Monday, June 25, 2018

Whatever you do to the least of these... Mark 4:35-41

Today's Gospel speaks of a great disturbance…so great that the disciples who are fisher men fear for their own lives.

One commentator points out that
“This is a remarkable story; Mark is not particularly interested in geographical details, but gets Jesus and his disciples to cross the sea.”[1]

I have mentioned before that mark has a lot of coming and going Jesus is constantly on the move. Jesus just decides out of nowhere to just up and leave.  They could have walked elsewhere but instead they got into their boats and went across the sea of Galilee.

“The Sea of Galilee, also Kinneret or Kinnereth, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias, is a freshwater lake in Israel. It is approximately 33 mi in circumference, about 13 mi long, and 8.1 mi wide. Its area is 64.4 sq mi at its fullest, and its maximum depth is approximately 141 feet.  At levels between 705 ft and 686 ft below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake). The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.”[2]

Crossing the sea of Galilee is no big deal, most of the time, and well Jesus is with a bunch of fisherman. So, what can go wrong?  Well we hear a “storm of great wind” arises which is fairly common, yet the disciples panic the waves are coming into the boat and the boat is starting to fill yet Jesus sleeps.

This got me to wondering what the boat looked like. Luckily there was one recently discovered that dates back to about that time.  

“The Ancient Galilee Boat, also known as the Jesus Boat, is an ancient fishing boat from the 1st century AD, discovered in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. The remains of the boat, 27 feet (8.27 meters) long, 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide and with a maximum preserved height of 4.3 feet (1.3 meters), first appeared during a drought, when the waters of the Sea (actually a great fresh-water lake) receded.”[3]

So Jesus could have been sleeping along some sort of seat since the boat is 7.5 feet wide but how did he not roll off in rough waters?  How did he not get wet?
Now frankly either the Disciples are panicking for no reason or Jesus can sleep well balanced while rocking violently and wet!

I suspect, knowing the disciples, they were panicked for no good reason.  Well maybe one Good reason, so that we might learn to trust the lord.

“As often happens in these parts, a storm comes up unexpectedly, and the disciples panic, accusing Jesus of indifference to their fate. Like someone calming a boisterous dog, Jesus orders the sea to behave (and it does), then rebukes the disciples, for the first time indicating the importance of faith to them.”[4]

The importance of faith.  The importance of trusting.  The importance of looking to see God.Paying attention  to see God active in your life, if you want to see Jesus show up you must look for them.
How many times are we caught up in our own storms, our own mishaps, our own illnesses, weaknesses, needs, fears, our own got to have it because I want it moments? How many times do we, in our most significant hours of need lift prayers in dire earnest? How often in our least important moment of the day do we nonchalantly turn to the lord and just say please God. Yet in the end they all have the same measure and, in the end, we rarely look to see the answer.

We rarely pause to say thank you lord.  We rarely stop to acknowledge Gods presence.  Now I am not saying we do not do it.  We at least do it or think about it on a Sunday, but what about the other 6 days of the week?  I am just asking because this little passage got me thinking.
Now this calming of the sea happened neither here nor there they are in route from one place to another where this miracle occurs. One commentator points out that;

“Jesus likes to show up in liminal spaces in Mark -- sites of transition or risk. He chooses to go to marginal spaces, away from life’s regular patterns: near a graveyard (Mark 5:2-3), at a deathbed (Mark 5:40), or hoisted atop Golgotha. He situates himself at geographical boundary-lands, like the wilderness (Mark 1:4-9, 35), mountaintops (Mark 3:13; 6:46; 9:2), Tyre (Mark 7:24), and Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27). He also goes to sociopolitical borderlands, politically charged locations like a tax collector’s home (Mark 2:14-15) and the land outside of Jerusalem during Passover (Mark 11:11, 19).
The Sea of Galilee was both kinds of places: geographically, it separated the peoples of one shore from those on the other side; socio-politically, it provided sustenance to Galileans and generated resources that Rome could extract from those who depended on it to make a living. It kept populations distanced from each other, and it fed imperial appetites”[5]

This is important on two aspects symbolically calming the waters that are so agitated by imperial power could symbolize the effect Jesus’ life has on all powers that be. Eventually they will calm by Christs command.

The first part of this comment that “Jesus likes to show up in the liminal spaces. I just love.  Jesus in the in between space.  That spot where you are neither in nor out that place where we are neither here nor there.  The scariest of all places for it is in the liminal space where we tend to be the must insecure, the most frightened, and sometimes the most lost.  It is in these places that we often go in prayer to seek out answers.  It is in these the most difficult of times in life that Jesus shows up.

