Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What is family?

Today is the first unday after Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday in the ongoing celebration of Pentecost. and we begin our series on Life in the Spirit. It’s also the Sunday we welcome Jeremy back from his European tour. So of course we begin our service by singing Every time I feel the Spirit.  Our first hymn of the day is  I’m Gonna Live So God can Use Me. And after reading mark 3: 20-35,
readers’ theatre style, I sing Dylan’s You’re gonna have to  serve somebody backed up by Jeremy and Andre and that feels good.

We begin our reflection with a question:
What is family?  That word can mean so many things….our family of origin., our family of choice, our church family…

That’s one of the questions Jesus is wrestling with today…he’s been doing what he does…he’s been out there preaching, witnessing…more of that in a minute…but it’s his family’s reaction that interests me…

 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

 Or as Gene Peterson wrote in the Message:

 His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him, by force if necessary. They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.

I expect it was out of love…it usually is…have you ever had that experience?
When I was 18, and had to register for the draft, I told my family I wanted to register as a conscientious objector…after an upsetting phone call, I wrote a 12 page letter….and received the support I needed…

What’s going on here?  Jesus is seeing what’s going on as an apocalyptic battle between good and evil … and we have to choose sides…

Evil, that’s a big word…a word to be careful with..

The scribes see it the same way, only they see Jesus as possessed of the devil, Beelzebul. Saying that by this power Jesus casts out demons.
And Jesus mocks that saying that if he were of the devil, how could he be casting demons out? A house divided against itself cannot stand…to which we would say word…

That is true of families…some of us have lived through civil wars that divided families…sometimes a child’s coming out has divided families…during the Nicaraguan civil war, the three opposing news papers were all run by children from the same family…I sat through family dinners that would start out calm, reach a boiling point, people would  leave, come back…it’s like that in Israel today…and there can be a point of no return on some of these issues…

Our country seems divided now more than I remember for years…the old congress pattern fight all day and drink and eat as  friends at night seems to have vanished, or been banished…likewise the church…in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, there were only 7 liberals when I was first there…they looked at me as if I  were crazy…but loved me anyways…

We are divided racially, and by economics…some of us live in very separate worlds, rarely meeting…not even in the ballpark anymore…where  Yankee Stadium has a concrete moat to separate the rich, super rich from everybody else.

What Jesus is calling out here is the empire, the strong man…and he calls it evil… this strange saying about blaspheming against the holy spirit…may not be what we think..literally, it’s to speak irreverently about God… but what Jesus is talking about here is calling evil good and good evil…his greatest anger was against the religious establishment for collaborating  with, blessing the empire…for him, Romans were just being Romans but the religious leaders, the temple, the church, needed to be different…if you fear the power, there is no entry,  no way to break the power.

This is what leads to his mother and brothers attempting an intervention. And he looks around and says those who stand with him are his real family.

Hard stuff.

Jesus is bringing a radical critique of his society and culture. He is calling it evil. He is saying, like Dylan,  You gotta serve somebody…make a choice.

That’s where it gets tough. In wars, we always have to demonize the other side. It is rarely that simple. After 9-11, my friend Father Duffel instituted the weekly singing of the Song of Peace by Sibelius:

This is my song, O God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating, With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.   My country's skies are bluer than the ocean, And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine. But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, And skies are everywhere as blue as mine. O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, A song of peace for their land and for mine.

He wanted us to know that others in their own lands felt about their land as we do ours…in the end, there are few truly evil people… systems,yes, powers yes, but (most) people, NO.

It was 9-11 when I saw the acres of still smoldering  devastation while West-Park  served all night as volunteers, this where the roots of my commitment to beauty and justice, ethics and aesthetics grew …the very act of creation itself a from of resistance,  in partnership with God…

We need discernment to speak clearly…but also a commitment to stand with each other, even in disagreemnet… we need to be to be an undivided family….

Having talked about it, Andre sings This is my song as we pass the plates.  Then it is time for communion and our final hymn is  Here I am Lord, a hymn of calling and service.

Following worship, the Session meets with Russ who has decided to join the church. He talks about his journey through seminary to the Revolutionary Communists to Riverside and now West-Park, He has a podcast, Love in a dangerous Time that chronicles the radical changes in church life today. ( One of the best places to keep up with this ongoing conversation. (I have been on the podcast on three separate occasions. ) Russ sees West-Park at the cusp of what has been and what could be. It’s that what could be that is the challenge and the maddening  hope. It’s great to have Russ on board.

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