Preached on 10 June 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
It’s been said, when you pray, pray with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The corollary is this, when you read or listen to the news, have a prayer book in hand. You’ll need it.
This morning, as we turn to the Bible, we go all the way to the beginning to hear a passage from Genesis. Too often this passage is used to blame women for the existence of sin. It is seen as judgement on humanity. However, there are other ways to interpret it. Neither sin nor judgement is even mentioned and when it comes to curses, only the snake is cursed by God.
I suggest that this story from Genesis is a description of the Human Condition. The reality of our world is that we have to work to live. The reality is that childbirth is painful but that pain doesn’t deter us from reproducing, from extending our love in our children. That isn’t God’s judgement or punishment, it just is.
At the same time, the story shows that we are aware of our own brokenness, the brokenness of the world, and our complicity in it. We recognize right and wrong, yet we too frequently choose poorly. We evade responsibility. We shift blame. We hide from the Truth. This is the Human Condition.
It manifests and morphs and re-manifests over and over again throughout human history, across cultures and civilizations. The metaphors change, the names of the characters and of the particular wrongs may change, but it’s always present.
I think that’s why Scripture continues to speak to us and our lives today; even though it was written for other audiences and circumstances. The human condition transcends time and geography and culture.
Our hope lies in this: Compassion, mercy, justice, freedom, love – they appear to be moving in the general direction of expansion despite times when they lose ground. Practices that were once taken for granted by nearly everyone are now seen as barbaric or abhorrent by many or nearly all people.
Every culture, every civilization, every religion tells myths, stories, to speak to what is Good, what is True, what is Beautiful, Worthy, Holy, Loving. They give us identity and belonging, meaning and value. They tell us what we as a people value and how to live a good life, a meaningful life.
I often tell couples who are about to be married that the world will teach their children answers to those questions, but they are not the ones we would want. It is up to us, their parents, their community, to teach them the myths, the stories that give them life and counter the messages of the world.
We are bombarded with messages from our earliest moments. We are told we are valuable primarily as consumers; for what we buy. What we posses is merely a sign of that and so we have to keep consuming, keep buying more. We are told that our identity is found in what we do for pay and that the size of our paycheck is somehow a measure of our worth as a human being.
We hear messages about how success is measured, about who deserves help and who doesn’t, about who deserves health care or housing, food and clean water, safety and protection, about who is entitled to abuse others and destroy God’s creation for their own enrichment.
We hear about merit; that work is rewarded equitably with money. That if someone is not being paid as much it is because they don’t work as hard or because their work isn’t as good or as needed or as worthwhile as those who are paid more.
These are just a few examples of what the world will tell us, will teach our children. We all know they’re not true when we think about it, and yet, our behavior and our choices too often say otherwise.
So, all of that is about the Human Condition we heard about in Genesis. But God gives us stories, myths, to counter the false myths the world tells us. We can remember and retell those myths, those Truths, in our own context.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus, the Incarnation of God, is like an incursion. God comes to challenge the Powers of the world, to reclaim God’s reign, to expose the false myths, false claims, false promises, false values of what’s happening in the world of Mark’s audience.
And here’s the beauty of Scripture. While Mark was writing with a particular audience in mind, with the specific trials they were facing, we too, are Mark’s audience and the Truth he reveals is still True.
What does Mark have to say to us this morning? How is the reign of God challenging the Powers of the day? How are those Powers resisting God’s reign?
The reading this morning is one of several passages in which crowds gather around Jesus and he cures the sick and casts out unclean spirits. The people in the crowds recognize the divine power at work in Jesus. This time, Jesus is home and again a crowd gathers. His family is alarmed and tries to get him away, saying, “He’s out of his mind.”
Then, right in the middle of telling the story, Mark interrupts himself with an exchange between Jesus and the Scribes from Jerusalem. They represent the highest religious authority. Jesus, this incursion of the reign of God reaching across barriers to heal and forgive those whom the Temple deems unworthy, represents a threat to their power and they resist.
They come and declare that what Jesus is doing is not from God at all, but that he is possessed by Satan. Just as a side note, this is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Jesus is talking about; to not only deny the works of God, but to say they are of the devil.
Jesus refutes them. He has come to tie up the Strong Man, the forces of evil, in order to free those held captive. He boldly proclaims that all human sin will be forgiven, all blasphemies forgiven.
So here we have the crowd who recognizes the divine blessing brought by Jesus, his family who is trying to get him out of there, saying he’s crazy, and the Scribes who say he’s possessed.
The resistance to Jesus is coming from all sides. The Scribes try to discredit him. And his family – maybe they’re trying to protect him. They see the danger in, but if they succeed in spiriting him away, with a “pay no attention to him, he’s crazy,” maybe he’ll be okay. Jesus persists, of course. Despite the resistance, he stays focused on the message and the work.
Now, what about our own context? How does the reign of God challenge the Powers in our world today? How are those Powers resisting God’s reign?
What are we to do?
Following Jesus, becoming Christian is hard.
I wonder if we have tried to make it more appealing to the masses by downplaying its demands.
Why? Why do we try to appeal to the masses? Well, I have some ideas, but I think that’s a different sermon.
Following Jesus is not a hobby, something we do in our spare time or pick up and then set aside at our convenience. No, it’s a way of living, a way of being.
That state of being doesn’t happen magically, though, nor can we attain it by force of will. No, it’s a lifelong process in concert with God, through relationship with God. It comes about through prayer, worship in community, and spending time with Scripture, allowing it to speak to our soul. It comes through giving of ourselves to others and spending time with the poor, the outcast, you know, the folks Jesus would hang out with.
So, what about this Human Condition thing? As human beings, we are unable to solve it. At the same time, as followers of Jesus, neither are we free to ignore suffering and evil.
We start with Jesus, our identity in Christ, and with prayer. As I came up with a list of bullet points, I remembered this song and I think it’s better.
It’s called “Anyway”
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God
It was never between you and them anyway.