Sunday, June 28, 2015

Waiting for God

Mark 5:21-43; Psalm 30
        It might surprise some of you but I am quite obsessed with punctuality.  Since I am on no official clock you might think I would be a bit casual concerning promptness. That is hardly the case. I don’t wear a watch because I would be checking it constantly.  I can tell you exactly what I will be doing tomorrow at 8:00 because it was the same thing I did last Monday at 8:00.  I can tell you which nursing home I will be visiting next Tuesday at 1:00 because it is the same nursing home I visited last Tuesday at 1:00.  I can not stand being late for an appointment which means I am usually early.  The downside of this is I do a lot of waiting.  The upside is I always keep a book in my car. My first adventure into Central America 30 years ago was a disaster because Nicaraguans tell time differently than me.  A favorite phrase in Central America is, “We will meet in the afternoon”.  Not we will meet at 2:45, but we will meet in the afternoon.  I wanted an exact time.  My Nicaraguan friends kept explaining we will begin when everyone arrives.  Things like this drive me crazy but it didn’t seem to worry them in the least. Now when I go to Central America and someone asks me for the time of day, I say, “It is afternoon. When the sun goes down it will be night.”
Besides waiting, a second huge part of my life is consumed with interruptions.  Folks don’t usually plan for illness or emergencies.  The only time you will not find me working on the bulletin at 1:30 on Monday afternoon is if someone is having surgery. Interruptions are not something for which I plan, but I know they are going to happen.   A minister I greatly admire once said, “My whole life I’ve complained about my work being interrupted until I discovered interruptions are my work.” 
Most of us have not come to that conclusion.  I suspect you feel a tinge of inner protest when someone disrupts your schedule, bad weather ruins your Tee time, or illness puts previous plans on hold.  We like to have life wrapped up in a tight little ball, knowing exactly what will happen next, certain of the appointed hour when we begin and when we call it quits.  But that is not the way life is. Interruptions can’t tell time.  Interruptions play havoc with our schedule. Interruptions shift the emphasis from my time management to your crisis. Most of the folks who interrupt you are not all that interested in what they are interrupting. They have a problem.  They want you to solve it.  Their crisis becomes your crisis.  The last answer they want to hear is, “I will deal with your problem, but not right not now.  You must first wait.”
Our inability to wait and our frustration with interruptions plays a major role in our gospel lesson this morning.  The story reveals the desperate situation of two very different people.  The first was a powerful man named Jairus who finds himself in a powerless situation.  His daughter is dying.  The doctors regretfully explain nothing could be done and death would soon follow.  Someone tells Jairus of a miracle worker from Nazareth.  Normally he would dismiss such talk as nonsense, but he is desperate. So he goes to the healer for help.
It is recorded that a great many people gathered that day to hear Jesus speak.  But the father is persistent and pushes to the front of the crowd.  Jairus begs Jesus to come with him.  In other words, the crowd can wait; the sermon can be interrupted; I need you right now. Drop what you are doing and follow me.  
After hearing his pleas, Jesus agrees to go see the daughter. But as Jesus  is walking through the crowd, there is another person who has waited for more than a day to be made whole.  She is a nameless woman who has suffered from bleedings for twelve years.  Like the father, she too has heard about Jesus.  She too has come to the seashore hoping for a miracle.  And now her only hope is walking away toward the town.  She quickens her step, slips past the disciples and reaches out to touch the robe of one she knew could save her.  Jesus feels the touch, stopped and inquired, “Who touched my robe?”
An interruption!  On the way to heal one person another steps into his path.  A woman, clinging to her last chance for restoration, forces the father to wait on his only hope for life.  The two people, unknown to each other are now linked together in this deadly tug of war. Can you imagine what must have been going through their minds?  The woman trembles with the remote possibility her anguish might be over while the father stands to the side knowing his agony has just begun. In the midst of their hope and pain, two voices are heard.  Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.”  At the same time a neighbor quietly said to Jairus, “Your daughter is dead.”  Screams of joy are overshadowed by shrieks of grief.  Before his very eyes the father has witnessed a miracle.  Jairus has seen firsthand the power of God.  But the miracle, the interruption, had come at the expense of the life of his daughter.
