One Family.

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[e] into a dwelling place for God.

Mark 6:30-34

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6:53-56

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Sermon:

These past few weeks have been very reflective as you could imagine.  Being back in Louisville and driving to the hospital, then to the rehab center, and then back to the hospital, I’ve been on roads and in parts of town that I have not been in a while.  In between long periods of simply sitting in my mom’s hospital room, working remotely, making calls, reading and studying, there were also times when lots of folks would come to visit, persons that were my parent’s friends.  Some of these families go back generations, as in my mom went to high school with them, and my grandparents went to the same high school with their grandparents…and some were generations!  Lots of memories…as well as growth.

I’ve often said that growing up in Louisville, in my family, and in my Southern Baptist church seems like several lifetimes ago.  There are some good similarities to that Rich Jones, but I’m really different than I was 35 years, heck, I’m different than I was 5 years ago, maybe even 5 days ago!  

Through it all, there’s a sense that I, along with many of us, are becoming more aware that we are moving towards being something more.  We are defying roles, labels, stereotypes, and becoming deeply connected in our humanity with one another.

This is why Jesus came.  Jesus embodied this sense of oneness.  He redefined “family” as more inclusive and closer than we could imagine.  He redefined religion to being more about relationship.  He redefined humanity as not belonging to different categories, clans, or whatever, but to abolish what divides and to bring us together.  

Our passage this morning in Ephesians says just that…what’s more, it reminds us of the universal nature of Christ.  That Christ brings us together with one another and with those who have gone before us and after us.

I was talking with a friend this week about death, what’s next, what does it resurrection look like.  There are no certainties, but Scripture tells us that we are somehow connected in this life and in the next.  

Jesus is calling us toward living life, real life, together.  He’s inviting us along on a journey, a lifelong journey.  A journey built on authenticity.

That’s why, in our gospel lesson, that so many folks wanted to be around Jesus.  He was vulnerable, honest, real.  More than words or the miracles, they believed in Jesus because Jesus believed in them.  He was a lover.  A lover of all people and things and lived it out.  Belief, love, trust, that can bring expansive growth where labels and dogma simply don’t matter anymore.  Where simply being around someone like Jesus can bring healing as people become more aware, more real, and more themselves.  

Even though growing up in the Baptist church had some things about it that were really hard and I’m still learning from it and growing past it, there were also some great relationships that helped me to become more aware…and, one constant, I have always been a follower of Jesus…and more than the religious control that was put on me at times, that relationship has shown me how to be human and to believe in others and to seek folks out who believe in me as Jesus did.  

I was active in my church growing up, and particularly close to our associate pastor and his wife.  They were our youth leaders.  We had a lot of great adventures together, mission trips, summer camp, youth group, hayrides, weekend retreats in the Smokies, and lots of late night conversations.  

When some things happened in our church though, they felt compelled to leave.  After they left, we went through some transition and I ended up on this internal quest to sort of find myself.

When I was 17, the fall of my senior year of high school, I was president of our FCA/Good News  club (Fellowship of Christian Athletes).  Our teacher sponsor introduced me to a friend of his, Ken Goss.  Ken was the Youth for Christ director in Louisville and they were starting this thing called Campus Life at my school.  It wasn’t long when they started meeting weekly at my best friend’s house, Jeff Hume.  I was invited to simply come and check it out, so I did.

When I went to Campus Life, I thought that there was no way that this could be a Christian or even religious deal.  They laughed a lot, played games, sang songs, and many of my friends who would never go to church showed up there.  Plus, the campus life leaders, Ken, and Andy Harshberger, were very genuine.  They weren’t afraid to be honest and to ask some tough questions in a loving way, never in a condemning way.

I loved it. 

It was like a breath of fresh air.  It also began within me a sense that God really is relational and desires for me to be in relationship, right and deep relationship with others and with God.  

I also began to see Jesus as a real human, someone who I can come to and believed in me, which enabled me to believe in him.  This Jesus who has a deep compassion for me and for others.  This Jesus who yearns for me and my community of friends and my high school.  This love compelled me to come to the call of being a pastor…to have a passion for others to know this Jesus and to know that they can be loved and have a sense of community, of relationship with others and with God.  

This same Jesus has been moving me towards this place of love my entire life, to places where roles, definitions, boundaries, are all wrapped up in this deep sense of love and connection to all people and things.  

Our scripture this morning shows a Jesus that ALL can come to, no matter where they are in life.  Just like me in many ways, the folks in Israel at the time this passage was written were steeped in a religious culture, they knew the stories.  Yet, they were stuck in a cultural system over that took precedence over authentic relationship, they didn’t know that God was calling them into an intimate relationship with God and into a community of intimate relationships with others.  Jesus appears on the scene, Jesus, like some folks in our lives, demonstrated a love, a deep and authentic desire for relationship with others.  He also shared good news that God’s love was extended to everyone, not just those who were in synagogue or the temple every week, but everyone.  

Jesus didn’t say, don’t go to temple, don’t do the things that you have been taught to do, but BE someone better, love well, show justice, compassion and demonstrative action for the poor, for those on the margins of community, for those who have felt real persecution or oppression.  And, the way to experience that being was not to simply sit in church every week, but to know deeply the love that God showers upon you and to develop ways to understand that love just as you would invest in any friendship, spend time with God as you interact with your neighbors, family, friends.  

