Tag: Mark

Breaking Down the Dividing Wall

Ephesians 2:11-22 ArizonaBorder.jpg
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Let me tell you what’s in the news –

– Ah. I see winces. You don’t want to hear it. It isn’t the news you want to hear.

It’s news about how our nation is being made great again. It’s news about non-Citizens suffering wanton abuse from government officials. It’s news of traitors, protests, uprisings, capital punishment, corruption and refugees and job woes and trade wars and unfair taxes and …

These are the headlines… from 62 AD.

Into this mess, Paul writes the Ephesians a letter that makes them wince and look over their shoulders with fear.

He writes, “Remember, at one time you were immigrants by birth, called illegal immigrants by the citizens – a status given to you by humans and not God – remember that you were at one time without Christ, being an alien to the land of God’s people, strangers to its laws, and without hope, and without God. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For Christ makes our nation great again. He is our peace. In his flesh, he made both immigrant and citizens into one group and broke down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments of who is or isn’t a citizen based on birth, that Christ might make in himself one new nation in place of two, thus making the nation great again, thus the peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off in other lands and peace to those who were near in this land; for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to the same God.

So you are no longer strangers and aliens to one another. You are no longer countrymen and women of this human nation or that. But you are citizens with the saints and also members of the house, the nation, of God, built upon the foundation of the non-citizen apostles and the citizen prophets, with Jesus Christ as your cornerstone. As your president. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple, a holy place, in God. You, listening to this letter, are also built together spiritually as one into a dwelling place, a home, for God.”

Does it make you as uncomfortable in 2018 AD as it made the Ephesians in 62 AD? It should. Paul is challenging Caesar and his claims of making a great nation built on peace. That peace is built on the back of murdering people, such as Jesus. It is built on having citizens who can do as they want to non-citizens. It is built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

The Spirit is challenging our nation and its claims of making itself great again and a land of liberty. This liberty is being built on the back of murdering people who are like Jesus: who are our fellow Christians. It is built on having citizens living safely in homes while non-citizens lie on concrete floors, with aluminum foil for blankets, in rooms kept at 62 degrees or lower. It is liberty built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

I am uncomfortable. Like the Ephesians, I am looking over my shoulder and wondering who else just heard what Paul wrote. Who else heard Paul claim my citizenship — which lets me tuck my daughter into bed at night — and my skin color — which lets me drive without being at risk of a cop shooting me — and my flesh — all this who I was born as — Paul is claiming my flesh is nothing. God has taken it away. I’m wearing the flesh of Christ.

I’m wearing the flesh of a Middle Eastern man who is challenging my government.

A man tortured and killed by my own government.

Paul’s news is uncomfortable. To we readers in 62 AD and in 2018 AD.

He tells me that the wall of hostility I was born into is false, wrong, and ungodly. In Christ there is only one flesh. If I am truly born again in Christ, then my body is Christ.

My citizenship is Christianity.

My brothers and my sisters are all who are Christian.

My cousins are all who follow God.

My neighbors are all of humanity.

For all who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Or, there is neither Hispanic nor American, impoverished nor affluent, male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is a wall of hostility we are called to oppose.

We are called to break down walls that divide us. Physical walls – barrier walls – border walls. And social walls – walls preventing access to medical aide, equal rights, security. We’re called to break down spiritual walls – the kind that make us hate seeing a hijab or star of David, or making room for other faiths in our schools, and jobs, our homes, and even our churches. We’re called to be citizens of a new nation that abolishes all the old laws with a new law of love. We’re called to be citizens that give up our nationalities, our own flesh, our own births, for a new nation in Christ’s body through being born again in the Spirit.

We’re called to love our neighbor.

Love our selves.

And even love our enemies.

For we are known as Christian by our love.

What does this citizenship of God look like? All we have to do is look to Jesus as our role-model to see.

Jesus today makes more political commentary. Shepherd is the image of the leader of the land. The person who keeps the sheep, the people, safe. He or she is who provides peace, provides good food and clean water, scares off the wolves, and lets the people multiply. In the reading before today, we met ancient Israel’s shepherd, Herod. He foolishly takes his sister-in-law as his wife, and promises their daughter anything she wants. To fufill this promise, he has to murder the prophet of God, John. He fed his heads of state but served his sheep John’s head on a platter.

Out among the people, Jesus sees they are desperate. They have run from all the towns and villages around the sea of Galilee dragging and carrying their sick loved ones on mats and rugs, and on their backs and in their carts, laying them out in the center of the town begging Jesus to let them just touch the fringe of his cloak so they can be healed. The center of the town is the marketplace. The place of affluence. The sick are the outcasts, the homeless, the foreigners and supposed to stay away from the rich. But they overwhelm the shops, choke up the streets, and fill the air with their petitions.

Picture if the stock market had to be closed because the trading floor was filled with the family, friends, and neighbors of people targeted by ICE all begging for their children to be reunited, their loved ones having access to food, water, and a lawyer, and asylum. There would be anger from the elite who don’t want to be bothered by this. Chaos. Government officials calling for the ring leader of this ‘protest’ to be arrested, or shot. That ringleader is Jesus, and the Spirit.

Picture the highways now in Chicago – filled with black women begging the government to stop persecuting their sons as guilty criminals until proven innocent.

Picture the 99% protests.

These are people whose mortal shepherd has failed them. And Jesus has compassion. Jesus goes among them bringing healing. Tangible healing – such as attending a protest, or paying for a sitter or sitting kids so another can go to a protest, or donating money to organizations like HOLA Ohio to bail out mothers who have sat in prison for TWO MONTHS after being picked up here in Ohio…

And Jesus brings intangible healing along with the tangible, touchable, healing. Jesus we’re, told, begins to teach the crowds. He gives education.

Education such as… did you know that HOLA Ohio has found the rules to bail someone out is different every day? Currently: “Bond can’t be posted on the same day as court for the Michigan women; bond can’t be paid after 3 p.m. in the Cleveland office; bond must be paid with one cashier’s check, not two–even if both are addressed to U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security for the same individual on the same case, and were accepted that way last week, and so on and so forth.” (HOLA Ohio July 2018 Facebook Update)

Education such as… RAICES “staff and volunteer pro bono attorneys arrived at the Karnes detention center to meet with clients and were told they couldn’t meet with anyone as Karnes was empty. Around 3:45pm two of our pro bono attorneys watched as a bus was loaded at Karnes with mothers and children. Having been lied to all day, they decided to follow the bus from Karnes to see where they were being transferred to. An hour in to the drive they call our Comms Director to let her know they had been pulled over by 3 state troopers in SUV’s for “illegally” following the bus and demanded to see their client lists. They were held for 15 minutes by police, and now continue to follow the bus which looks to be headed to Dilley detention center.” (RAICES July 2018 Facebook Update)

Detention centers where children are ordered to stand, “No sitting on the floor, no hugging your siblings, and it’s best not to cry.” Or face bleach in your water, and guards kicking you if you sit during the 16 hours a day you must be awake. Where over 1,000 reports sexual abuse have been filed against ICE agents. ((https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/14/us/migrant-children-shelters.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes; https://theintercept.com/2018/04/11/immigration-detention-sexual-abuse-ice-dhs/))

Education such as even though the government is purposefully trying to prevent lawyers and help to the refugees, groups like HOLA Ohio have volunteers who have “been spending up to 6 hours a day in the ICE office to post bonds, [paid] eight bonds to date, six bonds of $2,000 each and two bonds of $1,500 each, and arranged transportation through a network of volunteers for nine women to be reunited with their families.” A dozen more hearings are happening this week.