The woman had waited 12 years for a miracle.  Who can blame her for suspending time?  It was the chance of a lifetime and she took it.  But who can question the father’s frustration. Why did Jesus have to stop?  Jesus could have healed the woman later that day.  His crisis was immediate.  There was no tomorrow.  Now it was too late.
One of the really important things that I have learned in my many years of ministry is that our schedule and God’s schedule might not be exactly the same.  Sometimes a marvelous idea comes to us.  We believe the idea is so brilliant that it must be the work of the Holy Spirit.  We gather folks around us and investigate how we might make God’s inspiration part of our perspiration.  We go to a committee and share our dream.  They believe it to be a good idea.  The work begins to make our dream a reality.  But “t’s” have to be crossed and “i’s” have to be dotted and things don’t move as fast as we had anticipated.  In the back of our head we wonder if this is really what God had in mind.  As patience begins to wane, so does our enthusiasm. Sometimes a good idea is lost because of our desire for instant gratification. 
Could interruptions be a way of measuring our faith?  For twelve years that woman waited for the opportunity to be cured.  For twelve years that woman prayed that she might find relief.  Then one morning she woke up knowing today is the day.  She stepped forward, seized the opportunity and was healed.  But her salvation seemed to lead to the misfortune of another.  What of the father?  Was he not patient enough?  The tough question is did God save one at the expense of another? 
The Psalmist cries out, “Lord, I cry to you, hear my voice.”  Then he takes a deep breath and continues. “I will wait for you, like the watchman waits for the morning.”  
As a kid I used to deliver newspapers.  Every morning I would get up, retrieve the papers, fold them and put them in the basket attached to my bike.  Most mornings I began my route in total darkness.  During the winter months, I would often finish before the sun would rise.   Many a morning I prayed that the sun would arrive earlier to light my path and warm my body.  Delivering newspapers I learned two lifelong lessons. First, the sun never rises on my schedule.  Second, there was never a morning the sun failed to rise.
God’s time is not our time.  If we dare ask God to join our journey, we must be willing to be patient, to endure interruptions and set backs, and faithfully wait for the sunrise. 
40 years ago I might have ended the sermon here and said, “If you believe and have patience in God, God will provide.” But you are too smart for that kind of simple resolution.
Sometimes the miracle does not happen. Sometimes both the woman and the child die. In our community we witness death more often than miracles. Death cast such a long shadow over us it might seem we are living in an age of darkness. Perhaps that is why many people of faith claim poetry over prose.
The Psalmist writes, “God’s anger is but a moment, while God’s favor is for a lifetime. Be gracious to me, O God.”
I went to a funeral on Wednesday. I was sitting in the pews so I did not have the usual duties that occupy my mind. It was an African-American funeral so I knew it was not going to be short. As is the habit, a designated person came forward to read all the cards that had been sent. I wish Hallmark would hire someone who is a bit more creative. My mind began to wander and I had left my book in the car. In desperation, I took the bulletin and reread the obituary. Margaret Clark lived 80 years. She had children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, all of them, at that particular moment in time, saddened by her death. But she had lived 80 years. She had given life to those who gave life, who in turn will eventually give to others.
I know Mrs. Clark’s daughter. No one has any idea how many people have received a miracle because of Betty Howard. Her life has been constantly interrupted by cries of desperation which she somehow turns into opportunities for hope.
Wednesday, our eyes could have focused on a moment in time when death appeared victorious. Only the family would have none of that. Their very presence reminded me to focus on the life of their mother in which every day was a blessing. As the Psalmist would say, “Turn your mourning into dancing. Be grateful for what you have rather than linger on what you lost.”
Our lives are lived in the midst of interruptions. You can believe your time is held hostage by the needs, the pain, even the dreams of others. Or you can believe the concept of time has never belonged to any of us in the first place. I like to think we are living in GST, God’s Standard Time, where each interruption is an occasion to celebrate the past and each inconvenience is an opportunity to change the future.  
The poet promised, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.”  The next time a life threatening crisis appears on your horizon, instead of  running over everyone and screaming for help, might I suggest you step back, take a deep breath, and imagine Jane Andrews singing, I Need Thee Every Hour.  
Then look at the big picture. You might find it brighter than you ever imagined.            
 To God be the Glory.   Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Does God Care?