Our passage gives witness to people hungering for God, and feeling compelled to come to Jesus, to experience this love, and Jesus calls them into the desert, to slow down and contemplate what God has done for them.  I can also relate to that as God has called, and continue s to call me to places like the Springs in Indiana, or the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY…or even literally the desert when we lived in SoCal to get away with him.  And, quite frankly, if all goes well with my mom, I’m lookin forward to some time away with my own family and some friends I haven’t seen in a while in the Pacific Northwest this next week.  

Jesus calls us, his church to do the same, to take time outs in our days and sometimes longer to experience relationship with him.  As we do this, as we our allowing ourselves to be alone with God, we may find this God calling us to come to him.  In our scriptures, we see those following Jesus and that the crowds came because they were consumed by God’s love and that love was contagious.

The writer in Ephesians reminds us that we were once Gentiles, unbelievers, did not know God’s love.  Yet, God’s love came and was demonstrated to us through Jesus.  Up until Jesus, devout Jews did not believe that God’s love extended to everyone.  Yet, in Jesus, we are shown and told that we are one in our humanity.  Jesus abolished the felt need for the rules that were outside regulators of behavior, and gave us himself.  Jesus was and is the perfect humanist!  He wants us to be our truest selves.  

God’s story of redemptive love has power to change us, to inspire us, and like the disciples, to change the world.  Yet, no one can give us that power, that love, I can’t as your preacher, you can’t with each other.  It is given freely to us by God’s Spirit, and we are called to come and be joined together, all of us, with Christ as our example and cornerstone.  

Friends, we have much to be thankful for, and much work to do of self, others, and God awareness.  May we know that this God is calling us towards divine union with God’s self and everyone and everything, just as God is calling our neighbors, those who have been excluded by religious folk, all of humanity in Christ’s shared humanity with us. 

Family?!

Mark 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some weresaying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Sermon:

Whenever I preach on this text, these song lyrics come to mind:

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

If you remember, or recognize this song, it’s a Rolling Stones song from the late 60’s.  It seems appropriate for this morning’s text because Herod finds himself in an awkward place.  A place where he feels cornered into making a dark decision.

King Herod was not well liked. He maintained power as a regional ruler under roman authority.  He was the Jewish king, but he had to make a lot of folks feel secure.  Israel was a religious culture based on a set of theological and cultural understandings.  There were Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders and legal scholars who had set up a system of daily living that kept society and culture in a particular order, there were on top, as was the political authority of the King.  Now, Herod and the religious leaders didn’t like each other much.  The religious leaders put up with him as long as he didn’t rock the status quo.  He kept certain things in line, kept the masses under control with his thugs and soldiers, and they were backed up by the roman army that occupied Israel.  

The religious authorities looked passed Herod’s morality because it was convenient.  However, they were starting to have some uncomfortable concerns, especially considering he had taken his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Yet, because of their relative comfort at the top of the social food chain, they let him get away with it.

Herod knew that, he also had a lot of wants.  He desired his brother’s wife, and we can tell by this passage, that he liked big parties, and he lusted after his wife’s daughter as she danced for him.  We also know that his now wife was pretty crafty and knew how to work the relationship with Herod by pushing her daughter to dance for him.  Pretty scandalous stuff.

It’s easy to judge Herod with history on our side, but as I read this passage, I had to ask, was their an inkling of hope for conversion, for growth, for repentance and change within Herod?  

Herod was drawn to the teachings of Jesus and John the Baptist.  He put John in prison, but from the passage, we can see that John the Baptist had access to Herod.  Herod was drawn to John’s message.  What was John’s message?  In Matthew 3, we hear these words:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  John was saying first and foremost, Jesus is coming near, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  A new day was dawning, God in the flesh is here.  The truest human, Jesus was walking on earth, showing folks how to love well and preaching a message of hope and release.  John was saying that God is nearer than we realize, that God’s love is more real than even the temple in Jerusalem, more real than all of the rules of the religious leaders, and more meaningful than all of the systems that we have set up to maintain power, status quo…and that life, real life, meaning deeper than all of our lusts are found in a relationship with God and others.  

John also had hard words…because this love was so near, we need to repent, to change, to grow.  He shared those words with Herod.  But, Herod didn’t want to give up on his wants, he didn’t understand that there was a new day dawning.  He was drawn to John, but he also feared John.  Herod had a lot of anxiety as he held on to what he knew.  He also knew that John’s message had appeal to the masses.

So, we come to the party.  It’s a family party, but this family has some interesting dynamics!   Herod’s wife is feeling insecure and makes a dark move.  Have her daughter dance and ask for John’s head.  Again, it’s easy to judge her, but she wanted to keep what she knew going.  She felt threatened and saw an opportunity to get rid of John.  She also had anxieties…she didn’t understand why Herod kept John around, especially knowing that John was telling Herod that their relationship was wrong.  

The daughter dances, Herod is drunk with lust and literally drunk.  He tells the daughter that he’s pleased and she can have anything she wants.  She follows through and asks for John’s head.  Herod tries to sober up, he’s caught in a hard place.  But, rather than making a stand for what is right, rather than staying curious and in relationship with John, in order to save face with the immediate crowd, he gives into the system that he’s a part of and gives the girl John’s head.  