“Life stands toe-to-toe with death at many of the borders in Mark. Some of the boundaries separate what’s holy from what defiles, and they keep outsiders away from insiders. That’s how dividing lines work: they allow us to keep what’s known on one side, and we banish whatever makes us fearful to the other side of the fence.”[6]

Does that sound familiar? This week has been horrendous with headlines of migrant families torn apart because of an arbitrary rule that the current administration had created.  There is an us verses them attitude that is terrible. Since when has it been illegal to be human? Since when is it illegal to be a child?  Since when does this country turn away those in need seeking a better life?

 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” So, what does this say about our nation who currently does not welcome children but treats them as criminals and places them in concentration camps? I am sorry, but I am still angry, and I have learned I cannot trust this administration to do anything that even remotely appears to be just.
So, I have heard an argument that asks where are we supposed to put all these refugees?  We are going to run out of land. To me it appears this argument really comes down to whether one admits it or not to “Not in my back yard” as Christians our initial response should be come here, let us help, let us feed and clothe you and make you safe and then let us see what we can do to help make your home better. I believe we can do much better as a nation than we have been in the past few weeks.
These dividing lines, this us versus them …well “Either Jesus declares that those separations don’t work, or that if they do work he intends to tear them down.”[7] And Jesus is calling us to do the same.
If we stopped worrying about having the most land, the most money, controlling the world and instead actually starting to care for this world we can reverse all the damage done to the earth and feed the world.

In an article I recently read it says that;
“Farms already grow enough food for every person on the planet — 2,800 calories a day, if it were divvied up equally. But we have never shared resources equally, and no one seems to have figured out a realistic way of making people start… The challenge of feeding humanity is enormous and unprecedented. No species, that I know of, has ever organized itself to ensure that every one of its kind is fed. We have the means to meet this demand in the short term, and we are in the process of figuring out how to meet it in the long term. Human welfare depends on our figuring this out. So does the welfare of thousands of other species that live alongside us.”[8]

I believe this world is on a cusp and right now America, our society and culture, is standing at the heart of a limnal space, an in-between space, a space of danger and risk and insecurity…a place we have created…but

“In liminal places, Jesus conducts ministry, opens minds to new possibilities, and sets people free to enter into a new future in freedom and wholeness. He meddles with borders, not because he has a penchant for chaos, but because the reign of God extends divine holiness and a commitment to human well-being to places that we might have thought were beyond the limits. To him, no place is desolate. No one is abandoned.”[9]

We are faced with a great opportunity to prayerfully and carefully enter into dialogue with each other and with those in our community.  We have an opportunity to see the blessing that the migrant is to us.  For the migrant is nothing more than the stranger at the door.  Ironically a door way is a liminal space for in the doorway you are neither here nor there.

Today is pride Sunday in San Francisco.  There was a time when the LGBT community was the threat to Christianity, heck we were the threat to the fabric of the country at one time. Speaking of which, I wonder who else has been a threat to this country?

“In the late nineteenth century, political cartoonist Thomas Nast regularly lambasted Irish Catholic immigrants as drunkards and barbarians unfit for citizenship; signs that read, “No Irish Need Apply,” lined shop windows in Boston and New York and dotted the classified pages in many of the country’s leading papers; statesmen warned about the dangers of admitting Catholics from Southern and Eastern Europe onto American shores, for fear that they were something less than civilized (and less than white). It wasn’t unusual for respectable politicians to wonder aloud whether Catholics could be loyal to their adoptive country and to the Pope.”[10]

What about the time we treated the Japanes and the Italians with favor…
 “The incarceration of Japanese-Americans is the best-known effect of Executive Order 9066, the rule signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. And for good reason. The suffering and punishment placed upon innocent Japanese-Americans was a dark chapter in American history. But the full extent of the government order is largely unknown.
In addition to forcibly evacuating 120,000 Americans of Japanese background from their homes on the West Coast to barbed-wire-encircled camps, EO 9066 called for the compulsory relocation of more than 10,000 Italian-Americans and restricted the movements of more than 600,000 Italian-Americans nationwide.”[11]

I have to throw one more in for my parent’s sake “Anti-Polish sentiment in the early 20th century relegated Polish immigrants to a very low status in American society. Other white ethnic groups such as the Irish and Germans had assimilated to the American language and gained powerful positions in the Catholic Church and in various government positions by this time, and Poles were seen with disdain.”[12]

The truth is we always have someone to blame for any and or all our woes.  It is always the immigrants fault! Be it German, Italian, Maltese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Muslim, or someone from south America.  There will always be someone at our borders and they will always receive the blame for something or the other until we change the way we treat each other in this society.

“So Jesus banishes harmful spirits, welcomes outsiders and disadvantaged people, restores community, exposes the lies that prop up counterfeit standards of greatness, and defeats death. Nothing will inhibit his desire to do ministry on “the other side.”[13]

We as Christians have a hard choice today.  It is difficult and it calls from the margins to stand up, to pray for and seek out justice for the least of our brothers and sisters…no matter where they come from.

