June 10 - Third Sunday after Pentecost

So—what do you want first, the good news or bad news? It’s a dance on the dark side this morning. Stories with temptation, sinfulness, a crafty serpent, a house divided against itself, unclean spirits, and Satan—ruler of the demons.  Bad things are afoot.

God’s human creation seems to be the problem. God warns us, and we ignore God’s warning. We meet Adam and Eve—the first creatures to give in to the forces of sin and temptation. We meet Jesus who warns that houses plagued by bickering and division cannot stand the test of time.

These stories speak to our everyday realities. Like Adam and Eve, we descend into a spiral of blaming everyone and everything but ourselves. While our leaders in public office come to mind, we’re often just as guilty. Rather than take responsibility and ownership of our mistakes, we cast the blame on the other guy or group of people. We bicker and undermine, creating divisions in our homes, schools, workplaces and yes—even churches. These stories can bring us to our knees.

What at first seems like a story out of touch with our modern day realities, we actually face plenty of demons. Come Monday morning, or whenever our “normal” lives begin again, the demons circle around us. We get sucked into divisive partisanship. We are lured into scapegoating and quietly enabling the bullying of others. We devote energy to thinking up excuses or rationalizations for unethical decisions that we make—decisions that might not affect us in the moment, but have grave consequences for our neighbor or for future generations. MLK would often declare that “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”[1] Sometimes, the injustice is too much to bear, and we give in to silence, keeping our head down, carrying on and ignoring the demons, pretending they don’t exist.

So—are you ready for the good news? Your sins will be forgiven, Jesus says. So do not lose heart, declares St. Paul. For while our human nature wastes away, our inner selves are renewed each day. The one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also, and bring us into God’s presence. These are stories of reconciliation. These are stories of God repairing our relationships—not only with God, but with each other also.

On either end of accusations that Jesus is demon-possessed, Jesus talks about family and what true family consists of. You’ve probably heard of the phrase, “blood is thicker than water.” Many of us like to think of ourselves as loyal to our own family and kin above all else. But shockingly, Jesus appears to reject his immediate family—his own blood—for something entirely different. Jesus’ family, he suggests, isn’t defined by birth certificates, DNA tests, adoption records, or custody papers. Instead, his family consists of those whom God has called to join him in his mission to bring good news to all people.

This alternative definition of family stands out in a powerful way this morning, as seven young members of our faith family get ready to receive the meal that we share around this table every week. When we gather here, sharing the bread and wine, we take part in a remembrance that spans all space and time. We remember that we are part of the body of Christ—a community of saints past, present and future. We recall what makes us into that body—the waters of baptism—waters that transform us into sisters, brothers, siblings; waters that unite us with one another and with God. Reminded of this truth, might we instead say that water is thicker than blood?

With this new identity as siblings in God’s family, we are called to join Jesus, casting out the very demons that we confront. Doing so can be uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and place us with the marginalized and those that society labels as “undesirable.” Led and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are called into justice-oriented lives of integrity, casting aside those demons that would tempt us into making self-serving, unethical choices. We are possessed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be vocal and not step aside in silence when we see the demons and evil forces of the world harm our neighbors and our community. We name those unclean spirits and call them out with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today we put aside our finger-pointing and instead join hands with one another, striving to do God’s work and make the world a better place. We do the things we’ve been doing: casting out the demons of hunger with our food and meal ministries, casting out the demons of loneliness by visiting and caring for one another, casting out the demons of discrimination by explicitly welcoming all people and being allies for people who are marginalized. Together, we face the reality of a broken world confident in God’s promises; confident in God’s love for us, confident in the resurrection and new life we share with Christ; confident that God’s family stands forever.

 

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” 1963.

Photo Credit: "*a house divided against itself cannot stand*", © 2014 Wes DickinsonFlickr | CC-BY-ND |via Wylio