Sunday, June 7, 2015

Second Sunday of Pentecost
Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

I once knew a woman who wanted to be a Christian. She believed in Jesus, had even been involved in church at different times in her life. She wasn't attending anywhere when we were neighbors, and I invited her several times to come with me. She always refused. Though curious about our church and glad to be in a relationship with someone who knew the Lord, she was not ready to make a commitment. She had many excuses. One reason why she wouldn't visit my church was because she didn't think she could afford to tithe, but when I told her that our church had no such requirements, she told me that she couldn't attend a church that did not expect a tithe. The real problem was not how much money she had but that she did not think she was good enough to be in the presence of God and all those Christians. She wanted to get right with God first, then she might go to church.

We had several conversations over the course of our relationship, but no matter how many times I explained to her that we can't get right with God without being in His presence and in the company of other Christians, she was never ready. She never understood that Christianity is not a group of holy people, but a pack of forgiven sinners who gather to hear the Word preached and the Sacraments given so that we will know the love, mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ His Son. She did not want to step into the presence of God until she found a way to hide her imperfections.

God knows. He sees into the very depths of our beings; we can't hide anything from Him. He sees beyond our masks; He has known us since before we were born. God knows, and He loves us anyway. The only difference between those who are inside the church and those outside are the ones inside know that they are there by God's grace. Those outside are like Adam and Eve, trying to hide from the very God who would be their salvation.

This Sunday we enter into the longest season of the Church year. The paraments will be green for the next few months as we consider the life God has called us to live in this world. The first half of the church year focuses on the story of God. We hear what God has done for us. We hear about Jesus, His birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We hear about the history of His relationship with His people. We hear about why we need Jesus. Beginning with this Sunday, the focus turns to us. Now that we know what God has done, we consider what we will do in response. Pentecost is about growing in our faith and action. It is about listening to God's call and going forth in faith. It is good and right to study the story of God, but it is meaningless if we arenít changed. It is worthless if we do not respond to God's grace.

It is also important to begin this time with a reminder that we are still sinners in need of that Savior. Many of the stories throughout the Pentecost season focus on the great work we can and will do for God. We will be reminded that we have been called to a holy priesthood, as witnesses to His grace. We can, and do, fall prey to the possibility that we are something special. And while we are, we must always remember that there is a part of us, still, that is the same as those who have not yet devoted themselves to discipleship, both inside and outside the Church.

I read St. Augustine's "City of God" last year. It was a fascinating, although extremely challenging tome. He used more than a thousand pages to compare and contrast the Kingdom of God and the world. I recently came across a great quote from that book, from the preface. "[The city of God, i.e., the church] must bear in mind that among her very enemies are hidden her future citizens; and when confronted with them she must not think it a fruitless task to bear with their hostility until she finds them confessing the faith. In the same way, while the City of God is on pilgrimage in this world, she has in her midst some who are united with her in participation in the sacraments, but who will not join with her in the eternal destiny of the saints. Some of these are hidden; some are well known, for they do not hesitate to murmur against God, whose sacramental sign they bear, even in the company of his acknowledged enemies. At one time they join his enemies in filling the theaters, at another they join with us in filling the churches. But, such as they are, we have less right to despair of the reformation of some of them, when some predestined friends, as yet unknown to themselves, are concealed among our most open enemies. In truth, those two cities are interwoven and intermixed in this era, and await separation at the last judgment."

Pentecost is a time when we learn to live in this world and as God's church surrounded by both the faithful and the unfaithful. We learn how to be witnesses. We learn how to be servants. We learn how to follow as Christ's disciples in a world where Satan still roams.

We will have opposition to the work we will do in the world, even from those closest to us. Some, perhaps, will even suggest that we are doing the work of the devil, especially when we preach a word they do not want to hear. It is hard being a disciple, not only hard work, but also difficult because we will be tempted to conform to the world though Christ calls us to a life that conforms to Jesus Christ. Isn't it interesting that in today's passage, Jesus' family thought he was out of His mind and the teachers of the law thought He received His power from Beelzebub, the prince of demons? If they could think these things about Jesus, how much more will they think it about us?

Jesus asks the teachers whether a kingdom divided against itself can stand. "Why would Satan cast out his own demons?" Their accusation did not make sense, but don't we often jump to the same judgment against those who disagree with us about the issues of the day? Don't we assume that our opponents are from the devil even when they are accomplishing work that honors God just because they see the world through a different point of view? Sadly, we might not know who are the not-yet brothers or the wolves in sheep's clothing as we journey through this life. That's why we are called to walk as disciples of Christ, knowing that God can and will accomplish His work through us even if we don't always know what we are doing.

See, sometimes the things that we think matter most of all do not matter much to God, and God can make things happen through the most unexpected people. It is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes these things through us and we do not always know what He is accomplishing through others. When we suggest that the work they are doing is from Beelzebub, we suggest that it is the devil rather than God who has the power. It may be hard for us to see through our own biases and points of view, but discipleship means trusting God and walking in faith.

We are, like our neighbors, sinners in need of a Savior. There are sins that need to be brought to light, as much for the sake of the sinner as for those who will be harmed by the consequences of those sins. There is a right and wrong. There is truth and lies. These are things that matter. We will learn throughout this season of Pentecost the times and ways to reprove, rebuke, and exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are called to do so with love and patience. We need them to do so for ourselves, too. In the end, as good as it may sound, we aren't working to make this world a better place, but to glorify God by sharing His grace with those whom God has ordained to be His forever.

God's story led us to knowledge of His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection won for us forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life. All this is well and good, but what happens next? How do we live life in this world now?

As we study the lectionary texts of Pentecost, we'll look at our own lives of faith. We think about what God is calling us to do. We will think about our gifts and the opportunities that God is providing for us to share His kingdom with others. It won't be easy. We will have to face the not-yet brothers who will reject us and the wolves in sheep's clothing who will try to confuse us. We will face those who have missed the truth of the Gospel or who will find any excuse to hide from God. We will face true enemies who are doing the work of the devil. We will just have to walk in faith and trust that God will accomplish whatever He has ordained for our lives, remembering always that those who do the will of God are our brothers and sisters, heirs together in the promise given by our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For today, however, let us consider first the Lord God Almighty and our place in His kingdom. Are you fulfilling the purpose for which you were created? Are you glorifying God with your life? Everything else will fall into place perfectly and completely when you realize that it is in humbleness and submission to the humble God who created the universe that you will truly fulfill the purpose for which you were designed and ordained in this world. Praise God and you'll see clearly the direction He is leading you to go.

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