There is a sudden storm brewing. Jesus doesn’t care… “In the end, it does not matter what it is that threatens to keep him from crossing the lake. What’s more important is that he will not be deterred.”[14] We are invited to get in that boat and follow.  We are challenged to trust in Jesus and his Gospel as our way, the Christian way.

You see we are called to be disciples of Jesus and as disciples we need to pay attention to those disciples. What about those disciples? Well “As for them, they will keep getting into boats with Jesus. In other words, they continue to follow him, which is what he asked them to do in the first place (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14-15; 3:14). If they are to remain his followers for the long haul, they will need to know all the dimensions that his ministry of deliverance entails. They will also need to learn about the rejection that comes with the territory”[15]

I know I will get some rejection for speaking up?  I know we will be challenged if we stand with our neighbors in need.  I know my salvation does not lie in anyone’s opinion except my Gods. What ever you do to the least of these…

[1] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.
[2] "Sea of Galilee." Wikipedia. June 19, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2018.
[3] Ditto
[4] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.
[5] "Commentary on Mark 4:35-41 by Matt Skinner." Ephesians 2:11-22 Commentary by Kyle Fever - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed June 20, 2018.
[6] Ditto
[7] Ditto
[9] Commentary on Mark 4:35-41 by Matt Skinner." Ephesians 2:11-22 Commentary by Kyle Fever - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed June 20, 2018.
[13] Commentary on Mark 4:35-41 by Matt Skinner." Ephesians 2:11-22 Commentary by Kyle Fever - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed June 20, 2018.
[14] Ditto
[15] Ditto

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The uncontrollable kingdom Mark 4:26-34

“The bus dropped us off at the southeast corner of the Temple Mount and our guide, John, led us down a path to the ruins of the ancient City of David. Along the way, we came across a mustard plant. John stopped the group to show us what a mustard seed plant actually looked like. He pulled a pod off of the plant, opened it up and passed it around for all to see. The seeds where so small you could hardly make out the individual kernels. There were hundreds of seeds! And then John quoted Jesus: ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

Naturally, in a group of clergy, we all got hot and bothered about finding a mustard plant and by the time the group had passed by this particular plant, there were very few pods left on the bush! I still carry my pod with me every day, after eleven years, in my computer bag. The pod has long ago disintegrated but many of the seeds remain in a small plastic bag: a reminder of my time in the holy city of Jerusalem.

The parable of the Mustard Seed is a very dangerous lesson if we know anything about the mustard plant. Pliny the Elder was a Roman author who lived in the first century of the Common Era, He wrote about his experience with the mustard plant in his encyclopedic Natural History[1]: “Mustard… with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand, when it is sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.[2]

Mark doesn’t have that many parables but the few he has are truly impactful.
This passage concludes an extended string of parables that start in Mark 3:23. When we look at all of Jesus parables in mark together we can see a way of experiencing Jesus’ continuing ministry as the proclaimer and originator of the, though we do not know when or where, of the reign or “kingdom” of God. One commentator states “In the parables Jesus divulges enough to keep us from throwing up our hands in dismay later in Mark each time we encounter a disciple’s blunder or a command to keep Jesus’ identity secret.”[3]

So, what are Parables? Parables are stories used to compare two things alongside one another to provide metaphor, contrast, or reflection –"usually a reflection similar to the distortions that appear in a funhouse mirror”[4] Jesus’ parables, no matter how long or how short have a way of making his audience re-evaluate their beliefs and their assumptions. The parables do not tell anyone definitely what heaven is or what the reign of God is supposed to look like, but they make us want to seek new ways of looking at the world and encourage us to see those glimpses of the kingdom around us.
Here mark introduces two parables where Jesus is saying the reign of God is like this. Yet just to make all things clear he puts forth two separate images. Jesus speaks about seeds (a common metaphor for formation and education in ancient contexts).  He uses these images to illustrate God’s kindom is coming and it will come whether you like it or not.

The first parable is of the growing seed.

“No other Gospel contains this parable. Probably because it’s boring. Its plot has all the suspenseful drama of an ordinary elementary-school life sciences textbook. There are no surprises. Everything proceeds according to plan. Jesus simply speaks about seeds and what they are supposed to do. They grow and produce. Moreover, they grow and produce without your help or your intricate knowledge of germination or photosynthesis or palea, thank you very much.”[5]

In other words, the reign of God is coming, its taking root, it is growing.  It will grow with your knowledge of it or without. It will grow among you to whom Jesus is speaking, it will grow among the poor and the outcast, it will grow in the empire in spite of the empire.  The kingdom of God is a natural thing as natural as a seed growing.

I always think of our little mustard flower that can be found just about anywhere in America. However, the one Jesus is addressing is a different variety. The mustard plant can grow into a shrub especially the south African variety which is often what is found in the area of Jerusalem. There is a picture of the shrub shared in our story on the cover of your bulletin.  It can get to be quite a healthy and pervasive plant.

