Who are we?

Who are we?

Thoughts on 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 4, 2018

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

“Who are we?” is the third in a series of questions we have been considering over the past three Sundays.  We began first with “Who are You?” with consideration of Moses’ conversation with YHWH on Mount Horeb.  Moses wanted to know what name should he give to the Hebrews.  Who should he say has sent him – all in all a fairly up front, one might say, bold, thing to ask.  Necessary nonetheless.

The second question, “Who am I?” with consideration of Moses informing the people that “people like me” will be called to speak for God to the people.  The ones called will be prophets.  Since we understand that we are baptized into Christ who is Priest, Prophet, and Ruler then the self-examination worthy of a prophet is appropriately called for in each one of us.

Today’s third question, “Who are we?” with consideration of Jesus’ early ministry as recounted to us in the opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel is the obvious next step.  Like those who found, in Jesus, one who spoke with authority we gather happily in his name.  He is as popular with us as with those who witnessed his healing, his teaching, his bold proclamations in the surrounding towns in Galilee.

The Gospel of Mark is the very thing for getting to the unelaborated facts of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Written probably within 30-35 years of Jesus’ life, with a presumed purpose of getting the story out to the wider audience of the Roman world, the author of this gospel was the pamphleteer of the day.  This gospel is unembellished and gets to the point.  It has been described as a Passion Story with an introduction since  the final1/3rd of it is the account of Jesus’ last days.  And the other 2/3rds tell the rest of the story.

Who we are easily begins with a desire to experience those beginning times of Jesus’ ministry as well as those first decades immediately following his resurrection.  Our Mary of Magdala community has often reflected on the experience people have that who we are and what we do could compare favorably with the gatherings of those first followers.  Who we are in this day and age, in addition to those first direct experiences with Jesus, is defined with a certain advantage.  We get to ask the questions post-Resurrection.  We not only know the story of the beginning we have the confidence of knowing how the story turned out.  We, unlike those first folks who liked what they saw and experienced in Jesus, are already transformed.  So, when we ask “Who are We?” we have no excuse but to acknowledge the gifts we have already received.

The truth is that not one of these three questions are asked in a vacuum.  As the theologians like to remind us we are always already a community of gifts and blessings.  We are already transformed in Christ which is a distinct advantage over the people we read about in today’s passage from Mark.

So, it appears that when we ask the question, “Who are We?” we have already begun to answer it by simply asking the question in the first place.  We are connected to, we are in a relationship with the One who reveals to us the power of new life.  That’s the first thing.

Second, because we are a resurrection people this advantage is our responsibility.   Our lives, our prayers, our actions are to be conducted in such a way that we are ourselves a revelation of transformation.  We do not let the demons of spite, contrariness, depression, and all the others gain the upper hand.  Jesus does not let the demons speak because they suck the life out of good people.  Rather, we let the good gifts shine through of reaching out in service to each other.

The third thing to be said about this question of “Who are we?” is obvious.  We gather because we believe, or at least very strongly want to believe.  We are a community at prayer who hopes that transformation will occur one person at a time in each one’s encounter of Jesus on-the-road of her/his life.

In answer to “Who are we?” we arrive at the awareness that we are people connected to and transformed by Jesus Christ.

Today’s rich sharing also contained these thoughts from community members:

A study of the life circumstance of Simon’s mother-in-law who is mentioned in the passage from the Gospel of Mark could likely reveal that this was a woman who lived in a culture that in effect dictated that a widow who has no one to support her must be taken in by in-laws.  One would think that rather than physical illness Simon’s mother-in-law suffered from depression.  Who wouldn’t be if all you have is a culture that dictates where the castoffs are to live and you are one of those castoffs.  How perceptive of Jesus to heal such depression and return this woman to a productive life.

People are open to conversion as a result, often enough, of being served.  Jesus heals to show God’s glory and to show the power we all have to heal others.  This is a sign of the service which comes first for people and which in turn opens their hearts to conversion.

One ought not miss that Jesus went to a solitary place to pray.  When we consider who we are we may not miss this part of Jesus’ journey.  To accompany him in prayer is to bring the “we” of our community to that place also.  In this way, as we shed our own personal demons we can acknowledge the communal reality which surrounds us in prayer.

  A Prayer  (JR)

We are a timbered choir, our branches reaching out and over this open space, our prayer circle.  We are prophets and apostles all called to speak and to be witnesses to your love in this world.  We gather in community with the confidence that celebrates our relationship to you and to each other.  We are a gift and a blessing to all whom we serve and soothe.  We could not be these things, we could neither see nor understand this revelation apart from you, Jesus Christ, our brother and anointed one.  Keep us close to you as we too visit the surrounding regions of our lives giving the shade of care and compassion.

We pray in the Name of Jesus, who with the Creator and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, now and forever.   Amen

A Timbered Choir,  Wendell Berry

Slowly, slowly they return

To the small woodland let alone:

Great trees, outspreading and upright,

Apostles of the living light.

 

Receiving sun and giving shade,

Their life’s a benefaction made;

And is a benediction said

Over the living and the dead.

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