Featured Sermon: Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett
All In: Being the Church in Today’s World
Oscar Romero said in 1979:
To try to preach without referring to the history one preaches in is not to preach the gospel. Many would like a preaching so spiritualistic that it leaves sinners unbothered and does not term idolaters those who kneel before money and power. A preaching that says nothing of the sinful environment in which the gospel is reflected upon is not the gospel.
This morning I had the delight of preaching at my parish, Church of the Resurrection in Omaha. I didn’t preach a creation care sermon per se, but I did preach on the Gospel passage. (Mark 3:20-35), and climate change is a huge piece of the history in which we preach now. (Notice the CO2 number for May on the graphic to the right.) If we turn from trying to hold onto the past to trying to follow Jesus in the present, we will find ourselves responding in significant ways to climate change and its effects.
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A Homily on Mark 3:20-35
“When [Jesus’] family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”(Mark 3:21)
What must it have been like to be Mary, the Mother of Jesus!
This week began with the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day we remember the expectant mother Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who was herself miraculously expecting a baby. The Visitation is one of several days and seasons of the church calendar when we think about Mary.
We hear about and wonder about Mary the mother at Christmastime, when we tell the story of her going to Bethlehem on a donkey and then giving birth in a stable when she arrives. What was it like to be far from the comforts of home that night, giving birth, wondering at what the angel had told her and at the appearance of the shepherds? What did she feel as she snuggled her newborn baby?
We also think about Mary during Holy Week when we hear about her witnessing Jesus’ suffering and death. Mothers know that it is agonizing to know your children are in pain. How unbearable it must have been for Mary to watch her son beaten and humiliated and then hanging from the cross!
The Feast of the Visitation looks back at a happier occasion. Elizabeth exclaims “Blessed are you among women…” and Mary replies with the words that we know as the Magnificat:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
This, my friends, leads us to this morning’s Gospel lesson, this part of Mark’s Gospel where people are telling Jesus’ family “He has gone out of his mind.” I wonder what Mary thought of these reports. Mark reports that Mary and Jesus’ brothers went and stood outside of where he was and sent to him. Maybe they wanted to talk with him and see if he really did seem to be losing his mind. Or maybe Mary remembered the vision she had during her pregnancy that evoked the words of the Magnificat, the vision of Jesus bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich — who would usually get the best of everything — away empty. This is a vision of Jesus turning the world upside down and inside out. Maybe Mary wanted Jesus to come home because she knew the way prophets were treated. She knew that anyone preaching the kingdom of God risked being dismissed as crazy as best and being ostracized or even killed at worst. Jesus was doing things and saying things that made the people in power uneasy.
Where our translation says “He has gone out of his mind”, other translations say things like, “He has lost HIs senses” (NASB) or “He’s gone mad!” (Good News Translation). The King James Bible says a fairly restrained, “He is beside himself.” Similarly, The Message translation says, “They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.”
Whatever words we say, these sorts of words are used to dismiss someone who makes us uneasy. Ideas that challenge us, things that are new or different from what we are accustomed to, get dismissed as “crazy”, and we think the people who propose these uncomfortable ideas or actions have gotten a little too carried away.
Hearing people say such things about Jesus and his ministry, Jesus’ family goes out to restrain him. While we can understand why his family might want to restrain Jesus to protect him, as followers of Jesus, we certainly don’t approve of anyone — not even the Blessed Virgin Mary herself — trying to restrain Jesus from doing his ministry. And yet when we look at the Church as a whole, we see people who are supposed to be followers of Jesus trying to restrain the Church from continuing his work.
If we follow Jesus, who came to bring God’s kingdom, to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly, if we are going to live our own lives and our lives together as a church community in our own parish and diocese and denomination in ways that turn all the injustices of the world upside down and inside out, we will be unusual. We will be what folks in this part of the country call “kind of different”. If we do it right, all in with our hearts on fire with love for Jesus, we won’t get carried away with ourselves, but we will get carried away with Jesus, and it will seem too extreme to some people, including some in powerful positions.
In recent lectionary weeks, we’ve read about Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to guide us, comfort us, and help us. This summer is a critical time for our parish and for the greater Episcopal Church. It’s proving to be a critical time for this neighborhood and this city as we try to figure out how to ensure all of our neighborhoods are safe places to live, work, and play. And this year is a critical time for our world, perhaps the last chance for the world’s leaders to set business as usual aside and get things figured out correctly to prevent catastrophic climate change.
In these critical times, let’s not dismiss the Holy Spirit when it leads us to do something that is new or unfamiliar or hard to understand. Let’s not immediately dismiss those who sound crazy or extreme to us but who might be speaking the Spirit’s words. And let’s especially not block the work of the Spirit by appealing to what the powers that be would like us Christians to look like and do. If all the world sees of Christians is our removing ourselves from the rest of the world for an hour, more or less, on Sunday mornings, if our purpose in coming to this holy table is “for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal” if we have church meetings and conventions where we worry about maintaining the status quo, Beelzebub, the personification of evil, rejoices because we are harmless to him. C.S. Lewis’s character old Screwtape himself couldn’t invent a better scenario than to have the church preoccupied with maintaining the status quo.
Those who truly follow Jesus will not try to hold back the work of the Holy Spirit because it makes us uneasy. We will be open to whatever allows the Spirit to turn things upside down and inside out until Jesus’ work of reconciliation, justice, and radical love is completed. It might look crazy to us, it might puzzle us, and it will sometimes be very difficult, requiring us to tap into wells of creativity and courage and love we didn’t know we had in us until the Spirit led us to them. But given a choice between some craziness — Spirit-led work rooted in Christ’s love and infused with passion and creativity — given a choice between supporting that sort of craziness and blocking the work of the Spirit, followers of Jesus have no choice but to walk where the Holy Spirit leads us.
As we prayed earlier, “O God…Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.” And may God grant us wisdom, courage, love, and abundant joy as we find our way. Amen.
Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett
[TNE: You can follow Archdeacon Betsy’s blog at http://nebraskagreensprouts.blogspot.com]