John Dominic Crossan, in his book Jesus A Revolutionary Biography states that “the mustard plant is dangerous even when domesticated in the garden, and is deadly when growing wild in the grain fields. And those nesting birds, which may strike us as charming, represented to ancient farmers a permanent danger to the seed and to the grain. The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three, four, or five feet in height. It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas, where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, is what the Kingdom of God was like. Like a pungent shrub with dangerous take-over properties.[6]

In other words, the reign of God will take root -- whether in the world, in imperial society, or in someone’s heart, Jesus does not specify. It will grow gradually and automatically (the New Revised Standard Version renders automate in Mark 4:26 as what the earth does “on its own”). It will grow perhaps so subtly that you won’t even notice, until at last it produces its intended fruit.

But Jesus goes on to describe two things that are well actually funny.  The whole point of the mustard seed and the way it grows… Some of Jesus’ listeners must have groaned or chuckled. Imagine him speaking today of thistles or ground-ivy or better yet dandelions.. But bigger. And more useful, since mustard has a range of medicinal qualities. In any case, the reign of God apparently isn’t much of a cash crop. Yet it grows. It is not easily eradicated. Good luck keeping it out of your well manicured garden or your farmland. Better be careful what you pray for when you say, “Your kingdom come...” 

The second point is Jesus describes it as the greatest of shrubs well…. It can grow dense, but it is hardly magnificent. Jesus must be grinning as he speaks. He is not aiming to impart insights about the relative worth of shrubberies but to shock people into a new way of perceiving greatness.
And once the seed is planted there will be no control over it.  It will grow naturally, it will grow willfully, and it will grow with the help of humans or without.  Perhaps that was the sin of Rome trying to control where the spirit leads.  Trying to benefit from kindom of God as opposed to being servants within the kingdom of God.

This parable contradicts the other parable f the seed where it falls on different soils and hardly survives in this message mark is saying it is the nature of God’s reign to grow and to manifest itself. That’s what it does. As a lamp belongs on a lampstand (Mark 4:21-22), God’s reign, like a seed, must grow, even if untended and even if its gradual expansion is nearly impossible to detect.

At first glance this story seems to bring comfort and well assumptions one already knows of the kindom of God. This points out that something very small will eventually morph into something much larger; also, something that appears obscure and insignificant will turn into something public and grand. Yet there is more: the reign of God won’t just grow for the sake of looking pretty, but creatures will find that it provides them shelter and security.

Not a majestic home or a pretty home but a secure home.  Those flocks of birds those are not what one wants near their farm or gardens because they will eat and pick at the crops and plants.  The landowner would be shoeing them away trying to protect his crop.  Protect his world as he knows it.  Not wanting to share with he uninvited guest and yet…

“so too it promises to upend a society’s ways of enforcing stability and relegating everyone to their “proper” places. The reign of God will mess with established boundaries and conventional values. Like a fast-replicating plant, it will get into everything. It will bring life and color to desolate places. It will crowd out other concerns. It will resist our manipulations. Its humble appearance will expose and mock pride and pretentiousness like a good burlesque show.”

There are story after story in the gospel of how Jesus walks and acts and does what this vision of the kingdom of God is.  In and through parables we get glimpses of this wild, out of control, kindom that is always seeking out new ways.  Gods reign is upon us and yet often we choose to look the other way, or worse yet we tend to look backwards.

We are all guilty of it.  When the spirit starts moving we panic.  We pull out all the old excuses …we have always done it this way…well we did this in the past and it worked then so lets focus on what we did not move forward…do not change. We do this as individuals, as congregations as association and conferences and even as denominations.

Heck they even do it the old testament. “You may remember the story of the Hebrew nation escaping from slavery in Egypt. Moses led them out, God parted the Red Sea to get them to safety, and they began to cross the wilderness back into the Promised Land.

The problem that occurred really began when the folks began to miss what they had in Egypt. According to the complainers, they had it made in the shade when they were slaves. They had pots full of meat, cucumbers, melons, garlic, leeks, and onions (and some good mouthwash, I hope).” [7]
We can find resistance in that other famous movement known as NIMBY. Not in my back yard.  It is fine if as a church you want to feed the hungry, shoe the children, clothe the poor.  But do not do it at your church it will attract the wrong kind of people.

You can hear the concern expressed and the wild kingdom of god moving in this short article from the los Angeles daily news.
“On the second night after his church opened its parking lot to people living out of their cars, vans and other vehicles, Glenn Nishibayashi noticed a mother and daughter using one of the spaces.
He was interested in knowing how the previous evening worked out for them, and went over to inquire.

“This was the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks,” the woman told him.
She explained that she was more accustomed to fitful nights parked on the street, staying half-awake so she could be alert to potentially being approached by strangers or rousted by police officers.
Members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church were initially concerned about the possible risks of opening up their parking lot to down-and-out strangers. But talking to the mother and daughter reassured Nishibayashi that their congregation had made the right decision to give the program a try.
“This is exactly what this program is for,” said the 61-year-old Nishibayashi, whose grandparents helped found the historically Japanese American church located in what is now Los Angeles’ Koreatown.

