21st. Sunday - B - 2018 Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-18 Ephesians 5: 21-32 John 6: 60-69.
In San Antonio Texas, is an historical site known as ‘The Alamo’. It was there in 1836 that a small garrison of less than 200 men held off a Mexican army of several thousand for almost two weeks.
That battle has spawned many legends. One such centres around an incident that allegedly took place the night before the final assault. It was then that the commander of the fort, William Travis, called together the defenders. He acknowledged that the fight was lost and that on the to-morrow the garrison would be taken by force and there probably would be no prisoners taken.
Legend has it that Travis took his sword, drew a line in the sand and asked each man who would volunteer to stay to step across that line. The rest were free to go.
One by one, the men crossed over. Next day all were killed. Only a woman with her baby, her Mexican maid and a slave boy survived to tell the story. That was high drama. The whole incident has been immortalised in novels and movies.
To-day in many parishes somewhat similar, thought much less dramatic/ visible, events are played out. The background might be the new priest who dismisses the parish council without consultation; the visiting priest who won’t allow female altar servers; the bishop who makes new laws about who can distribute Holy Communion and the manner in which that can be done; seminarians who must learn Latin and be acquainted with how the Eucharist was celebrated before Vatican Two.
And on it goes, as if we have not suffered enough with the big hits - the pastor who stole money from the church funds; the cover up of the child sexual abuses cases. Sadly those kind of stories come and go. Then just when we think one case is unpacked, the baggage carousel starts again and another one turns up. And it all adds up to a picture of a dysfunctional Catholic church.
Now what has all that got to do with ‘The Alamo' and the incident I have already mentioned? Well I was thinking about the possible reasons why each of those defenders chose to cross the line in the sand and stay. They may have had many reasons, but come the final morning they were there with their companions. They knew there was no way they could win the battle or defend the fort, but they would be true to their ideals.
Do you ever feel like that, especially when people ask why do you stay/ how can you stay in an embarrassed and confused Church? I get those questions quite frequently. And there was a time several decades ago when I didn’t know how to answer. Not to-day. But that question, 'Why do you stay?' came to mind and sharp focus when I read Peter's response to Jesus' question about looking elsewhere for salvation.
Personal experience taught me that I do not have to belong to a church that is primarily modelled on ‘an institution’. That is the one that has grown into a multinational corporation that indeed can rival any other. And it has its own bureaucracy to manage its affairs. I know all about the criticisms of the clergy. And I know that not all can and should be criticised. But so many of us are tangled in the bureaucratic web that complicates our every move. I do not belong to the church of the bureaucrats that puts energy and resources into administration and church politics.
I want to belong to the Church that is the People of God - a Pilgrim Church. That is the church I will step over the line for. It is a church of servant- leadership, where there are ‘William Travises” who will call and invite us to give of our best for the cause of Christ. I do not belong to a church of imposed law. No, the church I want to belong to is the church of prophets.
The church I have come to know is found on the margins. There can be found the small communities that fuel its life. It is a church that is not involved in bureaucracy but is more interested in the Gospel.
That is certainly one reason why I stay.