Living Epistle

Sean McMahon

July 22, 2018

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Edgartown, MA.

My name is Sean McMahon. I am a musician – a songwriter, a singer, a composer, a guitar player. This vocation found me relatively early in life. My first performance was at the 8th grade talent show. I sang “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a rock ballad about the garish commodification – the “Californication” — of human life in our new global pop culture. I was told that I had to censor the namesake lyric — I didn’t know why until the Vice Principal explained to me what “fornication” was. 

Well, I didn’t know anything about that until she told me! But now the song’s poetry made sense to me. Now I couldn’t censor it. And come performance day, I didn’t! 

Thusly, I experienced my first taste of martyrdom. I stood up for something I believed in, and was promptly suspended for it. I experienced the shame of punishment coupled with the pride of justification, seasoned with the glory I got from my supportive peers. It felt good to do what I felt was right, and because I loved the song, and believed in the message of the song, that it was good for my community — I felt fulfilled in a way I never had before. Not the most immodest of beginnings — nonetheless, that was the beginning of my musical vocation. 

I’m thirty now. I was around twenty year old when I found Jesus. Out of all of the world religious texts and philosophies that interested me at the time, I actually found him in the Torah, when I decided to learn the source material of my Jewish roots. In Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, Hosea, and Ezekiel I saw a powerful, premonitional portrait of a figure I’d only yet met in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Somewhere along the line, I got my hands on the New Testament, and with wonder, began to struggle with the Jesus Christ whom I found therein.

While music found me, I think I found Jesus. 

If He had found me, maybe my entire journey of faith would have been less of a labyrinth, more clean cut. But to date, I’m still shocked he welcomes me at his table, though I am so unworthy of him. 

If only you all knew!

There is a verse in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas that says: “He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds; and when he finds he will be troubled, and when he is troubled he will be amazed, and he will reign over the All.”

    Troubled. I’d say that I spent the first few years of my Jesus journey being troubled. Because, when we encounter Jesus, he is not passive with us. He makes demands on us. And I feared I fell very short of his call, which is a vocation unto itself. And what was I to do with the vocation which I already had? There’s a myth in our culture that when Jesus enters our lives, everything is sugar, smiles, and sun. It’s not like that — it’s more like what Jesus said: “He who would gain his life will lose it.”

Amazed. Well, I am only now entering into a phase of my life where I am amazed. Because somewhere along the line, I surrendered my struggle with this Jesus: I made a decision to submit all that I am to his call and commandments. And doing that requires a lot of creativity, a lot of listening and discernment, a lot of willingness to be confused until clarity comes. Because God gives commandments, yes, but the Spirit merely makes suggestions – sometimes obvious, but usually, near silent. I’m learning that this whole thing is so simple, but where it’s most simple it gets the most humbling — because simplicity is not easy. 

Reign? Maybe I’ll reign one day, whatever that means. Now, the Gospel of Thomas isn’t considered the most kosher or canonical of scriptures. If nothing else, think of the aforementioned quote like a good line from a book or movie, rather than “Holy Scripture”. Nonetheless, I believe its sentiment concurs with that of the Sermon on the Mount, that “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” A reign of the meek rather than the tyrannical sounds like a blessed promise to me.

    I really believe in these promises. I am Jewish by birth. What always amazed me, growing up, was how fantastical the stories of the Jews are — and how manifestly false they must be, if not for the arresting fact that we are still around, observing the holidays, re-telling the story, and writing new ones. We are taught by our elders and pass on to our children that we are a peculiar people because God formed us into one with His own hands.

Having come to believe that Jesus Christ is the inheritor of all the promises of this Jewish story, and that God appointed Him to share those Promises with all people of the World, I find it even more amazing that here we are, Sunday morning, in synchronicity with billions of other Christians in the world, remembering the act of God that formed us into the peculiar people we are. And all we are is the people who live our lives around our belief in this New World of Promise and Freedom that Jesus has inaugurated through His New Covenant.

We believe Jesus, who said to everyone, “The Kingdom Of God is among you.”

    I have been so blessed by these promises. “That we may have life, and more abundantly” — it was from out of the heart of a dear friend and Greek Orthodox priest that came the word of encouragement to move to New York City, “the center of the universe”, to pursue my musical vocation — at a time when I was ready to give up on it — so that I may “Give thanks, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning [me]”; I found peace, welcome, and acceptance and encouragement from the community at Bushwick Abbey in Brooklyn, an Episcopal church that met in the back of a bar where I was in music ministry; it was under this roof here, at St. Andrew’s Edgartown, that I met my future wife and mother of my children at Midnight Mass. 

It is not only Christ who has offered invisible spiritual blessings to us, but his people, the community of the Church, who are commanded to give form to those blessings — within ourselves and toward one another –, and I have myself benefited greatly from the Jesus people, the Church — beyond anything my gratitude could do justice for. That speaks only of my own life — there are many other benefits I and all of us reap that were sown by the Church since her birth two thousand years ago. Too many to list, but important to mention. 

They are weighed in the balance with her sins, which, in this Season of Judgment in our society, are being counted meticulously.

I hope I can be a true Jesus person. That’s my vocation. God is everywhere — the Spirit of God has found me in so many places other than Church — and that’s God’s business. But our business as the Church is to be a living Temple of God. Shame on us if God is not found among us.

Most of the trouble I encountered when I first sought after Jesus was in His churches. Like in middle school, some of my first church experiences pointed out to me offenses that I had not known to be offensive. Sometimes, I found myself towing the line between Martyr for the truth and the Prodigal son. 

The jury’s out.

No single “church” is perfect. But the purpose of our assembling on Sunday is to obey our commandment from God in Christ to remember His New Covenant and proclaim the Good News about the New World thereby ushered in. 

That’s what a Church does — on a Sunday. But that’s not what Church is.

Therefore, since it is Sunday, and we’re already doing the Church on a Sunday thing, I’ll close with my own little proclamation about what the Church is.

We are the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. Christ is the Child of God. God is Love

As St. John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is.”

…That is, if we obey that Golden Commandment God gave us, to love one another as He loved us. If we do that — then, yes, we are the Church; and more than that, we are the Body of Christ; and more than that, we are like Him, the Children of God; and more than that, like Our Father, who is Love. 

From Love to Love. It’s circular. All this — if we Love.

If we love 

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Sunday — and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Where? 

Everywhere. 

    It’s that simple. 

    This is my story —

    This is my song. I hope you enjoyed it. Now go out, and write your own.

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