“It gets rid of that worry, so you can function so much better,” he said. “This told me we were doing exactly the right thing.”[8]  There are always new and better ways of being church.
“For many, church time is a sobering time. But for a growing number of American Christians, it’s the best time to crack open a beer.

Just ask the so-called “Church-in-a-pub” gathering in Fort Worth, Texas, which worships at the Zio Carlo brewpub and toasts with craft beer. These Sunday evening services are meant to offer “salvation and everlasting life with really good beer,” according to a recent broadcast by NPR. The creative approach appears to be working: The event attracts about 30-40 congregants weekly, and the group is looking to expand to more locations.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently deemed Church-in-a-pub a Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community.”[9]

The face of Christianity is always changing and the ways we serve those around us in need is evolving the way people come together to worship is getting radical.  The way sanctuary is expressed is always on the move.

“Twice a week, every Sunday and Monday night, around a dozen New Yorkers gather in long, candle-lit studio apartment nestled between a hair salon and some warehouses in one of Brooklyn’s latest hip neighborhoods. They’re actors, singers, seminarians and new parents, and they sit in groups of six around tables in one of the simplest and most untraditional Christian worship spaces the city has to offer.

St. Lydia’s Church has no pews, no altar, no vestments, no band or choir, and little formality of any kind. Instead, church means drums and chanting, with frequent references to Jesus; breaking bread and drinking communion grape juice; and a long, three-hour homemade vegetarian dinner punctuated by Bible readings, a sermon and frequent talk of what it means to be a young spiritual seeker in Brooklyn. The pastor is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but the members themselves range from atheist and agnostic to evangelical, Catholic and Episcopalian.”[10]

In San Francisco ministers walk the street at night.  They stop by bars and social events to check on their congregation.  They offer counseling and a friendly face to the indigent and the affluent alike.  But their church has no walls.

“San Francisco Night Ministry, now at 54 years, is often referred to as the Church's "Night Shift."  We are engaged in over 21,000 significant conversations, and serve over 9,500 meals each year, becoming an important bridge and steady support for many people as they face the darkness of the night, but not alone.  We provide compassionate, non-judgmental pastoral care, care of the soul, counseling, referrals, and crisis intervention to anyone in any kind of distress, every night of the year between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m.  … the Night Ministry sponsors two Open Cathedrals. They are outdoor worship services -- one in the Tenderloin and one in the Mission. They are weekly worship services followed by a time of sharing food. We provide meals and we also offer an opportunity for conversation and prayer and crisis intervention. We have a wellness program, a community-building program to extend our outreach to many more people in need. We believe that our work helps to make San Francisco a city that is healthier, safer, and more stable for all who live and work here.”[11]

The kingdom of God is uncontrollable. It is as wild as the mustard seed and it thrives in the wild places; In parking lots and small apartments, in pubs and on the streets.  For us this is a place a nourishment and soul enrichment but then…then what. You have to let the spirit move, let it take control if you have a vision or a concept that seems to far out there…well form what we just heard how far out can it be?

It is never too soon to start something new.  There is no rule that says you must wait for a new settled pastor to start something.  I truly believe there is great ministry opportunity in this community you just need to follow your heart to find it. Let some of that mustard seed wildness go and let it grow into a vison of the Uncontrollable Kingdom of God here and now. Amen!

[2] Pliny, H. Rackham, W. H. S. Jones, and D. E. Eichholz. Natural History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991, 170-171
[4] Ditto
[6] Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. New York: HarperOne, 1995, page 65.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Who is in Who is out - We are family - Mark 3:20-35

