The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Proper 5B 2021 June 6, 2021
1Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Counting upon Christ
Welcome to Ordinary Time, or the season after Pentecost, a period of the church year not dedicated to any particular liturgical or festal observance or solemnity. It can also be called the long “green” season due to the color of vestments and altar cloths, and the fact that it will take us well into November. Green also symbolizes the life and hope of each ordinary but new day.
During Ordinary Time, the church focuses on reading one of the three synoptic gospels. This year Mark is our lens through which to discern how to live out our faith and the mission of the church in our ordinary lives; ordinary indeed meaning regular or day to day, and as well as ordinal or counted time; as we number the Sundays after Pentecost, so we count each day and the daily cost of discipleship to Christ. The gift of new life in Christ is given everyday and is free— we cannot pay for or earn salvation— yet we must not discount the cost of following Jesus, as in today’s gospel lesson.
At the beginning of Mark chapter three, Jesus heals a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, much to the offense and outrage of the temple leaders. Jesus is both angered and grieved by their hard-heartedness. Our passage picks up after this event; Jesus and his disciples have retreated from the temple. But the clamoring crowds are pressing in upon them so, they have no time or space to eat. It’s a chaotic scene in which Jesus is accused by the scribes of being Beelzebul, the lord of the flies and prince of the devils, and the source of his power. Even Jesus’s family think things are getting out of hand and that Jesus might be “possessed,” as the Greek implies. And so his family attempts to intervene.
Jesus is possessed, if you will, but by God’s Holy Spirit, yet is accused of having an unclean spirit. He then warns that it is a sin to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and whoever does can never have forgiveness. In other words, those who refuse to see the holy, the good or God in him, others or the self, willingly alienate themselves from eternal life and enter into spiritual death. Eternal life is our present and living relationship with the Holy One. To live eternally is to live by grace that is costly. To live eternally is to receive forgiveness, now. To live eternally is to give forgiveness, now.
Reconciliation with God, our neighbors, and the creation herself, is the mission of the church. To reconcile and reunite that which has been broken, dismembered, and thrown into the outer darkness is to restore relationship and make peace between that which is divided.
The places of our alienation and estrangement from the good are not always obvious; as Jesus was, we are continually pressed upon by familiar powers that often mean well, such as family, friends, leaders, and mentors. But collective and systematic powers, such as racism, consumerism, and militarism also weigh heavily upon us, subverting and corrupting our will to God perhaps even unconsciously.
In counting the cost of following Jesus, we must ask where or how do I turn away from God’s will in favoritism of my own or another’s? If you think of a boat tied to a dock or moored in a harbor, its anchor provides safely and security. But for the boat to catch the wind and set sail—to do what it is made to do—it must be untethered from the ties that bind it. Whatever keeps us inert, not growing and evolving, senseless, bound or captive is the dock of false allegiance we must push back from, so that we are free to catch the liberating Spirit of God.
This morning Jesus pushes back from the dock of what we have come to think of as Christian family values. He asks, who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Gesturing towards the crowd around him—the hungry, marginalized, diseased, and disabled, and his often-in-the-dark-disciples—he answers: whoever does the will of God is my family. Jesus’s words and actions are an unsettling admonition against idolatry of any kind—be it familial or religious—any attitude or belief—anyone, any group—that we would privilege over fidelity to God and the community of God’s gracious love that transcends all exclusivist kinship, ethnic, doctrinal or nationalist appeal.
To quote from the Society of St. John the Evangelist: The Scriptures recognize that there are many things in which we are tempted to put our trust, none of which have the power to save us and all of which will ultimately disappoint [or betray] us. They warn us that we should not trust in riches, or in idols, or in foreign powers, or military might, in princes, or in other human beings. GOD is the true object of hope. We may put our hope in God’s steadfast love, in God’s ordinances, or in God’s word, but we are to be rooted and grounded in GOD, end quote.
Our Old Testament passage from 1 Samuel speaks precisely to this temptation and proclivity to hope in that which is temporal and relative. Samuel was the first prophet after Moses and the last judge of Israel. In the days of the judges, there was no centralized form of governance; God would raise up an individual to protect and deliver Israel from her enemies. But then, as we heard earlier, all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel wanting something different: we want a king to govern us, like other nations.
Samuel did not think this was a good idea and so he prayed to God. God told Samuel to warn the people that a human king would demand heavy taxes and hard physical labor, eventually making slaves of them. And so Samuel did. But they refused to listen; No! said Israel: we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations. Indeed, they got what they wanted and Saul was chosen to rule as king. But their rejection of Yahweh as sovereign was an act of disobedience, and Israel’s monarchy of some four-hundred years was ultimately a ruinous one.
As if in counter to the cost of misplaced allegiance, our psalmist sings: All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, when they have heard the words of your mouth. They will sing of the ways of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord.
In our Epistle today, Paul writes to the church at Corinth. They were in a state of internal conflict and rebellion over and against Paul’s teaching and authority, and its cost to them; his ministry was of little success or means. Yet for Paul, what the Corinthians considered to be defeat, diminishment and disappointment were for him the glories of participating in the life of the cross. Paul acknowledges the reality of what can be seen, is temporal, and of momentary affliction, while affirming the truth of life in Christ: Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day . . . preparing us for the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
All things are wasting or passing away, which is as true for individuals as it is for neighborhoods, communities, congregations, and countries. In a youth culture such as our own, what is a natural process is often equated with irrelevance, tiredness, even hopelessness. And yet as St. Paul insists, while certain capacities or abilities diminish, others deepen, such as wisdom and maturity. Outer decline is also a time of inner renewal, revival, and growth.
Do not lose heart, Paul exhorts; for when we are in relationship with God, we draw from the bottomless and inner well of the Holy Spirit, from which the fruits of the spirit are revealed: love, joy, kindness, peace, patience, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and steadiness.
As your new priests, Fr. John and I promise to draw from the well of the Spirit its living water and count each day of our common life with you as blessing and gift. With God’s help, let us together endeavor to share the gospel of Christ’s love and reconciliation with each other and our community through our thoughts, words, deeds and prayers. May we always remember to look to God, from whom all good proceeds.
As Jesus envisions and enacts the kingdom of God, each and every day in each ordinary disciple, may we treasure the cost of such extraordinary grace—the pearl of great price—the voice of Jesus calling us to follow him. Though our everyday steps of faith and renewal may be humble, they are of great meaning and value to Christ our King.
Yes, St. Paul asserts, everything is for our sakes, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.