It’s a tragic story, yet it gets played out in our lives daily.  We may not be dancing for the king, or beheading anyone literally, and we may not be in a literal prison.  Yet, we are all being called to see that God loves us and is near to us.  We are all prisoners to a system inside and outside of us that imprisons us, that keeps us thinking and acting in ways that we are used to.  Yet, John’s message rings true to us, God is near, we have a moment to change to and to grow and to be the persons that you have always wanted to be.  You have an opportunity to repent.  

It makes us uncomfortable and react to this message in many ways.  

The question is do we want to do the hard work of recognition, of sobering up to a new reality, of living life together in community and not as individuals.  Herod thought John was drawn to John because of John’s closeness to God, he wanted some of that, but he also wanted to live life on his own terms, or so he thought.  He was actually enslaved to a way of living and thinking that prevented him from truly knowing himself, God, or others.  John couldn’t give him that automatically, John couldn’t give God to Herod.  God was, and is, already there and here.  Herod simply needed to want to see it and to make a stand for once in his life that went against what he thought he knew.  Herod didn’t understand or love himself, didn’t understand or love his own community in Israel as he only wanted to maintain power, and didn’t have a desire to see the greater world around him changed through the love of God.  

Friends, if Herod were here today, I would hope that I would have the courage to tell him three things.  Since he’s not here, but we’re here, I would propose that these three things will help us to break free from whatever enslaves us in order to make better decisions that lead to life, real life.

  1. Be willing to understand and truly love yourself.  That’s possibly the hardest thing to do.  But, I believe through relationships and community with each other, we can begin to see ourselves in deeper and more helpful ways.  I would suggest taking advantage of the weekly Bible study that we have, looking for a spiritual director, starting a Bible study on your own with others.  I have some other tools and resources that I’d love to share with you as well.  
  2. Loving your community.  That’s the neighborhood in which this church resides, and your neighborhood in which you live.  The two can’t be separated.  Love well and live well with others.  That means honoring and not labeling or putting others in boxes.  You don’t want to be in a box, so why put others?  Stay curious and stay open to possibilities that emerge within this church and within your neighborhood.
  3. Having a concern for the world.  Jesus came for the whole world, God is not small.  God wants all of us to live in a way that not only honors those closest to us, but those around the world.  Also, having an understanding that being spiritual encompasses everything in this world.  God is present everywhere, our UCC theology says that God takes the ordinary and gives everything meaning.  There is meaning and spiritual meaning all around us.  

I used to love coaching my XC kids, telling them that they all have a moment of truth in a race.  Will they push in that 3rd mile to win or to reach a goal, or will they give in a settle for 2nd place.  I can’t guarantee the outcome, but I can tell kids and to each of us, that pushing through to the other side, a willingness to meet the moment of truth and decide to push through to a better way of running or living life will cause growth.  

Herod was given a moment of truth, and he decided to save face and succumb to the systems or surroundings that he found himself.  He is truly the victim in this story.  We don’t have to be the victims, we can meet our moment of truth, whenever we recognize it, and experience the full life of God’s Presence.  

Power.

Mark 6:1-13

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

The Mission of the Twelve

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

What a week.  Writing this sermon in the midst of this past week has some interesting pondering within me.  

As many of you know, my mom was taken to the hospital last week.  In the course of her being in the hospital, we found that she has cancer in different parts of her body.  It’s been a wild week of wrapping our minds and hearts around it.  And, as I mentioned earlier, we so appreciate your prayers and your support this past week!  It’s an amazing testimony to the love and care of this particular church community!

Being in Louisville, in my hometown has given me some perspective, as it often does, of how I grew up.  People know me in a certain way, and, it’s fascinating, it’s me, but it’s also several lifetimes ago.  Even my mom has a vision of me that’s not the full picture of who I’m becoming.  Now, there is lots of love and and oftentimes folks see a version of ourselves that we need to see as well, or be reminded of.  But, all of us have a sense of being in different places of understanding ourselves over the years, don’t we?

Jesus is not different from us, his hometown knew him as Mary and Joseph’s son.  He was a carpenter.  Galilee, during this season was apparently fairly prosperous, so he wasn’t a wandering carpenter, but had fairly stable employment.  We know from a few readings ago that some in his family wanted him to have some stability and not get out ahead of himself or others.  So, heading back to his hometown had Jesus thinking a lot I bet!

As we’ve read the past few Sundays and discussed, Jesus had been busy!  Calming storms, healing folks, performing miracles, raising people from the dead.  Starting a movement that was getting a lot of attention, both good and bad.  Showing radically inclusive love and inviting folks to think differently within the systems that they have lived in.  You know, just the ordinary Son of God kinds of things…

Yet, his hometown didn’t throw him a parade, didn’t welcome him with open arms, they were amazed…but, in the kind of incredulous kind of way.  Saying things like, “who does he think he is?”, “Where does his wisdom come from?”.  And, as if to say, we “know” him, “isn’t he the daughter of Mary, brother of of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon?”  Which is interesting, because later in scriptures, we know Mary stands with her son, and that at least two of his brothers become early church leaders.  

There’s also this theme of faith that we’ve talked about in the past.  It seems like Jesus is telling us that faith is shared, it is something we have and that we have to exercise it, practice it, for it to grow or be useful.  

But, the people in Jesus’ hometown did not want to do that.  They wanted to stay comfortable and keep folk “in their place”.  He’s Mary’s son they say, not even mentioning his earthly dad.  The crowd may have been suggesting that Jesus was different, and maybe he really wasn’t Joseph’s kid…of course, if only they knew…or were willing to risk getting to know Jesus now.

