Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sneak Preview

This is the sermon I will be giving tomorrow afternoon in Norwich. You get a sneak preview!

August 26, 2012 [Green] Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Outreach Service at Chenango Valley Home & Apts., Norwich NY

Scripture Lesson: 1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43

This takes place after King Solomon has built a temple to the Lord. Prior to that, they used a tabernacle to house the ark of the covenant. The difference between the two is that a tabernacle is portable and can be taken down and reconstructed wherever the Israelites traveled. Now the temple, which is a permanent structure, has been completed to “house” God permanently amongst the Israelites.

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, 'There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.' Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.  "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. "Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name --for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm--when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20

In this reading, Paul is assuring the Ephesians, and us as well, that God will never leave us, nor will he leave us defenseless; if only we clothe ourselves with the armor he so graciously provides.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Gospel Lesson: John 6:56-69

This is one of the hardest lessons for Jesus’ followers to understand or believe, and not all of them could handle it.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

“Flesh and Blood”

Just what is Jesus talking about in today’s gospel lesson? Does he really expect his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, or is he speaking in metaphors?

Back in Jesus’ day, people could not go to the local grocery store and pick up their food. No, they were quite familiar with where food actually comes from and how to prepare it for eating. They knew how to gut fish, butcher goats, uproot vegetables, crush fruit and smash seeds in order to eat them. 

So when Jesus tells those who came to hear him speak that unless they “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” the pictures of slaughter and food preparation may very well have been the first thing that came to their minds. No wonder “many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’”

Maybe their familiarity with carcasses, blood and pain made Jesus’ words all that more graphic and difficult to hear. Perhaps picturing their Savior as crushed, battered, and dying was too much for them to take. Or maybe they believed that Jesus was actually asking them to become cannibals.

The thought of drinking any blood, much less human blood, was repugnant to the religious leaders, and was, in fact, forbidden by law. Leviticus 7:26-27 says, “And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal. Anyone who eats blood must be cut off from their people.’” and again in Leviticus 17:10-12 we learn: “‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”

Jesus was not talking about literal flesh and blood, of course, but how can Jesus give us his flesh to eat and blood to drink? To eat living bread means to accept Jesus into our lives and to become united with him. We are united with Christ in two ways: 1) by believing in his death (which is the sacrifice of his flesh) and in the resurrection, and 2) by devoting ourselves to living as he requires, depending on his teaching for guidance and trusting in the Holy Spirit for power. As we heard in Leviticus, the life is in the blood. So, accepting the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ is the basis for eternal life.

Verse 63 of our gospel lesson tells us “The Spirit gives life.” The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life. All spiritual renewal begins and ends with God. He reveals truth to us, lives within us, and then enables us to respond to that truth.

Jesus tells his followers that he is “the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus was referring to the manna that God sent to the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert after having escaped from slavery in Egypt. Throughout their Exodus, God miraculously sustained his people by sending manna from heaven each morning. The bread-like manna was a “small round substance as fine as frost” (Exodus 16:14). It looked “like white coriander seed” and tasted like “wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31) or “pastry prepared with oil.” (Numbers 11:8).

It was this manna that Christ was recalling when he called himself “the true bread from heaven” in John 6:32, “the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:41) and the “bread of life” (John 6:48-51, 58). Symbolically, Jesus is the heavenly manna, the spiritual or supernatural food given by the Father to those who ask, seek, and knock. (John 6:45, Matthew 7:7-8). But unlike the manna sent by God to the Israelites, Jesus gives eternal life; whereas those who ate the manna in the desert eventually died.

It’s also interesting that Jesus’ “bread of life discourse,” as John 6:26-58 is called, was given during Passover, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover celebrates the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. On the night before leaving Egypt, the Israelites made unleavened bread, which is bread made without yeast, because they had no time to let their bread rise before taking flight.

