When we reach the month of June the changes around us are so very obvious. We become more socially active (I dislike the word “busy”) as the ubiquitous pressures of the summer season begin to shape, mould and fill up our calendars. The weather becomes warmer, if not today drier, and there is a distinct cultural shift away from the preparatory season of spring and into the ways and whims of summer.
The church is now dressed in green, the color of growth, and there is a distinct change in the tone and type of Gospel story read on each Sunday morning this season. Gone, behind us are the rigorous encouragements of Lent, the powerful dramas of Holy Week and Easter, and the figurative and theological statements expressed at Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.
For we have now entered what is called “Ordinary Time” (and there’s a misnomer if ever there was one) and different themes are called for.
Over the next weeks and months we will return to the events of Jesus’ ministry, his journeys, actions, teaching and preaching. It is as if we will be rediscovering the vitality of these events, as we hear the narratives and parables once more.
Today’s Gospel is a perfect example. The healing of the widow’s son in Nain – a story that draws deeply on the Hebrew tale of Elijah doing the same thing in Zarephath.
And it is a moving story, filled as it is with human despair and sorrow, yet eventual joy and celebration. A faith journey in miniature, yet not without its shadows for those who have lost sons and daughters.
But is it not the detail of the story that I wish to present today, but rather its place within (what will be) a series of Gospel stories which we will read and hear over the coming season. We may call it the season of “Jesus on the Road!” And we will follow that road as told in Luke’s Gospel.
Next week we will hear of the dinner party at which Jesus feet are anointed, and where we are given the parable of the forgiving creditor.
The following week Jesus drives out demons in a different neighborhood, and a herd of swine rush to their death in the lake. (I’ve never met a farmer who likes that story.)
At the end of June there’s a series of short sayings of Jesus, and that brings us to Independence Day Weekend, beyond which I cannot see clearly right now.
The first we hear in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus doing anything that could possibly be described as traditionally religious is in a Gospel reading about prayer, at the end of July, and the first time we hear of Jesus attending formal worship is at the end of August – and that’s after the House Tour and I certainly can’t see beyond that at the moment!
My point is this: These are rich stories, deep stories, busy narratives, and contain much of the core of Jesus’ kingdom teaching – but they all take place out of doors or in people’s homes, and nowhere near synagogues, the Temple or the clergy of the day.
This doesn’t sit comfortably with what many people think and believe about life as a church, a parish. So much of what we do, think and pray is focused within these walls. And that’s not a negative criticism, for we all love St. Ann’s and our traditions and our buildings – it’s simple and good human nature to develop such attachments. But the reality is that most people are not in here this morning – they are out there!
That is why Jesus did what he did. He spent the vast majority of his time among the people, on their streets, in their boats, on the beaches, on the hillsides and in their homes. And it’s significant that when he did attend community worship or went to the Temple he got himself into serious trouble!
In her poem Consulting Summer’s Clock Emily Dickinson wrote:
Consulting summer's clock,
But half the hours remain.
I ascertain it with a shock --
I shall not look again.
The second half of joy
Is shorter than the first.
The truth I do not dare to know
I muffle with a jest.
Summer will indeed pass as quickly as ever, but there are so many opportunities ahead of us before the flags are put away in September. Opportunities to do the work of God. To take what we have in here – and do it out there! Take the ways and works of the Kingdom to where people are, rather than always expecting them to come to us.
And doing that work may be as close as the very next conversation we have with a complete stranger.