Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Year B Proper 8 2021 "What do you hear?"

 Year B Proper 8 WEDNESDAY, 30 June 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (Live and Online)

“What do you hear?”

Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Acts 8:14-25

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness." Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me." Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.

Luke 23:1-12

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place." When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

We hear what we want to hear, not necessarily what is said. One big challenge in communication is expressing things in multiple ways, yet consistently, so that the message can be received and what you want said to be heard.

Today’s New Testament and Gospel readings create an interesting dichotomy on people receiving and not receiving the message.

We see in the Acts reading, there is now a burgeoning community of believers in Samaria, the mixed blood region that most good Israelites ignored, distrusted, and rejected. But they were hearing and receiving the Gospel. They wanted to hear the Good News, and they did! And Peter and John went to lay hands on them so they could fully enter the faith by receiving the Holy Spirit. That was the proof in the pudding for the early church. The change was so impressive, the charlatan Simon thought it was a gimmick or trick that he could obtain. He offered to pay Peter and John for the gnosis, the hidden knowledge, so he could do this stunt, too! What a money maker that would be. But they rebuked him, so much so that he requested their prayers for deliverance from the curse they had made. He not only heard the message, he wanted it in his life fully, we have to hope.

The Gospel reading, though, is a painful exercise in missing the point. The Sannhedrin’s accusation against Jesus had them drag him to Pontius Pilate, the 5th Roman Governor of the province of Judea. Appeasing the crowd he heard them out, questioned Jesus, and found no grounds for their displeasure. But when he heard that he was from Galilee, he could pass the buck to Herod, so he would not have to continue with this. If he is Galilean, let Herod deal with it. That is his province, not mine. Herod was actually pleased. He had heard of Jesus, and was looking forward to the show. He may even be able to see a sign, like he had heard tell of. Jesus said nothing, so Herod played to the crowd and gave them what they wanted. His soldiers mocked and beat Jesus, and then sent him back to Pilate. Luke even says that this situation made them friends again, in seeing how they dealt with this problematic preacher.

The Roman officials spoke in power, using and abusing it. They expected a similar response. The Samaritans wanted Good News, and found that. Even Simon, mishearing the message eventually did, we can assume.

I try so very hard to hear what is being said, not hearing what I want to hear. But that is so hard. I am like most people, putting people in categories and assuming the actions and statements they will make. It is so hard to break free from that. It means I have to assume that people are being honest, and that I need to give them the benefit of the doubt. It means I have to listen without biases or pre-draw any conclusions.

Listen to how you listen. Observe what you are observing. Kick in that meta-cognitive, and look harder at yourself as a listener than the one trying to communicate with you. Think how the story would have been different if Pilate had taken the time to listen to Jesus. 


Now think of the situations we face. Centuries long systemic racism. A country divided against itself, almost at a 50/50 split with the way our system works. A world driven by fear still in the grips of COVID-19. Even more fear piled on with the Delta variant. We need to listen with God-blessed ears more than ever. We need to live God-blessed lives so that we can expand a God-blessed kingdom for the health and security of all God’s children. Amen.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Year B Proper 8 2021 Tangible

 Year B Proper 8, 27 June 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA, Live and Online


Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

What’s the point of touching something? What’s the point of feeling it with our own hands? Mentally it may not be much. We tell children in museums, “Don’t Touch!” or better yet, “We touch only with our eyes.” But even from our earliest days, we touch things to make them more real. Just to be sure. We snuggle into our moms on their lap. We hold our grandparents’ hands. We kiss. We hug. It is much more than a physical thing, it is spiritual, too.

I am always fascinated by this story from today’s Gospel and its dichotomies. A rich family who is “deserving” of a healing for their rapidly declining daughter urges Jesus to come as fast as he can, and he is delayed by a woman, a destitute, unclean woman at that, who does not even want his attention, just contact with this healer. A young girl versus a woman who has been ritually unclean up to the age of accountability, 12 years.

If you asked the woman what’s in a touch, she would say everything. And it was. Ask Jairus before Jesus arrived and his daughter has just died, he would say the same thing. Rich and Poor, Young or Old, we all need to touch and be touched. We touch just like we breathe. We touch because we are alive.

If you have ever touched a dead body, the coldness tells you something is wrong, but it also clearly shows that the life has gone out of them.