Mark 4:35-41


        Have you ever been in a difficult situation and wondered if God cared?  Of course you have.  You may not have verbalized the words, but I bet you thought it.  I know a bunch of you are going to call me on this but I believe if you haven’t questioned the lack of attention God has been giving you, it might be because you really don’t take the notion of God seriously enough.  I suspect even Jesus had moments of loneliness where he felt God was not especially attentive to his pain.  Truth is, the number one reason folks give for walking away from God is they say God gave up on them long before they gave up on God. 

Questions concerning God’s caring have its fingerprints all over the Bible.  This is the major concern raised in the Book of Job.  Nearly a third of the Psalms are songs of complaints.  Jeremiah and Lamentations are filled with of hymns of sorrow and remorse.  Believe it or not, the New Testament has its own passages where the disciples and others feel God had turned away from their everyday endeavors.  Paul spent a great deal of energy in his letters reminding folks that while times were tough, this was not because God had forgotten them.  In II Corinthians 6 he writes, “While we have gone through calamities, beatings, imprisonment, sleepless nights and hunger, always rejoice.  While we are treated as unknown, we are well known by God; as dying, we are alive in God; as poor, we have everything in God.”

All those wonderful promises sound really good on paper but sometimes we need something a bit more visual to get us through the dark moments when our faith wavers.  That is why I love the story we find in the 4th chapter of Mark.  Let me set the scene.  Jesus would spend long days speaking with people. Certainly some of those folks questioned his authority.  Others had inquiries about faith, about God, and about the hardships that they faced every day.  As was his habit, Jesus seldom gave direct answers. He told parables to illustrate his points. He patiently told them about seeds sown on rocks, paths and fertile soil.  He compared faith to a mustard seed.  Many folks shook their heads in confusion.  I would have done the same.  Parables often raise more questions than they answer.

At the end of the day, when Jesus was alone with his disciples, sometimes Jesus would give those close to him a first hand exhibition of the kingdom of God.  One such event happened after a particularly long day of preaching.

Jesus got in a boat and asked the disciples to take him to the other side of the lake.  Since at least half of the disciples were fishermen, this seemed like a pretty reasonable request.  What could be more soothing than a nice moonlight cruise across the water?   An exhausted Jesus lay down in the bottom of the boat to take a well deserved nap.  Soon most of the disciples followed his lead and fell asleep.  It was something they had done a hundred times before.  They dropped anchor and settled in for the evening.  Little did they know how unsettling the rest of the evening was about to become. 

When the wind is blowing just right, horrific storms are known to appear suddenly on the Sea of Galilee.   These storms are often on top of sailors before they have time to prepare or escape.  Evidently this was one of those nights.  I imagine Peter was the first to awaken.  He sensed the severity of the situation and began to do all the right things.  The boat was placed in the correct position. Anything that might shift was tied down. Each disciple prepared to bail water if the waves got too high.  The sails were collapsed and they primed themselves to ride out the storm.  Each of the fishermen had lost a friend in such a storm and knew the peril of their situation.  Twelve men took their place in the boat and prayed they would see the morning.  While all these precautions were under way, Jesus slept like a baby in the stern of the boat, unaware of the danger about to crash down upon his head.

Ever been in a situation where events out of your control suddenly turn your life upset down.  You are desperate to find a solution or at the very least, a little bit of relief.  You turn to a spouse or a trusted friend for comfort and they dismiss the calamity by mockingly stating, “Oh that is not such a big deal”. 


To make matters worse, once we make the mistake of sharing our fears, we are rudely treated as if we are always making mountains out of molehills.  That is when bad things really begin to happen. Our fear turns to anger and we blow up at the person in whom we have placed our trust.  When things finally quiet down, we are left simmering with rage, silently wondering why our most treasured companions aren’t the least bit bothered by our catastrophic experience.

This must have been exactly how the disciples felt. Experience told them knew they were going to die. Everyone was screaming and praying, all at the same time. Then someone noticed Jesus sleeping. You can feel the anger in their words as they waken him with the accusation, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”

 Now there is a question that can get a rise out of anyone. We church folk want to be perceived as a people who care. We care about people on our joys and concerns list. We care about people who are hungry or without shelter. We care about the environment. We care about world peace. We care about being known as a church that cares. The toughest phone call I ever receive is when I am unable to financially assist someone and they reply, “You can’t be a Christian because you don’t care.”  That always hits home and I suspect the person making the accusation knows it.