The Spirit of God is in us, because of our anointments in baptism in Christ, “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 18-19.

The Spirit of God is in us to tear down these dividing walls and be the good news to the poor. Be the ones paying bail. Be the ones teaching our family and friends and neighbors to open their blind eyes to see the hurt happening to the body of Christ — their own bodies. We are to use our privilege as citizens to the benefit of those oppressed. We are to proclaim the year of God’s favor — that God’s reign is now — the kin-dom is now — the nation of God is now — and no Mexican, Canadian, American, Russian, British or any other human government is going to stop us from loving one another.

Because we are citizens of heaven. Our leader is God. Our God is love.

Amen.

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To Gather Up All Things

Ephesians 1:3-14 glitter
Mark 6:14-29

Sometimes our lectionary hands us readings that are very difficult to understand and fathom. I feel like this Sunday’s have given us two hard to delve into texts. One is an introductory  letter to the Ephesians; and the other is a long aside about John the Baptizer in the gospel of Mark. Supposedly, they’re related! Whoever worked on the lectionary outline believes so.

Therefore, let’s take a close look at Ephesians and see what the author is claiming, and then let’s use that like a lens, something to help us focus, on Mark’s story.

The letter to Ephesians is broke up in English into sentences, but in Greek, it is one big long sentence listing blessing after blessing that is showed upon us from God.

1. The first blessings is that before the world was built, God chose us for adoption. To be children of God, although we have mortal parents, and although most of us aren’t biological descendants of Abraham – God’s chosen. So – why did God do this? Because God is good. God chose this for God’s own good pleasure and will. Not because of anything we’ve done. God just decided God wants to create us, and create us to be loved.

2. The second blessing is God freely chose to give us God’s Beloved. Not only were we chosen to be children, but given God’s beloved child Jesus. When God created us, we were created for praise. So just living praises Jesus.

3. Our third blessings is that in Jesus, we have redemption, forgiveness of our trespasseses or sins, and this is due to the rich grace of God and again – not because of anything we have done.

4. Fourth – we know the mystery of God’s will, because God wants us to know it out of God’s love for us. We know God’s will because we know Jesus. This will is to love God and love one another!

5. Fifth, in the fullness of time, in the right moment, God will gather up everything on heaven and earth and bring us all together as one. Love unites us.

6. Sixth, in Christ we’ve been given an inheritance — a gift– from God. This is the Holy Spirit within us. It, again, is a free gift from God.

7. Seventh blessing – That Spirit works in us to accomplish everything God has planned. So when you don’t know how to love God or love another, you can pause, pray, think, reflect, and listen for the Spirit to guide you.

8. An eighth blessing – As we work for God, we live in praise and glory of God. We’re not asked to live counter to our nature or to God. We’re asked to live our lives, and in living, love. That love is a constant prayer of praise for God.

9. Nine blessings! All who have the seal of the Holy Spirit, all who have the Spirit within them, have gotten a down payment towards the full redemptive work of God. It’s a foretaste, a little snack, of the big meal to come when we’re all one in love and unity in God.

10. And ten! Ten blessings! And all of this is because God is gracious and glorious. Not because of any deed any human has done.

So what does all that mean?

It means Christianity is a weed.

You might try to get rid of it, but it comes back because God generously spreads love’s seeds everywhere. You may ignore God, but God won’t ignore you. You may curse God, but God is going to keep showering love and blessings on you because THAT IS WHO GOD IS.

Who is God? We have seen God in Jesus. What did Jesus do? Live generously; preach courageously; advocate spiritual, physical, and mental health; and confront all forces that harm others. All this he did humbly, and did not return violence for violence.

Like a weed, this movement won’t die. It just keeps resurrecting. Because the love of God is life itself. All of creation was made and is made in love. Although death is a part of reality, it isn’t the final word. Life is the final word. Resurrection. Life after death. Life continuing to beat the odds and find a way because God wants it to.

It means Christianity is a weed, or glitter (as in the kids’ chat), or fire – and spreads and spreads because it is God’s will to spread love all around!

Mark tells us of how Jesus sent out his disciples spreading the movement of God’s love. They came back with good news of the success of healing people, inviting people into God’s new age, and forgiving sins. That’s when our story begins today when Herod realizes this love won’t die.

King Herod Antipas hears of this success of Jesus’ movement too. He hears some people commenting, “Jesus is John, come back from the dead!”
Others say, “Oh no. Jesus is Elijah, come back from heaven!”
And others say, “He is a brand new prophet, but is as powerful as our ancient prophets.”

Herod, however, has no doubts. He is quivering in his sandals. Jesus is surely John resurrected. And who killed John?

Herod.

Perhaps Herod is thinking of the prophets who have wrote God says ‘Vengeance is mine, sayth the Lord.’ Perhaps Herod is terrified because he ordered the death of God’s holy man. This Jesus fellow can heal the sick, raise the dead, and has a direct line of communication with God. What is God going to do to the man who killed God’s prophet?

Herod is scared.

Mark takes a moment then to explain how Herod got in this position. Some years ago, Herod took his sister-in-law as his wife. John appeared from the desert saying, “Hey! That’s not right! You can’t take another’s wife just because you’re the king!” This is much the same situation that got King David in trouble, when he stole Bathsheba from her husband.

Now, Bathsheba hated David for doing this and killing her husband Uriah. She worked against David.

Herodias, however, doesn’t want her brother-in-law-husband to dump her. She likes being the queen. So she works against John.

The issue is… she can’t do anything without Herod’s permission… so she has to scheme a way to kill John and make it look like an accident… or convince her husband some way to kill John.

As Herodias schemes to kill John, Jesus begins to learn from John. This is the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is John’s disciple until John is arrested by King Herod just a few verses into the story. You see, Herod can keep a close eye on John in the dungeon. It is protective custody. It is saving Herod from Herod’s wife Herodias who has people out in the cities seeking to kill John.

Herod listens to John, and knows John is a holy man. John speaks and it perplexes Herod, but Herod likes it.

