June 6, 2021

Prayer of the Day

All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory. Increase our faith and trust in him, that we may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20

4All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
  10So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; … 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
  19But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Psalm 138

1I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with | my whole heart;
  before the gods I will | sing your praise.
2I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name, because of your steadfast | love and faithfulness;
  for you have glorified your name and your word a- | bove all things.
3When I called, you | answered me;
  you increased my | strength within me.
4All the rulers of the earth will praise | you, O Lord,
  when they have heard the words | of your mouth. R
5They will sing of the ways | of the Lord,
  that great is the glory | of the Lord.
6The Lord is high, yet cares | for the lowly,
  perceiving the haughty | from afar.
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you | keep me safe;
  you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right | hand shall save me.
8You will make good your pur- | pose for me;
  O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works | of your hands.

Mark 3:20-35

[Jesus went home;] 20and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
  28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
  31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

In her article, “Religion after Pandemic” Diana Butler Bass proposes that we are experiencing four different kinds of dislocation: temporal, historical, physical, and relational. She suggests that religious communities need to be about the work of relocation. What does she mean? Finding what has been lost, repairing what has been broken, and re-grounding people into their own lives and communities. In fact, this is the work our leadership is going to take on in earnest at our June church council meeting, but the work of relocation belongs to all of us.

What does dislocation and relocation have to do with our peculiar passage from Mark’s gospel this morning? Jesus’ words and actions early in his earthly ministry might provide an anecdote to the historical dislocation Bass describes. Bass writes, “We’ve lost our sense of where we are in the larger story of both our own lives and our communal stories. History has been disrupted. Where are we? Where are we going? The growth of conspiracy theories, the intensity of social media, political and religious ‘deconstructions’ these are signs of a culture seeking a meaningful story to frame their lives.

Jesus is certainly disrupting history, no doubt about that. That’s been clear ever since he came on the scene. But he is also so clear about what he is doing. It may seem, and does seem, to onlookers that he is all about destruction. And there is some deep truth to that. However, what Jesus is finally about is the reign of God, and that reign is about life. 

Our specific story this morning about Jesus is one that can make us feel a bit wobbly, particularly his words about family. And yet, as we will sing later, this story can also be our fortress as we find our footing in the days, months, and years ahead.

Up until now, Jesus’ life has been a whirlwind of one amazing event after another.  He is curing people of various diseases. He is casting out demons.  And he is teaching that the Kingdom of God is coming. And so, his fame and popularity are growing.  

When we pick up the story today, so many people are crowding around to see Jesus that it is difficult for them to eat. In other words, it’s so crazy that they can’t do the most basic task necessary to survive.

Imagine being one of Jesus’ siblings during this chaos.  Hear the dinner conversation. “Did you see how he healed that man? Our brother is amazing!”  “You go ahead and think that. I think that Jesus has gone mad.” “No, no, but I am worried about him.” “Why?” “He is going to get himself into all kinds of trouble.  The leaders are furious that Jesus is disrupting the status quo.”  “Yes.  And they are nervous because he is giving all sorts of people hope, hope that things as we know them will change forever.” “Maybe his power is going to his head.”  “No.  That wouldn’t happen to our brother. Still, we need to restrain him and bring him home safe.”

Coming from Jerusalem, the scribes were having a very different conversation. “Things have gotten way out of hand with this Jesus. Who does he think he is, casting out demons and healing outcasts?” “He is teaching, and preaching, and working wonders with a new kind of power.” “Yes, ordinary people are starting to believe that their lives might get better.” “I don’t like change.”  “It’s more than life simply changing. Do you know what will happen if people are allowed to hope, if they start to believe their lives will change?” 

For his part, Jesus won’t tolerate his opponents or his family. He interrupts them with more proclamations of God’s reign. It is breaking into the world.  The reign of God will bring hope and disruptions. God is going to have a family that reaches beyond bloodlines. It is a family that could include everyone—even those people, especially those, who do not look like they belong.

Jesus replies to the attacks on him by his family and scribes. He speaks about a house divided. The scribes have attributed Jesus’ power to cast out demons to being demon possessed himself. The scribes, according to Jesus, do not understand how households work. For a ruler to take up arms against himself would be the prelude to disaster. Divided households cannot survive. In fact, if Satan’s host is at war with itself, people should rejoice—for he has come to an end. 

