If any of you have ever had that feeling that your family, your own family, doesn’t really understand you, you’re going to sympathize with Jesus in today’s Gospel. His family thinks he’s gone crazy. He’s been out preaching and curing people and driving out demons, and everywhere he goes, he’s attracting these huge crowds of people, and his family is worried about him. They basically plan an intervention, and when they hear that he’s come home again, they go looking for him. Their plan is to restrain him, to take him away and make him stop what he’s been doing.
But when they get to the house, the crowds are so thick, the family can’t get to Jesus, so they send in a message: “We’re here!” They want him to come out so they can take him away. And he’s not exactly glad to hear that they’re there. In fact, his response is quite insulting. He asks the question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and then he points to the ragtag bunch that he’s got sitting around him and says, “These are my mother and my brothers. This is my family.” He turns his back on his own biological family.
So here we are in this morning’s gospel at the very beginning of third chapter of Mark, so it’s still early in the story, and already Jesus is a marked man. The Pharisees and the Herodians are conspiring to destroy him.
And what has he done to make them so angry? Well, first of all, he watched his disciples pluck some grain as they walked through the fields. Presumably they were hungry, and they ate what they picked. People get hungry on the Sabbath, just like any other day. But picking the grain was considered harvesting, and that was considered work, and in the eyes of the Pharisees that was a violation of the Sabbath.
And the Pharisees were there in the synagogue watching when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand. And they thought of that work as healing, too, another Sabbath violation, so now the Pharisees and the Herodians are conspiring to destroy him.
I think maybe for us, it’s just weirdto think that either of these things would be enough to make anyone want to conspire to destroy Jesus. We’re not part of that culture, we don’t get it. Sometimes religious passion can take people in unholy directions, even when they’re basically good people and they mean well.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. ~ Romans 8:14-17
So the Royals continued to be in the news this past week, and Presiding Bishop Michal Curry made the rounds of the talk shows, and for all their gushing over what he said at the wedding, you’d think none of them had ever heard a good sermon before. Which if that’s the case, I’m glad we gave them Michael Curry to make up for it.
One little item in the continuing wedding reporting was the heartwarming rags-to-riches story of Guy the beagle—and I know some of you saw this one. Guy is the little dog who was found wandering in the woods in Kentucky and taken to a shelter where they were going to put him down, but he was rescued and eventually adopted by an actress named Meghan Markle, and last seen riding in a car near Windsor Castle with the Queen of England, who is known for her love of Pembroke Welsh corgis but apparently has some room in her heart for American beagles, as well.
It’s a wonderful story: a little lost dog goes from being homeless to being an adopted member of the royal family, which presumably guarantees a life of privilege and comfort even for a dog.
at at a café where they change the art on the walls from time to time, so I notice different things each time I’m there, and this time the thing that caught my eye was a big wooden plaque with a slogan that said:
“There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life or you’re the one that will change theirs.”
And it occurred to me that this is a perfect summary of the book of Acts. A couple of us have been reading Acts for our Good Book Club discussions, and I have to admit that it’s the first time I’ve read Acts straight through since seminary. And when you do that, you don’t just see the individual stories, you’re more aware of the big themes that connect them.
And the story in Acts about the early church and how it grew is all about people meeting other people and changing them, with the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
When that big wind blows, you never know what’s going to happen next, but you can see that it’s probably not going to be what anyone expected.
Sometimes the followers of Jesus Christ are the ones who are changed, and sometimes it’s the people they meet, and we see both of those things happening in this morning’s story about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
When I think back over all the conversations I had with John Strong in the four years since I came to Good Shepherd, there’s one that stands out for me for the way it demonstrates the essence of who John was as I came to know him.
This happened on a Sunday morning, as he was coming out of church—when he nearly always had something pleasant to say about the sermon, or the service, or both.
Now just for background I’ll mention a guideline that anyone who wants to be an effective writer or preacher should know, which is that it’s best to choose one good, strong point and stay focused on it, so you don’t dilute your message.
But during this particular week, as I was preparing for Sunday, I found myself thinking about two different ideas, and I was finding it very difficult to choose just one to preach on.
I found myself in the narthex counting sheep one day last week, but don’t worry, I wasn’t sleeping on the job. I just got curious about how many of them there actually are out there. The answer, if you’re interested is about 20, counting all of the sheep in every different format. That’s enough for a good-sized little flock.
We do love our sheep here, and we love the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who will know us and love us and keep all of us little lambs safe.
We celebrate that image today, the fourth Sunday of the Easter season, the day that’s nicknamed Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel readying always includes a section of the passage we call the Good Shepherd discourse in John’s Gospel, where Jesus talks about himself as the Good Shepherd.
It’s a special day for us in church when we get to lift up the Good Shepherd at Good Shepherd Church—and it’s also the day when we gather for a celebration lunch afterwards. At our annual meeting after lunch, we take time to listen reports from the various ministries and committees about how things have gone over the past year, and to elect members of the Vestry.
We do love that image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Chris and I went out to breakfast one day last week at a local place in New Hope. It’s the kind of place where they serve a good, hearty old-fashioned breakfast, the kind of meal we used to enjoy back in the days before anybody ever warned us about things like cholesterol and fat and salt. And they’re really proud of that menu. You sit at a counter that sort of wraps around the kitchen, and you can see a sign over the kitchen that says, “If it isn’t bad for you, it isn’t worth eating.”
So I ordered a waffle, and Chris ordered corned-beef hash, which both happen to be the things that our fathers would make for breakfast when it was their turn to cook for us when we were growing up. When the food was served, a woman who was like sitting around the corner of the counter from us said, “That looks great. I’m really glad you didn’t order anything healthy”—because they do have a few healthy choices at this place
She said, “I’m glad that you didn’t go for the healthy stuff, because every once in a while, we really ought to stop and enjoy the good things of life, and that includes eating food like the breakfast that you’re sharing together.” That opened up a whole conversation that went on for most of the meal about food and the place it plays in our lives: how it brings us together in community and fellowship, how it’s one of the good things that God has given us in this life.