Well, this is pretty exciting. We are going back to IRL church this morning—a lot of us anyway. Some will stick with couch church for a while, some will worship outside, some inside, it’ll be like having campuses. It’s going to be great—and also complicated and maybe even a little bit stressful. The main thing, as we’ve contemplated this eventuality for a whole week but really three whole months is that it’s not really fun, it doesn’t really feel like church if anyone is missing. We want to all be together in one way or another. That’s one of the main things about it.
Which is a main thing for the Christian life in general—the desire to be all together in one place, to always return back to that singular moment on the day of Pentecost, or even all the way farther back to the garden itself before cancel culture became the essential human experience. Not being split apart, not having to go away from one another because of circumstances or jobs or illness or, worst of all, death is the heart of the church. Somehow being with Jesus is also about being with everyone in the church—everyone. Except really never everyone, not until Jesus returns.
Christians, in other words, aren’t in the business of cancelling each other. My children keep hearing this word, “cancel,” and I’ve had a hard time explaining it. It’s when you’ve done something wicked, basically, or someone discovered some past indiscretion, or you have said the wrong thing according to the virtues of the moment, and you can’t be forgiven, and on the internet, there is a hue and cry. You are “cancelled.” Perhaps you will lose your job. And you might be kicked off of twitter. And many many people will have nothing to do with you anymore. It’s such an interesting thing to have happen to so many, especially after several decades of “inclusion” and “diversity” being upheld as the highest goods.
Cancelling does get right to the nub of the issue, though. Wicked bad things ought not to be tolerated. Also, wicked bad things do happen. And they come out of the insides of people, though we would like very hard to explain the bad things away by the systems those bad things destroy. Adam and Eve, given the opportunity, did their wicked deed. They rejected their creator, their God, the source of their life. They “cancelled” him. For their own good and eternal safety, God expelled from the garden, clothing them, going with them, preparing a way for them to be restored to him and to themselves
But we don’t generally see it that way. From that first ugly sinful moment, the prevailing human narrative became that God had “cancelled” his creatures, when in truth it was the other way around. From then on, who is cancelling who is thrown back and forth across the internet and the cosmos. God doesn’t desire to cancel anyone, if they would only turn to him and be accepted as they really are—sinful, dependent, needy, hopeless.
In the Gospel this morning, Jesus looks out at the whole crowd and has compassion on them, for they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” Which is a curious state for them to be in, as the very Shepherd of the Sheep, the person to whom they owe their own lives is standing right there. The crowd looks around and is unwilling and unable to see the hope in the flesh before their eyes, nor even to see the wickedness that lies within.
This is the moment Jesus calls the twelve in a formal way, drawing them out of the crowd, choosing them, equipping them, making them the principle sheep who will eventually become under shepherds. He gives them authority to cast out demons, to heal the sick, to preach the word. Their names are there, though one of them will betray him. And they are given instructions for how they are to go out and rescue some, to call sheep and attach them to a flock that transcends space and time, a pasture that this morning so many of us are toddling off to enjoy.
When the twelve go out, however, they will be cancelled with the same fury that their Shepherd, their God, is always cancelled. They will offer peace, and a lot of the time, Jesus warns them, that peace will be thrown back at them with a vengeance. At which point they should pick up their bags and go on to the next place, travelling farther and farther out until all the world has heard the Good News. It’s such good news most people will not want to hear it and certainly will not accept it.
It takes supernatural aid to get over the compulsion first to cancel God, and then to cancel all the rest of one’s fellow creatures. The only person none of us is willing to cancel is ourselves. And so we are divided from each other, isolated, tearing the world apart in every kind of way. I’ve been listening to a short excerpt of a book about Facebook (I don’t think I will bother with the whole thing). It’s quite glowing in its praise for the company and for Mark Zuckerberg’s vision to “bring the world together,” to “connect everyone.” But it was written in 2010. Perhaps if we had skipped this year some people might have believed in this human endeavour, good as it might be. But 2020 is the year when all of human sin is gathered up and displayed mainly by means of social media. It is the way that people are cancelled. The wickedness of human desires is right there, in real life, and on the screen, and humanity recoils from having to see it, trying to shield the eyes of the heart from enduring any such sin.
No, the only one who can stop it is God, which he does by grabbing particular sheep out of the melee, making them live, cancelling the cancel, joining the flock so completely to himself as the church that they can never be rent asunder. He does this by the power of his own blood which he shed. Indeed, the cross is the most iconic and bitter picture of humanity’s desperate attempt to cancel God that I can think of. And yet it was the means by which God himself makes it possible for us to rejoin the land of the living.
If you’ve been cancelled, come to church. The church can’t cancel you. We’re not allowed to, for one, and on the other hand, we don’t want to. You are just like all of us—sheep needing a shepherd, wicked people needing forgiveness, hopeless people basking in the light of God’s transforming, redeeming acceptance. If you join us, no earthly or spiritual power can snatch you out of the Almighty Grip that binds us together.
See you in church!