“In the Midst” 6/10/18 Rev. Stacy Swain

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

Will you pray with me, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.

I heard something on the radio this past week that got me thinking. It was an interview with naturalist and writer Michael McCarthy and in it he said that up until about 12,000 years ago, human being were just part of the wild life that roamed this planet. For 500,000 generations he said, our lives were pretty much wild.

And then about 12,000 years or 500 generations ago, he said that we figured out how to farm. And with that, when we stopped roaming around as a species, and started living in proximity to each other over a duration of time, we were faced the hard task of having to learn how to get along, organize ourselves and relate to one another.
Now 12,000 years is a blink of an eye in evolutionary time. So we are actually really newbies so to speak at this “being with each other” thing. I find that rather heartening because it is pretty clear to me that we still have a lot of work to do in figuring it out. So hopefully, in time, we will get it right.

But in the meantime, for much of these past 12,000 years we figured it out by deciding that one way we would organize ourselves is by family.
I remember when I traveled to Zambia with the church a few years back, I was in conversation with a woman in M’tendere, a barrio of Lusaka the capital where we as a church were supporting some school children. We were talking and I asked here where she was from. Instead of telling me the name of a town, she instead gave me about a five minute recitation of her family tree – “I am the daughter of.. xxx, son of xxx,” and she kept going back and back. It was amazing. And so it is in the bible too, right. Woe to our scripture reader when one of those genealogy passages come up. Households were one of the first and perhaps the most enduring ways that people organized and understood themselves.

In our more transient society here in the states, the household as the organizing unit has dissipated over time and is being replaced instead with what we have come to call “community”. We use what community or communities we belong to as a way to organize ourselves and relate one to another.
I am part of the Roslindale community, and part of the community of swimmers at our town pool. I am part of the local clergy community and part of my denominational community of the United Church of Church. I am also part of this faith community, the Union Church in Waban.

To be part of a community is to define a space that is distinct from other spaces. We gather ourselves in around a core identity and that maps out the boundaries of the community we create. And that can be a wonderful and nourishing thing because we all do need to feel a place of belonging and a place that is safe and welcoming of us.
I was reminded of how important this is again yesterday when we shared in Boston Pride as the LGBTQ+ community celebrated and expressed their Pride in their community and where their inherent worth and dignity as human beings was affirmed. It was great and important to gather with the LGBTQ community in that way!

But, defining community around a core marker of identity is not without its difficulties and that is what the Gospel passage for today is bringing home. When we define community by drawing boundaries around ourselves to mark out who is in, those same boundaries can end up being used to make it also painfully clear who is out — Who is not and is not to be, a part of said community.

This is something our LGBTQ brothers and sisters know all too well. I learned recently that 40% of homeless youth in this country are LGBTQ+. These young people end up on the streets when, as they come to discover the full expression of who they are, they also find that the norms that defined the communities in which they thought they once belonged have no room for people like them.

We also saw this a few years back right here in our own back yard as we witnessed particularly virulent opposition to the idea of having 9 formerly homeless individuals move into the community. There was much that was said, but the underlying message I heard was that those types of people really do not belong here.
We are seeing this on the national landscape in terms of immigration. The dominate narrative is that we need to fortify the boundaries that define those of us on the inside and guard against those on the outside who are different, do not belong and have the potential to somehow compromise and corrupt what we have going on in here.
And it is this, I believe what Jesus is recognizing and rejecting so passionately this morning in our scripture.
The scene is brisling with tension. Jesus wants to have something to eat and relax a bit. But instead he finds himself at the epicenter of the collision of three communities and the distinct behaviors, and expectations they epitomize.
The first is his family. Jesus has brothers and sisters. Who knew?! He is part of a family — A household and that household had expectations for how its members were to behave. And Jesus was clearly behaving in ways that were outside those expectations. So they to intervene, to restrain him, not only for his own “good” but also for the good of the family name.

And then there was his professional association, the religious leaders, the Scribes who came down from Jerusalem. They came to give him a word as well because clearly he was not upholding the standards of what it was to be a religious leader. He was transgressing all sorts of boundaries and that was just not OK for it threatened their standing and identity not just with the people around them but also with the Roman Empire.

But as both bear down upon him, Jesus refuses to be identified with either. Instead he remains in the midst of the community that is gathered around him and is identified by the very vague and undefined noun of “the crowd”. We do not know who they are and where they are from. We do not know their status, their gender identity or any other of their social identifiers and that is precisely the point.

For this third way of being community, is defined not by the boundaries that mark it out over against others but instead by the gravitational pull at its center; and that is Jesus, who is the embodied expression of God’s love.

Jesus sees the impending collision of these three communities and that is why I think his response is so very intense and heated. He knows what is at stake. What is at stake is the very answer to the question that we have been asking for the last 12,000 years and that is “how are we to relate?” All collide there in that moment when Jesus is hungry. Hungry not just for food, I believe but for humanity to finally be able to figure it out. To see and understand the Way that he is trying with everything he has to make clear.

For a house divided cannot stand. To define who is within a boundary also makes clear who is not. It is an inherently unstable way of organizing community for it is based on opposition.

What Jesus is offering and what I think that we as church need to always hold dear and be clear about is that what defines our community is the gravitational pull of the love of God. We are and must be a community that does not rely on boundaries to define it but that has the capacity in its boundless grace to receive all things into its self.
And an essential part of being such a community of grace and love is unmasking that which is trying its best to disguise itself as such and therefore is bent on deceiving. This is the unforgivable sin of which Jesus speaks — To take what is of God and manipulate it for ill.

Organizing ourselves and living in this way that Jesus showed to us in his living is not easy. It is easier to default to standards that define community in terms of who is in and who is to be out. But that is not where the reconciliation of humanity and our future as a species lies.

And so, what I hear in the scripture for today is a charge to us all as individuals and to us as a community of faith. May the inclusive love of Jesus always be our gravitational core. May it be what defines us. And may share this way of being in all of the communities where we find ourselves so that there may come a day when all people are gathered one to another in the peace and love. May it be so! Amen