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Daring to find ourselves in the company of Jesus

Today in Mark’s gospel, we receive two stories in a format that Mark employs often: a sandwich. This sandwich format intertwines two stories that on the surface seem unrelated, but when you dig in, reveal more similarities of theme and message than one might assume.


I also want to set us up with the acknowledgement that Mark’s depiction of Jesus, throughout the Gospel, is not always a friendly one. The Jesus in Mark’s gospel acts with a great deal of urgency, he openly shows emotions like anger and frustration, and he is direct, sometimes painfully so, to us who are trying to figure him out.


The two stories that our less than gentle Jesus is working through in this passage are also both off putting, confusing, and perhaps unsettling. I name all of that to say that while there is hope to be found here, there is also a fair amount of discomfort to root through today.


The bread piece of the sandwich—that which opens and closes our text— has to do with Jesus’ family. His family who, seeing his recent behavior of healing, casting out demons, teaching, standing up to authority, believe that he has gone a little wild, a little out of his mind. They are seeking to restrain or contain this behavior of his, for fear of what others may think or do.


At the end of the text, Jesus’ mother and brothers are standing outside the place where he is teaching and healing. The crowd tells him that his family is looking for them, and in response, Jesus remains focused on those around him and names that his family is right there in front of him, his family is those who would do the will of God.

Admittedly, in a time where family divisions over faith and beliefs and any other number of things seems to be at an all time high, this is a hard message to hear from the mouth of Jesus. Why would Jesus turn away from his family, which at the time was the crucial unit of economic and societal importance?


To understand some of this, we may need to understand that the people Jesus says this to—the people whom he names as his family—were likely those who had given up much to follow Jesus, those who turned to Jesus for healing when they could find it nowhere else, those who were on the margins of society, outcasts whom others believed he probably shouldn’t be teaching, healing, and consorting. We also may need to understand the most likely place that we might see ourselves in this story.


I wonder, if you walked into this church today feeling safe enough to be here, safe enough to be yourself, without having to wonder if you would be welcome or not welcome based on your identity, who you love, the color of your skin or any other number of things? If you did, I want to encourage you to recognize yourself in the role of Jesus’ family—the ones who think he’s a little nuts for risking all that he does; the ones who maybe want to contain him a bit, limit him. Because, more often than not—and I say this for myself as well—we are often guilty of wanting the radical love of God to cool it a little bit. It is easy for us to become comfortable in our faith, to rest on on doing just enough, to not risk rocking the boat.


The meat of Mark’s sandwich story here was not one that I was going to touch on too much when I first started writing this week. In this story, the religious elite have come all the way from Jerusalem to converse with this Jesus that they have begun to hear about. And the first thing we hear them say about Jesus, is that he is a demon, Beelzebul, and this is why he can cast out other demons.


If you checked your emails from the church this week, you may have watched a video from me about an incident that occurred to our church neighbors at Good Shepherd Lutheran this past week. Since Mother’s Day, they have had a message up on their sign, not dissimilar from our sign, that reads “God loves you, just the way SHE made you.” At some point this week, the sign was vandalized—someone wrote —Screwtape, as if to say that Screwtape, the demon character from C.S. Lewis’ book the Screwtape Letters, had penned such a statement that would highlight the feminine aspects of God.

You may know that Good Shepherd, like Trinity, employs a female priest in charge, that both both of our communities express support and care for the LGBTQ+ community, and that both of those things are a rarity in our area. To see this message of hate, and an association with the satanic or the demonic, spring from an expression of the hopeful, multifaceted identity of God is troubling and hurtful.


But, as Pastor of Good Shepherd, Sarah Semmler Smith reflected this week— those who were scared, who feared risk, who felt threatened by how expansive God’s love is, also called Jesus a demon. To be in the company of Jesus, seems like okay company to keep…


So what do these stories have to do with one another? As you may know, last Saturday, Trinity had a table up at the Keweenaw area’s second Pridefest. While I was there, I was struck by the incredible sense of community, welcome, and family that radiated from the event. And—as a straight woman, representing the church, an institution that has caused deep hurt within the LGBTQ+ community without always owning up to it— my presence at this event it was not about getting more members or convincing people to come to our church. I was on the outside, stepping back to center the joy of those who need a time to feel safe and seen, witnessing the found family, the healing, and celebration. And in many ways my purpose was to protect this joy and celebration. I hope the few from our congregation who stopped by, or were there, felt some piece of that as well.


Both of these stories provide us with an invitation to act out of love. If you answered yes to that question earlier about “do you feel safe coming here”, I hope you will see this invitation to move to the outside as a part of our calling in the world—to lift up those whom the world likes to cast aside, to participate in God’s work of justice, often by just showing up, welcoming people exactly as they are, even when it feels a little risky to you. These stories also have to do with the risk that our faith truly asks of us. I don’t think there has been a person in history who has said that following Jesus is easy, and if they have, I wonder how deeply they are allowing God’s transformative, radical love to truly take root. There is hope in risk—hope and faith that we do not rely solely on ourselves. Hope and trust that the Spirit will accompany us through the things that are hard, or scary or risky.


Our collect or opening prayer this morning asks God: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may DO THEM. So, I encourage you, risk. Risk responding and acting, rather than just thinking or meditating on God’ call. Risk discomfort. Risk relationship that would draw you closer to God. Risk centering those who have been hurt or harmed. Risk what others will think or say about you if you do. Risk being called out for the radical ways that you show God’s love—Jesus did it, so you’ll be in good company if you do.

 

 

 

 

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