“ . . . some men are born out their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not.” – W. Sommerset Maugham
As we enter the first weeks after Pentecost we run into this Gospel of Mark theme of Jesus’s identity. He is known to demons, but he is binding them so that he can overthrow the evil powers of the world. But he is a mystery to his own family and his own faith, who think at first that he has either lost his mind or is possessed.
Family in the first century Mediterranean world is the foundation of your identity, your honor or shame, you standing, your wealth, your potential. Jesus negates his relationship with his biological family. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” – Mark 3:33
His answer to that question opens up whole new vistas of identity for us (and for his family too.) “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” – Mark 3:35
Jesus locates his identity with his followers and with everyone who seeks to do the will of God, which he is teaching: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, truth, generosity.
Our identity is relocated when we join Christ in his work. For some this is a struggle because they identify so strongly with their family. For others this is a relief. But for all of us this is a new beginning.
Our honor, our shame, our standing, wealth, our potential are all rooted in our doing the will of God, trusting and following Jesus, embodying the Holy Spirit.
This weekend, as Jean Hawkins and Erin Oney take on new identities in the life of the church, those identities are rooted not in cool collared shirts and red stoles, but in their identity as daughters of God adopted in Christ into the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst.
But they do take on new roles and new relationships with our bishop, me as their rector, and you as their community. This can be a dislocating experience. But it also has this effect of deepening all of our faith.
When we are dislocated, when our position in life changes we have to return to the roots of our identity: we have to return to Christ. That is why you can’t send in a form and be ordained, and it is also why you cannot shortcut grief or preparation for baptism or marriage.
We locate these shifts in church in our most profound ceremonies. We prepare and enter holy time and place as a community under the leadership of a bishop. We encounter the Holy when we realize that our life here has shifted and can shift.
Some people are born, says Maugham, out of their due place and spend their whole life looking for where their nostalgia is from. Rebecca McClain gave me this quote years ago. It hangs over my understanding of what happens in seeking God vocationally and in serving God with our whole lives.
We will only find home when we are in God’s presence and know it. These outward moments of dislocation can remind us that we are always and right now home, if only we will let go of where we think we are and put ourselves in God’s time and place. That is faith, vocation, and finally home.
We are home when we are with the Shepherd, little flock of Christ. And though he is always present, we are not. We must learn always to abide with him who truly leads us.
The Very Rev. Daniel Paul Richards
Christ Church of the Ascension
Paradise Valley, Arizona