The Gospel used words about touch. Jairus: “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” The hemorrhaging woman: “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” The touch is what makes it real.

When I have had the wonderful opportunity of travel, I am always fascinated by the evidence of touch. Statues, especially religious ones, with shiny tones while the rest of it is patinated, the copper made green over time. The steps of a cathedral curved into a dip through a millennium of pilgrims’ feet.

I remember standing just below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The old ramp to go up to the Temple long since bricked over. But the bedrock stone that led to the door would have once born the feet of Jesus. It was the only spot in Israel that we knew for sure Jesus would have walked upon. One cannot replace or remove the bedrock. It felt different. It felt holy. Jesus had touched it most certainly as he went up to the Temple, and I have stood, and walked, and touched there, too. That common touch gave me a connection that I cannot describe.

The opposite can also be true. We can be in spaces where the pain and sorrow and hate can be tangible. I have stood in Dachau where God’s children were gassed and burned. I have stood in the Cape Coast Slave Castle dungeons where God’s Children lost their freedom and so many their lives. One feels the oppression and heartbreak still.   

What’s in a touch? To love and be loved. To affirm our existence, and to affirm it in others. We are without a doubt, social creatures. I have told you my proof of that before, you cannot tickle yourself. We are born for relationship and interaction, to touch and be touched. To have our existence affirmed, and to let others know we are there for them.

In the modern age we dismiss the importance of touch, and it is to our detriment. Again, the more hi-tech we become, the more hi-touch we must be. Think of it, there are 2 Sacraments of the Episcopal Church (Eucharist and Baptism) and the 5 Sacramental Acts (Confirmation, Reconciliation of the Penitent, Anointing of the sick and dying, Marriage, Holy Orders). Each of these involve touch. 

Feel the bread in your hand before you taste it on your tongue. Feel the water on your head dripping down. Feel the hands of the bishop on your head as you become a full member of the Church. Most of us have experienced those if you are a regular participant. And the others are the same. Hands of blessing assuring forgiveness and restoration. Oil applied to the forehead. The binding of hands with the priest’s stole in blessing after marriage vows. The laying on of hands in ordination and consecration. Amazing. Simple. Real. Made more real in the touch.

The Sacraments are described as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857) They are the touchstones of what is going on inside. Even notice our language. Touchstones.

Friends, as we gather back inside, we rub the grain of the pew. We shake the hand or hug the neck of a friend. We feel the bass of the organ reverberating in our chest. We touch. We make sure it is real. We touch out of love. We touch because we are made to do so. Skin to skin is really heart to heart. One of the first acts on this earth is to take a newborn and place it on the mother’s chest, and the bonding begins.

How we touch the person of others is how we touch the lives of others. I have had a few people this week stop in at church, and before they left they asked for a hug. Ministry made real. Ministry made real in the touch.

As the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread into the Mediterranean world, it left the home of its birth. An odd, monotheistic faith of a backward and misunderstood minor people in the corner of the Roman Empire. Philosophically, they understood the Body and what we think of as the Soul as united. They were inseparable while living. They even had parties who would argue that there is no afterlife without a body, and others the opposite. (Pharisees = Afterlife, Sadducees = Nothing After) But as the faith ventured out amongst those heavily influenced by Greek philosophy where they separated the Body from the Mind or Spirit or Soul, those ideas began to creep in. And we see that competition throughout the New Testament. Notice the language especially around the idea of heaven being populated with Resurrected Bodies. Physical Bodies being restored to go along with the Spiritual Reality, whatever that may be. That is why it was so important that Jesus ate fish with the disciples along the seashore, why he broke bread with the two on the road to Emmaus, why he urged Thomas to touch the holes in his hands and place his hand in Jesus’ side. He was physically resurrected. And most had to touch him to know he was real.

After COVID, we find ourselves in a world that is once again waiting for Resurrection. We find ourselves in a world touching things to make sure they are real. We find ourselves shaking and holding hands a little bit longer. That is okay. It is natural.

There are many who are not yet at the point of letting things be tangible. They are not ready to touch. That is okay. It is hard to throw things in reverse after 16 months of doing the opposite.

