Last week we talked about the long journey we had made in the liturgical year that helped us get to Trinity Sunday. After Trinity Sunday, we enter into the next long journey of what we call “ordinary time,” that time that stretches through summer and the fall when we settle into the stories about the life and ministry of Jesus. In some ways, what happens in the Church is like what happens in the summer – we kick off our shoes, pull up a refreshing beverage, and settle into a good summer read. The shift should be a palpable sigh of relief as we ease into the familiar stories we love.
Except, nothing about scripture lessons today is remotely relaxing – in fact, our Old Testament and Gospel texts do quite the opposite, making us tense with discomfort and anxiety. We start with the story in Genesis, traditionally call the story of the fall. Adam and Eve have already consumed the fruit from the forbidden tree, and today we hear the story of their being “caught.” Right away, God knows something is amiss, and how do Adam and Eve respond? In a comical exercise of finger pointing. Adam blames both Eve and God: Eve because she “made” Adam eat the fruit and God because God gave Eve to him in the first place. Eve blames the serpent, recognizing she was tricked. The curses from God fly: on the serpent, on the land, and later in Genesis, on the man and woman and their habitation. Historically, this text has been used to subjugate women, but most theologians know this story impacts all kinds of theological concepts – from our sinful nature, free will, promises of salvation, and the covenant.[i] But you do not have to be a theologian to read this text and know that the finger pointing of humans when caught in sinfulness is not going to lead to goodness.
Then we get this strange story about Jesus in Mark’s gospel. Jesus is simply sitting among the people and his disciples when things go crazy. The scribes come and begin to proclaim that Jesus is possessed by Satan, and anything seemingly good Jesus is doing is rooted in evil. Then Jesus’ own family assume he has had a mental breakdown and they come to restrain Jesus. The people who should know and love Jesus best and the people who should be able to recognize the power of the Holy Spirit try to cast him out. In response, Jesus rejects them all. Instead, he professes to have no family except those who gather around him and do the will of God. Jesus does not actually define what the will of God is, so we should be careful not to project our own notions of doing justice or serving those in need. For now, being a part of the family of Jesus seems to involve sitting around. As scholar Matt Skinner says, “The way into kinship—belonging—with Jesus is sticking around. It’s to acknowledge that you’ve been caught up into a new reality—this transformational alternate reality called ‘the kingdom of God’—and to hold on for the ride. That’s probably not the entirety of what it means to do or to accomplish or to commit to ‘the will of God,’ but it seems to be the biggest part, as far as Mark is concerned.”[ii]
Perhaps that is our invitation this summer too. We are still invited to kick off our shoes, sit at Jesus’ feet, and pull up a good book. But instead of rereading a comforting story, this may need to be a summer of reading the stories that ask us hard questions: of whether we are in right relationship with God or hiding who we really are; whether we are insisting on our own will or way instead of the way of Jesus; whether we are too restless to slow down and simply sit with the Holy Spirit. In the flurry of regathering, of finally getting to experience some familiar practices like sitting in chairs [pews] we have missed, using our voices to sing [speak] among others, and seeing familiar friends and meeting new ones, we can miss why we love this community so much in the first place. We can forget that Hickory Neck is a place we like to come because we are a community who does not let each other hide, who challenges one another to follow the way of love, who will remind us to slow down and listen for the soft voice of God. Who we are and what this community does is the reason why we will continue to livestream services – so those who still need to be at home can be a part of us too, so those who are tending to life’s daily commitments can come back to the video for a good word, and so those who are longing for something more in life can get to know this Jesus – who redefines who is in and out – and sit at his feet with us. Our experience this summer might not be one you were hoping for after a long, hard fifteen months – but I suspect this summer will be even better than you could have imagined. Amen.
[i][i] James O. Duke, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 98.
[ii] Matt Skinner, “Stick Around,” May 30, 2021, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/stick-around on June 4, 2021.