The first banquet of Mark is thrown for Herod’s birthday. Lots of people and guests and leaders attend. There, Herod and Herodias’ little girl dances. Her doting father is so pleased, he makes the same foolish offer as the king in Esther’s story: name anything you want, up to half of the kingdom, and it is your’s!

The little girl goes to her mother and asks, “What should I ask for?”

Her mother doesn’t waste a moment. “The head of John the baptizer.”

Picture this little girl, the word means she’s under the age of 12, dancing back out to her daddy before all the heads of state and saying, “I want the head of John the baptizer… on a platter!”

Leave it to a child to embellish their requests with ‘on a platter.’ I wonder if she did it to try to gain her mother’s pleasure. I’m certain Herodias was tickled pink.

We’re told Herod is deeply grieved. But everyone is watching. Will he renege on his oath? If he will, what other oaths will he violate? He won’t even keep an oath to his little girl… imagine the lies he’s telling the other heads of state.

So Herod sends for a guard to behead John. The head is put on a platter and given to the child. She leaves and gives it to her mother. A sneaky, sly mother and a foolish, weak father led to the death of God’s prophet.

John’s disciples hear of the gruesome capital punishment, and come and get John’s body and bury him.

Why does Mark take all this space to tell us this story? Mark – who wastes no words and who’s favorite word is ‘immediately?’

Because it is foreshadowing John’s disciple, Jesus.

Jesus will host the next banquet in the story and invite all the outcasts from the state. He will preach against the state when its leaders are immoral. Jesus will be arrested and brought before the leader Pilate. Pilate will listen to Jesus, and be perplexed, and admire him. Pilate will find Jesus to be a holy man, and not want Jesus killed. But for the sake of keeping face, and staying in power, Pilate will order Jesus’ gruesome death during a time that should be a celebration. Jesus’ disciples will take Jesus’ body and bury it.

Will that be the end of the story?

Was it the end of the story for John?

No. God kept on acting. Bringing out new voices out of the woodwork, raising up new songs from the very stones every time people were silenced.

Like a weed, the movement won’t stop appearing.

Like a mustard seed, it just keeps growing and spreading.

As told to us in the letter of Ephesians, from the beginning of time God’s been working on teaching us humans generosity, love, care for God’s garden, care for each other, and morality.

From the beginning of time, God’s been sending us prophets, messages, dreams and visions and voices to guide us.

From the beginning of time, God’s been creating and recreating our world and we, in it.

From the beginning of time, God has willed, mysteriously, goodness upon all things.

Greed and fear can’t crush this goodness. It might kill it. It might spray Round-Up on it. Greed might steal the last miter of the widow; gobble up the single-parent houses; or make orphans of refugees. But God won’t let greed win.

Fear might drive the people to mob mentalities where they cry out to crucify their very savior; abuse their fellow neighbor; and attempt to exploit the strangers who are angels in disguise. But God won’t let fear win.

Blessing upon blessing continuously and ponderously tip the scales of the world towards goodness. Generosity upon generosity, forgiveness upon forgiveness, grace upon grace continue to counter whatever evil springs forth from our hearts, moves our hands, poisons our minds, and promotes a hell on Earth in the name of security, national pride, or the economy.

God does this not because we’re good. Not because we’ve got it all together. But because God is good. And God wants good for us. God wants good for God’s creation.

Our job is to be messengers of this goodness and help spread it along. We’re the rainbow of hope in our uncertain world. We’re the chosen community working to live into God’s reign, now. We’re the children of God who have chosen to give up our citizenship to the United States of America, or Great Britain, or Canada, or Mexico, or planet Earth and take on the citizenship of the Kindom of God.

So we’re ambassadors. Bringing messages like those very first disciples of repentance, forgiveness, healing, and love to village after village. We’re a rebellion. Preaching peace in war; forgiveness to wrongs; and God’s love for all. We’re God’s children.

Greed and fear will always be attacking us, locking us up, silencing us… but we’re mustard seeds. A light on a hill. A contagious laughter filled with the Holy Spirit that is resurrected again and again again until all things are gathered into one.

Amen.

Powerful Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 81vRnmnrlBL
Mark 6:1-13

Have you been Saved? Call out the day and the hour and the minute you felt Jesus in your heart!
Have you seen angels? When and where and what did they do?
Have you been touched? What miracle did you witness?
What about out of body experiences?
What about dreams of heaven and visitations from the dead?
Can you feel the Spirit!?

In some churches, the space between this world and the unseen is very thin. They feel these great revelations and know the flow of the Spirit as strong a presence as someone right here. Sometimes it is so strong they get possessed, speak in tongues, fall into seizures, or even faint.

And for some churches, and for some people, faith and grace keeps them going. Not supernatural experiences. Not out of body moments. Not miracles.

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, they keep on going to church, keep on praying, keep to their religion in their emptiness.

And in emptiness, we are still strong.

Mother Theresa wrote the following confessing prayer to Jesus:

“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no One to answer–no One on Whom I can cling–no, No One.–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

Over her life, she felt in her soul so alone, so empty, so without the Spirit in her…

… and yet, she came to see this as a gift.

She knew this is the feeling Jesus had on the cross. This is the pain that made him cry out “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” This is the emptiness that Jesus poured himself to for us.

And that is the loneliness that the forsaken and poor of our world feel from society.

She drew strength from the Emptiness

The weakness forced her to become Strong in ways she wouldn’t have known otherwise

Jesus’ weakness of being human is the strength that unites us with God.

Jesus’ emptiness of his divinity on the cross to feel death is how no matter whether we live or die, our God is with us, our Christ experiencing and having had experienced this with us, and pulling us towards the final victory over death, over sin, over separation.

There is strength in not being self contained.

There IS strength in relying on Christ.

Whether we do so with the gift of tongues and visions, or we do so with the gift of a long, dark, night of the soul where we feel spiritually dry and alone.

There is still strength in relying on Christ versus solely ourselves.

And that is what Paul is arguing today.

Paul knows of churches where the Spirit manifests boldly.

Paul knows of people who have had great visions – himself included.

But he also knows there’s people who practice their faith for minutes, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months and years and never sense anything supernatural. But that does not mean they have less faith than those who can manifest Pentecostal tongues or those who have visions. No – he knows God has said “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Christ’s presence is all we need.

When we are weak, we are strong – because then we are relying on Christ and not ourselves.

When we have times when we really feel our faith we should delight in that. And delight in others who do. And when we have times we are just doing the motions out of faith, not out of feeling it, we should delight in that too. Those are times Jesus is carrying us. And we should delight in others who are being carried by Jesus too.

Remember this is Paul who will argue that the body of Christ is made of all kinds of parts and people. Not everyone can be an eye, for we need ears. Not everyone can be an ear, for we need eyes. Not everyone will be a mystic, and spiritual; we need thinkers and doubters and questioners. Not everyone needs to be a thinker and doubter and questioner either — we need our people sensing the divine.