How can we make our ministry tangible? How can we show our love of God and all God’s children in physical, tangible ways? The Free Clinic downstairs has been accomplishing that coming on fifteen years. The new Food Pantry that Flory built is a tangible way that those in need can get what they need. If you want to contribute, just drop it off at the church. The Food Pantry ministry and the backpacks are all tangible ministries showing our love, of God and neighbor. Our children's’ ministries, our youth group, our 4th Quarter, as we get all these resumed and back off the ground, they show our touch. We are calling folks who can touch lives in this way to help us now. All of these ministries show our love.

You know what to do. You know how to touch, safely, responsibly, and lovingly. Your ministry may be taking care of a neighbor whose need only you know. It may be writing a note or driving someone to a doctor’s appointment. It may be mowing a lawn or taking out trash. However you do it, whatever you do, make your love visible and tangible. Make your love real. Touch a life, touch a heart, touch. There is healing in a touch. Probably not a cure, and we all have scars, especially after this last season. And our healing touch is that of Jesus. We are his hands. We are his feet. We are the Body of Christ. Notice our language again. We use the Body metaphor because we are called to Touch the World, to Change the World, in the name and to the honor and glory of Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Year B Proper 7 WED 2021 Eucharist Matters

Year B Proper 7 WEDNESDAY, 23 June 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

"Eucharist Matters"

Luke 22:14-23

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.

After each Lesson the Reader may say

The Word of the Lord.


Thanks be to God.


It is not often that the Eucharist makes headlines. And I am not going into the politics, whether President Biden’s or the Catholic Church’s Bishops, but that a statement on the President’s ability to take communion making headlines shows you just how important this it to us still. The Eucharist is the gift of Christ to his Church, an instruction, a memorial, a salve, a hope.

Even Pope Francis said, “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” 

A Canadian Anglican Priest, @RevDaniel, responded to the headlines this way in a tweet (on Twitter): “I don’t understand ‘withholding communion.’ It’s not a prize for the best performance. It isn’t a gold star for top marks. It’s grace, and we’re not the ones giving it. ‘But what if someone unworthy receives it?’ [you may ask] ‘Uh, that would be everybody.” (from @RevDaniel, June 19, 2021, 4:49 pm)

My take on it is usually to ask, from what we have seen of what Jesus did, what might Jesus do? So, who would Jesus serve? This is what we know…

Jesus served Judas who would betray him.

Jesus served Peter who would deny him.

Jesus served Peter, James, and John who would fall asleep when he asked them to stay up and pray.

Jesus served his closest followers, most of whom abandoned him in his final hours.

I think Jesus would serve anyone who chose to receive. Jesus loves all us sinners, no matter how worthy or not. In fact, who besides Jesus was even worthy to receive. “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future,” Oscar Wilde reminds us. And Jesus echoes that in Mark (2:17): “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Who would Jesus serve? Jesus would serve me. Jesus would serve you. Jesus would serve all who humbly come to receive. Thanks be to God!

The Iona Community gives us this invitation to the Eucharist, and it expresses so much of where God has brought me.

This is the table, not of the church but of Jesus Christ.

It is made ready for those who love him

And who want to love him more.

So come, you who have much faith and you who have little;

You who have been here often

And you who have not been for a long time or ever before;

You who have tried to follow and you who have failed;

Come, not because the Church invites you;

It is Christ, and he invites you to meet him here.

Friends, the last 16 months has shown has hungry the world is for connection, for community, for communion. The Church can be that. Will we?


Our response to that says much of how we see Jesus, how we preach and live Grace, how we see ourselves. Lord be our God and our model. Amen

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Year B Proper 6 2021 By Faith & Not By Sight

 Year B Proper 6, 13 June 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Ashland, VA

“By Faith & Not By Sight”

Collect: Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17

We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

I have shared in sermons that nothing is wasted in the economy of God. I have shared that God takes what we bring, no matter how simple or horrible, and transforms it to his honor and glory. I believe both of those things. Even the most tragic or traumatic can be taken, blessed, broken, and given in new and glorious ways. This does not make it easy or painless, but it does take our suffering and imbue it with meaning.

But today I want to explore another way of thinking on what we do here. Somewhere along the way some have taken to describing faith like it was a commodity, or some special, secret, insider information. “Psst, hey, have you found Jesus?”

But faith is not like that. In our book club this last week, Rachel Held Evans reminded us that, “Scripture does not speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God.”

