Worship ~ 9 June

As we shift from the Narrative Lectionary to the Revised Common Lectionary, we pick up optional companion readings from the Old Testament or Epistles. Today’s first reading comes from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, the 4th chapter.

13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —so we also speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Here ends the reading.   We will sing Psalm 138 responsively by verse.


Last week we began nearly six months of “Ordinary Time” in the church liturgical calendar where the readings emphasize the gifts and callings of living out the gospel. The word “ordinary” here does not mean “routine”. Rather, it refers to the “ordinal numbers” used to name and count the Sundays (such as the Third Sunday after Pentecost). It is “ordered’ or “measured” time during which we will move, mostly, through Mark.

This gospel was written during (or just after) the Jewish revolt against Roman imperial occupation, and that conflict, along with Rome’s subsequent destruction of the Jewish temple in the year 70AD, made everything in Mark’s world seem stark, severe, and godforsaken. His prose is sharp and cryptic, the action is swift (his favorite word is “immediately”), and the big ideas that drive the narrative forward are bold and striking: though it seems that evil has the upper hand, in fact, the tide has turned: the Kingdom of God has come near!  The messiah is neither a military conqueror nor a conventional king. Instead, he is a prophet, a healer, and a teacher pointing to an even deeper form of liberation and wellbeing. In a contrast to the way Jesus is portrayed in John’s gospel, in Mark, Jesus’ primary mission is to suffer, die, rise, and redeem – sending his disciples out to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation “to the whole creation” As Jesus bursts onto the scene, a new era of hope, renewal, and restoration has begun.

Mark 3: 13 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15and to have authority to cast out demons. 16So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name, Sons of Thunder); 18and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Then he went home; 20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But 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.

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ 33And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.


Jesus went up the mountain – to a thin place, the place of epiphanies. It’s a place far away from the crowds, a good stiff climb apart – and he called to himself those whom he wanted, and they came. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, 
to be with him,
to be sent out to proclaim the message, 
to have authority to cast out demons and to heal.

Usually, Jesus’ followers are called disciples, but here he names them apostles. Is there a difference? There is, actually.   A disciple is a student, a follower who sits at the feet of his or her teacher asking questions, learning the lessons. An apostle is one who is sent forth, who goes out from the teacher bearing the message and the authority of the teacher. An apostle might be thought of as an apprentice, practicing the skills of the kingdom of God… under supervision. 

That’s interesting for us to think about all these years later. A first thing to notice is that there were more disciples than apostles. Being an apostle is a steeper climb. But these are two categories of Christian response to the Good News, to the working of the Holy Spirit, even today. 

It can be challenging enough – or rather, it is challenging – to be a disciple. It’s difficult to put ourselves at the feet of Jesus, to ratchet down our ego, to really listen, truly take in the Word of God…… because, it is going to enter our life as a critique. As a critique of our lifestyle, our values, our position of privilege, our preconceived opinions, and traditions – even our relationship to grace. 

To be a disciple is to be transformed by the teaching. It is daily confession and repentance and growth – opening ourselves to change – and we all know what a challenge it is to change.  How many of us listen to this Living Word of God expecting it to be a corrective?  Don’t we more often come to the word of God looking for support, looking for a word of encouragement that we’re on the right path? I think this response must be wired in as a defense mechanism. We look for and are drawn to the parts that affirm us, that support what we already believe or do. And we find those parts or directives to be authoritative.

But, being a disciple could mean we need to take to heart the teachings that challenge and irritate us at least as often as we turn to those that comfort. The word that tells us to get up and do something about it, not simply listen and think about it, pondering in our hearts. Inner awareness, leads to change and is often, then, the stimulus to outer transformation and renewal, recommitment.

And then it gets worse! We might somehow realize we’re being called to be an apostle! 
to be sent out to proclaim the message, 
to be given authority to cast out the demons that cripple and enslave the people of God.