In the context of our gospel lesson, Jesus had just fed at least 5,000 people, an event that led directly to the bread of life discourse. Clearly, he was indicating that he was God’s provision for the people’s deepest spiritual needs. Just as God had provided for his people as they came out of Egypt, so Jesus had provided physical food for 5,000 people and was ready to provide spiritual nourishment and life to all of them as well.

Many of the disciples were confused by Christ’s teachings. It was difficult for the Jewish learners to accept the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood. Jews were forbidden to even taste blood.

Jesus was trying to get the religious leaders to see beyond the physical aspects of his teaching to the real issue – namely, that if they believed in Him they would have everlasting life. Tragically, many people were so uncomfortable with his words that they began to turn away and leave his ministry. Their hearts were hardened in unbelief. But those who did believe, like Peter, who when asked if the twelve also wanted to leave, replied: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 

There is no middle ground with Jesus. When he asked the twelve disciples if they would also leave, he was showing them that they could either accept him or reject him. Jesus was not trying to repel the people with his teachings, he was simply telling the truth. The more the people heard Jesus’ real message, the more they divided into two camps – the honest seekers who wanted to understand more, and those who rejected Jesus because they didn’t like what they heard.

Jesus, perhaps, taught such “hard teachings” in order to weed out those who were not there to really learn what his message was truly about. He was reassured by Peter that the apostles were truly there to learn. In his straightforward way, Peter answered for us all – there is no other way but Jesus. Though there are many philosophies and self-styled authorities, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. 

What do we do when we are confronted with a difficult situation? What if we had been there to hear Jesus’ message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood? Would we have understood? Would we have believed? Would we have stayed around to hear the rest of the story, or would we have turned away out of fear and disgust? 

Of course, when we think of eating the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, we think of communion. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines communion as a Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed as memorials of Christ's death or as symbols for the realization of a spiritual union between Christ and communicant or as the body and blood of Christ. 

But doesn’t it feel like so much more than that? I know when I take communion, I am overwhelmed by the thought of eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. I can scarcely believe that he gave his life for me while I was yet a sinner. No greater love can be shown than giving your life for someone else. It is truly a gift from God, one that I thank him for each day. 

God has given us so many gifts besides grace. God has given us not only the Holy Spirit to help guide us in his word, but he has also given us the Full Armor of God as we read in today’s epistle lesson. We can make use of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes that will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 

When life gets hard, when we have things to accomplish that seem too difficult for us, or we encounter lessons that seem too hard to understand, remember Peter’s strong words. Jesus has the words of life, and he will see us through. As we continue to study his word, greater understanding will come to us.

We are what we eat, after all. So, eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ and you will have spirit and life. 

Let us pray: 
Gracious God, although we once were strangers, you receive us as friends and draw us home to you. Set your living bread before us so that, feasting around your table, we may be strengthened to continue the work to which your Son has called us. We look forward to eternal life with you. Amen.

July 22nd Sermon

July 22, 2012 [Green]- Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Outreach Service at Chenango Valley Home & Apartments, Norwich

Scripture Lesson: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
God’s Promise to David
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him,  he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”  Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”  But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:  “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?  I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.  Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar? ”’  “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning  and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:  When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. .

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 2:11-22
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) —  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,  and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Gospel Lesson: Mark 6:30-34, 54-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.  When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.  As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus.  They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

“Called to Compassion”

Our gospel lesson today would be familiar to most of us, if we had read the “middle” of it which tells about Jesus feeding the five thousand with the five loaves of bread and the two fish. As we remember, he fed them all with twelve basketfuls left over! But, today we read the verses before and after that often-told story. Why? Maybe so we would concentrate more on the “ordinary” feats of Jesus, rather than just on his miracles. 

Mark chapter 6 is action packed with things that have been going on at this point in Jesus’ ministry. He had called his twelve disciples to him. He sent them out in pairs to minister. Jesus himself traveled extensively to spread the Word, and wherever he went large crowds gathered. He had returned to his hometown only to realize that those who knew him best were not willing to believe in him and receive him as God’s Son. This is also the time when his cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded by King Herod.  

