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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 3:20-35 [Jesus went home;] 20 and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. 21 When Jesus’ family heard the commotion, they went out to restrain Jesus, 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 Jesus called them over to himself, and spoke to them in parables, “How can the Accuser cast out the Accuser? 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 Satan and is divided, the evil one cannot stand, but their 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 Very truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sin 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.”   31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to Jesus and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around Jesus; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And Jesus replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister, my sibling, and mother.”   ---------------   Please pray with me this morning, church: Healing God, Together is difficult. Together isn’t easy. But it is what you call us to. Stand amidst our division. Remind us whose we are. Call us again to be joined to you And to one another. Amen.   --------------   Ah…summer… That magical time of year. Can’t you just feel it in the air? It’s finally June, and you know what that means… School’s out, the days are starting earlier and ending later (at least for a couple more weeks), companies are switching to summer hours, time for camping trips and beach weekends…   And this year feels a lot different than last year, right? We’ve got a lot of vaccines rolled out and continuing to roll out, people are feeling a bit freer to stretch their legs… Maybe you’re planning some time off, or some vacation travel…   And…June is also the start of hurricane season. Something we’re intimately familiar with here. So, it’s not all good…not all cupcakes and puppies… Plus, I don’t know if y’all have noticed or not, but you live in Houston, so June and the start of summer means…it’s mosquito season! You know, Satan is never described in detail in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure the mosquito is the same archangel Lucifer that fell from heaven…I’m just saying…   Summer is also time for summer camps…and lucky for you, we’ve great a great Lutheran camp right here in the Gulf Coast Synod. Shameless plug: New Hope will be attending Lutherhill from June 27-July 2. See Pastor Janelle for more info. Camping in Texas is a little different than, like, anywhere else in the US. You’ve gotta take extra precautions because of heat and things like that…watch out for those afternoon rain showers… But there really is nothing like summer camp. I highly recommend it to you. Some of my favorite memories growing up in the church are from summer camp. You come together with your cabin for a week, cabins are grouped into villages, all about the same age…and there’s a kind of…rivalry…that develops between all the villages and the different age groups. And each cabin and village has a covenant. You come together and decide “How will we be together this week?” Your covenant is the agreed-upon set of guidelines—rules, even—for how each village will treat one another and how we will interact with the rest of camp.   I wonder if we should have something like that, like, as a people. As a society and a culture. I wonder if we should have some sort of set of guidelines that we all agree to, that this is how we will treat each other. It might have made the past 14 months go a little differently. What do you think?   It’s difficult, right? This whole…living together thing… I mean we’ve got laws and governance and people of faith have our religious texts…but even that, as I think we’ve discovered in recent months and years, even then, we’re not so sure that we’re talking about the same things…at least maybe not interpreting them the same. It’s a lot to try and work out how to live well together.   And this was the problem in the Corinthian church. I mean, it’s kind of a universal problem, right? But similar to the church in Galatia and many of the early Christ-believing communities, there were vehement disagreements between Jewish Christ-believers and Gentile Christ-believers. I mean, Jesus was Jewish, so did one have to be circumcised in order to belong to the community? Throughout his letters, St. Paul refutes this claim. But particular to the Corinthian community was this question of class or status. See, in the Corinthian community, as with most communities, there was a broad mix of social classes and economic statuses. And the central thing to worship for the early Christ-believing communities, as it still is for most of us, was the communal meal, what we recognize as communion or the Eucharist. And there became this habit in the Corinthian community where the wealthy, because they didn’t have much to do during the day, would gather before the official meeting time, before their siblings of the lower class who had to work later into the day would get there. And they would eat and drink together, as you often do when you get together, kind of a social gathering, but they would consume the best food and drink and save the not-so-good stuff for the worship meal. Maybe it started out innocent, but it came to be this real stratification of the different classes of the worshiping community. The haves and the have-nots. The wealthy and the working poor. Those with means and those without.   