Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost 2021
1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-29 Psalm 138 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 Mark 3:20-35
A Sunday-school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six-year- old children. After explaining the commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother,” she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill.”
These kids get it! Having a family can be full of frustration and hardship. However, it can also be full of love and support. This is the message of Jesus. Families should support one another, not hinder or undermine.
Sometimes family can be a problem. The narrative starts with the family worried that Jesus “has gone out of his mind.” The authorities decide to add to this critique that Jesus is not out of his mind, but his mind is occupied by Beelzebul – the ruler of demons. So clearly Jesus has no choice but to respond.
Jesus has a twofold response. First, Jesus is confronting the demonic. So how come “Satan can rise up against Satan?” This does not make sense. Second, he gently explains to his family that family is supposed to support family. And in the world of Kingdom, family can evolve. In the end, those who are supporting his ministry are really his family.
On the way, Jesus points out that anyone can be forgiven. Forgiveness is big for Jesus. But be careful in thinking the work of the Holy Spirit, in the presence of Christ, is really from the Devil. That is a major sin, that cannot be forgiven. To imagine love is hate – that is unforgivable.
Family dynamics can be complicated. Just ask any therapist. How does family help us on our faith journey? What happens to us when we get lost? The church year offers us opportunities to refocus and reaffirm our faith. The season after Pentecost is not actually a season with a single common focus, but is simply the weeks between the Day of Pentecost and the First Sunday of Advent. These Sundays are sometimes called “Green Sundays” or “ordinary time.”
Joan Chittister says that “ordinary time translates the life of Jesus into the very marrow of life itself.” These weeks hold the slower pace and peaceful quality of the summer months and the quicker pace and flurry of activity of the early fall. These are our “ordinary” days in which we live the Christian faith in our daily lives. Nora Gallagher says, “In Ordinary Time we are in our lives living out the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.” Living out the gift of the Holy Spirit….
Things are not always what they seem. Paul continues his defense of his ministry started earlier in the chapter. He strives to underscore the connection between speech and belief. Paul roots his argument in an ongoing conversation with Scripture. The living conversation with the stories of creation and with the Psalms fuel his argument and strengthens its effect.
Paul can sometimes be far off the mark. And yet, we listen. We listen because we are bound in community to do so, but also because we have found that what the community has promised can and does happen. There is wisdom and insight and passion and spirit here, and he speaks to us after all, when we eavesdrop on him speaking to others.
Paul believes something – something not seen by everyone, but something that compels him to proclaim it. Here in verse 13, he quotes from Psalm 115:1a: “I believed and so I spoke.” To which Paul adds, probably embracing his coworkers: “we also believe, and so we speak” – a reference to speaking the gospel. Paul doesn’t preach on the basis of success or glory, but is rather urged by the “Spirit of faith.” He is clear that the faith given requires oral confession, and it also requires proclamation.
In this passage, Paul suggests that amidst the troubles of life and ministry, we can take comfort that a resurrected Christ lives in us – lives in us. Out in the world, when we ask people of faith “Where is God?”, we get different answers. Hindus and Buddhists in the East, typically point to their hearts while Jews, Christians and Muslims in the West point outside of ourselves to the heavens. This brings to our consideration – where do we believe we find the intersection of our lives and God. We find comfort in Paul’s words that our inner nature is being renewed. This renewal will draw to a close when we die – when our earthly tent has been destroyed.
We know that we all will die – that in time everything human will crumble and perish, whether it is a city, a home, or even our own lives. In the face of our death, and struggles in life and ministry, Paul steers us to the hope found in “eternal” things. What does he mean? Like an inner nature grounded in the resurrected Christ, there also exists divinity “outside of us,” another reality to restore us – one that is not easily seen. To the question, “Where is God?” Paul might have first pointed to his heart, and then with the other hand to the world and the stars above. Paul’s teachings tell us that God’s presence and triumph are both internal and external – as the resurrected Christ renews us from the inside out, but also as God continues to birth in our midst, and before our very eyes, a new heaven and a new earth.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus takes seriously the realities of Satan and other demonic powers, including Beelzebub, whose name means “lord of the flies.” Did Jesus believe that a personality named Satan actually existed? He likely did, and that presents a challenge to us. Satan does not necessarily mean a personality with horns and a red tail, but it does name a demonic power that is actively engaged against the compassionate and reconciling love of God. This is the reality that Jesus names here, and whether we believe in a person named “Satan” is not as important as knowing of our vulnerability to the powers of evil, our awareness of those things that continue to pull us away from God.
Why are we so spun-in when tragedy strikes? Is it that we have given “Satan” a foothold into our lives? Is it a lack of faith that God is in control? Is it anger at our own humanity? Most of us approach the world with some core assumptions gained from our own experiences. Do we not think about where God is in the midst of all that is going on? The people saw God in Jesus’ actions. Perhaps some can see Jesus in our actions. Perhaps, our stopping in the busyness of our day to listen to someone’s pain - to touch a shoulder or embrace their fears – they may see Christ in us. Some folks may see us as “Jesus with skin on.” That means that we continue to be the hands and heart and feet of Jesus. We can’t do the miracles Jesus did, but we can be present to tell them about God’s open arms of love for them. We can remind them of the joy of the Easter resurrection that is there for all of us. We can share our faith with them in placing their grief, doubt, pain and hurt on our shoulders to ease their load.
It is not about us, but about the grace of God, the compassion of God. Grace is defined as any undeserved gift or help freely and lovingly provided by God. Grace is God pursuing us. Grace and mercy are frequently used together in scripture. David Jeremiah says that “mercy is God withholding what we deserve and grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve.” Jesus connected to so many people in compassionate ways. That is our example!
One of the most basic and powerful ways to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention, our time, and especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they are saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it. When we hear someone’s story, we realize our connection. We are all one story - the story of the family of God.
God speaks to us in a language we can understand. At the same time, the mystery and compassion of God continue to be beyond our understanding. But we can stand firm in knowing that God wants to be in relationship with us. God is pursuing us. That we experience God’s grace every day, even when we forget to use our gifts for the glory of God. God’s compassion is present. God’s grace is present…God’s love carries us.
When we worship, we respond to grace. We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God, to feel God’s compassion and let God look back at us. And to laugh, and sing, and be delighted because God has called us God’s beloved. Jesus has given our lives back to us – lives full of hope and healing. Thanks be to God. Amen.