On the Road with Jesus – Road Trip Ecclesiology II

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 14, 2021

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div.,Ph.D.  jimryan6885@gmail.com

Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community

Two weeks ago I invited us to consider the Gospel of Mark to be the map of what I call Road Trip Ecclesiology.  Jesus is constantly on the move in this gospel.  The Teacher walks with his band of disciples-in-training around his neighborhood of Nazareth, around the region of Galilee and its seaside town of Capernaum.  He walks all the way from there through Samaria and on to Jerusalem in Judea.  Some say he took that trip more than once.

All the while, as he instructs he also heals.  And when he wasn’t walking to somewhere, as indicated in today’s passage, “People kept coming to him from all directions.”  (Mark 1:45)

I use the Road Trip analogy to invite us on this walkabout with Jesus so that we may get that sense of being with him, responding to him, belonging to him.  This is the hope to gain a mostly unobstructed and unvarnished view of Jesus himself.  In his book on ecclesiology Thomas Rausch calls this the insight of the Free Church.  This is the conviction that what Jesus did is what matters most, the awareness that all institutional, yes, even the thoughtful presentations about Jesus are all after the fact.  It asks, “What did Jesus do?”

This became a catchword question not so long ago for some conservative Christians who were seeking justification for right-wing politics in this country.  That’s why I am happy to resurrect it on this Sunday when we hear of Jesus healing the leper.  Lepers, remember, were the outcast and deprived persons whom the community, since the time of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, forced to live outside the compound, and later outside the city.  In this time of covid, deaths that occur way more often in black and brown communities put a spotlight on this message and this question as facts to face up to.  So what did Jesus do?  He healed and welcomed the outcast and the marginalized.

Returning to the Road Trip, two weeks ago I brought up Rausch’s book as a well-reasoned and well-received effort at what he calls a Third Millennium Ecclesiology.  However, it is a view that, in my opinion, is heavily biased in favor of institutional church.

Here’s what I mean.  Remember the catechism question that asked for the things that identify, or mark, the Church?  These Marks – since you all remember your catechism – are 4.  Sound familiar?  The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  In a catechism sense they are stations on the road map that give a destination to the question, “What is the Church?”

When these 4 Marks of the Church are viewed with an institutional bias they become the framework for a very baked-in, top-down structure of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Oneness is pre-defined Unity.  Holiness is applying church teaching about the divine.  Catholic, well that’s a recognition of where fullness resides.  And Apostolic can only mean the 12 Apostles led by Peter, the Supreme Pontiff.

Would you believe that part of the legacy of the ultra-conservative John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI, has been the republication in the United States of the Baltimore Catechism?  It was restored to prominence as a book for all good Catholics to restudy and be ready for the quiz.  Hopefully, Francis will live long enough to leave his legacy with the encyclicals, “Laudato, Si” on the obligation to sustain creation and “Evangelium Gaudium” – the Joy of the Gospel.

It is this embrace of Gospel Joy that invites us on the road trip that is more interested in the journey than in the destination.  How thrilling it is to walk with Jesus himself.  And the Gospel of Mark gives us the chance to do just that.  So, this morning we are included in that group of searchers who come from all directions to be with Jesus.

For example, what does it mean to be One?  Is it, as Rausch writes, to be locked in to some categorical requirement that defines unity?  Or, is it rather to see that responding to Jesus is to be One with Jesus?  This is what responding looks like.

A picture was inserted here.  It can be seen by selecting the tab, “Service/Homilies” on the website:  https://maryofmagdala-mke.org.  Choose “2021” and the Order of Service for Feb.14.

This picture is meant to capture the story of Jesus feeding the four thousand as told in Mark 8:1-10.  When you take Mark as your guide you see that responding to Jesus was the way people were united, at One, with him.  As was read today, these are the people who came from all directions.

Let’s also take a look at the idea of Apostolic as a defining characteristic of those who believe in Jesus.  If, as Rausch writes, the twelve apostles are the foundation of belonging to the Church, then we, as a community with Mary of Magdala as our patron, must respectfully disagree.

Rather, this is what belonging looks like.

A picture was inserted here.  It can be seen by selecting the tab, “Service/Homilies” on the website:  https://maryofmagdala-mke.org.  Choose “2021” and the Order of Service for Feb.14.

This picture depicts Jesus dining at the house of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector.  Remember the story?  Jesus walks to Jericho (sound familiar?) where the crowds also surround him.  Zacchaeus, in order to get a better view of Jesus climbs a tree.  Jesus stops below the tree, looks up and invites himself for dinner at the home of Zacchaeus – the despised government bureaucrat who collects taxes for Caesar.  And what is Jesus’ lesson?  This is what belonging looks like.

Even though this story is in Luke’s Gospel and not Mark – the spirit and the lesson, I think, is nonetheless clear.  Jesus, on the road – whether it is stopping off in a field where he feeds thousands or going to Jericho where he intrudes on Zacchaeus and his family – Jesus teaches what being One and being Apostolic is about.  It’s about responding and it’s about belonging.

See what I mean by Road Trip Ecclesiology?  Institutions and structures too often get in the way of not only the message, but can actually reverse the actions of Jesus himself.  Jesus can eat with tax collectors and sinners, yet some high-hatted bishops say a certain President should be denied communion.  As if they know better than Jesus what Unity and being Apostolic means.  Give me a break!

I will admit to being in the Free Church camp that Rausch categorizes.  He says, and I agree, this is a restorationist mind-frame that thinks being on the road with Jesus and doing as Jesus did makes perfect sense.  And I pray that this community will continue to be a shining example of what responding and belonging looks like.  We are, after all, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic!

A Prayer  (JR)

       Jesus, you are the freedom, the gift, the light.  Why wouldn’t we want to travel with you, to learn from you, to always anticipate and embrace the future by your side?  May we experience what it means to respond and to belong as we gather in worship.  May this time together lead us to acts of justice and to your Song of Love.

  Hear us, grace us as we gather in Your Name.    Amen.

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