In our parish survey last Fall, one of the major points expressed was the desire to add young families and children to our community. This makes perfect sense in an aging congregation. From where will our new members come? Some of our younger members are growing the Church the old fashioned way. I am delighted to announce the birth of Louis Sapp on June 1, who will be baptized at St. Paul’s this Fall. The Sapp’s are doing their part, the rest of you need to get to work! Before you laugh and scoff, remember Abraham and Sarah, who gave birth in their old age. With God all things are possible. Be careful what you wish for ... God works in mysterious ways.
Scripture backs up our desire for younger people in the Church. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” We long to share our faith and life in Christ with the next generation. We also can learn much in teaching and serving our youngest brothers and sisters. I am happy to share that God has provided! Freedom School will again be hosted at St. Paul’s. Later this week, and for six weeks following, fifty rising first through third graders will pour onto our campus with energy, enthusiasm, and expectancy. They might not be the young people we were expecting. They will not look like most of us. They come from different backgrounds and situations. We may wonder what we have in common. But each of these precious children brings with them something amazing .. the image of God, the Imago Dei. We are blessed with the opportunity to share with these children and their families, to help them discover their value and potential as children of God, and perhaps to rediscover the image of God in ourselves. We are blessed with the opportunity to break down barriers and welcome the family of God.
Jesus is in the business of barrier breaking, and quite abruptly today in the Gospel of Mark, he gets to work. Scribes, keepers of the barriers, have come up from Jerusalem to challenge him. Jesus has been going around healing on the Sabbath, and his disciples are picking grain on the Sabbath. Now the demons Jesus casts out are calling Jesus the Son of God. Jesus is breaking barriers that the Scribes are sworn to protect. Despite all the good Jesus is doing, they reject what they do not understand. Since Jesus has charge over the demons, he must be working on their side.
Jesus is in a battle, his critics are on the attack, and he pulls out one of his favorite holy weapons, the parable. Jesus does not deny that he ousts demons from their human hosts. But Satan would never send one of his minions to perform such a task. That would be self-defeating. Jesus must therefore be operating at the behest of another power, a greater power, God’s power! Jesus is the Stronger One who ties and binds the strong man so that his household may be routed and defeated. A greater battle is going on here, a cosmic battle for humanity. Jesus’ ministry is an in your face denial and defeat of evil in favor of doing good, doing the will of God. This episode prepares us for the continuation and consequences of similar behavior. Jesus binds up the strong man ... we are to continue this work. We are called to bind up the strong man of evil and oppression and injustice. If we do not speak and act against all the “isms” that humanity has created ... ageism, sexism, racism ... all the “isms”, then we have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit without saying a word. Our very lives are to be lived spreading the Good News in word and action, and exorcising the demons that work against God’s will, so that evil is rendered impotent. This work is not without challenge.
Bishop Desmond Tutu states a simple truth, "Goodness is stronger than hate." Christ's love is stronger than the illusions and deceptions of evil. So who shall join us in the battle against evil? And who shall we battle for? Who is in and who is out? Surely our family and friends, all of those who look and think and act like us must be in the inner circle. Jesus continues to break down barriers and boundaries. Early in the gospel of Mark, those who have rejected Jesus’ speech and healing powers have put themselves on the outside. Jesus seems to reject his natural family, who are explicitly stated as outside. Jesus has chosen those who will be with him, and the Apostles become his family. Mark has already stated that Jesus' first disciples left family and occupation in order to follow him. The issue is not a rejection of blood relatives as individuals, but the danger of attachments to family, social culture, and traditional ties. Jesus cares for his family. In John's gospel, Jesus makes arrangements for the care of his mother while he is hanging on the cross. Jesus is not against family. Rather, Jesus redefines family based on action and alignment, appropriating the sense of family and belonging with our sense of being One. For Jesus, family implies the same mind, concerns, and devotion. Family are those aligned with the will of God. Blood is thicker than water, except for the water of baptism, that binds us to God and each other.
God is breaking boundaries, claiming family, and gathering humanity. Adoption into the family of God is open to all. The belief that the community of God is a closed one must be abandoned. God shakes up the family and relationships that are, until he shakes out the family that ought to be. We often refer to our church community as a family. We call each other brother and sister. But it is more than DNA that binds us. Biological families usually share a common past, upbringing, and experiences. Our church family shares scripture, tradition, and common faith. But it goes even deeper. Jesus describes family as those who share common purpose, united to one another through our devotion to the will of God. The form of discipleship Christ calls us to means a new solidarity with God and humanity. We rejoice with those who rejoice; we weep with those who weep. We journey together into the heights of joy and the depths of suffering. You don't necessarily choose your family, but we choose each other. The true expression of our Christian family is our willingness to give up self absorption, self concern, and self interest, and fully adopt God's whole family.
Early in the cosmic battle of good and evil, God created a world that is good, placed humanity in the middle of it, and supplied all that is needed to live life with God.
After that fateful bite of fruit, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” You know how the rest of the story goes. Yet God continues to stroll in the garden. If we listen to the silence, pay attention to the signs, and practice recognizing God among us, you will hear the divine footsteps. Let us not hide ourselves out of shame, anxiety, or fear, but step out into the presence of God, saying boldly, “Here I am Lord, send me.”
Perhaps you are called to companion our young brothers and sisters at Freedom School, or Path To Shine. Perhaps you are called to serve our hungry and homeless brothers and sisters through Daybreak, Loaves and Fishes, or Weekend Lunch. Perhaps you are called to assist our older brothers and sisters living in St. Paul’s Apartments. You may be called across the ocean to ministries in Haiti, Cuba, or Ghana, or perhaps right here in Macon you could bake a casserole, knit a prayer shawl, visit one who is lonely, become an usher, or simply be present in our community until the Spirit guides you. There is no shortage of opportunities to participate. Your family needs you.
Let us not fret over our shortcomings, frailty, and failures, but with faith present ourselves to be melted, molded, and used by God, though whom all things are possible. We are called to welcome and claim, serve and celebrate, love and care for all of God’s family ... no limits, no boundaries. Amen.