God is not playing hide and seek; God invites us to see Godself where we are whenever, wherever that is. Like the prayer at the beginning of our service, God is God of all times and all places. The Psalmist penned:

Where can I go from your spirit?

    Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

    and your right hand shall hold me fast. [Psalm 139:7-10]

So if finding God is not the problem, what image might we use for our walking with God?

We have a simple one on our campus, and there is one at Richmond Hill, and there are examples in many of our cathedrals, and in holy sites of other religions around the world. Labyrinths, I find, are one of the great spiritual metaphors for our journey. 

Solvitor ambulando is the Latin phrase meaning it is found in walking. Often when I am at a mental impasse, getting up and moving my body gives me the space I need to gain the true focus I have lost. We may yell, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” And sometimes that is exactly what we need. But walking a labyrinth is not there to arrive, walking a labyrinth is there to drive us inside, physically to the center of the labyrinth, and inside ourselves.

One thing I have always loved about the labyrinth discipline when I have used it is to ask a question as I begin. It may be something I struggle with, it may be a dilemma I am facing. But when I have gained an answer when it is Solvitor amblando, when it is solved in the walking, I have to remind myself that whatever I have received was actually already with me, or God chose to provide it when I paused and took time to ask. Labyrinths, metaphorical and physical, are there to drive us inside.

A well-designed labyrinth begins by skirting the center and then sending you out to bring you back in. Like with beginner’s luck, we are provided with a glimpse of how great it could be to arrive at our destination, and how great it will be if we keep on keeping on. The glimpse of the reward is key. Our spiritual life is often like that. In our Gospel reading we are given that as well. Some seeds spring up quickly, but they do not stay the course. Those that do come to fruition.

St. Paul reminds us that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” And that, “For the love of Christ urges us on.” The intentionality of the labyrinth is what we must trust. We will not be lost, we cannot be led astray.

Once again, from Rachel Held Evans:  “The difference between a labyrinth and a maze is that a labyrinth has no dead ends… [S]ome like to say, we make the road by walking, but I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” RHE, Searching for Sunday, p. 180.

No matter where we begin, no matter how dark the road we have trod, we must trust that God will get us where we need to go. It’s not like the old joke about the city slickers who were in a rush for an event, and saw an old farmer on his porch. In desperation they barreled down the drive and asked the farmer if he had heard of their destination. “Yessim,” he replies. “Can you tell us how to get there?” they ask, pleadingly. After a long pause, the farmer looks up, “Well, the way I reckon it, you cain’t get there from here.”

God’s path for us is not like that. Wherever you start from, “nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.” Romans 8:39

Once, when I was working at a summer camp, we went on a night hike. We had walked up a fire trail around sunset. On the way back it was a moonless night.  I had a younger hiker walking back next to me. I was a bit notorious for not using a flashlight for walking around camp, preferring to let my vision become acclimated to the dark. My flashlight was still in my pocket for this hike as well. The camper kept asking me to use my flashlight, but I reminded him we had just walked this path in the light, and walking it now was no different, except for us seeing everything more clearly. 

We continued on, and it was pitch black. I could barely see the dirt of the fireroad. By this point the camper was getting more and more scared and asked me how I could know which way to go. And that was when I said it was easy. “When I cannot see the road, or where to put my foot, I look up.” And then he did. There was a gap in the trees, and we could see the stars and the Milky Way above us shining down. We might not see the road, but the light from above marked our way to go. The road created a gap that showed us the way, all we had to do was look up.

There are times in our lives when our way is dark, or the direction to go is unknown. I remember that night. I remember the darkness. But I remember that looking up showed me the way. 

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 

“We walk by faith, not by sight.” 

We can say that because we have walked this way before. It is safe. It may spin us out, but it always gets us where we want to go, where we need to be. Labyrinths are the nature of this life, especially our spiritual life. Anything we need, we already have or God will provide. And if you are fearful and not sure of where to place your next step, don’t stare into the darkness. Look up! Amen

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Year B Proper 5 2021 Divisions and Family

 Year B Proper 5, 6 June 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Divisions and Family”

Collect: O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 3:20-35

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

It is so good to be back together. It has been so long. I know I feel like I have aged five years since we moved everything online. It is slowly moving back to normal. [For those reading this or watching online, today we are gathering in-person, inside for the first time since March of 2020.]

