Sunday, June 10, 2018

10 June 2018

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 3:8-15 / Mark 3:20-35
10 June 2018

Last week, you heard – from Pastor Kristy of the Church of Steadfast Love –words about the Sabbath … both from the second chapter of Mark’s gospel, as well as the Third Commandment, from the book of Deuteronomy.
It was a good way to ease back in to the “regular” lectionary reading cycle once again, and I trust Pastor Kristy’s message about the Sabbath was a good word for you, as we begin this summer-sabbath time of year once again.
Although … although at the conclusion of the Gospel text for last week, there was also that story of how Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath … and therein begins the setup, Jesus’ taking head on a system, a human system, about the sabbath  … what had become an ungodly use of the Sabbath by the religious leaders … and in the closing words of that text, we hear how the system is going to strike back, against Jesus …

The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy [Jesus].

The Pharisees were the religious leaders, and here they join forces with the Herodians … the political powers that be, the Hebrew collaborators with the Roman occupiers, they join forces to try to get rid of Jesus, this Jesus who is beginning to challenge the religious and political power structures of his time.
Now, to get to our text this week – we’ve skipped over a few verses – some key verses, given our text for today.
Here’s what we missed, between where we left off last week, and where we are today:

Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, "You are the Son of God!" But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve:

And then the text names them.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel reading.
Once again, there’s a great crowd.  And Mark does one of his literary “things” here – he creates two plot lines for us to follow.
There’s an outer plot line, at the beginning, and the end, of this text, wrapping it around, which has to do with family and kinship.  At the beginning of the text, Jesus’ family is trying to restrain him.  (We’ll hear about what’s happening at the end, later.)
And there’s an inner plot line – which is all about the Scribes – more religious leaders who don’t approve of Jesus.  No doubt they were sent from Jerusalem by the Pharisees and Herodians, to heckle Jesus.
And what are they saying to heckle him?  Why, it’s a direct link to what’s gone before … unclean spirits, and demons.

He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.

The Scribes, sent by the religious and political powers that be, to keep an eye on Jesus, and more, to heckle him, to plant seeds of suspicion and dissent among the crowds who follow him – they turn to that new, old trick … demonize your opponent.
This is the way of things, isn’t it?  In our own lifetimes, we’ve seen this.  Disagree with your opponent, whether that opponent is political, social, familial, it doesn’t matter … we demonize them.  Oh, you’re nothing but a … square.  Old fashioned.  A communist.  A hippie.
And today, in our over amplified, constant news fed reality, it’s worse.  Snowflake.  Fascist.  Socialist.  Libtard.  Nazi.
As far as Scripture goes, this attitude of demonizing one’s opponents seems to have arisen around the time of Jesus.  Before Jesus, the character of Satan was more closely related to his name in the native language of the people … Ha Satan … opponent, adversary. 
That’s what we see in the Genesis text, in the character of the Serpent.  One who was an adversary of God and God’s creation created in God’s own image … humans.  This gets a little more “fleshed out” in the story of Job, as we heard here in worship a couple of summers ago, with Ha Satan being the adversary, not of God, but of Job, as Job’s world crumbles around him.
Ah, but here in Mark, events are coalescing which bring demonizing the other more into focus.  Mark, being the earliest written down of the four Gospels, for Mark, this focus isn’t as clear as, say, in John’s Gospel, written down about 40 years later.  For John, “the Jews” – his name for the religious leaders and their system – they are most certainly demonized, and calling someone of “the Jews” would be similar to using one of those contemporary epithets I shared earlier. 
Ah, but there’s still a clear sense of the Scribes here, labeling as demonic, anything which is in opposition to their religio-political system.  And this is precisely what they do to Jesus.
But Jesus will have none of it.