And this is kind of the crux of the issue that Paul is speaking to in his letters to the Corinthians. And it’s in this background, in this environment, that our worship series for the next few weeks is going to center.   What does it mean to live together? What does it mean to live well together amidst division? Are we even able to overcome some of our deepest divisions to imagine a future of living well together?   Is that even something we want? Do we want to live well together? Or is that kind of ideal just too pie-in-the-sky, Pollyanna nonsense, ignorant of the harsher realities of our world?   It’s a tough nut, for sure. It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot over the past few years. Because the truth is, we’re still stratified…and sometimes we live into that stratification, rather than God’s great truth that there is no longer Jewish believer or Gentile, servant or free…you are all one in Christ Jesus. Even here, there’s still division and stratification…and sometimes we live into that. The haves and the have-nots. The comfortable and the paycheck-to-paycheck. Those with means and those who might be struggling a bit. Elders and younger folks. Vaccinated and unvaccinated. The still-cautious and the antsy-to-return.   It’s a difficult question for me… But I keep getting drawn back in by our weekly pattern of worship, I keep getting drawn back into the Gospel, keep getting pushed and convicted and urged on by Jesus…I still think this ideal of living well together is worthwhile. I still think that’s what we’re called to, by God. I still stubbornly believe that’s God’s hope and dream for our world.   Together. Together-ness.   A house divided against itself cannot stand. What does it take—what will it take for us—to bind up the strong men of rhetoric and vitriol and contempt for one another? What will compel us to finally plunder our communal spaces from division and bigotry and hatred?   Nothing less than the radically subversive love of Christ that commands we see and treat one another as siblings, that we bind up the wounds of the afflicted, and heal those desperate for restoration and wholeness.   What got Jesus so riled up? What was it about what the scribes were saying that got Jesus so worked up that his family had to come out to calm him down? Just before this, at the beginning of Mark 3, Jesus heals someone on the sabbath. The second half of chapter 1 and the first part of chapter 2 are more of the same—Jesus’ healing. So what is it about healing that’s so offensive to the religious leaders? When you teach people that their proper place isn’t in some stratified class system…when you tell people that the kingdom of God is among and within them and that God isn’t to be found in offerings and temple systems, but among the poorest of the poor and the hungry and the outcast and the downtrodden…and not only is God there among them, but your call, Christian, is to serve them and love them, even at your own expense, even at the expense of what makes you comfortable…because it’s not about you…when you preach that love is what conquers all, not might and domination…when everything you say and do runs counter to the status quo and you actively work to upend that status quo…that’s when people in power start to get upset. And they start saying things like, “This healing that you’re doing, this love that you’re preaching…it sounds like it must be from the evil one.” I imagine you’d be pretty outraged, too.   But it is a cautionary tale. It is absolutely true that our only way out of this mess is together. But together isn’t what the world and the powers that be want to see you as. Our status quo thrives on division, on pitting us one against another, on telling you that this person over there is the source and cause of all your problems, and of course, your problem isn’t with the system, it’s with them over there. But you need to know, dear people, that this is a lie. Here are your siblings. Here is your mother, and your brother, and your father, and your sister. You are one. But this world will do all it can to tell you and convince you that you are not all part of the same family, and it’s going to take a lot to overcome that. It’s going to take a lot to overcome that within yourself. You will find yourself needing to be convinced that this is true. That what’s best for the community might come at the expense of my own preferences and desires.   It’s been a challenging 14 months, church. And it’s going to take a lot to overcome where we are and get to where we hope to be. But we can do it…together. Don’t lose heart. This is a momentary affliction, but it’s nothing compared to God’s eternal glory.   Together is difficult. Together is challenging. But it is the way forward.   It’s not the easy way. It requires us to give up something of ourselves. Together requires that we do things in the interest of others, not only in our own interest. Together requires us to seek out the common good. To center and attend to the needs of those among us who are most vulnerable. To set aside our comfortability for the well-being and the health and safety of our neighbors.   But these afflictions are momentary, and they are nothing compared to God’s eternal glory. How can you cross that dividing line this week, church? What’s one thing you can do this week that seeks to bring someone in closer together, rather than driving them further away?   A divided house will fall. But there’s nothing that can stand against a home that has been drawn together in unity and love.  
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