Jesus offers the only reasonable interpretation of what is occurring. Someone has invaded the domain of the strong man, Satan, and that someone is the “stronger one” who John the Baptist preached about-Jesus. Satan is being deposed and his domain plundered. 

And then comes this question and answer. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  

In many ways, this powerful statement affirms the stance Trinity Lutheran has taken on partnerships and collaborations: if you are not harming people, if you want to partner on life-giving work like feeding and housing and peacemaking, let’s meet at the table and talk. Jesus is clear that bloodlines are not the most important thing, and denominational and religious lines are not of highest importance either. What is important is doing the will of Jesus’ Father. This is a great scripture passage to support partnering with all sorts of people. 

The clarity of Jesus is rare and worth noticing in this passage. He does not speak in parables or use a metaphor we have to untangle. He says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And yet, we do not know exactly what anyone in this crowd has done, and so our understanding of what it means to do “the will of God” is a bit sketchy. 

One scholar noted that it appears to involve sitting [Skinner]. What he meant was that the people sitting around Jesus, the crowd that surveys Jesus, is remarkable for being passive. They are patient. They are present. They are simply in the house with him. This simple presence is so inline, so consistent with Jesus’ other very clear command—follow me.

This does not mean that there are no other activities involved in doing the will of the Father. All four gospels help flesh out the life of discipleship. But simply, or profoundly, sticking around Jesus seems to be a significant part of kinship with Jesus, of being part of this new family, of being part of the reign of God. 

If Diana Butler Bass is right, and we are experiencing historical dislocation, then our story today is a compelling and life-giving story. My impulse, fostered by so much of the culture we exist in, is to produce and then produce more, to be excellent if not perfect, to try to change the world. 

In moderation and shared by a community, those impulses might be okay. But not checked, they can be downright damaging. The gospel today calls us to be grounded in Jesus’ himself, in God almighty incarnate, a human being. He is the one taking on the powers of the world, not me or you or our neighbor. Let me repeat that, Jesus is the one taking on the powers of the world, no one else.

How then, do we relocate ourselves in this particular story? In Jesus’ own words elsewhere, how do we abide in Jesus? Being here in worship is one answer. That’s difficult in this bridge time, while we rebuild the worship experience for our next chapter. Prayer, devotions, spending time with strangers as Jesus did, are all part of relocating ourselves in the Jesus narrative. 

Of course, faith is active in love and that love needs to ultimately be active in the world, in our daily lives, in the life of the church. But there is a difference between activity directed by the 24-hour news cycle, the latest on social media, all the competing narratives right now and activity directed by the story of Jesus. One feels like a field of slippery mud and the other is solid. There are other life-giving narratives, to be sure. But we are gathered in this place this morning because at least for this chapter of our lives, if not other chapters, we choose to trust the story of Jesus. We are sitting with him like that crowd, sticking with him, abiding in him.

To worship, prayer, spending time with strangers as Jesus did, we might add the story itself, as a way to sit with Jesus. Earlier this year, in a church newsletter column, I encouraged all of us to read the gospel of Mark straight through, advice I will admit to not following yet. My plan is to use my few days up at camp, helping with staff training, to read the shortest of the four gospels. This story has spoken to people for generations, transformed communities. Why would we expect that it is has lost its power? Maybe we can trust that, like past generations and saints gone before us, if we truly stick with Jesus and locate ourselves in his story, surprises will start to occur.  

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

Let us come before the triune God in prayer.

God of wholeness, we pray for believers all over the globe (global mission partners may be named). Unify us in service of the gospel, that we may work together as beloved siblings to share your love with all. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of the cosmos, we pray for creation; the gardens, waterways and creatures near to us and diverse forms of life that remain unseen. Teach us to treat the natural world with reverence, seeking restoration when human divisions have caused harm to your beloved creation. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of all people, we pray for harmony among the nations. Cast out from us unclean spirits of greed and fear, that we may work in solidarity with one another for the common good. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of abundance, we pray for those who are oppressed or in any need. Encourage those who have begun to lose heart. Strengthen and renew us with your Spirit. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of righteousness, we pray for this holy house of worship. Set our gaze upon things eternal, that in thanksgiving for your mercy, we may extend grace to more and more people. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of the ages, in your goodness you have sent us faithful witnesses for every time and place. We give you thanks for those saints who now rest in your eternal mercy (especially). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your abiding grace.Amen.

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