June 6, 2021
Second Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
There’s so much to talk about this gospel text. A house divided cannot stand. The family sure that Jesus is going off the rails. The religious leaders who think he’s in league with the devil. Jesus describing his work as plundering the house. That weird and mysterious statement about blaspheming the Spirit. And, of course, a redefinition of family.
Yet what grabbed me, was how the passage begins: Jesus went home, and the crowd gathered again. In February of 2020, I would never have noticed that phrase. Yet, today, it’s so full of gospel. Jesus returned to the house, and the crowd gathered again.
This morning, Gloria Dei is gathering again in the house after fifteen months of being apart. I’m a little worried that I’ll hardly be able to speak when real people are in the room, not just a camera and faithful Paul Damico Carper who patiently waits while I go through take on, take two, take three. In the last several weeks, seeing people again, sometimes without masks, has been an emotional experience. We’ve all shared something this last year, even being apart. We carry trauma. Being in the house with Jesus AND church people makes me want to never take this gift for granted again.
In June of 2019, there would have been about 150 people at the early service, and another 200 or so at the later service, our summer attendance which we thought was low. Yet today, we’re a much smaller crowd. Some may never come back. Some truly beloved people have gone on to be with Jesus in the heavenly crowd.
Many simply aren’t ready to return. They’re in process of getting the vaccine. Their health is simply too vulnerable to risk gathering with community right now. Their children can’t be vaccinated yet, so crowds still carry risk. Some of us just aren’t sure about crowds anymore. I think a lot of us have been surprised by our own reticence, even resistance, to crowds or people that get too close.
It’s almost like we have to re-learn how to gather again with people that aren’t in our pod. What are the rules? Have they changed? Do we hug, or shake hands, or fist bump, or stand apart?
Truth be told, gathering in a large crowds has always been hard for many of us. Physical touch feels difficult and unwanted. In February 2020, a lot of us just went for the hug, not always recognizing that the other person was really uncomfortable.
I’ve wondered if following Jesus back into the house means that we’ll learn some new ways to ask permission to touch. This is an opportunity for us to develop new respect for all the marvelous and various ways that bodies come into community together. I’ve wondered if we need to give one another clues about what feels good and safe to us. Here’s an idea.
If you’re one of those huggers, reach out your arms to signify that you like to hug. But don’t just go for it until you know where the other stands.
If you’re a hand-shaker or fist-bumper, put your hand out or hold up your fist.
If you’re a little uncomfortable with touch, put your hands together as if to pray to indicate that you simply want to bow and acknowledge your connection with the other without physical contact.
Maybe it’s our new game of rock-paper-scissors.
The safest gesture always wins. A hugger and shaker, shake. A bower and a shaker, bow. A hugger and bower, bow. And we remember that each interaction, noticed and careful, is holy. All of us are made to connect, but God has wonderfully made us to connect in very different ways.
We stopped gathering as a crowd because we cared for one another and were determined to love like Jesus loved. And now, we come back together in ways that care for one another and that show the love of Jesus.
It’s a joyful thing, and a little awkward.
Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber noticed the verse about gathering in one place in the Pentecost story. She wrote: I feel like I should confess that … I don’t know how to do this part. The part where we just survived without being able to be together in one place; the part where we survived when so many died; the part where we look around and see the rubble of an angry, divided country; the part where we emerge from our isolation not knowing who we are now, not knowing how to have faith now, how to have hope now, not knowing how to ever go back or how to possibly move forward – We who have survived the pandemic.
Yet we move forward. We venture into a sanctuary. We flip on the computer or TV one more week. Trusting that the Holy Spirit is building and offering a future that we may dimly see, or don’t see it all, but are willing to try to trust. We take a step into another day. We figure out ways to gather, or to care for one another as we make our connections. We use the moment to grow more fully into the human God made us to be.
I really think that’s what Jesus means when he talks about binding the strong man and plundering the house. In a world where division and separation, cruelty and violence have great authority, the people of God are breaking in with acts of compassion and mercy, care and love. We cast out the demons of our day by deciding to live out of love, to take up life as Jesus did, to invite the Holy Spirit to shower us with courage and grace. To be the family that does the will of God. This will undermine and plunder the power of all that attempts to divide the house.
As for that verse about the unforgiveable sin, I suspect it’s an overstatement that Jesus used to make his dramatic point about true life and authority. Clearly it doesn’t make a lot of sense when placed in the larger biblical context–from the central truth of God’s forgiving love. The gospel is that Jesus is in the house. We are united, not by how faithful we are, but how faithful God is. As Paul says, “If Christ is for us, who can be against us?”…38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thanks be to God that we’re in THAT house.
 From “The Corners with Nadia Bolz Weber,” weekly email subscription, May 23, 2021