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Toppling Our Beloved Idols

Proper 5B-15

Immanuel, Chicago

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” Was there nothing too sacred for Jesus to challenge?

We’re just three chapters into this gospel. Jesus managed to alienate anyone that matters in a real big hurry. He’s already traveled from home, to the wilderness, to Galilee, to the sea, to Capernaum, to Simon’s house, to a deserted place, and back out to other towns of Galilee. Then Jesus went back to Capernaum, and to home, and then to the sea, and to Levi’s house, though the grain fields, to the synagogue, then back to the sea, and into a boat, before heading up the mountain where he chose the twelve apostles and then, finally, he goes home again.

During this short time he has broken the Sabbath laws, eaten with sinners, healed people and forgiven sins by his own authority. He offered himself as an image of God. He interpreted the scriptures in new and challenging ways. He encouraged people to forsake traditional ways of thinking about God and embrace their own experiences as better wisdom.

The people were excited, but reports about Jesus have not been good. So, even as Jesus continued to heal and to draw crowds and disciples, he has to skirt around in the border regions and escape to the mountains (3.1-19). The Pharisees and the Herodians are already conspiring how they can destroy him (Mark 3:7).

Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters knew they had better do something before things got out of hand. In Jesus’ time, the extended family meant everything. It was how people knew who they were. Family was how everything was organized. Economic, religious, educational, and social networks required a password—that was your family name. Loss of connection to the family meant you could be denied access to these vital networks, including your connection to the land itself. (Malina and Rohrbaugh Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels)

Jesus was making a mess of everything. His gospel shook the very foundations of religious, political, economic, cultural and social life. Now in 2015 it’s happening all over again.

This Jesus and his gospel of baptismal water thicker than blood is messing things up for the church in our own day. If religion makes you feel more important than other people, knock it down. If your church spends more energy being a landlord than a servant of the Lord, its going the wrong way. If church makes you passionate about how communion is served, how long worship lasts, who left a mess in the kitchen, more than the destruction of the planet—then something has gone terribly wrong with the church. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not an apologist for free-market capitalism. He is not a chaplain for the Jesus branch of the Jerusalem chamber of commerce. (Robin Meyers, The Underground Church, p. 6) We cannot be Jesus’ disciple with our creeds but not our deeds. Human beings are not commodities. People are not “human resources”. In the face of desperate need, abandoned children, and violence as a way of life, why are we spending so much time and energy debating how to save ourselves?

Who are my mother, my brothers and my sisters? Jesus’ simple, clarifying and transformative question puts the proper focus on people—right here, right now. This gospel would lead us “to oppose anything in the dominant culture that brings death and indignity to any member of the human family, or to creation itself.” (Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance, p. 7)

Let whatever does not help us focus on the lives of real people or gets in the way of that mission of compassion, forgiveness and transformation be toppled. Yes, if we take this gospel of Jesus Christ seriously, it will mess up everything. That’s the bad news –and also—it is the good news. It’s always been this way.

Preeminent scholar of religion, Phyllis Tickle thinks she sees a pattern that recurs every five hundred years or so, leading to renewal and rededication in church. The church holds a giant rummage sale. Rethinking everything, it decides by light of the gospel what must go and what will stay; what is essential and what is replaceable. Five centuries after the Protestant Reformation, we find ourselves passing through another time like this. The whole church is sorting through its theological cupboards and asking painful and disorienting questions about what to keep. Throughout this process, Jesus’ revolutionary and iconoclastic question reigns supreme: ‘Who are my mother, my brothers, my sisters?’

As this congregation reflected on how we shall go Forward in Faith to live our mission, vision, and values –among the goals we articulated was to open our hands and hearts even wider to children and families of our neighborhood through expansion of Monday night Tutoring and Tuesday IYO. For decades, these ministries have been among the ways Immanuel joined Jesus’ mission to love our mothers, brothers and sisters—not is some abstract way, but face to face, person to person. We now have a dream to explore ways grow these ministries (among others). [We will celebrate our leaders and volunteers of these ministries as they close out another year in worship today.]

I’ve read that in the great basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, where Francis is buried, there is a small bronze statue of Francis honoring the Holy Spirit. St. Francis’ posture here is very unusual. Instead of arms uplifted and looking toward the sky, Francis has his hands folded and is looking down into the earth.

The Holy Spirit and gospel of Christ would lead us into the world not out of it. Jesus emptied himself and became flesh (see Philippians 2). It was not a movement into the heavens but into the earth. Francis recognized the full and final implications of the incarnation.

Lutheran theology is incarnational. This means the dominant mode of God’s work is movement into the earth. God is embodied, enfleshed, and fully realized here and now, in human community, in the lowly, the marginalized and the poor—in, with and under all things, in the sacraments (bread, wine, water). All of these point into the world and speak to us of God. Baptismal water is thicker than blood. The light of Christ’s gospel enables us to see beyond this to an even greater truth.

If God became flesh and entered this world in Jesus, then the hiding place of God is this world, in the material, in the animals, in the elements, in the physical. These are the hiding places–and the revelation places–of God! (Richard Rohr) Brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers—the human family is God’s family. The human family is our own family. Let everything opposed be toppled.

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