In that time the world has changed. We are different. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and admittedly sometimes I did fear evil and a bunch of other things. And the storm may no longer be raging, but it is still with us. Pray for India, and Brazil, and all those places which still are being hammered by this pandemic. Many are still in that Valley of Death.

What has made it worse are the divisions, the working against ourselves. Machiavelli preached that the way to power is to Divide and Conquer. It is as old as Sun Tzu and The Art of War, and was practiced by Philip II of Macedonia, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon. A tactic that is as old as human interaction. We have seen it rear its ugly head lately, too, it breaks my heart to say.

Jesus had folks, his own folks, his very family, attempt to do that, too. Now, giving them the benefit of the doubt, they thought it was for his own good. “He is out of his mind,” they said to themselves. And Scribes tried to shut him down saying he was working for Satan. But Jesus responded to the crowd listening to what he thought of divisions, and those who might distract him from his calling.

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”

Thankfully we have not let those things or people who might divide us do that to us. We are still here, though the forces of division were substantial.

In the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln quoted Jesus here, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This is true whether we are speaking of our nation, our community, or our church. The axiom remains.

In fact, the phrase that is used in the Greek for when his family thought he was crazy was not “He,” being Jesus, “has gone out of his mind.” The phrase used is “He is beside himself.” Divisions can be internal as well. We can set divisions up and wage war with ourselves. Jesus even spoke to that when he said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” While Jesus was talking about seeking money, that idea of divided loyalties remains. We just cannot do it. We call it now the Conflict of Interest.

Jesus is accused of divided loyalties, preaching God and serving Satan. And he shows that that just could not be. It makes no practical or logical sense. But when we are divided in our minds, we hurt our cause and ourselves. Singular focus is so needed, as much then as now.

Getting to this point of re-opening has been a slug. No matter which direction we go, whatever decision has been made, there is a group questioning or opposing it. Our actions were no one’s first choice. But we did the best we could, with the information we had, within the parameters set by those in authority over us whether ecclesial or governmental.

Living in that struggle has been a stealing of focus for many of us, and like I said, being divisive in one’s mind keeps us from doing what needs to be done. A friend of mine made that tension clear in a recent Facebook post. I was already well into my sermon writing when I saw it, but it gives some handles to the issues at hand surprisingly well.

I have had trouble putting the tension I feel in many local churches into words but I think I came to a realization today (and one that many of you have probably come to a long time ago)....

Many see church as an escape from the "real" world and do not want to see that change. Others are pushing the church to speak more deeply into issues happening in the real world. These two realities are pushing on one another and the tension is draining.

[Facebook Post by Mark Snipes, 2 June 2021]

What is church for us? A fueling station?  A hospital? An escape from the outside world? A training school for sacred living? An embassy of the Kingdom of God? How we think of the Church drives how we treat it and one another.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, the Church is not a building. The Ekklesia  is the “called-out-ones,” but even then we have different views of what that means.

I think the Church is all those things I mentioned, and at different times it means different things for each and every one of us. And as we travel through the seasons of our lives, we are birthed, and we learn, and we grow, and we serve, and we eat, and we share, and we heal, and we die. It meets us where we are, and it helps us get to where we need to be. Paul described himself and his ministry like that, almost a vision for where the church can go.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. [I Corinthians 9:19-23]

Jesus, like Paul, was focused on the outcome. The process was called into question. His own family, the Scribes, the Pharisees, and so many questioned what he was doing and what it could lead to eventually. But he knew what his calling and purpose was. Even to the point of redefining what for most of us is our most intimate relationships. 

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

We used words for those who are with us on this journey, for those who are with us in this Church. We are a Church Family. And our family is now scattered. Some are comfortable regathering, some are most definitely not. Some want us to rush back to normal, and others think we are moving too quickly. But wherever we are, here or staying apart, we are still One, One Body in Christ. And eventually we will all be able to regather. Our body has experienced a trauma, and we may have lost some feeling for a while. It will return. It takes time and patience to heal. Like it takes time for a seed to become a plant, there are things taking place, miraculous and magical.

Friends, sisters and brothers in Christ, we will emerge from this past period. We have much to be thankful for, yes even in these times. We celebrate that we can be together. We celebrate that we even are. I thank God that we can begin the process, and may we do so boldly and in faith that God has been with us, and will be, all along the way. Amen.