I open this reflection with a direct quote from sermon seeds a ucc online resource because it sums up all that is happening so well…
                               “This scene from the early part of Jesus' ministry, right after he has chosen his twelve apostles, feels almost as chaotic to read about as it must have seemed to those gathered around Jesus. It might be helpful to get a sense of how the Gospel of Mark itself feels--it's no leisurely story with nice, long sermons and extended conversations (think the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the woman at the well, or Nicodemus, in John). The Marcan Jesus is on the move constantly, like a man on a mission with little time to spare and even less patience with people who like to criticize everything he does.
We're only in the third chapter of Mark now, but a quick read of those first chapters is exhausting: Jesus has gone from his hometown to the wilderness to Galilee to the sea to Capernaum to a house to a deserted place and back out to the towns of Galilee (in just the first chapter) and then back to Capernaum and home, and then to the sea, and to Levi's house, through the grain fields and to the synagogue, and then back to the sea, into a boat, before heading up the mountain where he gathers those twelve apostles around him, and then, finally, he goes home.
Imagine all this travel with desperate crowds around him (people "from every quarter," 1:45), clinging to him, begging for healing, begging to be released from the demons that had hold of them, and then picture a group of carping critics picking at everything he did--breaking the rules about healing on the Sabbath, eating with tax collectors and sinners, and not fasting as they should. In other words, finding it more lawful to meet human need than to let human suffering go on unnecessarily: Jesus understood the heart of God's Law.
Of course, we can understand that the crowds couldn't help themselves: who among us would not do whatever it took to get our sick child, for example, to a healer who was doing the amazing things being attributed to Jesus? Still, it's poignant to see how Jesus couldn't even go home and have a meal in peace (a practice with much greater significance in that culture than we allow in our own).
In chapter two, people dig through his roof and drop a paralyzed person right next to him, hoping for a cure, and after admiring their faith and handling the criticism of the scribes when he forgives the man's sins, Jesus tells the man to get up and walk. That healing amazes the crowd, of course, and makes Jesus even more sought-after, but it really gets the attention of the powers that be, which explains why they're back again, all the way from Jerusalem, here in the third chapter, as Jesus tries once more to go into a house for a break from all this activity.
The problems with crowd control persist, so much so that Jesus can't even have supper with his friends, his disciples. But he isn't surrounded only by people who were willing to admit their brokenness and their need, along with those institutional critics who, we suspect by this time, are looking to find fault with Jesus rather than to affirm the wonderful thing God is doing in him. The growing crowd also includes, of all people, the family of Jesus: his mother and his brothers, who can't even get inside the house and talk to him face to face.”[1]

