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From Pastor Kenny's Desk

June 10, 2018

Then Jesus went home, and again such a crowd gathered that he and the disciples were unable even to eat a meal. When Jesus’ relatives heard of this, they went out to take charge of him, thinking that he had lost his mind.


The religious scholars who had come down from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “He casts out demons through the ruler of demons.”


Summoning them, Jesus spoke in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a realm is torn by civil strife, it cannot last. If a household is divided according to loyalties, it will not survive. Similarly, if Satan has suffered mutiny in the ranks and is torn by dissension, the Devil is finished and cannot endure. No attacker can enter a stronghold unless the defender is first put under restraint. Only then can the attacker plunder the stronghold.


“The truth is, every sin and all the blasphemy the people utter will be forgiven, but those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness. They are guilty of an eternal sin.” Jesus spoke all this because they said, “He is possessed by an unclean spirit.”


Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived and sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who is my family?” And looking around at everyone there, Jesus said, “This is my family! Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my sister, my brother, my mother.”  Mark 3:20-35

Why is Jesus getting so much flack?


Here we are in the third chapter of Mark’s story and already he’s got the crowds wondering about Jesus, his family afraid for him … and maybe of him! ... and the religious leaders against him. All he’s done so far is announce the coming kin-dom of God, call some disciples, cast out a demon or two, and heal a bunch of sick people.

Of course, one of those disciples was a tax collector, he cast out the demon and did much of his healing work on the Sabbath, and he wasn’t put off in the least when approached by a leper. Which means that his vision of the coming kin-dom of God was rooted in a profound inclusivity that would let neither religious law nor social customs prevent him from reaching those in need with the transforming life he came to offer.


The reality is … when you commit yourself to offering the same kind of unimaginably gracious hospitality and wide welcome that Jesus shares, you’re bound to encounter some flack. I don’t know if people will call you demon-possessed, as the Scribes in this sacred text do, but don’t be surprised if people close to you … including your own family … think you’re a little nuts.


While there are many directions this passage could take, the one that seized my imagination this week is to focus on the question of hospitality. Specifically, how do we welcome and embrace others in a way that welcomes them into the life and ministry of the congregation. I don’t know of a congregation that doesn’t find hospitality important. Just as I don’t know of a congregation that doesn’t consider itself friendly … but my experience is that when we think of hospitality, often what people usually mean … or at least communicate through their actions … is that hospitality is being patient and gracious with new folks until they learn “the way we do things.” But Jesus offers another vision of hospitality that is about meeting people where they are, accepting any and all who are interested in God’s kin-dom, and responding to their needs no matter who is asking or when or how they ask.


In this sacred text we see Jesus welcoming those with need and meeting the need regardless what others think. He is aware of the crowds, the religious authorities, even Jesus’ own family … judging him against predetermined and socially or religious agreed upon norms. Notice that Jesus is more than willing to receive flack and judgement for his actions AND he chooses to continue sharing the love of God regardless the criticism.  And at times, this happens to everyone who follows him. Because the love of God we see revealed in Jesus knows no boundaries and respects no laws that would keep that love from being shared with everyone.


So maybe the question isn’t, Why is Jesus getting so much flack? But instead should be, Why aren’t we getting more? Meaning, why aren’t we pushing the boundaries of what’s socially and religiously acceptable in order to reach more folks with the always surprising, often upsetting, unimaginably gracious, and ridiculously inclusive love of God? And if that is the kind of love we want to offer, we might go on to ask whether we are communicating that message in our actions loudly and clearly, both inside our church doors and outside within the community as well.


With this in mind I encourage you to watch the video below. What I like about the video is that it illustrates a number of misperceptions of church … that the people have it all together, have the answers their looking for, etc … and invite us to imagine the opposite … that church is where you go when you don’t have it together, are searching for answers, and so on.


It reminds me that although there are plenty of reasons people give for not going to church, the one they most frequently give for starting to go to church is simple: someone invited them. That is, someone reached out to them, asked if they’d like to go, kept asking if it took a few times, sat with them, introduced them to others, and made them feel more at home.


Here’s the deal: as much as I’d like to think that what really matters is the preaching and good music, I know deep down that there’s nothing more important than reaching out and making someone feel welcome … just the way they are … making them feel like they don’t have to have it all together, that they belong and they free to participate freely in as much or as little they choose in the life and ministry of MCC Richmond. This also means embracing new ideas and attitudes newcomers often bring! Truth is any one of us can do this everyday of the week. This is hospitality in its finest form.


I also ask you to take this one step further … spend a couple of extra moments after church this Sunday or during the week looking around the buildings, worship space, bulletin, and other aspects of our congregational life and volunteer ideas of changes … small or large … that might help our congregation become more welcoming and more hospitable … in the sense of inviting people to engage within the life and ministry of MCC Richmond by bringing change through their presence and gifts.


Feel free to think about this and start emailing me your ideas. And then, together with the Board of Directors, Ministry Team Leaders and your help we can take time this summer to evaluate and prepare to implement some of the changes that might help your congregation offer a wide welcome to the rest of our community. Remembering we are seeking to follow Jesus example of offering as wide a welcome to folks as possible while choosing to celebrate the blessings of bringing change to others and to us by sharing the transforming message of God’s love. Let’s take some flack as we partner with God to make a difference in the world!

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