For 30 years, Jesus had been someone, now he was growing into a very public, deeper version of himself, his “true self” as the monk Thomas Merton would say.

He tries to do some miracles there, but could only lay hands on a few sick people…and realized that the familiarity of who he had been was would not let folks see him, or his power of love.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Again, could it be that his hometown was looking for a heroic, triumphant, local kid makes good kind of story?  I think so.

But, Jesus was in the process of re-ordering so many things.  How we view one another, how we love, how we connect, and who’s included (everyone), and that God does not show favoritism but wants all of us to be in communion with one another, and with God.  That there is one allegiance in this world that matters, and that is to God.  

God has been telling God’s people forever to be a witness to God’s love to the world, to the nations.  Instead, they became just like the other other nations.  God’s power was shown as God giving God’s self to us, and that we are to follow in God’s example.  And, specifically, to follow in God’s example through Jesus.  Yet, we too, just like Israel, often forget and simply become just like others, living in a system and a culture without thinking much about how to make our lives and the lives of others more connected, more human as in the image of God that we were created.  

I love this quote from Richard Rohr on power:

“God has communicated in a million ways that “I am your power,” but we do not believe and trust what we cannot see or prove. Instead, we bow down to lesser kings (like institutions, nations, wars, ideologies, etc.) that we can see, even when they serve us quite poorly.” – Richard Rohr

Jesus has a message, this message that God’s presence, God’s kingdom, God’s reign, is with us and it supersedes all other earthly kingdoms, systems, governments, etc.  

He calls his disciples, his closest disciples around him and sends them out to share this with others.

He tells them to go in twos, because we are relational and need each other.  None of us are superman or wonder woman on our own.  To only take a staff…not a bag, don’t take bread, and wear sandals, but don’t take an extra tunic.  To lean in on the first house that shows hospitality, don’t go to another house if it’s nicer, but stick with the first.  

Again, this past week was a good reminder of so much, that relationships are important more than anything.  I did pack a small bag, but only one change of boxers as I thought, at first, that I will only be in Louisville for a day and night…but, when the severity of mom’s condition was presented, I knew I needed to stay a bit longer.  

Hospitals are supposed to be places of welcome, rest, relief, and healing.  Hospital comes from the word “hospitality”.  And, mom’s hospital was pretty good at that.  

As Jesus followers, we are also places and people of welcome, of rest from a weary world, of grace and relief, and of healing.  Healing of ourselves, others, and living into the promises of God.  As we do that, we change, people don’t understand us, we are even not welcome at times.

Yet, Jesus says to shake the dust off of our feet and move on if we are not welcomed.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we give up on those who don’t welcome us.  I’ve heard it said that this actually a phrase that means to dust off the criticism that we receive and keep on walking the path that we have been given within a community of faith called to love the neighborhood in which we live.  

Friends, may we live into the faith that God has in us as God sends us out, together.  May we receive and give hospitality and share the good news that God is with us and loves us.  May we be the alternative, loving, authentic community within a world so desperately in need of people and places like that.  

And may we remember along the way that we are in communion with ourselves, others, and God as demonstrated in through Jesus.  

Faith.

Mark 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat[ to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 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.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 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?” 36 But overhearingwhat they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. 

When I was in high school, a freshman, I went out for the soccer team.  We ran like 7 miles the first day.  It was miserable.  I went out for track that same year, we ran a lot the first day.  I quit to  thereafter…seems like I had not fully realized how much running was involved in being a runner.  At that time in life, I realized I hated running.   

At 37 I went in for a physical with my doctor.  He said I was healthy, but not as healthy as I could be.  He told me that I think I’m active, because of being a pastor to students, but I wasn’t consistent and my cholesterol was a bit high.  He asked me how I was going to live my second half of life?  Which I thought then and now that his statement wasn’t very optimistic!  He also encouraged me to find a sport or activity that I could be consistent in.  Deb was a runner at the time, so I thought if she can do it, so can I.  I became a bit desperate, then obsessive, and I fell in love with it and running brought lots of changes and opportunities for me.  At 37, I was ready to run.  Plus, the more I ran, the more I saw that I’ve always had it in me, my understanding of faith in my running deepen.  

In our lectionary reading this morning from the Gospel of Mark, we pick up where we left off last week.  Jesus and his disciples have finally made it through the storms on the sea or lake that they were crossing and made it to the other side.  If you remember last week, we talked about Jesus being with us in the storms of life, both physically and metaphorically.  And, to have faith that something or someone is with us no matter what.  Well, they get to the other side, and there’s no rest for the weary!  They are immediately surrounded by a great crowd.  These two stories are lumped together because they are have a bit of a contrast in the character’s faith and one is named and the other has remained anonymous throughout history.

Jairus is listed as a religious leader in the synagogue, he immediately comes to Jesus and asks him to come to his house for his daughter is dying.  It’s interesting to note that this guy is part of the religious establishment.  Many of these folks looked at Jesus as a threat, some warily, some were curious…but, this guy had faith that Jesus could do something for his daughter.  So, Jesus seems to respond to faith…as if saying that if you are with me, we can do this together…and says he’ll go to Jairus’ house.  Now, Jairus is the ruler of the local synagogue.  He’s a high profile guy and is a leader in his community.  He’s an insider, yet Jesus sees him, and heads to his house.  

