Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark is a remarkable story. The crowds are swarming Jesus. They rush throughout the countryside bringing the sick on mats to wherever they hear Jesus is going to be. They lay the sick in the marketplaces, and beg Jesus that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak. And all who touch it are healed!
As remarkable as all this is, that isn’t what actually caught my imagination.
The thing that jumped out at me about this story is hardly noticeable at all–it’s seven unremarkable words: “When they got out of the boat.” I know that’s what people do when they get to their destination—they get out of the boat. However, that seems to be something that isn’t always obvious for the church.
The Wind of God has blown us to very interesting shores in the 21st century–the shores of post-modernism and post-Christendom:
- a growing number of people identify as “nones” (people with no religious affiliation)
- and maybe even more significant: a growing number of people who grew up and served in churches are becoming “dones” (i.e., they’re done with church–done with focusing on buildings, budgets, and body counts)
So, here we are on these strange new shores … and we’re not sure we’re ready to get out of the boat.
In fact, we might even have tricked ourselves into thinking it’s all about the boat:
- let’s stay in the boat
- let’s focus on fixing the boat
- let’s do everything in the boat
- let’s try to convince everyone else that all the important stuff happens in the boat
Getting the Question Right
Churches are spending a lot of time these days on mission statements. I think that’s a good thing. But Jürgen Moltmann reminds us that the question isn’t, “Does the church have a mission?” The question is,
“Does God’s mission have a church?”
Leonard Sweet says it’s time for churches to rediscover the missionary position, a posture that “forces us to look at the world eye-to-eye and face-to-face without turning our backs.” Or as he says, a GOOD church is a Get Out Of Doors church (or perhaps for the sake of our lesson, a Get Out Of The Boat church).
So, let’s embrace God’s mission. And let’s remember that it’s not simply the act of getting outside of a church building that creates a mission-shaped church.
A church shaped by God’s mission needs to start with its own conversion. We no longer celebrate our ability to change others or “grace” them with our presence. Instead, we celebrate what God is doing—-not only in others, but also IN US THROUGH others.
As long as we stay preoccupied with “helping others,” we will not raise the uncomfortable questions about ourselves. As long as we continue to celebrate our own “generosity,” nothing can really challenge our poverty of spirit.