Sermon from June 10, 2018

It Is God Who Redeems       
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
June 10, 2018   Third Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 130; Mark 3:20-35

Christ calls us to join in his redeeming work.

The Judeo-Christian scriptures call us over and over to transform and redeem any society that does not care for the poor and the suffering and the vulnerable, any society that gives power and ever-increasing wealth to a small group at the expense of others.  Every religion I know recognizes the moral imperative to try to change such a society.

The Tibetan Buddhist Dalai Lama has said that economic inequality is not only morally wrong, but also a source of practical problems.  He says, “Wherever it occurs, poverty is a significant contributor to social disharmony, ill health, suffering and armed conflict.  If we continue along our present path, the situation could become irreparable.  This constantly increasing gap between the haves and have nots creates suffering for everyone.”

The forces causing inequality in our society are formidable, and yet our faith tells us that it is wrong, and that we are called to follow Christ and lay down our lives for the have nots and change the system that causes injustice and suffering.

One huge obstacle to changing the world is that our increasingly polarized society cannot see from the same perspective.  We have not only entrenched political parties but seemingly irreconcilable developmental levels of consciousness fueling a culture war: the fundamentalist ethnocentric-view culture vs. the rational and pluralistic levels and their global-view culture.

We come to church hoping to find comfort, guidance and strength, hoping to find a way through the wilderness of our most difficult challenges to the Promised Land of God’s realm on earth, and today our tradition does not let us down.  Psalm 130 says to a society similar to our own,

O Israel, hope in God!
For with God there is steadfast love,
and great power to redeem.
It is God who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

And in that faith, it says,

My soul waits for God more than those
who watch for the morning.

God is the name we give to the Spirit of love and life and light flowing through all time and space that creates life, sustains life and redeems life when it has gone wrong.  That eternal force is the hope that keeps us watching for the dawn.

It is God, the greatest power in the universe, who redeems, and when we open our hearts to God, we become the instruments of redemption in this world.  We help to bring the new day.

The Apostle Paul calls us to have the heart and mind of Christ.  Our calling is to grow developmentally and spiritually to the highest Christ-like level of consciousness that sees our true unity and enables us to extend Christ-like love toward all, especially toward those who are poor or sick or outcast, those who are the victims of inequality—a love that can bring hope to the hopeless and make a way where there is no way.

Today’s story about Jesus offers us wisdom that can help us see differently and find a way to heal and redeem our troubled world.

What had Jesus done that made his family say he was out of his mind and the religious authorities say that he was an agent of Satan?

Jesus taught that the realm of God was within and all around us.  He called people to open to metanoia, the transformation of the heart and mind that comes by letting go of our materialist orientation and turning to the Spirit.  He asked people to shift their allegiance from the kingdoms of this world to the kingdom of God.  The kings of this world did not like that.

Then he started healing people.  He began drawing crowds to hear his teaching or be healed.

The temple authorities declared that if you were sick in mind or body it was because you were a sinner.  Sinners were impure, shut out of the temple and shunned as outcasts.  Jesus forgave everyone as part of his healing ministry.  He broke bread with outcasts and was a guest in their homes.  The scribes and Pharisees were outraged that he defied the temple codes.

Then Jesus broke the Sabbath laws.  He allowed his disciples to glean food and he healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath.  Not only did he hang out with sinners but he himself blatantly sinned.  Jesus defended himself saying that compassion or mercy on others’ needs was God’s highest law, and overruled hard-hearted human customs.  The religious and political establishment began to discuss how to destroy him.

Then Jesus took the people closest to him on a retreat up a mountain and formed them into the organizational structure of a movement.  He prepared them to carry on his message and healing ministry in defiance of the religious and political rulers.

Jesus and his disciples came back in today’s passage and the crowds thronged around them.  Imagine how it felt to be Jesus, overwhelmed and exhausted yet driven by compassion to keep serving.  Imagine how it felt to be part of that crowd, so hopeful and so grateful.

And then imagine someone going to Jesus’ poor mother, saying, “Mary, you had better do something because that son of yours has gone insane and is acting like he is some kind of messiah.  He’s going to get himself killed!”  Imagine the legal authorities from Jerusalem witnessing Jesus and the disciples working so compassionately with not even time to eat, and calling it Satanic.

Imagine how you would feel if you needed healing, and here was your only hope, and he lovingly healed you and gave you back your life, and now you hear someone say that Satan is the one who touched you?

How would you feel if you were like Levi, a selfish, corrupt tax collector, a person who had done wrong and knew it, whose reputation seemed irredeemable in the eyes of his people.  Imagine how you would feel if Jesus had come along and offered you loving forgiveness and redemption back into society, ending that awful separation, removing that debilitating self-hatred and guilt that you carried around.  How would you feel if after that someone said, “Oh, he is just a crazy man.  He is possessed by the devil.”

Imagine how Jesus felt, sacrificing himself day after day out of the deepest, purest love only to be misunderstood, suspected and attacked.

The centerpiece of his response was a short parable.  He said, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”

Jesus was saying that his society was like a house that a strong man owned and guarded.  Jesus had come to plunder it, like a thief in the night.  He had come to take it away from the strong man and give it to the weak and the poor and the sick and the people the strong man excluded.

Jesus was saying, I am not going to be intimidated by the powerful and wealthy.  I am not going to listen to my family and back down.  I am going to keep trying to bind the strong man until he undergoes metanoia and his house becomes the realm of God’s love and mercy and justice on earth.

Jesus forgave everything, bringing everyone into the house of God’s love, but the one sin that Jesus said was unforgivable was calling the Spirit of love and mercy and justice Satanic.  It is irredeemable not because it is so bad, but because it creates an impassable divide, it turns our hearts and minds away from God, it shuts and locks the door so that the Spirit cannot reach us to redeem us.

That is tragic for those who shut themselves out, but it does not defeat the realm of God.  Jesus turned and said, “Here is my family! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

We do not need everyone or even the majority of the world to have the heart and mind of Christ, we can gather with those who do and create our counter-culture within the greater culture.  We can make ourselves available to the Spirit to work through our small group of committed citizens of God’s realm.

It is God who redeems us, it is God who will redeem our world, and the way we participate in that redemption is so simple.  We open the door and come in, and we hold it open for all those who want to live in that love and life and light.  God will move us from there.

If we find ourselves in a society that operates by laws that contradict God’s laws of mercy and justice and that reverse God’s preferential uplifting of the poor, the suffering and the vulnerable, then we are called to be as courageous as Jesus was in our opposition to that society.  If we are not taking controversial stands on behalf of the kind of people Jesus loved and served most, then we are not following him.

This is radical, but the Latin root of the word radical means literally “root.”  Today we are singing hymns that go back thousands of years to our roots, calling for faithful people to rise and act as Jesus or the Hebrew prophets would to redeem a fallen world and bring it back to love.

The good news is that this is not about petty partisan politics.  It is all about God.  Our task is to open to God’s love and do God’s will in our time and place with our unique gifts and opportunities, just as Jesus did.

Our hope is not in our own doing, nor in our accomplishments, nor in our success in changing the world, our hope is in what happens when we have the courage to turn in faith and wait for the morning, wait for that moment when we will see where the way of God’s redeeming love will lead next and how God will use our gifts to love and serve.

Let us pray together in silence, opening our hearts wide to be transformed and moved….

 

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