But, on the way there, he has to go through a crowd.  In that crowd is a woman, unlike Jairus, we don’t know her name.  She’s been anonymous throughout history.  She was an outsider.  Because of the religious rules of that time, she could not go to the synagogue, she could not be a part of community, because she had been hemorrhaging for 12 years.  In Jewish custom at that time, blood was considered unclean.  You would have to go through a purification ritual that takes days to be considered clean.  If you are hemorrhaging for that long, you are never clean.  

She was desperate.  She needed healing, she longed to be in community, and she approached Jesus with a simple faith of, “if I can just get close enough to touch his cloak, I will be healed”.  

This woman has been through so much pain, she’s seen so many doctors, she had depleted her savings, and yet she was getting worst, not better.  This sounds like something that so many folks in our society today doesn’t it?

So, she goes to Jesus.  Works her way through the crowds, and touches Jesus’ cloak.  And, miraculously, she’s healed.  

Jesus feels power going out from him, he looks around to see who it was, he can’t find out and so who he asks who touched him.  The disciples are incredulous and ask, how can we know?  See the people around you?

Think about that moment.  Have you ever been in a crowd and lost track of someone?  How many of us have had experiences where we lost sight of a child or a parent or someone that we were with in a crowd.  It can be frantic.  

This woman though mustered the courage and came forward.  She was scared, something amazing had just happened.  But, she took a risk, was vulnerable, and shared her story.

Friends, being vulnerable like this can be risky, yet she had the courage to do it…even in the midst of her trauma.  This past week I came across this quote from the late Rev. Rachel Held Evans that points out how important the church is, it sums up the vulnerable risk taking people and places that churches should be:

“We long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.”

That’s what this woman needed, a safe place to be vulnerable.  This woman who was an outsider the synagogue and to the culture at large.  

Jesus gives an interesting respond, “your faith has made you well, go in peace, and (as well) be healed of your disease.”

It’s as if Jesus is saying that the physical healing is secondary, but, what you really want is to be made well, to be whole, and to have peace…that only happens through your faith…a faith that takes risks, that notices things.

I heard this week that we in the church can talk all we want about spiritual growth, awareness, etc.  But, what is necessary in our churches is to develop the practices of spiritual growth and awareness.  That means taking the time to walk, or journal, or be quiet, to reflect, to notice the beauty within you and others, and to hold all of you and others up, even the messy stuff.  To embrace life and to live it.  The church cannot give anyone what they need spiritually, but it can be a powerful witness to God’s love and actions in and through us by God’s giving of God’s self to us.  

Power went out of Jesus, God gives, the woman received it, and the woman met Jesus.  He saw her, she saw him, they were known, and she stood up and had agency.  Agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own choices.  This woman did just that, as did Jesus…and they met…and her life was never the same.

While this was happening, folks came from Jairus’ house and told Jairus not to bother Jesus anymore for his daughter is dead.  Jesus told him to not be afraid, to believe.  Again, belief in this passage is not about dogma or correct theological thinking, it’s believe in me, as a person, as someone that has faith in himself and in you.  

They go to the house, Jesus just takes a couple of the disciples and when they get there, they hear this great commotion of people crying and waling…Jesus asks them why are you weeping, she’s just asleep…and they laugh.  It may have seemed ridiculous to the folks in the house, or maybe it was a bit of a nervous laugh.  Either way, it didn’t seem to phase Jesus…he sent everyone out but the parents and his disciples into the room of the daughter, took her hand and told her to “get up”.  And, she did…and even walked about around and Jesus made sure that she had something to eat.  

Again, these two healings, together.  One of an anonymous woman, another of a daughter of Jairus, a prominent leader.  It seems as if Jesus is telling us that he shows no favoritism.  That everyone is loved and however we meet Jesus, that this Jesus wants us to “show up”.  We, the church, or a pastor, or a program cannot force someone to “see” or “hear” the divine, or even touch the divine.  We can only do that when we are ready, or are desperate enough.  

Let’s ask those questions, and let’s run Fleming Road UCC!

Amen.  

Peace!

Mark 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

When I was in my twenties and living in Atlanta, Georgia, I had a great group of friends.  We all were involved with a non-profit youth ministry and had similar passions.  One of those passions was backpacking and hiking.  Almost every other weekend, we would pile our gear into our trucks and SUV’s and head an hour or two north into the North Georgia mountains, usually right around the Appalachian trail.

One weekend, we were particularly looking forward to a hike we had not done and had a couple of new guys that wanted to go with us.   A couple of days before the trip, we got the news that a hurricane would be coming into Georgia and we’d feel it in Atlanta.  We figured that we would probably miss it by being in the mountains though.

So, we headed north that Friday.  Well, it started to rain, and rain more.  We got to the trailhead, and it was pounding.  Being young, and having lots of experience in the woods with crazy weather, we weren’t going to be deterred.  The new guys on the other hand.  Well, one guy got had on khaki’s and a golf shirt.  We thought he might change on the way, but he seemed to be dressed for a fraternity function, not a hiking trip.  When we got out of the vehicles, this guy pulled out an umbrella.  

After some joking around, he realized that we were serious about hiking and that the umbrella wasn’t going to work.