It is our weakness – not being able to be everything for ourselves- that makes us strong. For then we rely on one another; and rely on Christ.

Jesus’ message is the same as Paul’s. Or rather, Paul was preaching similar lessons as Jesus.

We read today that Jesus came to his hometown after having been out and about preaching and doing miracles. He goes to the synagogue and begins to preach.

Just like at the other places, people are amazed at what he is saying. But instead of celebrating the good news of God’s forgiveness and the in breaking of the reign of God… they are amazed at his audacity. They’ve always heard of great preachers and prophets as larger than life characters. Amazing people. Astonishing in person.

But this is just Mary’s son.

There’s his sisters.

And his brothers.

He’s not some super trained doctorate of religion… he’s a carpenter. Look, I’m using the chair he made last year. And Bobby over there used to make mud pies with little Jesus and Tammy there changed his diapers.

This is no miracle worker. This is Just Jesus.

Our church is no church in Corinth. No Saint Paul’s Cathedral or none-denominational mega church. This is Just Saint Michael’s.

What can we do?

The people in Jesus’ hometown thought he was nothing and so saw him do nothing. They were limited by how much they would permit him to be. They knew the human Jesus who had faults and flaws and was so mortal. And they demanded miracle workers to be fully perfect and have everything in order.

But that’s not the message of God. God loved us while we were still sinners. While not perfect, we’re called. While full of the Spirit or full of spiritual emptiness, we are included into the Body of Christ and told there is a spot for us. Those full of visions and those questioning the existence of God both are called to be saints, and to “Come be [Christ’s] light” to the world. (Jesus to Mother Theresa)

So Jesus sends us out. Sends the disciples out. Sends us out. Not loaded with everything figured out and perfect, but carrying just Jesus. He tells them to go with the bare minimum and to rely on the hospitality of strangers. He tells them to go with nothing spare. No backups. No money. Not even an extra cloak or pair of shoes. Just themselves. “Eugene Peterson offers Jesus’ instructions this way: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment” (The Message).

God never calls the equipped. God equips the called.

God never picks perfect people, perfect churches, perfect situations. God makes perfect the strength in those called.

And we, all who are Christian, are called to be Christ’s light to the world.

In your weakness, strength is made perfect.

In your need of Christ, you are filled with Christ whether you feel it or not.

In your brokenness, you are the perfect person to help another who is broken.

In your pain, you understand the pain of another.

Rev. Sally Brown applies these thoughts to our world today. She writes, “…culture is eyeing the churches these days, testing our credibility. Congregations may imagine that they cannot think about public witness until their internal problems, doctrinal and budgetary, are all resolved. But it may be precisely our internal challenges that press us into the kind of engagement with each other and with the Spirit that can turn us, sooner rather than later, away from cloying self-absorption and outward to the world God loves. Even in our weakness, maybe even because of it, we become credible witnesses of saving news in this frantic, fearful world.”

In other words… our culture is looking to us, looking to church communities, to see how to get through our trying times.

America is fractured and fighting. As we fight ourselves, we affect our world. The effects are helping raise tensions everywhere. Are we heading towards another world war?

I don’t know.

I do know, that we, in our imperfection, are called to this hurting country and hurting world. Not because we have it all together, but because we’re authentic in our tries to live together in our diversity. We are the equipment. We are the witnesses. We are the people called to say, “I wholly disagree with you, but I can still love you.” “I will not ever vote like you do, but I will share bread with you.” “I am not you, but I am glad you are my neighbor.”

Who you are now, without everything figured out, is needed now to be Christ’s light.

Amen.

Something to Eat

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Jesus-touched-woman-touching-Jesus-Divine-Healing
Mark 5:21-43

What lengths would you go for healing?

For yourself?

For your child?

For today’s unnamed woman, she was willing to risk everything. She’d already paid all her money. She’d lost all her dignity as doctor after doctor and healer after healer failed to help her. Twelve years ago – maybe from childbirth – she began to bleed from below the waist and for twelve years the life has leeched out of her. This has meant for 12 years she has been dead, cut off, unable to attend religious functions or be among the community because any woman who is bleeding is supposed to stay home until she stops. It was customary – a way to keep the community clean. Much like today day cares say you should you’re your kid home for 24 hours if they have a fever, or hospitals ask if you’ve traveled out of country recently, and if so, isolated. These are preventative measures to keep the community clean.

But imagine if that temporary cleansing time wasn’t a few hours or days… but lasted months… years… over a decade of isolation. Over a decade of people avoiding you so they wouldn’t be contaminated and need to be in isolation too.

And here this woman is. In the crowd. Contaminating all these people, per se. She doesn’t tell them. She sneaks. Who would let her through to embarrass the rabbi with lady problems? Who would let her make him ritually unclean?

If caught, what will happen? Will they stone her, kill her, for violating the social rules? Will they cast her out of the city and make her a beggar, or made to wander the desert until she died of thirst? Will they arrest her, take her from her family, and deport her?

She risks it all just for a chance at a better life.

Just for a chance of healing.

Chance of grace — unearned favor.

She touches just the hem, the barest edge, of Jesus’ clothes and feels — FEELS — the change in her. Just that smallest touch has brought her back to life and among the living!

Jesus FEELS the change, too.

“WHO HAS TOUCHED ME?”

“Everyone is touching you, what do you mean ‘who has touched you’? It’s a crowd! It’s crowded!”

And Jesus glared at the crowd.

So much for not embarrassing the rabbi. So much for keeping his honor intact. So much for sneaking in the crowd and not letting them know of the unclean, unwelcomed one among them. So much for getting away with her newly given life. What will the crowd do to this woman – now that she’s stolen from the rabbi AND contaminated him? Death will be merciful.

She so easily could have ran away then. Saved her life. But she chooses to give in, and in giving her life away, saves it.

She falls down before Jesus and tells him the whole truth – every gory detail – every failed doctor, every penny spent, every place she’s been not welcomed. She tells him way, way too much until the people around him are uncomfortable. She confesses her theft, and guilt, wholly to the one she offended, the one she is indebted to.

And he forgives her debts. Forgives her sins. Her trespasses. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Faith – trust – confession – reconciliation –has cleansed her of her sins. It is well with her soul. “Go in peace and be healed.”

With a full confession, this woman is given more mercy than she ever dreamed was possible. She is not just physically healed, but spiritually, too. And directly forgiven by the one she did wrong to. She is wholly returned to life after 12 years of dying.

But that’s not the whole story today.

Jesus in this crowd had been heading to Jarius’ house where his 12 year old daughter is deathly ill.

How far is Jarius willing to go for healing for his child? What will he risk?

Everything.

