O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
In the + Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Because Wednesday was the Fourth of July, I thought I'd look back to the founding of our country. At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin is alleged to have said, "We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
It was a desperate time, and the fledgling United States was risking everything on the states uniting behind a common cause - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The signers themselves were risking the punishment for treason by declaring independence from England's colonial power.
Not being an historian, I wonder whether it was idealism, the pressure of outside circumstance, or simply the realization that everyone was needed that led to focussing on the common good and the need for interdependence and inter-reliability.
Something similar happened in Israel at the time of David, as we heard in the first reading: all the tribes of Israel came to David and said "Look, we are your bone and your flesh.
"The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be the shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel...
"So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel."
David made a covenant – a sacred promise that binds each party together, each committed to the other - with the people of Israel, and they anointed him. He promised to be their king, protect them and keep them; in return, they accepted his rule and anointed him as their consent to be governed by him.
A nice story. One that dovetails with our own story in this country: “no rule without the consent of the governed”. We could leave things there and be content.
But we can’t.
Enter Paul, like a thorn in our side, to keep us honest and to keep us focused on who we are, what it means to be a community, and, of all things, not to acknowledge our strengths, but our weaknesses.
He writes: “But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
2,000 years after Paul wrote them, his words are directed to us. We hear them and think “What?”
But here’s the thing: if we look at the gospel passage, Jesus sends the disciples out two by two. “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”
In other words, we don’t need a lot of resources. In fact, sometimes they just get in the way. Martin Smith, author and former member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, told me about his first day at St. Christopher’s Hospice in England as a seminarian. He told me of the Matron’s instructions to him on his first day: “Mr. Smith, behind that curtain is Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is dying. Go sit with him and keep him company.”
Martin had nothing but whatever experience he had at the time and an open heart. He went. And sat. And kept faith with a dying man he’d never met before in one of the most intimate moments of anyone’s life.
All of this points to a way of being. From King David, the way of being is covenantal – each party making a sacred commitment to the other. From this part of St. Paul’s writing, being means relying on God’s grace and being able to admit one’s weakness, not as a defect, but as a strength. Jesus sends us out, two by two, just as we are, with only a few basic essentials.
We are sufficient in who we are: in our strength and in our weakness; called by God, and beloved of Christ, each of us is capable and worthy of love. Each of us can feel hurt, overlooked, not wanted, fragile, or ashamed.
But each of us can love, support, befriend, accompany, and provide hope for another.
It is into this fellowship of authenticity that we are called, my sisters and brothers; into this community that relies and depends on each other that makes us a vibrant community of faith and that serves as an example and an inspiration to the world.
The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist’s chapter on Life in Community states that “We are given to one another by Christ and he calls us to accept one another as we are. By abiding in him we can unite in a mutual love that goes deeper than personal attraction. Mutual acceptance and love call us to value our differences of background, temperament, gifts, personality and style. Only when we recognize them as sources of vitality are we able to let go of competitiveness and jealousy.”
What would it take, beloved of God, for each of us to take one step toward abiding in Christ and strengthening the bond that connects us to each other?
What are you willing to risk to go deeper? What strength or vulnerability would you share with Christ – and through Christ, be willing to move more fully into being ‘united to one another with pure affection’, as the Collect puts it?
St. Peter’s is many things to many people. At our core, we are centered in the person of Jesus Christ. As the Israelites centered around King David, as the Signers of the Declaration put the common good above self-interest, as Paul lived into God’s grace, as Jesus sent the disciples as they were, so can we, in our time, open our hearts to God and to each other. And accept our selves and each other for who we are in mutual appreciation and in mutual love.
That door is open. I am ready to go through it with you as your priest. Will you go through it with me and with each other?
 Collect for 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9
 2 Samuel 5:2b-3.
 2 Cor 12:9-10.
 Mark 6:8-9.
 SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 5, “The Challenges of Life in Community”.
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