We started the hike, got to our campsite and set up.  The rain let up just long enough for us to set up our tents and one guy, Jay, set up a hammock with a tarp over it.  The rains came back though…with wind.  We all eventually hunkered in a tent.  We didn’t blow away, but the next morning we had some great stories, and we had a great time being together…even through a storm that we probably didn’t have any business being in.

The context of this morning’s gospel lesson has the disciples traveling together in a boat through a storm.  Jesus has been teaching on faith and the Kingdom of God being near.  We’ve been talking about this the past few weeks as well.  God is with us, near us, closer than we could imagine.  God’s kingdom is all around us and in us…moving us in new directions, shaping and reshaping us, bringing out things in our lives that we need to pay attention to, some things that are hard to bring up, things that we don’t want to confront, yet they are present with us and God is in the business of giving new life and redeeming even hard things.

This is the message that Jesus has been sharing and its recorded in the previous chapters of Mark.  Crowds of people are curious and drawn to Jesus.  The honesty, authenticity of Jesus was refreshing to a world worn out under a way of living that they’ve been used to.  Jesus’ words offered hope and people clamored towards.  Jesus’ words on faith that could move mountains were strong, appealing.  Yet, moving mountains, especially the mountains of doubt, fear, scarcity, and anxiety can be exhausting at times.  

The disciples and Jesus were tired. They had places to go and needed some time to unplug, be still, even while they moved on towards a different place.  So, Jesus says, let’s get in this boat together, and go to the other side of this lake.  Jesus falls asleep and a huge storm comes up and threatens to overcome the boat.  At least four of the disciples are seasoned fisherman, they’ve been through storms, yet this one must have been overwhelming as they disciples thought that they were done.  Yet, Jesus sleeps.  They wake him, they are anxious and filled with fear.  I can’t blame them!  They even ask Jesus if he even cares if they die.  Jesus doesn’t seem to be bothered much though…although, he does seem a bit annoyed.  

He wakes up, and says “be still”…in the Greek there’s a repetitive command or imperative.  Jesus commands the seas and wind to be still.  And, they do.  He then turns to his disciples, and says, where is your faith…actually calls them little faiths.  It’s as if he’s saying where have you been?  Remember the other miracles I’ve done?  Have you not been listening?  Don’t you trust me yet?  

The disciples may or may not have had a “come to Jesus” moment and sobered up a bit.  But, they were relieved, and they did ask in awe:  Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  I think they knew the answer, or it was dawning on them.  They were good Jews, steeped in an understanding that only God, the one true God, had power over the elements.  Their friend, Jesus, was not only like them in their humanity, but also, very unlike them in his divinity.  And, this Jesus is bridging the gap between humanity and divinity in himself.   

In both, Jesus is present with them, in life, in the boat, through the storms.

Tertullian, the 2nd century theologian believed that the boat in this story and in the other gospel narratives is figurative for the church.  The church does not save us, Jesus saves us.  We can’t put our faith in the church, but in the God who is present in the boat, the church, with us.  We may think that God is asleep, but whether asleep or awake, God is fully present with us.  

That’s comforting to me.  Just like my friends were with me in the hurricane fueled camping trip, we are together in the storms of life around us as the church and God is with us.  

Sometimes we may have fear, anxiety, and doubts in the boat.  With each other and with God.  Those fears and doubts could lead us to turn on each other and even God.  We may have storms happening within us and around us that sometimes we create or that are created by others.  Either way, we feel like we’re going to drown at times.  We wonder if God even cares.  

Some of us get so frustrated and lonely that we think we may be better off jumping out of the boat.  A friend of mine, Bart Campolo, shared with me once when I was struggling that the grand ship of Christendom had sunk, but that there were lots of lifeboats floating around.  Some big, some small.  Some folks were jumping from boat to boat, some were swimming or sinking on their own.  Some folks were telling others to get out and some were helping others to get in.  Some boats were filled with folks who all had their own thoughts on rowing so they could never get going in the same direction…they just went around in circles because they couldn’t listen or hear each other.  It was interesting conversation with someone who doesn’t identify as a Christ follower anymore.

Either way, here we are, you and I, in this boat together called Fleming Road UCC.  I believe that we have had lots of storms in our lives.  How we continue to face them and grow in our faith will give us vision and identity.  As we are in this boat, we look to Jesus and we will grow in our self-awareness and confidence of who we are in this boat and how we not only need each other but that we can get to some beautiful locations together as we work and grow with each other…and, along the way, bring others on to the boat.  

The storms around us are real.  We have them brewing within us and outside of us.  One can look at several events this past week even and not see the storm inside of those inflicting violence on others, and the storms being created within us as we ache for the victims.   We are one with them in the storm they are facing and we will continue to raise questions of justice and reconciliation in a world that needs the calmness that God brings.

Calmness.  Stillness.  Peace.  We need that in the midst of the storms.  We need to take deep breaths and remember the stories of God and how they intersect in our lives.  Those stories are alive and breathing and being written in new ways within us here at Fleming Road UCC and in our neighborhoods and relationships.

Another story of being in a boat and a storm is Peter getting out and walking on the water. He left the safety of the boat, he walked towards Jesus and as long as he kept his eyes on him, he was good. But, you know the story, he let the waves define him and not Jesus. He started to sink. Yet, Jesus would not let go. Friends, Jesus has given us the boat, and he invites us to also get out of the boat and to know that we are not alone. Our fait can move mountains and God’s faith in us will empower us to be a part of an amazing new story here at Fleming Road UCC and in each of our lives as we live out our faith together.