He comes to the folk healer Jesus, whom Jarius’ own peers are ridiculing, to save not his first son or any son — but a daughter, a child that is considered not to have much worth in society. And not any daughter who has given him grandsons… but his 12 year old daughter, who is just ready to begin her menses, not even a full woman. See the ties to the previous woman, here? Jarius will risk his job, his reputation, and therefore his livelihood and life to save the life of his little girl.

But it is too late.

Jesus paused, helped an outsider, a stranger, a thief… and now the little innocent girl is dead.

Can you feel the crowd’s anger? Don’t bother the rabbi.

Over at the house, the crowd is crying. Hope is lost. The miracle was stolen by that dirty woman.

Jesus, however, tells them there is no need to weep – the girl is only asleep. He tells Jarius “Do not fear, only believe!”

But the crowd laughs him out.

To the sound of their jeers, Jesus takes the little girls’ mom and dad, and his closest friends, into the house. Over the sound of the crowd mocking, maybe getting angry with that woman, or angry with Jesus for being too late, over all that chaos Jesus goes into the quiet room with the dead child. And he touches her — breaking the social taboo of not touching the dead. Making himself unclean. An outsider. And he whispers to her not in some strange language, but in their native tongue – their own dialect – little girl, get up!

And she does. Back from the dead. Healed. Alive.

Oh death, where is your sting?

Oh God, who truly has endless grace — no one can steal another’s place with you!

God is so generous, so full of life, so extravagant that there is healing enough for all. There is love enough for all. There is life enough for all.

Don’t fear. Only believe.

Don’t be stingy, don’t doubt, don’t jeer. Be generous. Be optimistic. Be encouraging.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is telling them that the reason they are so affluent, so well off, so that they can help others. Gifts are meant to be shared! Talents are meant to be shared! Miracles are meant to be shared! Food is meant to be shared.

Around this table Jesus sets for us, we share. We share our joys. We share our woes. We share our hopes. We share our shames. We share a body – that is old and young, healthy and unhealthy, saintly and fallen. We share extravagantly and proclaim it is open for one, and all, and everyone who wishes to begin anew their life with Christ and with one another in the name of Christ. We proclaim every sin confessed is wholly forgiven for God’s mercy’s are endless. God’s welcome is endless. God’s love is endless.

How far are you willing to go for healing?

For a clear conscious and a well soul?

Are you willing to apologize to the ones you have wronged?

It’s something to chew on, to eat.

Amen.

Overwhelmed!

Job 38:1-11 410aa5cda50273cb8dcb934ffda5455f
Mark 4:35-41

Overwhelmed. Just… overwhelmed.

A country falls when its people are divided against themselves. When we become numb to atrocities. When we tune out, look away, and protect only our own. When we become overwhelmed.

I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Puerto Rico continues to have no power. People continue to die there.

Mining is beginning in state national monuments that has been sold, by our government, to private owners.

Flint continues to have no safe drinking water. Children continue to be contaminated with lead there.

The refugee crises worldwide has reached a new record of 69 million people displaced by war, natural disasters, ethic cleansing, gang violence, global climate change and poverty.

Last Wednesday, we began to take a breath – the separation of children from their parents at our border was finally being addressed by our President… but the law he signed is causing even more issues.

Jailing families is not a solution. It is a political band-aid against outcry, hoping we’ll give up the fight and go back to being placid. It is tossing a bucket of water on a house fire our government started.

It’s going to do MORE harm.

Now, families may be detained indefinitely. Before, children could not spend more than 20 days detained before they were sent to relatives in the USA, or their home countries, or foster families in their own communities. Now, without limits, children will grow up in concentration camps indefinitely. Inside cages. In facilities not designed for children. Without education, without toys, without area to play. Some of these people are being sent to tent cities, some to abandoned Wal-marts, some to military bases, and 1,600 have been send to federal prison – not because of a federal crime, but because prisons had room to cage more humans. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/08/us-sending-1600-immigration-detainees-to-federal-prisons.html)

Any who take in these “prisoners” receive funding from the government to keep them. For-profit-human-detainment. Indeed, GEO, the company that owns the largest immigration detention centers, are paying money directly to politicians to sway more immigrants arrest. (dallasnews.com)

Some American citizens worry about the language of the executive order. It says -families- are to be held together. What if you are a USA citizen who has a relative who enters the USA seeking asylum? Will you now be rounded up and sent to a camp, too?

And, it does nothing to help the almost 3,700 children separated from their parents already. They continue to be in kennels with armed adults who are not allowed to comfort their cries. They are relying on one another to change their diapers and wipe their tears.

This is not some far away country or state or border. This is in our own backyard, too. The same day that the new Executive Order was signed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE — raided Salem, Ohio — a rural town just outside of Massillon.

What happened? ICE showed up at a factory and arrested about 150 people. Some were here legally, but did not have their ID on them. Most are parents.

A pastor there shared a story of a husband crying – his wife is now somewhere in Michigan or Ohio, being held indefinitely, without bail, without rights (our latest Executive Order specifically states “illegals” and those suspected of being such have no rights), and his 2 year old and 4 year old are crying ‘where is mommy?’

There are children now orphaned. They sit in the local Catholic church who has opened their doors. Sister Rene Weeks said, “Most of the [parents] are here legally, but they were taken yesterday because they didn’t have their documentation with them at the time.” And so, little children, with no parents or aunts although here legally, sit numbed and terrified in the shelter of the church. ((https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/06/20/ice-ohio-arrests-100-during-undocumented-immigrant-raid-meat-packing-plants/716953002/)) The nun added, “One woman who was taken was the sole adult at home… She has five children.” The school system found kids at their day care not picked up – alone – or coming home to an empty house. “It’s the terror of: ‘What’s happening to my family? I can’t contact them,’ She works with about 60 families, and she estimates about three-quarters of them were directly affected by the raid.

“A few people managed to send some text messages, but for the most part, people couldn’t talk to anybody,” she said. “They were terrorized.”(npr)

There are children who are refusing to go to day care, school, or leave their parents’ sides for fear they’ll never see them again. A real possibility.

In Ohio, we have an estimated undocumented population of 83,000, but there are only 35 pro bono immigration advocates statewide, according to the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. Many people are facing these hearings without translators, without legal advice. This is legal, technically, but it is not Biblical.

Deut. 1:16 – “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident foreigner.”

In many cases, people couldn’t reach their relatives for days.

You wonder – were they captured?
Deported?
Raped — yes, this is happening. And then silenced or else face their family deported. Sometimes this is happening to their children before them.
Killed? Yes. This is happening. Who cares if you kill “animals”?

The Salem workers who were released when their IDs were found are who brought word home of what had happened. But that doesn’t lessen the trauma. The terror. The systemic government-ordained abuse of children of God.

Have we forgotten we’re Christian? Have we forgotten the Holy Book?

No where does it say terrorize children and abuse the foreigner! Instead, it reads,

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I can cite another fifteen verses on this very topic – love the foreigners, the strangers, the aliens, the illegals among you.