Now this brings us to the part that many just glance over or shrug off as ancient superstition.  What the ancient world viewed as demonic possession today we know as well other conditions. What was demonic then we now explain as deafness, blindness, epilepsy, mental illness, allergies.  Anything that could not be explained or understood the devil got the blame.
But the exorcism isn’t really the point.  The point is the power of sin isn’t going to cast itself out because it is doing the job of dividing a community, creating distraction from the truth.  The truth is “People will be forgiven their sins!”  Jesus is proclaiming forgiveness of sins and that is what truly has the scribes upset.  Without sin management, which is the business of the temple, we have no order.  We cannot proclaim who is with the in crowd and who is with the out crowd.
That brings the next part of the text…Jesus’ family. We do not know exactly what prompted Jesus’ mother and brothers to come and well, give him a talking too…but it may have been the stirring up of the crowds…it may have been the exorcisms… Jesus was changing the conversation around sin and heaven and well it scared some people and his family might have been just scared for him too. It may have been they felt he needed a break…we just don’t know.
But here in the midst of bickering and crowds and confusion and family trying to push in and other people probably yelling hey we were here first.  Your wrong about Jesus no your wrong about Jesus …Jesus heal me. Jesus teach me …in the middle of that confusion some one pauses and says hey Jesus your family is here…Jesus paused looked around him and said you are my family.  Right here, right now, you are my family ….” whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother.”
“The family of Jesus--his mother and brothers--make their way through much of the crowd to reach the outside door of the house where Jesus was sitting. Scholars note that even such a small detail is significant: Judith Hoch Wray says that "house" is the "key word" here, and the understanding of who is on the inside and who is on the outside is central to the meaning of this passage .”[2]
Who is inside and who is outside of the “house?” Who is inside or outside of the church.  That is a question that comes at me from so many ways.  It stirs me up.  It upsets me.  It brings pain and joy and understanding and confusion all at once.
I have been paying a bit more attention to this lately.  Maybe because it is Pride month…I don’t know…I think it started on face book someone asked what is cis gender?  They wanted to know what it meant.
“Ryan Ashley Caldwell It’s when the gender you were assigned at birth actually matches the cultural gender expectations for presentation once older. It’s as if you’re saying “yes!” To your assigned at birth gender. (All this assumes a binary system and not a queer identity)”[3]
That is a great description it’s all very scientific…. until…one-person claims “labels used to divide and separate!” I pointed out that here are more terms to help understand and lift up and celebrate our glorious differences.  He didn’t like that too much the conversation went on until this
“The less united we are as a population (through divisive labels), the more manipulation can occur by the media and the more control can occur by the government. We can no longer be ______Insert name here  (identified by those that know me with my quirks, foibles, etc.), we now have to be known by our labels... race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, citizenship, familial status, disability, veteran, genetic information... and yes, all the above are protected with the only class of people remaining without protection are white males 19-39 years of age unless they're a religion other than Christian, are married, are disabled, or are a veteran.”[4]
 Well I am assuming, from this post, this young man is white between the ages of 18-39 single, and considers himself Christian.  Yikes …. who is in and who is out?  Who is my family?
Before I started writing this I happened to catch the Pride flag raising from Hart plaza in Detroit…When I was young and in Detroit we could barely have a pride rally for fear of retaliation and now they wave the pride flag with the mayor present and council people present.  It really is amazing to see how far we come and yet…It was pointed out that just a few days before a young transgender person of color was murdered.
 This Wednesday morning as I am writing this a minister who is serving in a UCC church shared some pain.  “This last Sunday during my sermon, I revealed that I was transgender and transitioning. (I should begin by saying we are an ONA congregation, and the leadership of the church already knew I was transgender.)
The initial response from the congregation was either positive and supportive, or neutral. I heard nothing that was negative to my face. All day Monday I was in the office and not a word was said to me about my revelation. There was a great deal more silence in my presence than normal from the church staff who are also on council (I know, you bad idea, small congregation, old practices die hard.)
I found out last night that our Council President had called in our Association General Minister to attend our Council Meeting this evening (and did so without consulting with other folks on Council.) Please pray that tonight's meeting will be civil, that love will prevail, and God's will be done.”
I reached out to her and she basically said I am treading water right now…No one…no one should have to tread water in the United Church of Christ, or any Church for that matter! This is unacceptable and yet it goes on day after day.  Sometimes more subtle ways…If we hire a gay pastor they will turn us into a gay church! Its okay to be a gay Pastor just don’t talk about it. Here is one I got from the LAPD before being approved as a chaplain …please do not evangelize your openly gay agenda??? I am not sure what that would even mean.
To this day there are 70 countries that still have anti homosexuality laws on their books 8 countries where it is punishable by death and yet our own administration opposed a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty as punishment for consensual gay relations. It passed the UN without our support.
One other note about this week this Sunday they are celebrating Pride in Los Angeles, which incidently was founded by Christian ministers, Rev. Bob Humphries (founder of the United States Mission), Morris Kight (a founder of the Gay Liberation Front), and Rev. Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Church) came up with the idea as a way to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. but before all the festivities today  thousands of people on Bikes rode in after riding all week, 545 miles from San Francisco to los Angeles raising over 65.5 million dollars for the san Francisco Aids foundation and los Angeles LGBT Center both supplying life saving service to people living with HIV/AIDS…who is my family?  Who is in and who is out?
This week in light of the Bakers ruling another UCC Clergy wrote a letter
I want to share this now… Because as a denomination we need to hear this…
“Open Letter to the UCC: The LGBTQ Right to Distrust God (and even the Progressive Church)
For my Beloved United Church of Christ,                           
 I have written in my ordination paper, essays in seminary, and many other forums of my love for this denomination as an out-LGBTQ clergyperson and Christian. This Pride Month 2018, however, it is time to issue a loving challenge. 
Twenty-five percent of congregations Open and Affirming, thirty-three years of the Open and Affirming (ONA) Statement, and many other signs and sacrifices for the LGBTQ community in the National Setting and Local Settings of the UCC (including countless congregational and individual member departures) are a great start. Thank you, UCC, for your dedication, help, and sacrifice. I know how hard your work for LGBTQ people has been: sometimes splitting congregations, families, friendships, and decimating church budgets. Likewise, I know sometimes it has brought new life to congregations in need of new inclusive vision, members, or hope. I look for more examples of the latter as we move forward as a faith tradition into an uncertain future.
