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June 9 2024

The Reverend Kathleen Killian 

Proper 5B/24

Genesis 3:8-15 

Psalm 130

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35 


Where are you?

Where are you? This is the very first question that God asks in the Bible; and it is asked not only of Adam and Eve but of every single one of his children generations hence. But God’s question is about more than our geographic address. Where are you? is an inquiry into our inner locale and state of being, and a call to God’s self, to walk together with the Holy One in the garden of this earth. 

Our scriptures this morning seem especially pertinent to the time at hand. God is also calling to our parish family—where are you? As Fr. John and I have heard, you are rattled, shocked, sad, grateful, hopeful, uncertain at the news of our departure from Christ Church at the end of the summer. Fr. John and I are in a similar place of mixed and changing emotions. A big change is upon us all, and so God calls a little louder—where are you?— beckoning us into deeper communion with Christ. 

In the gospels, Jesus reveals his inner life to us through the expression of his own emotions, showing us that feelings are central to our life of faith. As persons, and as the church, we are called to look within to where we are and how we are, where we stand and why we fall, which helps us to discern our answer to God’s question, where you are you? And as did Jesus, we also cry out to God, where are you? Hear my voice, O Lord; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication (Psalm 139).

But with the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment and the privileging of rationalism, and now the artificial intelligence our highly technological society, sensitivity and emotional intelligence has been marginalized. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is the world’s first theologian, because it convinces humankind to trade listening and obedience to God for theology about God. 

I personally love studying and reading about the nature of God—theology is part of my religious and spiritual life. But I appreciate Brueggemann’s point, because ultimately no-one can theologize or study or think their way to salvation. We must feel our way to an experience or encounter with the mystery and the divine, and which is a good bit more risky. Like Adam, we are afraid to do so for reasons—for feelings—that haven’t much changed. I heard you in the garden Lord, and I was afraid, because I was naked—exposed, vulnerable, and ashamed of my weakness —and so I hid myself. 

This scripture from Genesis paints a picture of the vocation of the faithful: to encounter, confront, and embrace our feelings, especially of fear—of nakedness, vulnerability, uncertainty—of being human—of being different from all of other creatures in our awareness of time —of being alone—of meeting  God. And so we hide, though there’s no hiding from God. There is only answer as to where we are and encounter as we are. 

In our gospel from Mark, the crowd is the first to encounter Jesus; clamoring, so pushing and shouting for his attention that he and his disciples can’t find the time or space to eat. Then Jesus’ family arrives and encounter their kin who they think is out of his mind. Lastly, the theological heavyweights arrive from Jerusalem and encounter Jesus who they are sure is possessed by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. 

Only three chapters into Mark’s gospel, and a lot of people are upset and worried at encountering Jesus. Only when all three of these very different but agitated groups are gathered together does Jesus speak to them and our collective humanity: He called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. He goes on: Truly I tell you, whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. And then: Who is my family? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Let’s begin by giving Jesus’ mother and brothers, the crowd, and the temple scribes the benefit of the doubt. My guess is that like everyone here in the pew and the pulpit, they wanted to do God’s will and belong to God’s family. Though it may not seem so, Jesus’ words to them are actually a blessing, in that all of us might actually do the good we want to do if we listen to his strong admonition against idolatry of any kind—be it familial or religious—any attitude or belief—anyone or any group—that we have made idols of. 

God’s gracious love transcends all exclusivist kinship, ethnic, doctrinal or nationalist appeal. But these places of our captivity can be difficult to discern. Like Jesus, we are continually pressed upon by familiar powers that mean well—like friends and family—and also collective and systematic powers that seek to subvert our will. If you’re not sure what you idolize, look to what you resist letting go of and where it is that you hide and turn from God will in favor of your own agenda.

Here’s a simple measure to help divine the divine: When we pray to our Father, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, by implication we are praying that our kingdoms must go, and our will not be done. If we do not register this, we are a kingdom divided against itself. 

God’s questions to his children—Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? What is this that you have done? —are necessary for us to answer. In our gospel passage, the unforgivable blasphemy that Jesus speaks of is that of an entirely hardened heart and calcified mind—be it of the temple leaders or his family or those in the crowd—who have seen the great works of God in Jesus himself and yet refuse to answer to them; rather they reject, refuse, and deny the very real transformative power of God’s love and grace . . . but I was afraid Lord, and so I hid. I didn’t do it, she made me. That snake tricked me and so I ate. 

As if in answer to our lament and defense, Paul exhorts us not lose heart, for our inner nature is being renewed day by day. This is true not only of persons but neighborhoods, communities, congregations, and countries. Though certain capacities or abilities may diminish, others such as wisdom and joy deepen. The inner nature of our earthly tent is where God makes the life of Jesus most visible; the inner person is God’s new creation. 

The deepest of divine desire is for our healing and unity. Towards this wholeness, God provokes our choice and its consequence in cycles of both life (growth) and death (letting go). Jesus envisions and enacts God’s kingdom by way of decidedly muscular discipleship—a radical reordering of internal and external conditions by which we are hopefully and willingly reoriented. Seventeen years ago, I answered God’s call and set out to encounter Christ. Mistakes were made, detours were taken—and the road led to exactly where I am now and who I am today—imagine that. Changed, not perfect. Still learning, still being grown by God in faith and love. A little tired. A lot grateful. Humbled and awed, but still feeling my way, still answering the call. 

It is so easy to become distracted from the main event. Churches focus on numbers rather than on faithfulness, on the building rather than on the Builder. We get preoccupied with you-name-it, and the possibilities for getting side-tracked are many. But so are the possibilities for transformation in Christ many. Every emotion, every rough place, every uncertainly, even our hiding places are kindling for the fire of divine love. 

The good news is that ours is a God who cuts through the tangled thicket of our feelings and thoughts, ideas and idols, dreams and disappointments, and relentlessly, persistently pursues us, calling out—where are you? —inviting us home to God’s eternal and abiding love.