Saturday, June 6, 2015

Tuning in to God’s power

The first reading for today is the familiar story of Adam and Eve and their disobedience in the garden. God had forbidden to them the fruit of the tree of knowledge. They ate the fruit anyway.
When God asks them “What’s up?” they respond by passing the blame. “The woman YOU gave me gave me the fruit.” “The serpent tricked me.” Adam blames God and Eve; Eve blames the serpent. All three are punished by God for disobedience. This act of disobedience is often called the original sin, passed down to all humanity through their children and grandchildren, all the way down to us.
I believe the original sin is not in the actual eating of the fruit, but in the way they blame each other, the way they refuse to accept their own guilt. We all want to put the blame on someone else. We all want to say it was something or someone else that made us mess up. I remember how Flip Wilson was quick to blame the devil: “The devil made me buy this dress!” The line was funny, because it was so true.
Sin is not so much the action itself, but the refusal to accept our failure to obey, our failure to believe, our refusal to confess and repent, our denial of God’s position as first in our lives.
… Today we return to the Gospel of Mark after a long absence. In the seasons of Advent and Epiphany, we were briefly introduced to Jesus in Mark, then we switched to John for most of Lent and Easter. Now, we enter the long season of Sundays after Pentecost, which will take us through the summer and fall as we read more of Mark’s gospel.
Today, we read that Jesus has been teaching and healing and casting out demons. He has caught the attention of the scribes, who are concerned about Jesus’ activities. In their eyes, Jesus is disobeying their laws, which means he is sinning against God.
They tend to think in black and white. The healings he is doing can come from either God or Satan. Since Jesus is not healing according to well-established rules he must be using Satan’s power to heal.
Even his family is worried. It could be they are worried about the source of his healing power, but it’s more likely they are worried about him ruining their family’s reputation.
Jesus responds to both accusations with the very Jewish method of speaking in parables and asking questions that make the questioner look foolish. Once the scribes and his family members have been silenced, he makes the invitation: all those who believe in him are his mother and his sisters and brothers. Those who deny him deny God’s Holy Spirit, and that’s the sin.  
So, sin is the denial of the Holy Spirit. Sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Sin is the denial of Jesus’ power in our lives. Sin is the refusal to admit that we do not put God first.
… That denial shows up all the time, but we aren’t always aware of it. Sometimes it’s simple. Sometimes, it’s complicated.
So, this week on the Facebook page I asked, “Where do you find evil?” The comments were, hurtful words, guns, lack of peace, too many places. What would you say? …. Guns, war, naming some people as other; greed; judgment; having to have our own way …
I’m intentionally choosing to not talk about guns and war. They are such hot-button issues, they deserve more than a few minutes in a sermon. That leaves us with topics like hurtful words and greed.
This week, I heard plenty of hurtful words, in my own life and in the media – on Facebook, TV programs, and the news. Hurtful words come from our desire to have our own way, to protect what we hold dear, to keep the status quo, to hold onto our money, to control the future, to identify those who are different enough from us to cause fear or revulsion.
… A couple of stories: Stephen Curry is a point guard for the Golden State Warriors – a basketball team. He brought his 2-year-old daughter Riley to the post-victory news conference. She stole the show with her very natural behavior, both clowning and yawning, and grabbing the microphone from her daddy.
Most folks thought it was a beautiful moment, and adore the way Curry is a great father to a busy, uninhibited child. Others weren’t so sure. Was the stage the place for a 2-year-old? How could he pay attention to the reporters if his daughter was also demanding his attention? Why wasn’t the child with her mother? Curry obviously cared more about his daughter’s desire to be with him than about how other people might judge him. He and his wife chose to ignore the hurtful words and focus on the joy of the father-daughter relationship.   
… There is a new TV show called “The Briefcase.” Two couples are given briefcases containing $100,000. They are to decide how much of the money to keep, and how much to give away to the other couple. The trick is they don’t know the other couple also has a briefcase of money.
The process of deciding how much to keep and how much to give away is an emotional roller coaster. The couples featured are in debt and struggling to pay their bills. There are other factors – a wounded veteran and a husband with heart disease, for example.
At first, the couples are so excited about having so much money, they begin to tick off all the bills they can pay. When presented with some information about the other family, they say that’s the other family’s problem, they need to take care of their own families. “We need this money. The picture of Ben Franklin has been replaced with pictures of my children. I choose to not give any of it away.”
The desire to protect our own, to keep whatever we have, to not share our blessings with others is strong. But as the couples learn more about the other couples, they identify with them, want to help them, and see themselves as blessed in comparison to the other couples. It’s encouraging to see the greed and selfishness that shows up at first turn into a genuine desire to care for the others more than themselves.
Some have criticized the show as tragedy, not entertainment. It’s true – there is plenty of poverty in the US, and CBS is in a way exploiting these couples’ situations to make more money for themselves. But rich or poor, we all have to make decisions to help others or not help them every single day.
The way we treat others, think about them, talk about them, share what we have with them, all reflect on the position and power God has in our lives. They all reflect on how willing we are to admit we are guilty of not putting God’s purposes first.
This week, notice how you think about other people, and how the way you think about them reflects the place God holds in your life.
Please pray with me. Merciful Lord, thank you for sending Jesus to us, to teach us how to love each other. Thank you for giving us each other, as loved ones and as challenging ones. Teach us how to put you first, and to love each other as you love us. Amen