2 Pentecost B—6/7/15
Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
Pr. Scott Kramer
Three weeks ago in New Zealand a five year-old boy was hit by a car in front of the home of Harman Singh. Harman Singh is a Sikh and, like all practicing Sikh men, he wears a turban in public. But when he saw the little boy bleeding on the pavement he unwrapped his turban and used it to cushion the boy’s head and neck until the medics arrived.
What makes this act of compassion remarkable is that it’s against the rules of Sikh religion to take off the turban in public. Mr. Singh, seeing an emergency and an opportunity to help, set aside the rules of his religion for the sake of compassion.
Laws and rules have a place, of course. They help order our lives. But it does make a difference whose rules we follow. Today’s first reading is the story of Adam and Eve. Among other things it’s a story about broken rules. The two main characters in this story broke rules not for the sake of compassion but out of self-interest. Realizing after the fact what they had done they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord…But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”
Depending on what you believe about God this question might sound like, “Boy, when I find you I’m gonna whoop your butt!” But if God is love, does this sound like a God of love? I wonder if God’s question might be bigger than that. “Where are you?” sounds to me like, “What’s going on in your soul? Where is your heart…in relation to me? Where are you…in relation to one another?”
The human response to God’s question says a lot about the human heart: I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. Here we find fear and shame getting in the way of communion with God. Today’s psalm clearly points to the bedrock of our faith: God’s steadfast love and forgiveness. And yet, how often are fear and shame the guiding principles behind the attitudes and choices we make in life!
The world was introduced to Caitlyn Jenner this past week. Turns out the Olympic champion we knew as Bruce had been living a life of fear and shame. She had been “hiding herself” for almost 65 years. But finally, she decided that she had to come out of the closet or, as she said, she would feel like she had wasted her life.
Jesus teaches in today’s reading from Mark, If a house is divided against itself that house will not be able to stand. A gay friend, referencing this teaching last week, told me that this is what it often feels like to be a sexual minority: to live in a society hostile to one’s sexual identity forces many people to lead a double life. They feel, he said, like a house divided.
Caitlyn Jenner had been playing by society’s rules, and society’s rules are frequently not based on love and compassion but on fear and shame. To the man and the woman in the garden God said, Who told you that you were naked? In other words, where are you taking your cues? From the law of love, or somewhere else? What follows is a comedy of finger-pointing. The man says, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate. And the woman says, The serpent tricked me, and I ate.
The woman was right! She was—and we are!–easily tricked and distracted from the law of love, following other laws that seem to suit us.
Another story of a house divided appeared in the news this past week. Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has been accused of having a sexual relationship with a student back in his teaching days, decades ago. Whose rules was he following? Whose rules do we follow? In what ways does each of us lead a double life? In what ways is each of us a “house divided?”
The church itself has stumbled badly throughout history in choosing whose rules to follow, and friends, the chickens are coming home to roost. How many millions have left the church and continue to leave, disgusted by the rules we Christians have chosen to follow in regards to women, to sexual orientation and gender identity, to race and nationality, to economic and social standing! Fortunately, there’s good news, too, and our Lutheran tradition has been hard at work trying to catch up and make up for our overt discrimination, persecution and, maybe worst of all, silence over the centuries.
Jesus knew first-hand that what is near and dear to us can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to following the law of love. Last week we heard the story of his conversation with Nicodemus, the powerful religious leader who was all about religious rules and regulations. In some ways his conversation with Nicodemus was nothing compared to what he faces in today’s story from Mark’s gospel.
Jesus. Went. Home, Mark writes. Returning to people and surroundings that are familiar should be a relief from the challenges he faced on the road. Instead, “when his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
Who told you…? said the Lord in the garden. Whose rules are you following? Well—you know—people. People are saying… How often does this happen? How often are we willing to follow something other than the rule of love because we’re afraid of what people might think? Jesus’ own family caved in to their fears and followed the crowd, blind to the presence of God among them.
But Jesus asks the crowd the same question that God asked the man and the woman in the garden: Where are you? Whose rules do you follow? Where is your heart? Is your heart devoted to family, friends, tradition, religious rules, and what’s familiar? Good for you. But these very things that we hold dear can also distract us from the law of love. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. And what is the will of God? The will of God always follows the law of love, because God is love!
One important test of love is the extent to which we open our hearts and minds to the journeys and struggles of those who are not like us. Caitlyn Jenner is most likely not like most of us here this morning. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes these words of encouragement for people who earnestly want to follow Christ: Everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God!
Our willingness to embrace the all-inclusive Spirit of Pentecost leads us to set aside fear and shame and self-interest, enabling us to listen for evidence of love in the stories of “more and more people” who are not like us, and to practice love toward them.
How is the Spirit of Pentecost speaking to our hearts? In what ways is each of us, and all of us together, a house divided? To what extent are we a bit too concerned about the rules of family, society, tradition, and what people think? How might the Spirit be leading us to follow more closely the law of love?