First Congregational Church
June 6, 2021
Second Sunday after Pentecost
“The Radical Life”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There was a very wise pastor from Minnesota - after myself, of course - a Rev. Kristin Wee. Sometime before she died five years ago, she wrote “Some of us grew up watching the afternoon television program, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." Others of us may be reluctant to admit that we sat down with our children and watched it too. I think Mr. Rogers exemplified in a gentle way what Jesus wanted to teach us about love and what it means to value each other. When Mr. Rogers changed into his sweater and took off his shoes, it was a biblical gesture of self-emptying humility and a welcome to all of us in TV land. Then he sang the litany we loved to hear, "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine?" Even Mr. McFeely, the postal carrier, went around from house to house making a neighborhood out of what would have been a bunch of separate houses divided by hedges and picket fences.” I think Rev. Wee is rather spot on, even if I couldn’t watch much of it because some of the puppets really creeped me out.
Our scripture passage this morning has to do with two neighborhoods - one from where Jesus grew up in Galilee, where the people knew him and where his family lived and the other six miles down the road in Capernaum. The passage begins with Jesus in Capernaum and his family in Galilee and some rather high-office teachers of the law in Jerusalem - some 30 miles from the other two places.
Up to this point in Mark 3, Jesus healed several people, some who were demon-possessed, accused of impure spirits, living with various diseases including leprosy and paralysis, and yes, ate dinner with sinners. Right before this part beginning in verse 20, Jesus picked some heads of grain while walking by a field, healed a man with a withered hand, and appointed the twelve disciples - all on the Sabbath.
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[a] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Thank you, Linda. First, I have to mention that I am grateful to the writer of Mark for enlarging the concept of a parable. When we think of parables, maybe the first one that comes to mind is that of the Prodigal Son, which is actually a rather long story. But in this passage, we have several in not a lot of space: #1. How can Satan drive out Satan? #2. If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. #3. If a house is divided against itself, and so on. It just hadn’t occurred to me before that a parable could be that short. I’m sure that will be helpful information for a number of us at some future time.
Secondly, I ran across a preacher/pastor person whom I don’t really know before this week. But after reading what he wrote, which was what I was trying to formulate in my mind, I think I might be having a few more ‘dates’ with him.
William G. Carter said, “There is something strange about the church. We are not just another club or civic organization. The church's view of reality is increasingly out of phase from a lot of prevailing views. In the church, we do and say things that do not always make sense to people outside of this house. Here we are, gathered on the weekend, sitting on hard pews instead of lawn chairs. People we know are outside, working on their tans or washing their cars, while we gather here, inside, to lift our voices in prayer and song. As a lot of other people are planning a barbecue or sipping a Bloody Mary, we come together on a morning like this to break the bread and drink the cup. To some outsiders, it must look a little bit crazy. According to the scripture text we heard a few minutes ago, this perception may reveal something of what it means to be the church.”
And then Rev. Carter said this. “If we assume Jesus Christ has broken into the violence-prone, death-dealing house of evil, then we must act accordingly.” “If we know Christ to have broken into the violence-prone, death-dealing house of evil, then we must act accordingly.”
Bill is a minister, and has been accused of being a little bit nuts. (That is a joke about ministers, but not leading up to anything about moi.) Bill does workshops for churches on clowning and not long ago, he was in a distant city, packing up after a workshop. The phone rang, and since nobody was around, he answered. "Are you a minister?” "Yes, actually I am." "Come quickly," said the voice, "our child is dying of leukemia."
Bill dropped everything, drove to the hospital, parked the car, ran up the steps, through the double doors, and down the hall when it suddenly it hit him: he was still dressed as a clown, with a white face, red nose, orange hair, and green suspenders. He hadn’t had time to change. Since this was an emergency, he kept going, found the room, knocked on the door and entered, where a young girl in a hospital bed lay surrounded by her family. "We called for a minister, not a clown," said the father. The child replied, "He's better than a minister. Can he stay?" No one dared to deny her request. Bill sat on the edge of the hospital bed. He sang songs. He told Bible stories. He cradled the little girl in his arms until the end. When the last moment came, she made a final request. "Would you come to my funeral?”
So that's how it happened. On the third day, crazy Bill stood with white face, red nose, orange hair, and green suspenders. He never spoke a word, yet he led the service as they laughed, and cried, and remembered the little girl's life. A few people present thought it was wrong to have a clown at a funeral, much less lead the service. They murmured afterwards, "That minister is out of his mind! He's crazy!"
By all the proper canons of pastoral protocol, they were probably correct. But there he stood, acting as if God's joyful power has already defeated death. Was he crazy? Who can say? All they knew is that Bill heard Jesus say, "I am the resurrection and the life," and he acted accordingly.
It would have been nice if Jesus - and/or the writer of Mark had stopped there. But they pressed on. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” His own family thought him to be a little loopy, not coming to unite families and bind them together. And maybe they thought him a little obtuse to seem insensitive to his own kin. I don’t think his purpose was to be mean-spirited to his family, but to make way for a new family, that would include all of us, for those times when we feel alone or alienated or cast-out. No matter how good - or ill - you belong here, with this group of people that call our selves family. And that’s not an idea or way of life shared by many other religions or faiths.
So the underlying question is, what binds us together? What is it that makes us more than members or mere participants? The faith that we belong to God and each other in such radical ways, that we can call each other family. And how do families come together? At the supper table, or breakfast table, or communion table.
We may be a little dysfunctional at times, with a squabble here and there, but always, God sticks to us and invites us to do so with our church family - wherever that might be - however goofy or strange or radical it might look. As we prepare our hearts and minds and souls for the meal that distinguishes followers of Christ, let us move aside those things that clutter the path to our church family supper.
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
This is an open Table. All are welcome.
Let us pray. Radical God of love, we thank you for all of you that is so unlike that of any other. Thank you for your son and his counter-cultural way of life that is compassionate and just and radical - all at once. And thank you for your Spirit - that is quite the definition of a radical life - in it’s freedom and ability. Thank you for this body we call the church - in all its enormity and its individuality. And thank you for the grace and joy and mercy that melds all of it and us together - that we are yours. For all the magnitude and intricacies of what it means to be your people, your radical people, we all say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.