How could the disciples see Jesus as someone who didn’t care? He woke up. He calmed the wind. He rescued them from death. He gave the disciples the miracle they demanded, BUT did his actions increase their faith? A quick response would be “Well of course it did.” Take a close look at the Book of Mark.  The disciples are continued to be motivated by their own needs. Every time a problem surfaced, they quickly questioned if God cared. Is that faith or desperation? You know the answer. If faith fails to develop some long term trust, something is missing. In other words if all you desire is a God that will transform or negate any problem that comes your way, I beg that you reconsider your relationship with God.

I am certain you have all known the parent that sends a child off into the world and insures they remain a child by never letting them deal with even the simplest of problems. I have known parents who will call a university and ask a professor for a parent-teacher conference to discuss the class their son is taking. I have known parents who continue to cover the car insurance for a daughter even after she receives a second DUI. We know we shouldn’t enable our children in ways that make them dependent but parents do it all the time. I would like to think our heavenly parent is smarter than that.

Peter screamed at Jesus, “Don’t you care?”  Jesus opened his eyes and gently said, “Peace! Be Still!”  The waters heard and obeyed but I am not so sure Jesus was addressing the sea.  I think he was talking to the hearts of those frightened disciples.  Why would I think that? Because in my moments of doubt, when my faith is swamped by fear, when I wonder if God really cares, these are the words Jesus more often than not speaks to us. 

Peace!  Be Still!  Peace! Be Still!  Peace! Be Still!


How often are we in a storm in the middle of a lake within inches of drowning?      I hope never.

How often are we in a storm in the middle of life, wondering if we will see tomorrow?  Probably more than we like to admit.

So, does a caring God rescue us every time we get in trouble, or does a caring God calm our anxiety, allowing us to figure out how to get out of the mess we helped created? I know what I desire, and that is to be rescued. I also know which response is healthier. But that takes a lot longer and places much of the responsibility on me.    (Stop)

Wednesday evening I headed home after a hectic few days. I had been out much too late the nights before and really wanted to get in my kayak and park it in the middle of Lake Monacan. I wished I had not turned on the radio. You know the news I heard.  Not knowing what to do, I did the only thing I felt capable of doing at the moment. I prayed.

It went something like this:

God of Clementa Pinckney and Dylan Roof, I am so tired.

I am tired of death and I am tired of excuses for death.

I am tired of children killing children.

I am tired of slogans of hate.

I am tired of us acting as if racism doesn’t exist.

I am tired of cultural supremacy seen as anything but evil.

 I am tired of people in power suggesting they care.

I am tired of a President claiming his hands are tied.

I am tired of a Congress bought off by a special interest.

I am tired of people defending their right to own a gun.

I am tired of anti-gun activist doing little more than talking.

But most of all, God I am tired of you sleeping in the boat.

WAKE UP!  Don’t You care!


Because I am tired of today being just like yesterday.

O God of Clementa Pinckney and Dylan Roof,

Calm my heavy and burdened soul.


And God whispered,

“Peace, be still….Peace, be still….Peace, be still.



Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Kingdom of God

Mark 4:26-32


I am at a huge disadvantage when trying to understand many of the parables of Jesus. I am not a farmer. If Jesus had begun a parable, “There was one out in the ninth with runners on first and third and the home team was clinging to a one run lead,” I would completely understand the pressure placed on the middle infielders and how the options created by a ground ball might define one’s view of heaven. But when Jesus speaks of a seed in the ground, I am hopelessly lost. The only gardening chores Deb has ever entrusted to me are digging holes for bushes and cutting the grass. In West Texas, I cut the grass twice a year, Memorial Day and Labor Day, regardless if it was needed it or not.  Here I cut it every Friday and it seems to grow back an hour after I finish. Nothing that I did or currently do affects either outcome. I have no control over the weather.

When Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like a seed”, I am clueless. I figure in order to understand the text I must be able to think like a farmer. Since the Master Gardeners’ meet regularly at the church, I engaged in conversation with more than one of them. They were interesting discussions, or should I say monologues that morphed into questions about composting, fertilizer, drainage, deer, grubs, tools, top soil and plant selection. In an attempt to hide my ignorance, I nodded my head while never saying a word. One person, more Zen Master than Master Gardener said, “The best fertilizer is the shadow of the gardener.”

I ended up calling a person I know to be an expert on everything. I poured out my problem to this self proclaimed master of the universe. He thought for a second and responded, “Granddaddy, you put the seed in the ground, pour some water on it and come back in a few weeks. If it grows it grows. You have nothing to do with it.”