That said, I want to address an attitude in the UCC: shock when LGBTQ people don’t understand that this denomination is a safe space. Moreover, I have witnessed straight-privileged anger, indignation, and desperate need for gratitude. Open and Affirming Churches want gratitude from the LGBTQ community, which is something we really cannot emotionally provide. 
In order to be theologically healthy and authentic as an Open and Affirming Movement, we need to first affirm the following difficult reality: The LGBTQ community does not owe the United Church of Christ anything in return for its theologically driven move towards inclusion—even if that has meant great sacrifices. We are delighted to be included in pews, pulpits, pastorates, and pensions, but the wider LGBTQ family’s hurt and continued endangerment (especially with the current political winds) is greater than anything the UCC alone can heal, apologize for, or save us from. Additionally, LGBTQ spiritual gifts, theology, and radically unique perspective on liberation didn’t end with marriage equality. Marriage Equality is not synonymous with LGBTQ Liberation. There is so much more wisdom capacity and value yet untapped by the UCC from our diverse queer perspectives and fabulous presence. 
The UCC’s openness is deeply appreciated by those of us in the LGBTQ community whom have chosen to do the HARD WORK (daily, complicated, painful) of reclaiming and living as religious Christians, but It doesn’t mean that gay and queer people owe you, the institution, our love and devotion. ONA isn’t transactional in that way. The popular attitude that the UCC is the gift that the LGBTQ community is looking for but hasn't found yet must be tempered with an understanding that church PTSD is real even for those who have never been inside a church.
As an example, I have never been inside of a haunted house attraction or a haunted corn maze, but I know that it would NOT be a safe, fun, or good experience for me. I know that from my outside experience with horror movies, people jumping at me, and even being alone at Plymouth at night (yes, this is a scary building when empty). Every experience I have had informs me to stay away from haunted houses. Likewise, even for LGBTQ people who have never had a direct experience with church (not even to mention the countless who have been emotionally abused and damaged by our wider Christian family), convincing us LGBTQ people that churches are safe and trustworthy is a multi-generational, long-term effort that must be rooted in meaningful mission and ministry rather than money and marketing. I have yet, sticking with my above example, to be convinced that a haunted house would result in anything other than a heart attack and my own early demise on the spot! In short, we are a hard sell. 
Having an out minister doesn’t cure that fear or fulfill your ONA promise. Yes, I can speak with my friends and sometimes open doors of understanding, but I am not called to evangelize the LGBTQ community. Hiring me or my predecessor didn’t mean a cure to any fear others have. If anything, it just means that Gerhard and I have a lot of trouble finding friends who understand me or want to be around us, and I never ever blame anyone for this. I knew what I was signing-up for. It is a sacrifice I have been willing to make. It does mean that I understand and respect the healthy distance people who have been hurt need to keep from religion—even if that means keeping me as out gay clergyperson at a distance too. It is just too risky, confusing, or painful to befriend even a gay minister.
The LGBTQ community still has the right to distrust the God of Christianity after 2,000 years of oppression and continued alienation like yesterday. 
The UCC must continue in our Open and Affirming Journey, and that means understanding that what we have begun in reconciliation, love, and radical inclusion is only the beginning of what could take generations of Queer acceptance to heal. We do this work of openness not for ourselves, our full pews, or our budgets, but we do it for God and for Jesus the Christ whose love we are called to embody. 
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that a local Colorado cake baker could deny a gay couple a wedding cake because of his belief in God and “religious liberty.” For that decision to come down in June is particularly difficult. June is LGBTQ Pride Month when we celebrate our liberation from straight patriarchy beginning with the Stonewall Riots in NYC in 1969, so this decision is jarring for many. It is days like yesterday that I find it incredibly difficult to justify the Church, God, and religion to my LGBTQ community as a Christian Minister of the Gospel. It is days like yesterday when responses, “sorry,” “we promise we aren’t all like that,” “you should try the UCC,” “don’t lump us in with those Christians,” or even, “we are just as angry as you and God loves you… really we promise…”  just don’t work. It breaks my heart to watch my Facebook feed crumble in pain, alienation, and anger after yesterday’s verdict. It hurts even more to have to admit that my ministry and my Facebook posts can’t fix it and neither can the UCC alone within one generation. 
It isn’t really about the damn cake. We, LGBTQ individuals and our straight allies alike, all know that we make better, tastier, more creative cakes anyway when it comes right down to it, right? Right? You know it’s true. It is really about systemic pain of rejection, of family alienation, and discrimination happening when trying to do something as simple as ordering a giant, glorified pastry for a party with a loved one! For God’s sake… it isn’t about the cake. It is about everything else that matters. 
There is hope yet, friends, in grace! This is a word many of us only know if we have ventured into Wesleyan theological territory like I did for seminary, but it can mean so much right now for us in the United Church of Christ.  
Grace means more than changing ourselves, changing our words, opening our doors and then assuming that we no longer carry cultural pain. It means coming to terms with our own privilege and understanding the weight of the history of this wider institution outside of our control. Grace also means understanding when our invitation of Open and Affirming welcome isn’t met with enthusiastic embrace. The turning of the Titanic takes great time. Grace is the humility to know that the doors may have to remain open for a very longtime before anyone feels safe enough to trust this institution. Love is loving those who never will enter our churches and never become pledging units because we are called by God Almighty to do so. Becoming ONA isn’t a marketing scheme to fill pews, it is a theological statement on the level of theodicy!
Grace is a grace for ourselves when we don’t get it right. Grace is love for others when they aren’t quite ready to accept our invitation to a loving community as we experience and know it. Grace is what God holds us all in at this time of transformation for the Open and Affirming Movement. Grace is what happens when we see that becoming Open and Affirming is more than a marketing statement. When taken seriously, it is a part of a wider systematic theology of inclusion that has the power to transform all of us into better people: all of us together…even or especially those whom we now accept will never join or visit the church. 
Yours in Love and Pride,
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph (or just Jake)
Associate Minister
Plymouth Congregational UCC, Fort Collins, CO.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph,
Associate Minister
Jake came to Plymouth having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Jake's experience include hospice and hospital ministry settings. Jake is a fluent French-speaker and formerly lived in Nantes, France. He and his husband, Gerhard, live in Fort Collins where Jake is also a Commissioner on the Fort Collins Housing Authority (Housing Catalyst). He is a Board Member for the UCC's Archway Housing in Denver, Habitat for Humanity of Fort Collins, and other non-profit boards. Jake serves Plymouth as the Associate Minister for pastoral care, outreach, mission, congregational life, and he supervises church communications. 
Jake's academic background:
M.Div. and Graduate Certificate in Human Rights, Emory University's Candler School of Theology
B.A., Grinnell College”