As our reading begins in verse 30, Jesus and his disciples reunite to discuss all that has transpired, probably including the death of John the Baptist. Jesus realizes that the disciples have been very busy, just as he has; so busy in fact that they had not had time to eat. So he urges them to join him in a quiet place to refresh themselves. Doing God’s work is very important, but Jesus recognized that to do that effectively we need periodic rest and renewal. Jesus and his disciples, however, did not always find it easy to get the rest they needed!

As they attempt to leave in a boat to find a restful place to eat and talk, a large crowd finds them. Even though Jesus himself was probably exhausted and heartbroken, he has compassion for the multitudes and begins teaching them many things. He saw them as a pitiful flock of sheep without a shepherd. 

Sheep are easily scattered and without a shepherd they are in grave danger. Jesus was the Shepherd who could teach them what they needed to know and keep them from straying from God. He was compassionate enough to be available to everyone in need of guidance.

Compassion is defined as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Jesus had compassion for everyone he met. Even though he was tired and perhaps overwhelmed with all the demands on his time wherever he went, he never showed it. We have seen instances where the disciples get flustered and frustrated with the crowds that gather around Him and demand his attention; sometimes even trying to “shoo” them away. But Christ was always welcoming, always patient, always compassionate to those in need. 

So, in his compassion, he not only teaches this great throng of people, he also performs one of his greatest miracles by feeding them all. He then again tries to retreat, sending his disciples ahead of to Bethesda so that he can be alone and pray. He joins them later by walking on water to their boat. When they arrive at the other side of the lake, once again they encounter crowds of people seeking Jesus for healing, which even in his exhaustion, he does.

How great is our God, that no matter how many people approach him for healing and comfort, he never grows tired of their desires and demands. 

This passage clearly shows the depth of compassion that Jesus had. Even in his spiritual and physical exhaustion, and probably emotional anguish over the death of John the Baptist, he was still moved to help those he encountered. He could have just retreated, or told them to come back later, but he was so moved by their needs that he stayed and taught them and even fed them. He had valid reasons to refuse to help: he was exhausted and he was grieving. But instead of looking to his own needs, he reached out to others in their needs.

Even the most compassionate of us tend to reach out to others at our own convenience rather than at theirs. Sure, we volunteer for Food Pantry, or Habitat for Humanity, or Meals on Wheels, but we tend to set our own schedules for that, don’t we? We are not reacting to an immediate need most of the time as Jesus was.

Jesus’ compassion for the crowd motivated him to stay and be with them, even when the timing was not right. We need to be more like that with our compassion. Granted, we are not Jesus, and we must occasionally rest from our labors, but we must not use that excuse to turn away from an immediate need just because it is inconvenient or distasteful to us. If someone on the street has their hand out, that is the time to react. That is the time to make the decision whether to be compassionate or not.

When asked in Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

What a blessing to know that Jesus still has compassion for us just as he did for those who lived when he was on earth. Just as he did with the crowds, Jesus cannot stand to encounter our suffering without responding. Whether we are going through a temporary struggle, or something more substantial, like an illness or a financial loss, Jesus is moved by compassion for us. He will always listen to our prayers and our petitions.

Just as we are called to listen to the needs of others. We are called to become Christ’s hands on earth.

As Dr. Charles F. Stanley, of In Touch Ministry, says it in the July In Touch magazine:

God has a bigger purpose for our lives. When Jesus ascded to the Father, He left His followers on earth to function as His body. We’re His ambassadors, representing Him to a lost world. He didn’t leave us here simply to take care of our own concerns. We are to be about His business.