Who are these people among us in Ohio?

The people in Salem are from Guatemala.

Guatemala is a country that’s known 80 years of warfare. I’ve heard people call it the “game of thrones” of the real world. The government is corrupt, gangs rule the streets, who you are related to is everything. The natives are considered not-human and are hunted with machetes. The army forces people to hack to death their own neighbors.

“If you are a civilian there, beneath the labels—soldier; gangster; policeman; army; cartel—is but one underlying reality: men with guns who do what they want and take what they want. Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; to join a gang yourself; or to leave.” ((https://newrepublic.com/article/118675/child-migrants-guatemala-are-fleeing-more-just-gang-violence))

What would you do?

In the past, if you left Guatemala, you could come to the USA to plead for sanctuary. Asylum. Be a refugee.

And we would hear your story, and if it were true, welcome you, for our ancestors were the poor huddled masses, too.

Now… who is listening?

These are our neighbors. Here. In Ohio.

I’m overwhelmed.

I read a cry for justice from overwhelmed Job today. He wants God to come and answer why bad things have happened. He’s demanding to know how justice and fairness works. Why have his wife and children been taken from him? Why have the people he called friends now sitting and mocking him? Where are you God? Answer me!

And God does. God comes in a whirlwind and doesn’t tell Job that the world is right and fair; that we all get our just desserts; that the good people prosper and the bad are harmed. Instead, God explains how God is present in all of creation. Everywhere.

God isn’t going to stop our cruelty, although God weeps as we go, because God has limited God’s self and given us free will. We can choose to eat of the forbidden fruit. We can make laws that say all fruit is good for eating. Or we can deny ourselves the forbidden fruit because we’re listening to God’s laws.

Job can leave his worship of God at any time. God isn’t our safety net. God isn’t going to arbitrate between Job and his friends… or ex-friends.

God is our creator. God is present with us. God loves us. God weeps over us. God gives us free will.

“God would never let us go astray” is not true. True love leaves open the other’s freedom to walk away. God truly loves us. Enough to let us be free to love God back or to reject God. God lets us go astray, and follows us as we stray ready to lead us back to the narrow way.

God loves the world. We’re called to love the world, too. Not just ourselves, but others, too.

God’s love isn’t bound by borders, God loves everyone in this room and all the way beyond regardless of what it says on their birth certificate or even if they have one.

How I’m feeling overwhelmed!

In the boat, the disciples are overwhelmed. Taking on water. It is all around. They wake up Jesus, who is sleeping like the dead, and say “Don’t you care we’re all going to die?!” And Jesus rebukes the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And there is an great calm over the sea. Just as great of a fear sits in the disciples’ hearts over Jesus’ actions. And he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Have you no faith God is with you?

Stormy waters happen. But God is with us the whole way.

We need to see God with us. We need to stand on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, the foreigner, the least of these… for that is where Christ stands.

Stand, like the Catholic church in Salem, who opens its doors as a safe place for Latinos to get education on resources, to learn English, and as a place to meet if an ICE raid occurs.

Stand, like our sister UCC church in Chillicothe. Orchard Hill provides space for lawyers to meet immigrants in a safe, neutral, and private place. A table, cup of coffee, and hospitality.

Stand, like protesters at local government offices, showing that we of the dominate group care. We are not turning a blind eye.

Stand, and when our friends, and neighbors, speak poorly of foreigners remind them of our one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, and one Body of Christ.

I John 4:7-21 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…” We love because God first loved us.”

Even the wind and the sea obey God — ought we too?

Ought we not love and aim for peace and justice, too?

Amen.

((Was with a kids’ message on the difference between fairness and justice; with three asked to throw paper into a basket set right before one child. When the others missed, the basked was moved 1 inch closer to everyone. It was fair. Even easier for the closest child. Then we did just – and moved it between everyone. But it wasn’t fair, and now was harder for the child who it has been easy. Spoke about if you are born here white, you are the first child. We need to do justice, which is not fair.))

 

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ 6-24-2018

Father’s Day: Analogies; Parables; and Confusion

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 1400945145878
Mark 4:26-34

Remember Ruth and Naomi? Ruth’s grandson is Jesse. In Bethlehem Jesse lives with his many, many sons. One day the prophet Samuel – who has spoken gloom and doom to Israel, and Israel has had a LOT of gloom and doom under Saul – comes to town.

The people are not happy to see him. If King Saul knows Samuel is here, the King may level the town to get to Samuel and kill him. But if they turn a prophet of God away, God might level the town for their inhospitality. Still over, maybe the prophet has come to speak gloom and doom and ruin to Bethlehem, personally.

“Do you come in peace?!” They tremble and ask Samuel.

“Yes,” says Samuel. “I’ve come to sacrifice to the Lord. Come join me.”

He isn’t here to tell them to take arms against their king, or here to ruin their city, or to call God’s fury upon them. He’s here to pray and worship God. I imagine the elders are starting to breathe easier. Among them are Jesse, and his sons.

Together the whole group goes and worships God. Samuel looks at the sons and knows God has provided for God’s self a new king from among them. Saul has lost God’s blessing. Israel needs a new ruler.

Eliab looks like a great ruler. He’s tall, strong, muscular. He carries himself like a king. He’s the eldest of Jesse, and therefore, the one the mortals would choose.

— No, says God. I am not looking at the outside of people. I’m looking at their hearts. Not Eliab.–

So in comes Abinadab. He’s the next best choice. The second eldest. If the first can’t take the throne, then it goes to the second son, right?

Nope.

Call in the next son. Sammah. The… third son?

Nope.

One after another, four more sons pass before Jesse. Seven total no’s are said from God.

We went from the very best son, the oldest, the strongest, the tallest — to the middling best sons. And God has said no to all of them. But God had told Samuel one of Jesse’s sons is to be the new king. But God has rejected all of them! Every single one!

I imagine Samuel is pretty confused, “God has said no to these nine sons… Do you have any others?”

Jesse thinks and says, “Well, yeah. There’s the youngest. The kid. He’s tending the sheep.” This youngest is so not important to his family he isn’t even invited to the worship service. He’s tucked away – told kids don’t belong among the adults doing religious things.

“Bring in the child!” says Samuel. “We won’t sit down for our worship feast until the child is here!”

So someone goes and gets the boy. When Samuel sees the boy, God tells him this is the one. So Samuel goes to the least of the brothers, the youngest, the forgotten one and anoints the child. The child is then filled with God’s presence from that day forward. He is David, the shepherd, the musician, and the chosen new king of Israel.

God is often called Father in the Bible. This isn’t because God is male – indeed, we are all made in the image of God, so God is all genders – but rather, because in the old, old society our scripture comes from – the eldest males are in charge.

