Sermon for 6/6
May the words my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen
In the gospel reading today, Mark begins with a story, interrupts it with another story, and then completes the first story. I would like for us today to think more about the first and last part of the reading, especially that part about Jesus’ family.
Ultimately, the question becomes who or what is Jesus’ family? Who is included in this family? Jesus was in Capernaum on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. What was being called home, in all probability, was Peter’s home. The fact that Jesus’ family was there indicates to me, anyway, that someone had sent for them or at the very least, that they had been given a report of his teachings and preaching for he was going against the norm for the day. They had apparently come to take him away and keep him at home in Nazareth to lock him up.
My family has always been pretty close knit. We’ve always lived pretty close to each other, except the time I spent on a government sponsored paid vacation in Southeast Asia. So it was no great surprise that about mid 2012 that I told everyone that I was answering God’s call to enter the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.
As Julia Ann can attest, it was no easy task. It seemed like every time I had reached a point, milestone, the milestone seemed to move. But perseverance and God’s guidance through it all made it all worth it.
Why do I tell you all this? A story, a very real story about family. It was the first Sunday of June 2014 that I preached a sermon here at St. John’s and then after there was a gathering, “meet and greet” activity after the worship service. There are several things I remember vividly about that day. I remember Rev. Bob Beaver and Bishop Herman Yoos slipping in and sitting on the back row beside George. Anxiety level went up! I wasn’t expecting that. I remember meeting a lot of people. One made an impression—another story for another time. There was food—really good food and maybe some ice cream. I also remember Rev. Zeke with his chasuble he put on for the celebration of the Eucharist. But after the “Meet and Greet” Zeke turned to me and said, “You’ve got a job here.” I remember those words just like it was yesterday.
But I didn’t know what he was saying. Had he read the congregation and knew I would become its Vicar? Or did he mean this was going to be a job? That it was going to be a real chore.
It was probably the next Sunday that I met with the church council with (at that time) Assistant to the Bishop Ginny Aebischer. By the grace of God, Council decided to at least recommend me to act as your Pastor, offering a year’s contract beginning July 1.
The first Sunday of July was July 4, and it was your 100th anniversary. I remember the church being absolutely packed! I’m certainly glad that Bishop Yoos preached that Sunday.
But the story does not end there. About two months later Charles Eleazer asked permission meet with Council concerning the cemetery. In a frantic search I tried to find a copy of the cemetery rules, but no such luck. I wanted to be prepared for whatever Charles had up his sleeve. As I recall, Charles asked one question: What would happen to the cemetery if the church closed its doors? All kinds of things ran through my head. What was the motive in asking the question? Was I really here to close the church? Was that what Zeke meant? Fortunately, when I was on Synod Council, I was chairman of their property committee and had some knowledge of what happens to a congregation’s property when it closes. I mentioned that the Synod takes on ownership of the property and sells the assets to pay off any mortgages or other debts a congregation in that shape would have. I said that the cemetery would be sold to a company dealing at that sort of thing so they could provide perpetual care for those buried there.
But I followed that up with a statement that the Holy Spirit apparently formed the words. “As long as I’m here and as long as you’re here we ain’t going to close the doors!”
I still felt like I was walking around on eggshells. I was going through a different process than any other pastor in the Synod and didn’t know what to expect. It was after probably the next council meeting I was walking out when one of the council members pulled me aside. He had detected my apprehensions. And you know who you are. He told me not to be afraid. The people liked me. From that point on, I felt accepted!
Jesus was not looking for acceptance. He was looking for people who would accept his teachings about the love and grace of his Father who wanted so desperately to be loved by his children. He was looking for a family—a family who would respond to God’s love with a spirit of love toward his neighbor.
Jesus was willing to give up his earthly family for the kind of family who would follow him. And as we read, Mary his mother figured it out, and so did James, his brother.
Jesus’ family fell apart during the time of his crucifixion. But with the addition of the Holy Spirit, it came back together as we read in the Book of Acts. His house did not fall apart. St. John’s did not fall apart back in 2014. It became stronger through its family members guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
It will continue to grow in substance and numbers because God loves you and so do I.