Jesus summarized His role on earth in Luke 22:27, “I am among you as the one who serves.” Everything he did confirmed this mission – healing the sick, castin out demons, feeding the hungry, teaching the multitudes, training His disciples, and even raising the dead. But His ultimate act of service was giving His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28),

If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we need His servant spirit. The Christian life was never meant to consist of just an hour or two spent in church on Sunday morning. It’s supposed to be a continual lifestyle of service – at home, work, school, or wherever you are.

Developiong a servant lifestyle is really just a matter of passing on to others the 
blessing the Lord gives us. This is not simply about giving money. The ways we serve are as varied as the gifts He gives.

Can we heal people just by allowing them to touch the hems of our garments?  Are we expected to feed 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish? No, of course not. Be we are expected to reach out to others, and to respond to others in need. To love our neighbors as ourselves. Does it have to be a grandiose gesture? No, it can be any loving gesture at all. Gestures like holding a door for someone, asking someone how their day is going, bringing food to a family in need or in mourning, driving someone to chemotherapy or other appointments, reading to someone who is losing their eyesight, holding someone’s hand in their grief.

Most people just want to be recognized and loved, and shown compassion. Don’t you want that too? Sometimes just listening and acknowledging someone else’s thoughts and hopes and dreams can be a very powerful way of showing compassion. Everyone wants to feel important to someone. That someone could be you. Show Christ’s love and compassion by being available, even when it doesn’t feel convenient at the time.

You may be very surprised how good it makes you feel to show love to someone else. Sharing love opens your heart to receive love as well. What you give out, you get back.

Here’s a very simple way to show compassion to one another: the next time you see someone without a smile – give them yours! 

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your presence here with us today. We thank You for this gathering of believers. We thank You for the story of the five thousand who came together so long ago to listen to the words of our Lord. Help us to always appreciate hearing Your word, no matter the size of the gathering. Because as You have told us, where two or more are gathered in Your name, You are there. Help us to remember to always be compassionate towards one another, and to everyone we meet throughout our day. You don’t demand big displays from us Lord, to show our love to others. You assure us that every little thing we do in Your name is enough. We strive to obey Your greatest command: to love each other as You have loved us. Lord, sometimes that seems like an overwhelming task, especially if we are confronted by those who are difficult, or different. Remind us that they may just be lonely, or tired, or hurt, or frightened. A kind word, a soft look, a loving touch may be just what they are longing for, Lord. Give us the courage and the compassion to reach out. In Your blessed name, Amen.

Falling Behind

Well, I guess I am falling behind on my postings. I have given two more sermons at Norwich since my last posting, and I am giving another one tomorrow. So here is the one from June 10, I will post July's in another posting and tomorrow's in a third one. (Don't want to give you eyestrain or anything!)

June 10, 2012 [Green]- Second Sunday after Pentecost
Outreach Service at Chenango Valley Home & Apartments, Norwich

Scripture Lesson: 1 Samuel 8:4-20 (11:14-15)

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day. ”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingship. ” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Our Heavenly Dwelling
5 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Gospel Lesson: Mark 3:20-35

Jesus Accused of Being Possessed by Demons
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. 28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”
Jesus’ Mother and Brothers
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

A New Family, A New Life

Building something that lasts is not all it’s cracked up to be. The Israelites wanted to build a kingdom, complete with a king, but God yearned to be their only ruler and king. Jesus’ mother and siblings wanted to protect Jesus within the family, but Jesus yearned to minister to the world, inviting all who would follow Christ into the family. Corinthian Christians struggled with earthly bodies that age and decline, but Paul yearned for Christ’s followers to strive for that temple of faith that will last for eternity. Building families, creating political structures, and developing healthy bodies are all worthy goals. Yet today’s scriptures remind us that the call of Christ often leads to different goals: inclusion and diversity, humility and partnership, spirituality and faith. God calls us to build things that truly last, to build structures that welcome one and all, and to provide foundations and shelter for all of creation.

In the Scripture lesson today, the Israelites went to Samuel, who was then their leader, and basically told him he was getting too old to lead them and since his sons were not following in his way, they wanted a new leader in the form of a king. Samuel was naturally upset by this and took his concerns to God. God reassured Samuel that he was not the one being rejected as the leader, but God himself was being rejected as the true King.

