Last Sunday's Sermon
9 Pentecost/Year 2/2020
Psalms 93 & 96
Chapter 3, Verse 29 of Mark’s gospel, the verse that comes right before verse 30 where we started reading this morning, says: “Then Jesus went home;” That is important because Jesus had been traveling and when he went home he had a crowd with him and it was a mixed crowd. It included Jewish and Gentile people because he had come from beyond the Jordan – from Gentile territories where he had healed many people who were possessed by unclean spirits and they were so happy to be healed that they followed him home. That crowd represented the new inclusive teaching that Jesus came to proclaim and it was threatening to the people in his hometown because it transcended his relationship to his family just as it transcended the distinction between Jew and Gentile. In his book titled The Beginning of the Gospel, Eugene LaVerdiere says this:
“In the new Israel, a person’s relationship to Jesus was not determined by kinship. Among Christians, blood ties in themselves were not significant or at most only a secondary consideration. The new Israel thus struck at the very heart of Jewish identity, which was intimately associated with a person’s birth, family, and genealogy…Jesus was [also] challenging the role of the scribes, the synagogue, the local center of Jewish life, the ancient center of Jewish authority and teaching…For the relatives, who were humanly challenged, Jesus was humanly out of his mind. For the scribes, who were challenged as religious teachers, Jesus was demonically possessed.”
It was the fact that it "struck at the very heart of Jewish identity" and the role and authority of the scribes that the hometown crowd felt so threatened. Anything that challenges our identity is a threat, but it can also be an opportunity. Jesus wanted the people - and that includes us - to reconsider who they were and to whom they owed their loyalty. He wanted them to think about themselves in a new way.
We also heard that great story from Judges this morning. I loved Gideon's response when the angel of God told him that he was to deliver Israel from the Midianites. He said, "But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." He was also being asked to consider a new identity, to consider who and whose he was, and to think about himself in a different way. He was called by God to a new task. And I loved that in spite of the fact that he was asked to be a mighty warrior, he named his altar "The Lord is peace." It reminds me that, biblically speaking, peace does not mean simply the absence of war. It has a much broader meaning that includes unity with God and with all of creation.
God is always calling us to unity with himself and with all creation even though we don't always hear the call. And when we do, we don't always answer it because sometimes a change of heart and mind feels like a threat. We are living through a very challenging time and I wonder, in the midst of all of this, what changes God might be calling us to make. We are certainly having to look at our world and the people in it in new ways. And it is easy for us to look at them with suspicion - in fact, it even seems prudent to do so. I know that if I hear that someone has come here from Texas or Florida, I wonder if they brought the virus with them. And my first reaction is to wish they would just go home. And then I think about the people Jesus brought home with him and the reaction of the hometown crowd. I know that, as tempting as it is for us to want to close not just our borders but also our hearts and seal ourselves off from the rest of the world, God is reminding us that we are all in this together. Because if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
In our prayer for mission every Sunday we hear the words: O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth. Those words speak a truth that sometimes challenges our identity because it reminds us to continually see ourselves in new ways, and to see ourselves in other people. If we are truly the people of God, then we are connected to all people everywhere. Those we know and those we don't know. Those who are sick and those who are healthy, Those who are black and those who are white. Even those from Texas and Florida. And Jesus wants us to love them all. In Psalm 96 this morning we heard: Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all the whole earth. That is what Jesus was teaching people to do - sing a new song and that song was, and always will be, a love song. It calls us to live in a new and different reality and that reality is the kingdom of God. Living in that reality requires repentance which simply means a change of heart - a turning toward God and that means turning toward one another. Because in God's kingdom, everyone is invited to the party.
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