Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on June 6, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Jun 6, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 6, 2021

Holy One, out of the depths we call for you, open our hearts and pour out your love upon us. Amen.

The readings this week lead me to think that maybe Creator God and God in Christ had some serious anger issues. Adam and Eve hear God “walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” as if a repeating idyllic occurrence between them. It calls to mind the sheep who know the Good Shepherd’s voice, and the Shepherd who knows and calls them by name. This time is different because their prevailing feeling is shame instead of affectionate welcome. They hide because in disobeying God, they now see their nakedness. It’s not an awareness we are born with, they’d been naked all along, but now they are self-conscious. It doesn’t feel right. We’ve worn masks for a year now. It’s an act of serving others as we promise in baptism. Has anyone walked the dog or taken out the trash without wearing a mask lately? You feel naked, right?! Before COVID started that wasn’t the case, and before the fruit Adam and Eve never felt naked. This is part of the story of Creation and how humankind will both pull away from and move towards God. While Adam and Eve’s story isn’t true in that fact-checking literal way, it tells a truth we’re all familiar with; when we act against what we know is right, we feel it; shame, disappointment, catching ourselves acting against our baptismal vows. Adam and Eve feel that very human thing then; and they both blame someone else. In the end they’re given life-long consequences.  Like children dealt with harshly—and many Midrash explanations say Adam and Eve were just too young for that fruity knowledge. 

It’s God’s harshness here that bothers me. They are now, along with the serpent, ‘accursed’ and life will never be the same. As I said, a number of scholars understand them to have simply been too young for fruit of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” If so its a coming of age story as they learn the consequences of going against God — yet adults do the same things. We know when we take advantage, skirt the truth, deceive ourselves for something we want. Do we also hide from God when we’re ashamed? Do we try to blame our wrongdoing on a handy serpent, or try to justify it in prayer? No one forced the forbidden fruit on them, they consumed it willingly and aware God said not to. Someone told me when they want to hide from God, they feel like skipping church, even knowing being in the Body of Christ helps us find our way again. It might be for a week — or a decade. While we admit wrongdoing and accept responsibility fairly often in this life, it is to God we confess our sins and are absolved. In God we are always welcomed back with open arms. Although we didn’t choose distance it has been hard, and in a sense today is the ‘first day back’ for all of us. Our joy is second only to God’s delight this day. Harsh as the consequences in the Garden were for Adam and Eve and the serpent, the next few verses show God, perhaps softening, while making clothes for them to wear in their new state of awareness.

Jesus too is fairly well outraged in our reading from Mark. The story is in a form called chiasm, frequent in the New Testament, and its pattern here is A B C B A. First we hear Jesus with a crowd of followers who have seen him healing and exorcising demons, now so avid that he cannot eat a meal. Next come his family who try to restrain him, hearing he’s “out of his mind.” Then the center point; scribes from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of being an agent of Beelzebub. Some say that’s another name for Satan, others that he’s the Prince of Demons, and Beelzebub literally means ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Jesus is stirred to a parable about casting out Satan. He sounds angry and I imagine his voice raising incredulously, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” He destroys their flawed argument that his healing is of Satan’s power. Satan is self-divided and will fall, while Jesus acts to defeat Satan by casting out unclean spirits and healing, step by step, one bold action at a time. They have denied the power of the Spirit working through Jesus and called it Satan, and here they pass Jesus’ limits. He tells them such intentional deception, misleading people to call the Holy Spirit something evil, is a sin beyond any other, an eternal sin, committed by religious leaders who knew it to be untrue.

From that powerhouse event, we return to family. Jesus is told his mother, brothers and sister are ‘standing outside’ calling for him. Here he turns to the crowds, he looks with personal eyes at all those sitting around him and says, Look! Behold! Here is my family! “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” No exceptions, no exclusions. The same is true in this very room, and in whatever room (or car!) you are watching from. Jesus sees people trying to do God’s will and calls us family. We are sisters and brothers in Christ, which means that social distance between you in the pews is not empty, it’s filled with hope, with awareness of those we love who are not here today. Even the distance from which you watch this service online is only as far as Jesus’ gaze that day when he looked at them and saw, not just a crowd, but his family.

Our chiastic structure (A B C B A) now reverses; after Jesus’ central conflict and teaching, he reprimands the scribes, addresses family, and ends by enveloping the crowd gathered around him. The structure may seem unimportant, and yet it too carries it’s own teaching for us, glossing over that means we’re poorer for it. The image I have of chiasm form is like the ancient baptismal fonts dug into the ground, and built of stone. The fonts were often cross-shaped, and you entered taking three steps down into it. You were baptized at the deepest part, (at the intersection of the cross) and then took the same number of steps out the other side. When you hear this pattern in scripture or read a passage that rings powerful to you, read around it and see if it’s in a chiasm, because this is always a cue of importance, and where transformation in the Spirit may come to life.

Notice the packets of kleenex in the pews, put there because I bet I’m not the only one who needs them today. The Spirit moves through water — tears included. Yours may be tears of unnamable emotion, poignant from 15 months of waiting, longing, and now of finally coming home to St. Michael’s in person. For those who worship online, you form that bright corona or crown, of brothers and sisters (and cats and dogs) encircling and extending this sacred space—brilliantly. It is a new ministry because now we do it, not as a pandemic stop-gap measure, but reimagining St. Michael’s for an expansive community of Christ. There are still some who are unable to come, some unsafe to come, and a good number of people who travel or live beyond easy geographic reach, a few have joined without having been here before, some even across the globe. Rather than trying to ignore the mounting pole, wires, and camera, look at them as Christ looking at the crowd that day. See these tools as symbols of calling other sisters and brothers into Christ’s ever-embracing family.

We are overjoyed and honored to celebrate together today, in person or in that glowing encircling corona, for these tears are of the Spirit moving in us, and filling hearts until our cups runneth over. Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.