How many times have we looked to the world for guidance, just as the Israelites were, instead of looking where we should? To God alone. And just as he often does, God gave them what they asked for, and let them face the consequences. Even though he warned them through Samuel of what their request would bring upon them, they still insisted on having a king appointed over them. God gave them Saul, which in the end, I am sure, is not the result they had wished for. Saul ended up not following the Lord our God and bringing much hardship upon Israel.

Many times when we insist on going our own way, or following the ways of the world, we find ourselves in places we may not have intended to be. But, our God is a kind and loving God and will always welcome us back into his family if we repent and sincerely ask for forgiveness. 

As we are told in today’s Psalter: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.” Sometimes God is saving us from ourselves, often we are our own worst enemies. We are blessed that God is so forgiving and loving.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). And as we heard in today’s Epistle lesson, just as God raised Jesus from the dead, he will also raise us from the dead. Imagine that. God has taken death from a place of fear, to a place of promise. 1 Corinthians 15:54 says it so well: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” And back to the Epistle lesson, we are told:  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

We are not only being promised a new life after death, but we are promised a new life with our Lord and Savior for eternity. Even though we may be outwardly wasting away, we are becoming new people on the inside. As we learn and rely on God’s word more and more, we become a new person. We will have a new life, and a new family.

For those who, for whatever reason, did not grow up in a loving family, the thought of a new family might be very attractive. As we see in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus’ family was not always supportive either. When they heard that he was preaching so much that he did not even take time to eat, they became concerned that he may have “gone off the deep end” as a result of his evangelical teaching to great crowds. So they “went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’.”

Indeed, those who opposed Jesus took that opportunity to accuse him of being possessed by the devil. But, as usual, Jesus took that as a teaching moment and told them that Satan would never undermine himself, so if Jesus was trying to rid the world of demons, how then could the greatest demon of all be directing him to do so? As he put it: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.”

When Jesus’ family arrived where he was teaching, they sent word to him that they were there and were concerned. When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were there, he asked: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.

On the surface, this may seem like Jesus was rejecting his mother and brothers as his family, but instead, he was expanding his family to include all who follow the words of his true father: God.

As I said, those who did not grow up in a loving family can take heart that there is one true parent who will always love them. Whether you think of God as Father, Mother, or a Supreme Being of no specific gender, we can all think of him as our Loving Parent. And just as any loving parent does, God has set rules and guidelines and expectations for our behavior. But unlike earthly parents, who often joke that they don’t possess a “Parents’ Manual,” God does: it’s called the Bible, his Holy Word.

Our job here on earth is to follow that Word, to study that Word, to live that Word, so that when our days are done, we will be able to meet God face to face and give a good accounting of ourselves.

When we die, as it says in our Epistle lesson today:  Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. As we are told in the 21st chapter of Revelation: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Even those who did grow up in a loving family can take heart, as they know that their loving earthly family will be standing right beside them with their new heavenly family. At last we will all be in our new home, with our new family, and with our one true Loving Parent. Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank you for promising us a new home and a new family with you as our Loving Parent. Thank you for the gift of your precious son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that we might live. Thank you for giving us the blueprint by which to live our lives: your Holy Word. Thank you for bringing us together today so that we could sing your praises and speak your truths and hear your direction for our lives. Thank you for taking the fear out of death, for promising that something better is to come; that death is not an ending, but a door to a better world where you have given us a new house not built by human hands. When our earthly tent has been folded, thank you for the reassurance that something better is waiting for us. Thank you for your steadfast love, patience, and forgiveness of your lowly children. Please be with those in need today, those who may be hurting, or grieving, or searching for something greater than themselves. Hold us all in your loving arms. Help us to feel your strength and your concern. Bring us, fresh and anew, into your loving family. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.