Seeds.

Mark 4:26-34

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 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.”

The Use of Parables

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

It’s been said around here at Fleming Road UCC, and at other places where I’ve been in ministry, that I have a lot of ideas.  Some are even good!  It is true, I have lots of thoughts and ideas.  I also come up with lots of thoughts and ideas in conversations with folks.  

It’s also true that many of those ideas that we come up with sometimes are good, sometimes not so good.  But, I believe that God’s Spirit acts within and outside of us, sparking us to have dreams and visions…to form processes for cultivating ideas even as we take some risks.  Ideas often start out small, need some time to grow and mature.  When the time is right, it’s good to plant those ideas and see what happens.  

That’s one of the reasons why I love the church.  We have processes and procedures, we have community, we have faith, we have all of the ingredients for imagination and to make things happen for the good of our communities.  

But, church, we need to be asking ourselves questions:   What are we passionate about, what makes us get up in the morning and face a day, what gives us hope?  I know I have a passion for running, I have a deeper passion for seeing relationships happen and for energy being driven from community for growth and change.

The parable of the sower has much to say to us.  Jesus spoke in parables oftentimes.  Parables are words for the audience that do not carry their meaning on the surface.  They are meant to be shared, chewed on, thought upon, and then their meaning grows within us.

Jesus had been encouraging his disciples with their being a part of his family, a part of God’s kingdom.  As we’ve said before, Kingdom of God talk is about God’s Presence in our lives and in the world.  God’s working out God’s purposes in all things, and for good.

Jesus was also sharing that the Kingdom of God is participatory.  It’s not idly watching or consuming something.  So often, we in the church have followed along with the idea that we need to create programs or services that we can consume or others can.  That’s not the idea that was planted in the church by God.  We have created a consumer based church that may give us a brief respite from the craziness of life from time to time, and maybe that’s good for a season, but God wants to plant within us a vision for church that is life-giving, energizing, and involves us in relationship with each other and with the world around us…and with a God who is very much present with us.  For example:  I love giving sermons, I love music…I like worship services.  There is a place for them, but if all we do is come and consume on Sunday morning, or produce a product, then we will all eventually come to a point of burn-out or hollowness.  We then may have that famous saying creep up:  “church (or pastor, or sermon, or youth group, or choir, or bible study, or whatever) is not meeting my needs”.   Well, the church was not set up to meet needs, but a place for relationships to flourish, and that requires full participation.  All of us, together.  

I believe that Jesus is saying to his listeners, and to us now, that he wants us to grow into the people we were called to be, that we have been given opportunities to understand who we are and how we relate to one another.  Opportunities such as meeting together for worship, forums, podcasts, small group bible studies.  God has given us other opportunities like Tikkun Farm, Valley Interfaith, Finneytown Schools, Oasis/ECI, the archery program and other things, to not only serve, but to meet people and develop true friendships.  God has also placed this church in a physical location, surrounded by people who I think would love to get to know amazing folks like you!  These opportunities help us to grow in many ways, but the real work is in between the events, in between seeds being planted and coming to bear fruit.  The work is in cultivating an understanding of the ideas, imagination, and new creation being formed and reformed within us and in the quality of our relationships with each other and with God. 

Seeds are being planted within us and all around us, seeds that will bear fruit towards seeing the Kingdom emerge within us, God’s Presence within us, and around us.  Some of those seeds are being consumed, aren’t being given enough water, don’t have deep roots, but some are falling on good soil.  Can we hear what Jesus is whispering in our ears?  Can we see what God intends to do?

Friends, I believe that God has given us good soil here at Fleming Road UCC!  I believe that this soil does require tending, plowing, and cultivating.  But, I think that the seeds God is planting will grow.

I’m also grateful for the conversations we’ve had this past month around here and in the community that affirm that we have a lot of gardening to do, within us and in this church, but we are committed to seeing what God wants to grow through all of the many seasons that we will be walking and working together in.  

Then there’s the mustard seed.  The Kingdom of God is being planted within us, it may be the smallest seeds, yet it grows into becoming a large tree, so much so that the birds rest in them.  We may not be a large church, but we can be a seed planted in this community for much community goodness.  The smallest of seeds make the biggest difference.  Let’s love well this garden!

Outside-In.

Mark 3:20-35

20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 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.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

The True Kindred of Jesus

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Sermon:

When I was 22 years old, I made a decision.  I was about to graduate from the University of Kentucky with my bachelors in social work.  I had switched my major from telecommunications to social work in my sophomore year.  I enjoyed telecommunications, but I had one project where I had to create an entire season of programming for a new tv network.

I worked hard, produced a great line-up, and wanted to make sure that it would be both entertaining and also based on something that would be good and uplifting for a community.  My professor gave me a C and said that the biggest flaw is that it would never sell or make money.

At that point, I decided that I wanted to do something that was more than making money, but good for the world.  So, I switched to social work.  Which, in that profession, there is no chance of making money, as my dad would remind me of at the time.  

Now, my dad was a school principal, a good guy who also wanted to make a difference in his community.  And, truthfully, he just wanted me to do well and not struggle.

The kicker came though at 22 when I informed my dad that I was going to shift gears again, and instead of going into social work, I was going to go into youth ministry, where there is no money at all…and, even more, I was going to work for a non-profit youth ministry.  

