Into the Fray

Into the Fray

Sermon preached on June 10, 2018

Someone forgot to tell the folks who picked our Gospel text that it’s our picnic and carwash Sunday! Because we may be in the early chapters of Mark’s Gospel but it’s already heating up. Things are getting serious for Jesus. Word has gotten out – like it does. People have come from far and wide (some from as far as 150 miles away!) and they are swarming Jesus. They won’t leave him alone – he can’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd. Like today’s celebrity music or movie stars, or royalty.

Here in the house where Jesus has gathered with his disciples, they are packed in so tightly, they can’t even eat. People all around who want a piece of him. These people are seeking healing and wisdom… they are pressing in on him. You can almost feel the desperation and devotion, the frenzy that is building around Jesus.

Maybe that has something to do with the scribes already being onto him, why the local authorities are trying to discredit him.[1]Maybe that’s why his family has shown up, concerned that things have gotten out of hand. His family are there trying to calm the situation down, to calm him down, restrain him somehow. Maybe they truly think he is out of his mind, or maybe they’re worried that he’ll be held accountable for his words and actions (in the end, he will). And they think if they can soften his words, make it seem like he is out of his mind… then he will seem like less of a threat.

But neither the scribes – who are experts, authorities, nor his family, can control Jesus. For Jesus is having none of it.

These scribes from Jerusalem are experts in religious law. The pick up on this idea that Jesus is out of his mind, or possessed by a spirit (which is probably what his family is implying, his being overzealous). The scribes take it another step – leveling a devastating charge against him – saying not only is Jesus possessed, but he is possessed by “the ruler of demons.” That’s why the demons listen to him.[2]

As I said, Jesus is having NONE of this. Jesus replies with an analogy – a house divided cannot stand. He is not a member of Satan’s house. He is an intruder breaking into it. He has bound “the strong man” himself, that’s why he can cast out demons. The spirit that is dwelling within him, “the Holy Spirit,” opposes Satan outright.[3]

Even though Mark frames all of this as speaking in “parables,” the message is loud and clear: Jesus has come to be a healing liberator, in direct opposition to the forces of evil in the world, whatever they may be.[4]The people know this, that’s why they are there. Jesus has the power to overcome all that plagues them – they can feel his power, his ability to heal and his authority over all that rules their world… all the powers would control their lives.

Jesus is as direct as those who accuse him of being in league with demons, saying those who reject the Holy Spirit, who identify it as an “unclean spirit” (and call it “the ruler of demons”) – are essentially committing blasphemy against God, committing an “eternal sin.” The tables have turned completely – accused of being in league with demons and the forces of evil, Jesus has made it clear, he is at work defeating those forces, fostering the salvation of the world.[5]

This passage doesn’t get any easier. It’s clear, those who seek to follow Jesus can only do so by taking part in this world saving mission as well. Jesus insists that his “family” are not those who will “restrain” his healing work but “whoever does the will of God.”

This is not a comfortable text; not the nice guy Jesus people talk about when they speak about Jesus from a distance. Those who describe Jesus as a wise teacher and a nice guy – one who taught people how to love and walk in the way of peace. I’m willing to bet they don’t mean this Jesus. I’m also willing to bet they haven’t read most of the Gospel texts. Because Jesus is not “nice.”

His message is not easy. While it’s absolutely true that he teaches us to walk in the ways of love, it’s an authentic love, following the path of God’s own love for us. It involves our learning to love others as we are loved: unconditionally, radically, boundlessly – which is no small or easy thing. Thankfully. It’s a world changing, social order shattering, justice rolling down like waters, radically restoring the world kind of love.

Jesus is our living witness to the depth of God’s love, he is living out that love, what it looks like in human form. Sacrificial love for God’s own – embodied, imbued with the Holy Spirit and empowered by God. This love will prove to be the salvation of the world. Nothing less. Because nothing less will do; nothing less will take on the powers of this world. Nothing less will overcome the evil forces at play. Nothing less will defeat them, every time. So – at this moment Jesus is living into the courage and conviction that will define his ministry – not for his own sake, but for the sake and salvation of the world. For our sake.

Following this Jesus is no walk in the park. It’s living boldly and standing effectively against the world’s death-dealing forces – in our lives and in our neighborhoods. Following Jesus means being willing to go into the fray of it all, with courage. Knowing that we have the power of this embodied love on our side, and we can join in God’s mission of hope, healing and restoration for the world.

While I don’t think Mark expects people to be reckless, I do think there’s an expectation that those who follow Jesus will do more than talk a good game. That we won’t be talked out of our mission and ministry by those who may ‘restrain’ rather than encourage us, because they think we must be out of our minds.

Discipleship is never easy, but it’s an active state, not a philosophical concept. Together we can follow our powerful and saving Christ, into the fray of our world, bringing hope and restoration.

After our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, preached at the Royal Wedding a few weeks ago – the ripples kept on going – moving outward… into the world. People are still talking about it, about the message he shared, and how he shared it. He has been on talk shows and YouTube interviews. My favorite is one where on YouTube where the host wrote below: “The dude was really cool, and he spoke from his heart, you can tell really believes what he’s saying.” Preach it!

He has had subsequent sermons forwarded far and wide – people want to know what else he has to say.

There’s even a group of Episcopal evangelists (think about those two words together!!), Episcopal evangelistswho have started a Facebook group and invited several of us to join. The idea is to share ways we can spread the message of Christ, be evangelists! One of my favorite posts is a church that has made a life sized cut out of Michael Curry, so people can come and have their photo taken with him. “Get your photo with the one who preached at the Royal Wedding, sharing our message of a loving, liberating and life-giving God for the world.” (I’m would love to buy one for us – can you imagine having a Michael Curry cut out at the Clam Festival?!)

Seriously, it made me wonder – what can we do to share the Spirit? What are we willing to do to head out into the fray? Where is the fray today, in our messy, needful world? Where are we willing to go, in order to share the powerful love of Christ with those around us? To take part in God’s mission of hope, healing and liberation?

Given this week’s news of two prominent celebrities who died from suicide, we are reminded of our deep need to care for one another. To reach out to each other, check on one another, and to ask for help when we need it, as we want those we love to ask us for help. (We are so reluctant to tell others when we need help, yet we want others to reach out to us when they are in need – do the math on that – it doesn’t work.)

We need to begin to engage with one another beyond our inner circle, and get involved with each other’s lives, if we are to have a chance of noticing that anyone is not doing well. I know – relationships are messy and interdependent, and that’s not the independent “live and let live” Mainer way. But that how love works, and it’s how we need to live in beloved community.

When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he doesn’t mean for a walk in the park. He means follow him into the fray. Into the good and difficult work of salvation: building up from the ruins, freeing captives, repairing the breach, rescuing the lost, reuniting families who have been separated, caring for those in need, being part of making things whole, living with dignified responsibility for each other, in our hearts and homes and neighborhoods.[6]

The good news of the Gospel is that this life-giving mission is already underway, and we are called to take part, each in our own unique way, in this beautiful, though not easy, path to restoration and wholeness.

This summer, may we respond to the invitation to follow Jesus into the fray, each in our own distinct way taking part in God’s life-giving mission of love, hope, healing and restoration. Amen.

[1]Inspired by Salt commentary: June 5, 2018, Third Week after Pentecost (Year B);

[2]Inspired by Salt commentary: June 5, 2018, Third Week after Pentecost (Year B);

[3]Paraphrased from Salt commentary: June 5, 2018;

[4]Paraphrased from Salt commentary: June 5, 2018;

[5]Inspired by Salt commentary;

[6]Inspired by Salt commentary;