Samuel orders Jesse. Jesse orders his eldest son. His eldest orders his younger brother, who orders his younger brother… on and on down the line all the way to the little kid David. That is how the world is organized. So, naturally, if everyone is under God, then God is the eldest male — Father of all.

But stories like David’s, or Joseph and his multicolored coat, or even Isaac show God doesn’t think in this eldest-male way. Instead, just as God says to Samuel here, God looks at our hearts. Not our bodies. Not our birth orders. Not what gender or sex we are. It’s a human thing to rank ourselves with gender and age so that ‘Father’ becomes the ruler, ‘Lord’ becomes the norm, and ‘Male’ becomes god-like.

If we were in a matriarchal society, we’d be calling God Mother, Lady, and saying female is god-like. Because the eldest women are in charge in a matriarchy.

We humans are pretty poor at grasping heavenly concepts. But we use what tools we have to explain the divine. We use these things we can see to explain the things we can’t see. Jesus used parables to try to help people see the divine no longer in the terms of male-female, black-white, binaries… but rather another dimension. A third way. The narrow way. The way of yes, and…

Yes, God is Father. And God is Mother.

Yes, God is our eldest. And God is youngest.

Yes, God is Lord. And also servant.

Analogies are “yes, and” ways to help us open our minds. So too are parables. Today we hear three parables of Jesus about God’s reign. In the first, without the farmer knowing the specifics, the seed grows and grows and produces itself. Whether or not you understand photosynthesis; whether or not you’re out there telling the seed to grow; whether or not you’re attending to the seed… plants grow. Just ask your weeds.

God’s reign is ever growing, whether or not we attend to it. Whether or not we understand. Whether or not we want it to – God is ever closer.

Now, Garlic mustard grows around here. And mustard grows around Jesus’ place. Let’s use dandelions for today’s example. They’re much more like the weed Jesus was describing for our local place. Or, if you don’t care about dandelions in your yard – picture ragweed or mares tale or cowpoke.

Whether or not you want these plants – they’re going to show up in your yard and in your fields.

Whether or not you want the reign of God – it’s coming. It’s here.

So Jesus said consider the weeds. The little tiny seeds of dandelions get EVERYWHERE. The wind blows them here and there, they grow anywhere they land – between concrete cracks and inside flower pots. In yards and in fields.

That dandelion is the greatest of all the flowers. Don’t give me that look! It’s one of the first to bloom and all the bees love it. It’s one of the last to bloom and all the bees love it. It’s good to eat for animals and people. It’s easy to grow. It’s pretty. Its fun to blow the seeds. Birds use its fluff for their nests to cradle their babies. That flower is the greatest – over all the roses and orchids and tender plants.

Once again, God isn’t looking on the outside, and at our human expectations. Not Jesse’s eldest, but his youngest. Not the beautiful tender rose but the stalwart, common, weed.

If God is like our father, using this analogy for our Father’s Day, then God is like the father who looks at all his children and sees something beautiful in each of them. There is no child who is forgotten out with the sheep. No child who is considered a nuisance. If God is like a Father, he’s the kind of Father who didn’t care what grade you got on your test; he cared if you were learning. He didn’t care who you dated, so long as they treated you well. He didn’t care where you worked, so long as it made you happy. A father who wants what’s best for our souls.

God as our Father would not be the type of father who rips children from parents; who blasphemies using scripture to justify sin and evil; and who ignores the plight of the least of us.

No. If your father acts like this, and you think fathers ought to act like this, then don’t call god Father.

Call God the name of the role of the one who loves you most.
Our God wants us to use the terms that we most identify with for God. It’s why Jesus uses parables. Why God upturns our expectations.

What should we compare God like?

Who is an earthly someone who protects us, loves us, wants the best for us, created us, provides for us, and encourages us – if that is Father – call God Father. If that is Mother, call God Mother. If that is Grandma, call God Grandma… and so forth. Because our human language will never capture God. God is beyond language.

Analogies are never perfect. They just point towards.

But we have to use something, some words to describe our God… so we use these human terms.

But may we always be like Samuel and listening to God, who is ready to surprise us with new language, shatter our expectations with new hopes, new beginnings, and lead us to blessings through counter-cultural ways.

May we walk by faith and not by sight.

Let us be like the disciples, who didn’t understand everything in the least, but who kept going and following their shepherd.

Let us embrace the “yes, and” ways of describing our God, who is yes our father, and also so much more.

Amen

House & Family

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 good-or-shit_jesus_did-i-stutter
Mark 3:20-35

Who has authority? Today, I’d say it is religious leaders, the government, and social media.

 

In Jesus’ day, it was the government of Rome, the scribes or religious leaders, and family.

 

The crowd comes together, loud and noisy. Stinking and ill. They press in on Jesus so tightly that Jesus and his disciples cannot even get a bite to eat. Everywhere they look there’s people crying out for help and pressing in to see this marvelous healer and preacher and prophet.

 

Two thirds of the moral authority have had enough.

 

Jesus’ family has had enough. They’ve decided to restrain, arrest, Jesus and put him under lock and key. He’s an embarrassment. He’s bringing shame to the family name. And he’s challenging the authorities. What if they come after his family to get to him? It’s time to take control of their wayward son. So in come Mary and Jesus’ brothers shoving through the crowd trying to get to Jesus.

 

Meanwhile, the religious authorities have had enough. The scribe are above reproach. Their word is trusted without question. And they begin to say Jesus’ miraculous healings are due to the power of Beelzebul, Satan, demonic sources. Anyone who trusts the scribes and authorities believes Jesus is bad news. And the scribes stand in the crowd trying to get people to go away.

 

So the two controlling moral authorities in Jesus’ ancient world: the religious leaders and the family — have both declared Jesus should be ignored. He is either insane, or demonic, or both.

 

Jesus preaches: If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan is casting out demons, then you’ve won, right? Because if the demons are in a civil war, they will fall.

 

If I’m not demonic, then I’m a thief. I’ve come into the strong man’s house to tie him up. That strong man Satan doesn’t stand a chance. Once he’s bound, I’m taking all the treasure.

 

Once the powers of this earth are tied up; I’m releasing all the prisoners, giving sight to the blind, letting the crippled walk, making justice and mercy flow like a raging river and water the parched land; I’m taking this big crowd of desperate people, and all the lambs of every flock who cry out to me, and giving them new life.

 

Jesus looked at the big crowd – full of hurts inside and out. And he declared, “People will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.” There’s no sin so heinous God cannot forgive it. The only eternal sin is what the scribes have done: seen the mercy and love and forgiveness of God, and call it Satanic, refuse it for themselves, and try to get others to refuse it.

 

The only sin that cannot be forgiven are the sins we refuse to admit, refuse to apologize for, refuse to accept forgiveness for.

 

Perhaps this is why later Jesus prays, ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ We may not understand all our sins, but if we’re willing to accept forgiveness and have a humble heart… they ARE all forgiven.