Now, I thought my dad would be OK with it.  I had worked part-time in college with this non-profit, was involved with it in high school even, and my parents were even fairly significant financial supporters of this organization.

My dad’s response, literally, and I still remember this 31 years later, “I just paid for 4 years of college for you to do what?!!!”  

I said yep, and off I went…and, yes, I did struggle, mightily.  I had years of eating more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and 25 cent ramen noodles than I can remember.  

But, something happened 2 or 3 years into working for this non-profit.  My dad told me how proud he was of me and that I had grown more in the past few years than he could have imagined.  I was so grateful.  

I don’t know what it is though, but I left that job within a year or two of that conversation to work for a church in Atlanta, GA.  It was kind of like when I had long hair…when my dad said that it had grown on him (pun intended) and that he liked it…I cut it.  

Now, our lectionary text this morning is certainly interesting.  For any that don’t know what the lectionary is exactly, other than a word that those of us in the mainline as clergy throw around a lot, it is a yearly cycle that changes every three years with different passages from scripture attempting to give those reading or hearing it a picture of God’s story and our story together.  There are actual daily readings, google lectionary, you’ll come up with a lot of good stuff!

Our passage this morning, at first, can be somewhat unsettling for us in the 21st century.  What does it mean to have a house divided?  For Satan to turn on Satan?  A stronger man?  And the kicker, Jesus’ family coming to reprimand him and Jesus seemingly redefining who his family is?

Well, first of all, just like all scripture reading, we have to cultivate an openness to what God wants to share with us, while also understanding that this was probably written in first century where relationships and families were defined a bit different.  Yet, there’s still some amazing messages for us today.

Jesus’ family is concerned for him and for his safety.  He’s drawing large crowds in a restive time in history and in this place.  Revolution is in the air and a desire to live without the yoke of occupiers from Rome and a religious system that coddled the people while conspiring with the Roman authorities.  

And, folks are drawn to this Jesus who is expressing through his words and actions living a life as full humans not subject to a system or an ism, but in a deep abiding in God’s Presence, God’s reign that is based on deep relationship.

A movement is brewing a drawing in people and with that, the authorities are threatened and trying to pin things on Jesus, saying things, betraying relational integrity and trying to get Jesus out of the picture…and even scapegoating him for their own short givings and failures in living into the promises of God.  Promises that they knew from their religious training, but failed to live into because it would upset the social order that kept them comfortable.

So, his family comes to him, out of concern, but also with a desire to even forcibly take him back home if you will.  Jesus answers his family, his followers, and his detractors with a powerful conversation.  He tells them that if he’s doing all of his miracles because he’s in league with the devil, that doesn’t wash because the devil can’t cast out the devil.  That doesn’t make sense.  And, that a kingdom divided can’t stand, it falls.  Why would the devil want to fail like that?!  

And, no one can enter a strong man’s house and take his stuff unless he has a stronger man…in effect, Jesus is saying that he’s stronger than the devil.

So much in that alone!  One, it says how important it is for us to be reminded that we can’t be a church divided!  That we have to trust one another in order to live as Jesus followers in a world that desperately needs unity.

It also says that Jesus is enough, is with us, and our relational identity in Christ and as the body of Christ is stronger than any division that we experience or even cause intentionally or unintentionally.  

He goes on to say, that all of us will be forgiven for those times we blaspheme, or say false things about one another…but, when it comes to God’s spirit that flows and is active, that it’s a grave mistake.  God’s with us, God’s Spirit is flowing, trust it, even in deep doubt.  And, again, remember, eternal means something about quality rather than quantity.  In other words, blaspheme God, go ahead, but that will not increase your quality of life, you’ll simply continue to be in a place that is disconnected from who you are, who you are with others, and with God…in other words, alone…and not in a good way.

Oh friends, we have come through a time of forced isolation, now, more than ever, we need to recommit ourselves to one another and to the purposes of the church, which is to love our neighbors, each other, well and to trust that God is with us and has a purpose for us…and wants us to be fully human!

Jesus’ family, well they hear Jesus, they don’t forcibly take him.  When he’s told they are outside of the crowded house, he tells his disciples and this followers, that they are his family because of their commitment.  He is saying that they are demonstrating true friendship by listening and trusting.  And, that there is a deeper bond than even our blood relatives, that Jesus is our redeemer-kinsman, our brother, and this relationship is more important than any allegiance or belief or opinion…and this relationship calls us into deeper relationships with one another.

That’s church.  Our families are gifts that we should cherish and nurture and honor…that’s throughout Scripture and our nature.  Church though is a covenant that we enter into with one another, we say that we will work out things together, talk to one another, deeply listen, grow and mature together, be willing to live out what it means to follow Jesus and be God’s people.  Church that is “outside-in” focused.  Which means that we look at the people around us, God loves everyone around us…we find God in engaging the other and in the process inviting them from the outside into the inside of communion.  That’s what Jesus did and does!  

Now, last thing…Jesus’ family doesn’t seem to be offended too long by Jesus’ words.  His mother was one of the few that stayed with him at the cross at great peril to her own life.  She also knew early on the gift to the world that he was and is…and, his brother?  James becomes the leader of the church after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Carrying the message of Jesus’ life to the world.

So, church, graduates, family, know that you are loved and out of that love can love others.  Know that our commitment to one another is not defined by isms or belief systems, but abiding love that goes with us throughout our lives!