I suspect most of us are not particularly fond of the words, “You have nothing to do with it.” We desire having everything to do with it. Sometimes I think the world is broken into two sets of people. There are those who have no problem making decisions. Then there are those who won’t make a decision in order that they can question the decision someone else made. Regardless if we choose to be aggressive or passive aggressive we end up being actively involved in the conversation. That is the way we like it. It is part of our DNA. The idea of putting a seed in the ground and just watching it grow just seems wrong. We want to be responsible. We don’t want to be dependent on a power greater than us. And yet, isn’t that one of the basic tenants of our Biblical Faith?

Listen to the parable again. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed scattered on the ground. Regardless what the farmer does or does not do, it sprouts and grows.” This is a dangerous thought. It makes us appear to be theological freeloaders. Let’s face it, being busy or being dogmatic makes a lot more sense to us. Our invitation to heaven ought to come from what we accomplished on earth or at the very least what we believe. It is hardly seems fair that our visa to the great beyond comes simply because God chooses to love us. And yet, how else can grace be explained.

Recently I went out late in the afternoon to play golf. I started on Tuckahoe Number One, a gorgeous hole with a steep hill on the left and a lake on the right.  Just to make it interesting, the hole is over 400 yards long. Successfully avoiding the lake, I pulled the ball left and landed on top of the hill. This makes for a tough walk, guaranteeing the effort will be rewarded because many folks reload and leave the initial shot for anyone willing to walk the hill.

On finding my ball, I was pleased to discover it was in the good company of another ball. The discovered treasure was a brand new Titlist ProV-1 which had been hit only once by someone named Grace. I knew this because her name was stamped on the ball. On returning to the cart, I put my treasure in the ball rack and did not give it a second thought until three holes later. That is when I hit another wayward shot over a creek and into the trees. Upset with myself, I stomped back to the cart to retrieve the newly discovered ProV-1. As I reached for the ball, my eyes focused on the word, GRACE. 

I started laughing. I had done nothing to deserve the new ball. Quite the contrary, I had discovered “grace” due to my own waywardness. It was a gift, well outside the beaten path of the ordinary that simply fell into my life. I left the ball in the tray and got another from my bag. Saved by grace, I relaxed and I hit the next shot straight down the fairway.

Surely our relationship with God can’t be that easy. At the very least isn’t one of our Christian responsibilities is to work at bringing about the kingdom of heaven here on earth? Most certainly it is. But for just for a moment, let’s relax and remember that great passage from the Sermon on the Mount, “Consider the Lilies of the Field, they neither toil nor spin but even Solomon was not clothed like them.” Let’s remember those words of the Psalmist we all know by heart, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” And if readings from both the Old and New Testament are not enough, consider the wisdom of Buddy Miller,

It’s the flicker of our flames,

It’s the friction born of living,

It’s the way we tell ourselves all things are normal

till we can’t remember where we’ve been.

Sometimes life feels like bars of steel

I can’t bend in my hand.

Somebody told me, I worry too much.

Somebody told me, I worry too much.


We confuse the kingdom of God with the way we have come to expect life to be. Chaos, Crisis and Confusion are so anticipated, they seem to be normal. But Jesus is calling us to a very different way of being ourselves, a very different way of being with others and a very different way of being with God. Jesus is saying, “You worry too much. Maybe on your last swing you hit it into the woods, but that is not the last swing you will ever take. Breath deep. Relax. Then remember, there is no out of bounds in the kingdom of God.


I know the concept, “No out of bounds in the kingdom of God”, hit a nerve with a bunch of you. Aren’t discovering our boundaries what the whole journey of life is about? Didn’t Adam and Eve go too far? Don’t the Ten Commandments place restrictions on acceptable behavior? Yes, Yes, and Yes. The very reason for the existence of moral codes is to put limitations on our propensity toward selfishness and yet, the kingdom of heaven exists as a parallel universe to any place where sin has overcome perfection.

Now I have gone from the heretical to the ridiculous. Or maybe what I have done is gone back to the brilliance that is exposed in the parable of the seed.

The seed is planted. The farmer not only walks away, he goes to sleep and does nothing to enhance the awakening of a miracle in the soil. Then one day a sprout appears and the plant begins to grow.