Do you think meeting demons is unlikely? Any number of death-dealing forces today are experienced as “possession” or being “caught up” in dynamics beyond our intention and control. Think of how addiction overwhelms individuals and families; how racism, gender bias, sexism are so pervasive and invasive we often don’t realize we’re participating in degrading other human beings, our siblings in God’s love. Think of how anger consumes; how envy devours; how lies and conspiracies distort. We may or may not call addiction or racism or lies or the objectification of women “demons,” but they are most certainly “demonic.” They move through the world as though by a kind of cunning. Evil may not be personified, but it is personal. These forces seem to resist our best attempts to uncover and overcome them.

As we see from the gospel (and our daily news) the authorities of the status quo will be unhappy about our efforts to change the system. The Pharisees and scribes have made up their minds that Jesus needs to be stopped. They didn’t set out to oppose the kingdom of God. They don’t recognize that that’s what they’re doing, but they also aren’t open to the prophetic promises of their scriptures unfolding around them. They can’t recognize their view of the realm of God in what Jesus is doing because they’ve shrink the kingdom into a much less inclusive, expansive form. Even Jesus’ family is trying to reign him in, bring him home, settle him down. 

Publicly acknowledging and practicing a religious faith (whether as a disciple or an apostle) is a tricky thing. Christianity has been co-opted into belligerent slogans and judgmental movements that Jesus would never recognize or claim on the one hand, and been privatized and watered down into good feelings devoid of the edge of justice and action on the other. Discerning a public, faithful path between these with integrity and genuine hope is tricky. 

Our families might think we’re talking crazy, acting in ways that are embarrassing to them or dangerous to us. Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa are icons of this spiritual path.   Binding the strong man is a dangerous, difficult calling.

Being an apostle is a calling to resist all that works against God’s good will for the common good. And, doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar? Just a couple weeks ago, Mercy and Johanna affirmed their baptismal faith with very similar words.

“Merciful God,” we prayed, “you have called these young women to yourself, enlightened them with the gifts of your Spirit and nourished them in the community of faith… to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” And you all agreed when I asked if you renounce the forces and powers that defy God, forces that rebel against God and lead us away from that holy love. And there is Micah’s prophetic definition: “What does the Lord require of you, O Mortal, but to do justice, to enact God’s steadfast lovingkindness, and to walk humbly with God.”

So, even for us commoners, being a disciple easily morphs into being an apostle. Being a ‘hearer of the Word’ leads to being a ‘do-er of the Word,’  a ‘bringer of the Word’ through the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Each time the Gospel is taken out of the book and shared in living color, each time the gospel is enacted in love toward others, toward creation, toward the enemy ~ that person is responding to the apostolic nudge. Each time the gospel is presented in a way that opens doors, opens hearts, is characterized by the love of God and the opposition to all that robs God’s children of abundant life, it is being presented by apostles. We are all commissioned and sent out with the message to share in the mission of Jesus for justice and courage and kindness. We may not have the impact of the big names of this calling, but ordinary lives are changed one by one in just this way until each one – everyone – has found a home.

Jesus expands the concept of family from biology to community. We find our identity and kinship in and through the relationship we share in God. All those who live in and work for God’s kingdom are family.

Again and again in Mark’s gospel Jesus breaks down barriers and breaks the rules about who can associate with whom, inviting more and more people to join his family, his fellowship, his new community – and, as we’ve seen, it’s often the most unlikely people who accept this invitation and come in through the door, not the expected ones. It becomes a family formed not by biological birth but by rebirth in the Spirit of God, in the fellowship of the beloved community of saints. Christ’s is a family formed of love, called together, to gather, and then be sent out as apostles…. Like seeds of a dandelion. 

May you, too, be dandelion-ish. Bearers of a tiny seed afloat on the breeze of God’s spirit, that, when it lands, roots deeply, strongly enough to break up hard ground, sending up life giving leaves even through cracks of concrete, that provides brilliant spots of color, sweet scent and beneficial pollen. A super plant, a powerhouse of life; a tiny, ubiquitous seed. Thanks be to God for apostolic dandelions and dandelion-like apostles!

Pastor Linda