 

With the scribes dealt with and dismissed, Jesus next turns to his mother and brothers. They are outside of the house, unable or unwilling to enter into the crowd of messy, dirty, sinful people. They call – wanting Jesus to get up and leave those sheep and come to them. Come back to your mind. Come back to your family. Come and leave this messiah nonsense alone. Leave these sinners and be socially acceptable again.

 

And Jesus looks at the crowd, and asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here they are! Whoever does the will of God are my mother and brothers and sisters.” Jesus rewrites the definition of family. He won’t let his house be divided. His house isn’t who we are biologically born to – it is whoever does the will of God. And what is the will of God? To love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Jesus’ family are everyone who does God’s will.

 

Jesus doesn’t say his family is all Christians. Indeed, there are those who will cry Lord, Lord but are not part of his flock. He doesn’t say his family are all Jews, all Muslims, all people — but rather, WHOEVER does the will of God.

 

Buddhists. Atheists. Hindus. Whoever does the will of God to love God and love the neighbor as yourself.

 

All sins, all blasphemies or false teachings, are forgivable but the calcified heart that refuses God.

 

What does this mean for us?

 

It means a challenge to our own authorities. When our own religious leaders, government leaders, or family members try to label some people as animals, sinners without a hope, or exile them. We’ve got to be the voices saying no. We are to welcome the outcast, the stranger, the exile. Our family is all who love God and love the neighbor. And those who do not love neighbors, do not love God, and are excluding themselves.

 

Some people don’t put much weight into demons and the effect of evil.

 

But evil is very much alive… with or without demonic help.

 

In our own hearts, and out of our mouths and hands, great evil occurs.

 

This earthly tent we live in is a tent. Weak and flimsy. And so very fallible. But we love to judge others based on that tent.

 

Based on that tent, access to basic sanitation is given or denied. The United Nations has a special division to work with the greatest poverty places in the world. This investigator goes to these counties, sees what is happening, and makes a report to the world. The goal is to bring awareness to the poverty, and hopefully shame the government into helping the least of their citizens.

 

That investigator, Philip Alston,  was sent to the USA this last December. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/15/america-extreme-poverty-un-special-rapporteur; http://undocs.org/A/HRC/38/33/ADD.1)

 

He went to Skid Row in California, where 1,800 people are permanently homeless and share 9 toilets. California passes more and more rules against homelessness – and closes parks and public restrooms at dusk to discourage homelessness.

 

But homeless is generally not a choice. Just like needing to go to the restroom is not really a choice. So these people have to relieve themselves in the streets. Mass infections are passing wildfire through California now because people are leaving body fluid where they can since they have no restrooms, or homes. And why? The cost of housing is so high. Even here, in Ohio, you need to have a full time job paying $10.50 an hour to have a way to your job, an apartment, and food. But minimum wage is $8.30. Start adding in kids… and by the time you’re an average family with two adults and two children… both adults need $14.75 an hour working full time to support themselves and their two kids. (http://livingwage.mit.edu/states/39)

 

This is Ohio.

 

It is way, way more expensive in California.

 

“Why don’t they live with their families?”

 

In Jesus’ time and in our time, our families kick us out, restrain us, or disown us if we’re abnormal. If we have drug histories, or are gay or lesbian, or even too liberal, whatever our families think are the ‘unforgivable sins’… we get kicked out. Often families don’t have the resources and community support to stick by their odd sheep.

 

It’s why Jesus asserts again and again in God’s family, you don’t get kicked out. Everyone is welcome. We have the resources of the world – millions and billions of Christians – to address all needs.

 

But that’s not how our country is running. This UN reporter went to Alabama next. There, sewage is also a problem. Most of the poor are black, and live in trailer homes. These have straight PVC pipes from their toilets away from the house to dump the sewage away. But the ground is rich black soil and doesn’t soak up the sewage. Add two or three trailer homes, or more, like a usual trailer park, and now there are open cesspits. Almost everyone tested positive in these areas for hookworms. The UN investigator said it was as bad as any developing country – any third world country – with barefoot children infested with worms playing in sewage.

 

Why?!

 

The investigator found that it costs $5,000 or more dollars to make a septic tank, and these people cannot afford that. When they go to the government for help, the locally ran white government gives them fines for having straight-pipe systems. A few years ago a sewer system began, but it only was given to white businesses and skipped over black houses. People wouldn’t even give the investigator their name because they were scared the local government would learn, and come turn off their tap water.

 

Due to the color of their tent, their skin, and their poverty, these people are kicked out.

 

But Jesus won’t kick them out.

 

The investigator traveled to Puerto Rico, where months and months ago the hurricane hit but STILL there are hospitals on generators, STILL there are people dying because they lack again, fresh water and sewage treatment. The government aid has pulled out and charities alone try to help. Over 5,000 people have died now because of that storm. And the number is growing. The new EPA rules revoke most of our clean water and air act. What’s left it is cheaper to pay the fine if you’re caught than to properly treat waste. So the locals, who are starving, now watch their fish die out due to pollution. And they still don’t have clean water to drink.

 

There’s still no clean water to drink in Flint Michigan.

 

Puerto Ricans are dark skinned. Speak Spanish. Some say they aren’t American citizens although they are. They’re kicked out. Different.

 

But Jesus won’t kick them out.

 

Lastly the investigator went to rural West Virginia. As white skinned of tents as can be. And there he found the orphans of the heroin epidemic. He found the men and women and children trying to drink well water contaminated with fracking run off and coal mud — toxic, cancerous, actually a bit radioactive water. He found people who cannot find work because all the mines have closed, and the jobs long gone away. He found them surviving on government food stamps, SNAP, and fretting… the proposed rules that you have to work to get government assistance for work means starvation. Literal starvation in these rural villages where there is no work to be had. No money to move away. The investigator found massive malnutrition that is permanently harming the brain development of the children in rural Appalachia.

 

And these people are kicked out. Called in-bred, we make red-neck and hillbilly jokes, and say they’re stupid.

 

Jesus says no. The homeless of Skidrow, the blacks of Alabama, the Latinos of Puerto Rico, the whites of West Virginia — this is our family.

 

Who are my mother and my brothers and my sisters?

 

Whomever does the will of God.

 

Whomever loves God and loves their neighbors.

 

… There’s an internet meme, an internet image, I think summarizes the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is speaking to the disciples and says, “Love your neighbor.”

 

The disciples raise their hands and say, “But what if…?” and they begin to list things. What if they’re gay? What if they’re black? Latino? Lesbian? Sinning? Not American? Not Christian?

 

And Jesus gets upset, “Did I ****ing stutter?”

 

That is Mark’s Jesus. Love God and your neighbor. No what ifs, no dividing the house of Christ, no conditionals. Love God and love your neighbors as you love yourself.