What did the farmer do? He observed. He witnessed a life born in absolute obedience to the will of the Creator.  No boundaries, no limitations, only perfection.

So what might the parable mean? From my limited and bias perceptive allow me to suggest the kingdom of God is not a creation of humankind. We can work toward bringing about the kingdom but its majesty, its glory, its reality comes solely from the imagination of God.

Heaven is a gift, with no boundaries.

Heaven is an invitation, with no restrictions.

Heaven is perfection,

Existing despite human imperfection.

Heaven is a beginning beyond beginning;

Heaven is an ending with no end.

        Heaven is a seed,

Orchestrated by God.

                                        To the Glory of God.     

        And we, thanks be to God, reap the benefits.

                        Let all God’s people say Amen.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lord of the Flies

Mark 3:20-35

With a few notable exceptions, this is a passage no one likes. I checked my files all the way back to my entrance into the computer age and realized I have never preached a sermon on this text. There is something about Jesus publicly declaring, “Who are my mother and brothers”, that doesn’t sit real well with most of us. I am so glad this text did not come up on Mother’s Day. While the scripture certainly carries deep implications for the theme of Christian Discipleship, on the surface it makes Jesus come across looking pretty bad. Of course one usually gets in trouble with a narrow reading of any text. When we dig deeper, we discover difficulties in this scripture that only begin with Mary being ignored.

Have any of you ever been involved in an intervention? Regardless if it involves taking the car keys away from an elderly person or forcing someone into a drug program it is not pleasant. There never seems to be any winners. Interventions are painful excursions into the very heart of a family’s dynamics and trust. In Mark 3, it appears, for the sake of Jesus, and perhaps the family’s reputation, Mary and her sons were going to intervene and rescue Jesus from his self-delusions. People were claiming Jesus was, “Out of his mind”. Perhaps Mary felt if she could just get Jesus home into a safe environment Jesus would come to his senses.

What exactly did Jesus do to raise all this concern? Looking back on the second and third chapters of Mark, you can see why everyone had good reason for concern.

Mark 2:5-6 – Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven, stand up and walk.” Some of the scribes called these words blasphemy because only God can forgive sins.

Mark 2:15 – “Jesus sat down to eat with tax collectors and sinners.” Aren’t you known by the company you choose to keep?

Mark 2:18 – “Jesus and the disciples refused to observe fasting days set aside to pray for the coming of the Messiah.” Why should Jesus pray for the coming of the Messiah when he was the Messiah.

 Mark 2:23 – “They gathered grain on the Sabbath and Jesus declared the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” What kind of nonsense is that?

Mark 3:1 – “He healed the sick on the Sabbath.” It was unlawful to touch unclean folks on the Sabbath.

Mark 3:13 – “As the Son of God, Jesus gave his disciples the authority to cast out demons.”  That raised all kinds of suspicions among the religious elite. People even declared the words of Jesus to be blasphemous.

The evidence was immense. Jesus hung out with the wrong folks, ignored religious traditions, worked and healed the sick on the Sabbath, cast out demons, gave his disciples permission to cast out demons and worst of all, implied he was the Son of God. There were rules laid down that insured everyone knew their place and everyone stayed in their place. If those rules were violated, chaos would reign.

Mary and the brothers of Jesus were well aware of the accusations. The decision was made to get to him home, let him rest in his own bed, feed him some chicken soup and hope for the best.

But the Scribes and Pharisees got to Jesus first. They said to each other, “He claims to cast out demons. He is Beelzebul, Lord of the Flies. We must get rid of him.”

Jesus replied, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, the house cannot stand.”

Here it might be a brilliant move on my part to introduce William Golding’s novel “Lord of the Flies” as an impeccable example of how society breaks down when confronted with the struggle between the influences of the powerful and those attempting to uphold culturally taught traditions. The only problem is my expertise of the Old Testament far outweighs my scholarship on 20th century English literature. 

In the first chapter of Second Kings, Elijah confronts King Ahaziah. Elijah’s entire ministry involved a conflict with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah constantly warned the husband and wife to repent and turn from their wickedness. But the queen and king viewed Elijah as a man with no respect for the throne. Elijah had no power, lived among the poor, occasionally healed the sick, and claimed to worship Yahweh, the God of Judah. Those of you who know the story will remember eventually the ill mannered and improperly dressed vagabond lived to see both Jezebel and Ahab die violent deaths. Their successor, Ahaziah, learned little from his parents. Two years into his reign he fell through his roof and was mortally wounded. Elijah arrived to see if he could offer relief to the King but Ahaziah sent messengers to bring the priest of Bellzebul. Elijah scoffs, “Even in death you call for the god of flies and dung.” Ahaziah challenged Elijah. “You do not know our traditions. You mock our power. Why should I listen to a crazy man who lives in the wilderness?”

