Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div.,Ph.D. firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community
In the wake of cancelling our 10th Anniversary celebrations I have retained lingering as well as exploratory thoughts about community and our gathering in faith. A favorite scripture quote for me that guides my view of who we are and why we do what we do is Romans 8:21.
“The world will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious
freedom of the children of God.”
We exercise the freedom of the children of God not unlike Jesus who we come to know in the Gospel of Mark – a passage from which we heard this morning. This Jesus, son of a carpenter, who, with his band of itinerants, roams his neighboring places, the region of Galilee, Samaria, and all the way to Jerusalem. This Jesus who spontaneously casts out demons and who freely teaches of God’s love regardless of who may or may not understand that the barriers to such love must be torn down. But more about the roaming Teacher a little later.
I’d like to start by asking this question. What is this community we children of God have freely formed? And I’d like to take a look through the lens of ecclesiology. Now, stay with me, please, because I think I may have stumbled on to something. It has to do with bias for the institution rather than following Jesus, the Teacher, who was so free about God’s love. Which he did without regard to a person’s back story or what institution they belonged to.
I purchased a book – not surprising, I know. It’s title is “Towards a Truly Catholic Church: an Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium.” The author is Thomas Rausch, a Jesuit who teaches at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. It’s quite a title with a large challenge. It is pubIished by Liturgical Press and has been reviewed favorably in all the journals of note. I only want to talk this morning about what he writes about tradition and church structure. In the Roman Catholic way of looking at things, as we all know, these items are key.
Here’s what he says about tradition. “The responsibility of Church leaders (is) to safeguard the faith handed down,” in other words, tradition. One source for him is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (15:3). Paul writes:
“I handed on to you what I received, that Christ died for our sins and rose on the
third day, that he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve.”
I’m sure we’re all clear here that what Paul was handing down was not quite the whole truth. To hand down a tradition that excludes the first person who saw the risen Jesus, who is, of course, Mary of Magdala, speaks volumes about flaws in Paul’s teaching as well as the exclusion of women’s voices from the start of the enterprise that came to be known as the Church.
Ask yourself the question, “Did we get Jesus’ whole teaching and message of freedom by excluding women’s voices, the very women who stood by the cross while the Twelve, save one, were hidden away?” I think not.
Rausch also writes about the fact that the organization of the church followed the pattern of male heads of the family, so that became the way to structure itself. That being the case, do we really need to ask the question, “Why is a 2nd century structure still hanging around in 21st century societies whose household structures of leadership have evolved?” I think not.
Thirdly, Rausch writes about presiding at the Eucharist. He points out that these same heads of households likely presided at Eucharist. Individuals identified as Prophet and Teacher certainly presided as documented in the Didache from the late 1st century. Yet Rausch writes the Bishop presided at the Eucharist for the first 3 centuries without reminding us and himself that others presided as well.
Given this wide variety of all who handed down the tradition we have to ask this next question, “Would Jesus really be lost to the ages if not for the bishops guarding the apostolic faith?” I think not.
You see, when one has a bias for the institution one believes in and perpetuates human made structures that have way outlived their function, let alone their legitimacy. The Orthodox theologian, Miroslav Volf, in his book, “After Our Likeness” writes about the community gathered in faith in the Trinity of God. He answers the question about Jesus and the ages by saying when it comes to forming community – forming an ecclesiology, if you will – it takes greater trust in the Holy Spirit.
All of which gets us to this. (Here an insert picture from the Order of Service was placed. It showed in print: “Mark – Jesus on the Move” and included a seat belt about to be clicked in place. The graphic can be seen in the pdf for today’s Order of Service. Go to https://maryofmagdala-mke.org and click the tab “Services/Homilies” then 2021.)
Clearly the Gospel of Mark is about Jesus on the move. When you read all 16 chapters in one sitting (it being the shortest of the 4 Gospels) you realize that the carpenter’s son has much to say and is always moving forward as he says it. I believe Jesus had interest in gathering people together but no interest in forming an institution. Maybe the message of Jesus would have spread more quickly and widely if the Twelve had kept on moving and not settled down. What would this movement have developed into if Peter had only made a stopover in Rome? If life for the Twelve had been more about moving on with Jesus’ message perhaps Jesus’ love would be recognized today as forever moving forward, not looking backward and certainly not about preserving an institution.
Rausch’s book speculates on what the 3rd millennium could look like when all the branches of Christianity gather in unity. It seems to me the difficulty with what he writes is his bias that remains in favor of a capital “C” Catholic Church, when what we actually need is a small “c” catholic or universal spreading of the Good News. In that universality we find Christian and non-Christian persons alike speaking with authority and casting out demons from humanity and always, always, on the move looking forward.
I think I’ll call this a Road Trip Ecclesiology. I’m pretty sure that the covid related travel limitations have a lot to do with my thoughts here. But, think about this – the great vision of the open road with all the promise of meeting new people and seeing new sights. Take a road trip and get a sense of Jesus travelling to synagogues in and around Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. As we heard in the Gospel reading this morning, his un-motorized road trip involved teaching something new with authority and healing persons whom he had never met but who nevertheless knew who he was.
On the road trip it’s not about holding on to the past. It’s about what’s next and who to dine with tomorrow. The road trip ecclesiology I’m thinking about casts aside the accumulated powers and honorifics of clerical career climbers. This road trip may even make its way to the field hospital in a war zone of which Pope Francis speaks. And if you’re on the road trip long enough you just might experience what Francis also meant when he said all Good Shepherds eventually smell like their sheep.
We will eventually celebrate that 10th Anniversary. I suggest when we do that it be done with a Road Trip Spirit that envisions the 10 yrs. ahead.
A Prayer (JR)
How are we to look forward with hope unless you, O God, are with us?
How are we to believe you are with us unless you reveal yourself to us?
And how are we to love your revelations unless we accept your love for us?
Hear us, answer us as we gather in Your Name. Amen.