Sermon preached by Anne M. Watkins, Associate for Member Incorporation
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday after Pentecost — June 7, 2015
In the name of God, who creates and loves us; Jesus, who redeems and loves us; and the Holy Spirit, who guides and loves us. Amen.
Joanna Dewey is a Marcan scholar and (retired) seminary professor who asserts — among other things — this about our Gospel source today: “Mark”, says Joanna, “is not accurate history. It is a good story that tells the Good News of the Gospel.”
I like a good story and I agree with Dr, Dewey. Mark is one. It begins with John the Baptist and moves quickly to Jesus’ baptism offering us from the very start the concept of God’s belovedness; of Jesus, and by extension, of us.
The Bible, actually, is filled with good stories — and, if I might put in a plug for your summer beach reading — our Assistant Rector, Peter Thompson, is offering 8 weeks of good discussion on several story books beginning this Thursday evening and extending through July. You may want to pick up a schedule in the Welcome Center!
Back to today, though. Joanna’s observation need not rest solely with the Gospel of Mark. It could well be applied to most any book of the bible – they are not necessarily accurate history. But, they are good stories that point to and share the Good News of our faith. And, so, as we read them, we want to stay awake to the words, the phrases, the voices and the characters … and listen as well for who is missing, what isn’t explicitly said, and what may be hidden in lesser emphasized phrases or even hidden between the lines altogether.
Today’s stories offer us just that kind of opportunity. Jesus has gone home to the family neighborhood after a stint of guest preaching in his hometown synagogue, and the crowds are following. Some scribes from Jerusalem are among them; not having come to continue to learn of God from Jesus or even to enter into learned, respectful debate — but, rather, to discredit him with accusations of madness, of being possessed by demons or, worse yet, false gods. They raise the image of Beelzebul, a god worshiped by the Philistines at Ekron ( we hear that story in 2 Kings). This is a particularly derogatory slur — Beelzebul being sometimes translated as the “god of dung” or “god of filth “. You can imagine the kinds of words — no doubt, 4-letter ones — we might use today.
Then we have Jesus’ mother and extended family brought into the fray. Reading between the lines, we might imagine someone running from the synagogue to alert Mary and others of Jesus’ clan. “Do you know what he’s saying and doing??!!” And when Jesus presents a quick series of parables to refute all that is being said to defame him, Mom and the clan are called upon.
That’s what tends to happen when things get uncomfortable, isn’t it? We look to someone closer to the offender to bring about the order that we want; or we circle the wagons of “our own” in order to protect ourselves. All pretty human and all too familiar to our own stories and the stories around us today.
It is a human tendency or condition that dates even further back — as far back as the first story of us humans. It is a story and a condition we confront in Genesis.
If we are to make any real sense of the passage from Genesis, we need to look carefully at the words that are there, and the words that aren’t, and the traditional message that has been taken and handed down – all in order to confront something harder.
This “fall” of Adam and Eve has often been attributed to the sin of disobedience, and on its surface, that seems to make sense. God offers humankind everything we need; lush gardens, fine fruit and vegetables, an animal and plant world over which we are given jurisdiction. There is only one rule: don’t eat of the tree in the middle of the garden. But the sin of disobedience isn’t what’s really at the crux of the matter.
What’s really going on here? Listen again: the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
They hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.
Why? Because they had disobeyed? No, not really. And one piece of hope in this story that sometimes goes unnoticed is that this so-called “fall” hasn’t yet gone as deep as it might. For the man and the woman are still being forthright and honest with God as they answer — “We were naked and afraid.”
Far more important than mere disobedience in this story is — on the redemptive end – vulnerability. And on the sinful end – shame. Shame is the sin that separates Adam and Eve from their Creator God. We came to know our vulnerability – our nakedness …and instead of trusting in our belovedness of God, we were ashamed and hid. We are ashamed and still hide.. And shame — the real sin — is what keeps us from fully comprehending that we are beloved of God.
Shame lies at the core of another dynamic present in these passages: fear. Shame as the primary sin, and fear, its close cousin cause us to hide from — in short, to separate ourselves — from God. For that’s really the definition of sin, isn’t it – anything that separates us from our God. It causes us to circle the wagons of protection against the perceived “others” with whom we come into contact and causes us to cast blame outside of ourselves in order to cover a shame lying deep within.
The woman gave me the apple and I ate”;
“ The serpent made me eat.”
“He has gone out of his mind.”
“He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
Shame breeds fear and blame; blame and fear breed exclusion; and together they spell separation from God; separation from one another.
The stories of scripture are replete with assurances and greetings that call out for us to “be not afraid.” God’s intention from the beginning of time was that we live in harmony and peace with all that God created. This passage from Genesis helps us see the part that our own shame plays in keeping us separated from what is good and what is God’s dream for us.
Jesus came, ultimately, to take away all of that; to restore us and all of creation to unity with God – to create anew the beloved community of God’s dream. We can get stuck, though, in this passage from Mark by hearing Jesus’ words as dismissive of his mother and his family of origin and losing sight of the larger message.
Our understanding of God Incarnate – of the nature of Jesus is that he is both fully human and fully divine. The fully human piece is likely cognizant of the shame being experienced in those around him even as the fully divine nature keeps him from succumbing to it as we do. The scribes are offended by Jesus’ teaching; and both they and the crowds are becoming fearful – some over the threat of loss of authority and influence, the others for fear of the consequences that may erupt upon them. Hence “He’s out of his mind” — and “your mother and brothers are outside waiting for you.” The subtext is that they have come to “talk some sense into him” — a variation on the tendency to “circle the wagons” and bring things under control.
But, the Gospel of Mark isn’t accurate history of a particular event. The divine message of this really good story compels us to read deeply into it. When we do that, what we’re meant to hear is God’s continual call towards inclusion and a turning away from the circling of the clan wagons.
Who are my mother and my brothers? Not just those with whom I share blood and genetic lines. Not only those with whom I’m affiliated by membership in synagogue or church or neighborhood, or state or region or even country.
No, God’s dream for us is that we be reconciled to all of God’s creation … to those with whom we may have – on the surface — very little in common. God’s dream is that we remain connected; that we hide ourselves away from no one.
In answering the question: Where are you? – we can encourage one another to shun the fear of vulnerability. We can also encourage one another to break outside of our comfortable clan affiliations. Rather than holding tight to “I was naked and afraid and so I hid among the trees of the garden I know” might we hear this: you are my beloved and in you I am well pleased. For in hearing this, shame is erased, fear is expunged, and we can most fully embrace Jesus’ teaching that “bere are my mother and brothers” … inside these doors, and far outside of them in ever widening circles so far beyond that indeed, all are welcome in our lives, just as God created.