Elijah must have looked at the king and wondered why this man clung to the illusions of the past rather than reach out to the God of the future.

Is it any wonder when John the Baptist came on the scene many thought Elijah had reappeared? He spoke the same words, challenged the very notion of ungodly authority and bought his clothes from the same thrift shop frequented by Elijah. When Jesus was anointed by John, is it any wonder those who claimed to know God, pronounced Jesus to be crazy and in league with the devil, even as  Jesus offered hope rather than repression, life rather than death, a new path rather than an old worn out way. Even his family was alarmed by his new lifestyle. Can’t you see them cringing when the neighbors complained, “Mary and Joseph didn’t raise the boy that way.”

Many years ago, some of us dared to question the traditions and lifestyles of the past as less than perfect. I know Tom Brokaw referred to my parents as the greatest generation and I suspect in many aspects they were. But the generation that defeated Hitler created a real mess in Southeast Asia. They struggled with issues of race and sex and a lot of other concerns that eventually divided us. Our parents weren’t perfect; and neither are we. Our children grew up reminding us of our many faults. I am pretty sure in their eyes we are just as old fashion, rigid and impossible as we imagined our parents to be.

I am sure many of you could share detailed stories of the conflicts that arise among generations. And here is the interesting part. What makes them difficult is that each generation knows they are right. While Jesus was perfect, tradition tells us Mary wasn’t far from it. Yet she was worried about what all the neighbors were saying.

What makes this passage so fascinating is Jesus confronted the very backbone of his parent’s culture. No one worked on Sunday. It was against the law. People were judged by the folks they associate with and no one was more suspicious in the time of Jesus than tax collectors and prostitutes. No one forgave sins. That was the job of God and God alone. Yet Jesus came to heal not only the body but the soul. Jesus came not just to save the sinner but the community. He did not come to divide us but to unite us in a common, holy cause.

A few months ago John, Phyllis and I went to Ashland to hear Cheryl Wheeler. She is a brilliant singer who really wants to be a comedian. As she prepared to offer one of her selections she mentioned she wrote the song as if it were a hymn. Then she quipped, “Growing up I went to church all the time, but I stopped before I learned how to hate.”

Regardless if it was the time of Jesus or the year 2015, people want to be united in a common cause. We gravitate toward people who look like us, dress like us, think like us, believe like us and then declare our truth to be the word of the Lord despite how unholy it might really be. Then if someone should dare to disagree with our divine revelations, we declare them delusional and inspired by Beelzebub.

What if they are inspired by Jesus? 

Sometimes we forget that Christ came to bring hope and joy to the whole community, including the exiled, the deported, the silenced, and the ignored.  

Sometimes we forget loving Christ more than our mother and brothers rescues us from the idolatry that would destroy the very community Christ came to save.   

Sometimes we forget Christ is not asking us to pull down the foundations on the heads of our fathers and sisters. Christ is only reminding us that God, the source of unselfish and holy love, is the proper head of any household.  

Sometimes we forget, but God does not. This world can be a mess. That’s why God calls us not to mirror but challenge culture, not sustain but question the status quo.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Bill Coffin, perhaps preaching on this text said, “It seems to me in joining a church you leave home to join a new community. The whole world is your neighborhood.  It is black, white, yellow, red, stuffed and starving, smart and stupid, mighty and lowly, gay and straight all coming together to become your brothers and sisters in a new family formed by Jesus. Here you declare your individuality in the most radical way in order to affirm community on the widest possible scale.”

The question we face this morning is, “Who are my mother and brother?” The answer is quite simple. “You are…..and you are…and you are.” Everyone who believes there are no insiders and outsiders is my brother. Everyone who confesses we are of one nature, one flesh, one grief and one hope is my sister.  Everyone who recognizes if we fail in love, we fail in all things is my mother and father. It is so simple, in Christ, we are one complex, diversified, homogenized community.       Thanks be to God.   Amen.