How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 

Jesus’ logic here is clear and impeccable.  If you start fighting against yourself, you’re coming to an end. 
And once again we can circle back to our Genesis text to see this.
What is the work of the adversary, the opponent?  Simply, to confuse, through lies and deceit, creating division.  Being self serving.  Cutting community into shreds.
That’s how the demonic works among us, even today. 
But if that demonic turns its energy against itself, it’s toast.    Its future only exists so long as there’s a clear opponent.  If that opponent becomes itself, it’s done.
In Jesus’ words,

if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.
But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

Jesus is clear – he is the One who has come and bound the Strong Man.  He is the one who has come, bringing healing and wholeness – casting out demons and giving his disciples the same authority – whatever was bringing, creating division among God’s people, shredding community … and here, particularly, against those who had taken the faith hostage, through their religio-political system … against these leaders, these who Jesus says are the ones really doing Satan’s work … against them, Jesus says, I have come, I am the One who has bound the Strong Man who has been subjecting and subduing God’s people for too, too long … and the end of this demonic way of life is now at hand.
See, the Scribes … and the others who are with them … they who will stop at nothing to prop up their religio-political system which keeps the people divided and subdued, keeps them in power … they are what Luther calls the Theology of Glory … they are the ones who call Good, Evil and Evil, Good … but Jesus comes, proclaiming, living what Luther called the Theology of the Cross … the way of God’s truth, that which calls a thing what it truly is. 
The way of the Scribes and Pharisees … their religio-political system … of that time, and yes, of ours too … into this system, Jesus has come, is come, and will keep coming … binding the Strong Man which subdues God’s people of every time and every place, and Jesus brings freedom … truth, and light … a call to repentance, forgiveness, healing and wholeness … living in the Way of the Cross … going to those on the margins, the poor, the powerless, the downtrodden, the widow and orphan, the stranger and alien, the immigrant and outsider, and proclaiming to them and us that the Kingdom of God has come near, and that the era of the Strong Man … the one who comes wrapped in lies, who comes to divide and subject … his way, his way, is lost … it ended on the Cross and what we now see and hear and experience, it’s his death throes.  Thanks be to God.
And there are two concluding words here.
The first … that word of the sin against the Holy Spirit … historically we’ve laid much on that, but simply, it’s like the situation at the end of CS Lewis’ last Narnia book, the Last Battle, when we come to the everlasting, glorious kingdom where Aslan reigns freely and forever, but those dwarves, they sit with their backs turned to the kingdom, focused, turned inward, grousing and complaining, never seeing the wonderful eternal promise of life unfolding before them. 
If you choose to stay this way, Jesus says, with your backs turned to the Kingdom, well, there’s not anything I can do to help you.  You stand condemned by your own stubbornness, your own unrepentant nature.  And it will be your own Damned Fault.
A harsh word, for sure.  But one which still comes with hope … hope, in that there is still the possibility of turning around; hope, time for amendment of life, for hearing Christ’s call to repentance; hope, in Christ’s eternal word of forgiveness and new life.
And the second … in this word, here, Jesus Brings Forth The Kingdom in all its newness.  In his world, in his time, in his society, an honor / shame based society, a patriarchy, where belonging was all about blood lines, where the oldest male was the top of the heap and all others, farther down the scale … where women were most certainly not equals … in that reality, kinship was all about obedience to the bloodline … obey the word of the eldest male or else. 
Now, Jesus says, another bloodline comes into being … and obedience is to that bloodline, which flows from the heart of God, through the Cross, into our hearts and lives through the waters of Baptism, through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, through our adoption into the community of the saints, the faithful ones … kinship follows obedience to the Word of God.

Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

And so we are called to live, as brothers and sisters of our Lord, turning and living in a posture of repentance, turning and living into his free and lavish forgiveness, turning and living into his kingdom where the Strong Man of sin and death and evil has been bound forever … what we experience now are his death throes, which are real, yes, but they are not eternal.
For we know who wins the battle … and it isn’t the Strong Man.
It is the Son of Man.  The one who comes and lives, comes and gives, comes and suffers and dies on the Cross, bringing the new blood line through his blood, rising again, to give us life, life, full and rich and free and abundant, into this world God gives and loves and saves through this One, Jesus the Christ.
Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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