, and the writer of the gospel of Mark tells us that they “told Jesus all that they had done and taught.”
Now if I ever paid any attention to this verse, I think I always assumed that it was describing a sort of bragging session. “Hey Jesus? Guess what? I was in this one village and I cast out 30 demons and cured 10 sick people! I even cured this one guy twice!”
            “Oh yeah Thomas? You think you’re a big deal? I cured 15 people, cast out 40 demons, and put one in a headlock and gave it a noogie for good measure!”
And the whole time Jesus is sort of sitting there passively, nodding and smiling, proud of the superhuman accomplishments of his crusading disciples.
But I was in a Bible study once when I was living in Jerusalem, and somebody pointed out to me that the text says that they told Jesus all that they had done and taught.
All that they had done.
Now, here’s the deal. In the gospel accounts, and particularly in Mark, the disciples are not portrayed as stellar, perfect followers of Christ. The exact opposite, in fact. They are almost Keystone Cops-esque in their failures; constantly misunderstanding or mistrusting what Jesus is telling them. In fact it’s possible that the writer of Mark’s gospel is intentionally portraying the disciples as screwups to invite us, the listeners and readers of the story, into further discipleship--if these goofballs can be disciples, then surely we can follow, too.
So if the disciples in Mark are so perfectly imperfect, then when they gathered to share with Jesus and with each other all that they had done, we have to imagine that there was a significant amount of failure, frustration, and doubt mixed in with the stories of demon-destroying and sickness-healing.
To intensify this, there’s something very particular to the gospel of Mark going on in this passage. I don’t know if you noticed, but the scripture that we heard read was in two parts even though it was one story. We read Mark 6:6-13, and then we skipped to Mark 6:30-32. What happened in between these two passage is the story of the execution of John the Baptist at the hands of King Herod, the most powerful man in the Galilee. Now John the Baptist is the very first character we encounter in the gospel of Mark. He baptizes Jesus, and his arrest marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The disciples would have known John. He was an ally; he was a bit like that guy you call “uncle” even though he isn’t really related to you. And now he’s dead.
This story is inserted in the middle of the story of the disciples’ missionary endeavors. This is something that Mark does quite often--putting one story smack in the middle of another story. There’s even a fancy seminary term for it: we call it “a Markan sandwich.” Sophisticated, right? And the idea of this narrative device is that the story that is inserted helps us interpret and understand the story that brackets it. In this case, we learn that the atmosphere of the disciples’ ministry and their subsequent reporting on it is drenched in fear and uncertainty. Their ministry is being done in the shadow of potential death and defeat. So we can imagine that there was some less-than-triumphal feelings during this report-back-to-Jesus session.
So I have to wonder what the disciples said to Jesus and each other. Sure, they talked about casting out demons and healing and preaching. But do you think some of them also said things like: “Jesus, I have to admit that there were times when I doubted you, and when I doubted myself and my own abilities.” Or things like, “Jesus, in one town I tried to cure people and nothing happened.” Or things like, “Jesus, in one town nobody would welcome me or listen to me and I felt discouraged and afraid.” Do you think they told their whole stories--not just the stories of their successes and their ironclad faith but their whole stories?
Now I asked you what sort of stories you would share if I asked you to share your faith story. And I want us to consider what it would mean for us to tell our whole story. We might have times in our lives when we are riding high on the Spirit. When we feel faithful and successful and good. When we can so easily sing to God the song that we’ve been singing in worship these past two weeks: “You’re always faithful.”
And then there are other times. Times when we doubt. When we hurt. When we struggle. When we ask where God is. Maybe our whole stories would say things like, “God, I’m trying to follow you but I’m afraid. I don’t see you. Where are you, God?” Things like, “I’m struggling with depression or with mental illness and things seem dark and scary.” Things like, “I know I’m called by you but I’m gay and the church discriminates against me.”
Or “I try to take a stand for justice but the odds seem stacked against me.”
Or “I want to learn more about Jesus but Christians seem intolerant and even mean.”
Or “I don’t have a house and I’m hungry, and even when I can find shelter and food there’s nobody who wants to really listen to me.”
Now if you have been thinking some of these things or similar things, I hope you can see that they, too, are part of your story of faith--part of the story that you share with other struggling disciples in the presence of Jesus, who does not judge but who redeems, who gathers all of our hurt and brokenness together and says, “Yes, I am part of this with you. I am present with you, here, in this mess.” 
Remember Jean Vanier? Saying that we never sit down to write our CVs by putting all of our weaknesses down? Many of us have a story that we tell about our lives. I notice it particularly here in DC. We meet someone in this city and what are we trying to find out? Where are you from originally? And what do you do? What sort of position do you have? Of what importance are you? What's your resume? Our faith stories are not a CV or a resume. They are not our DC story. They are stories about deeper meaning. About calling. About doubt. About struggle. About vulnerability. About grace.
            I started off telling you a little bit about Betterton Beach, which is part of my own journey of faith and doubt, hope and anxiety. I told you about connecting with God and marveling at the wonder of creation. But friends, Betterton is where I went when I was stressed. When I had lost faith. When I didn't know what I was doing in my life or felt like maybe I should just drop out of school. Betterton was a place of highs, yes, but it was also a place of lows.

            Yesterday I took a little trip to Betterton and I brought back a bunch of smoothed out stones from the bay. They symbolize, to me, little pieces of my own whole story. I want to share them with you. In a few minutes we’re going to gather together, as we do every week, for a simple meal in the graceful presence of Christ. And after you take bread and dip it in grape juice and eat it, I’m going to hand you a rock. I hope that you will take it, and think a little bit about your own faith journey. There’s even a prayer station in back with some notecards if you want to pray about it or meditate on it a bit and scribble some thoughts down. And what I am asking you to do is to take this rock that I’m going to give you, and sometime this week give it to someone else. Hand it to them and say, “Hey. This is just a little symbol of how we share stories with each other.” And share with them a little bit of your story. And then ask them to share a little bit of their story, and to pass the rock on. If that sounds uncomfortable, practice telling your story to each other. Because we need to tell our stories, and we need to listen to the stories that surround us, if we’re ever going to really understand what  it is to be in the presence of Jesus.
            So we gather around a table with our messy stories. And we proclaim a Christ who is broken. And a Christ who is whole.
            The world needs you whole story. Tell it.