Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
June 6, 2021
Lessons: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-51:1; Mark 3:20-35
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are ready and willing to work with new definitions of family and community.
Key Scripture: Whoever does the will of God is my bother and sister and mother. – Mark 3:35
There’s a meme circulating through social media recently attributed to John Alan Turner of thehappygivers.com that says: “It’s hard to convince people that a God they cannot see loves them, when a church they can see doesn’t seem to like them.” I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this phenomenon personally, but if you have please accept my apology on behalf of a wider church that does love and welcome you.
When I think of how many people have and continue to be hurt by the church it makes me sick to my stomach. Whether the situation is one’s sexuality, race, gender, marital status, or other defining characteristic, the North American church in particular has been quite effective at justifying exclusion (and in some cases outright hatred) by pointing to flimsy pick-and-choose out of context scripture. There are definitely “innies” and “outies” in many pockets of American Christianity, and church, we’d better get really honest about this if we truly believe it is our mission to reflect Christ’s love to a broken and hurting world. Oh, and saying you “hate the sin and not the sinner” won’t cut it either. How would you feel if Jesus said that about you?
This week’s gospel lesson has had me thinking about this topic a lot. Jesus has returned home and is addressing some controversial topics like blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, and his family is determined to save him from himself. Surely he can’t know what he’s really saying and how all this crazy talk is going to go down. Jesus, of course, is having none of it, and responds “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Ouch! Talk about shutting things down and drawing a wider circle; Jesus is pretty clear about what it takes to be part of the family. In fact, let’s call it part of the community since the concept of family has been so hurtful to so many people.
June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, coinciding with the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn police raid in New York City on June 28, 1969. The Stonewall Riots became the tipping point in the gay liberation movement and an important moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. Even though much progress has been made, there is still a long way to go for full inclusion and protection under the law. The Supreme Court passed the Marriage Equality Act (5-4) in 2015, making it legal across the United States for same sex couples to have the right to marriage and equal protection under the law. Even so, in many states LGBTQ+ individuals still face discrimination in housing, healthcare, and jobs. Pride month celebrates these gains, remembers those who have died, and offers educational opportunities for communities. Advances in LGBTQ+ rights and protections have also almost split many denominations (PCUSA, ELCA, ECUSA, and now the United Methodist Church) and entrenched other branches of the church in their opposition to welcoming all people into fellowship.
Interracial marriage has also been a hot button issue for the church in many parts of our country. Until the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states. Yes, the state could tell you who you could love and who you could and could not marry. In fact, Alabama did not remove its anti-misegenation provision from its state constitution until the year 2000, some 30 years after Loving v. Virginia rendered it unenforceable.
Church, it’s time we lamented and repented for not loving all God’s good children, for clinging to a few verses of scripture to defend our spurious claims to doctrinal purity and take a serious look at what Jesus says about who’s part of the community—those who do the will of God. And what is God’s will you might ask? Jesus put it simply: To love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and being, and your neighbor as yourself. We need to rethink our stances on preventing divorced persons from being welcome at Christ’s table, from welcoming the immigrant and stranger, and from our sins of systemic racism and rejection of our LGBTQ+ siblings. We need to do better so that all may come to know the love, mercy, and grace of the Christ who is at work restoring the goodness in all creation.
Invite congregants to ponder whether your congregation is a “welcoming congregation.” When they arrive for worship have the ushers give everyone a stone or marble. Have two clear glass bowls, one marked “welcoming,” and the other one “not so welcoming.” Have worshipers deposit their marble or stone in the bowl they think best represents the congregation. (Note: Most folks think their congregations are welcoming, so don’t be surprised if that bowl is quite full.) During worship have congregants take a minute and listen to a word of scripture that addresses particular groups. Here’s an example.
Would my friend Jonah be welcome here? I mean really welcome. He’s a gay man in a relationship that will lead to marriage and who has been a lifelong Christian. Jonah and his partner Chris are looking for a church where they can really live out their faith. Would they be able to do that here? Would we allow them to marry here? Then read a passage of scripture supporting Jonah’s welcome.
Or, would my friends Dante and Elise be welcome here? Dante is Black, and Elise is mixed race. They are looking for a church where their children can thrive and where there are other folks who look like them and have similar experiences. Would Dante and Elise find a wide welcome here? Again, read a passage of scripture.
Or, would my friend Mariana and her daughters Sofia and Emilia be welcome here? She is an undocumented alien. Both girls were born here, and their father has been deported back to Honduras. Would it be safe for her to be part of our community? Once again read a passage of scripture.
Invite the community to prayerfully ponder the situations, real or constructed, and then to change the location of their rock or marble on the way out. Be sure to tell congregants that learning to be a welcoming congregation is not beyond their grasp, but that it will take some work, vulnerability, and willingness to change.
Invite youth to write a “state of the church” paper that reports their observations of how welcoming the congregation is and who is not present within the community. Youth often have strong ideas about all people being welcome and are lightening quick to pick up on perceived hypocrisy and limitations to people’s Christian walk. While it may be hard to hear their responses, we do well to listen and learn, especially if we desire our congregations to have a real future in a vastly changing world that really needs the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus.
This week’s focus verse is Mark 3:35 – Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.
In this week’s gospel Jesus radically redefines family and community. He draws a broad picture of who is part of his family—those who do God’s will. When we are baptized, we are incorporated into God’s big family where everyone who does God’s will is welcome and fully included. Sometimes we find it hard to include people if they don’t fit our idea of who ought to be welcome, but Jesus doesn’t give us any choice in the matter. We must continually draw our circle wider to include more community members who want to do God’s will and follow Jesus. This can be hard, but it isn’t impossible if we pray and let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.
Dear Lord (Dear Lord),
Thank you for loving us (Thank you for loving us). Thank you for including so many people in your family (Thank you for including so many people in your family) and for inviting us to always include more (and for inviting us to always include more). You are so much bigger than we can imagine (You are so much bigger than we can imagine) and yet you love all your good creation (and yet you love all your good creation). Help us to love others as you love them (Help us to love others as you love them). And let all God’s children say…AMEN!
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Being a welcoming congregation is an act of good stewardship. Who needs a wider welcome in our congregation? Are we being good stewards of and friends to all God’s beloved people?
Stewardship at Home
Who is not part of your community, and who might not find a wide welcome there? Do you know any folks who fall into these “categories”? If not, how might you begin to learn more and cultivate meaningful relationships? You obviously don’t want to run out and find someone and co-opt them and violate their comfort zones and personhood. Here are a couple of ways to begin. Start with books and films. Want to learn more about the LBGTQ+ struggle? Consider watching one of these films:
For the Bible Tells Me So (documentary)
Want to learn more about systemic racism and the challenges of interracial marriage in the United States? Consider one of these films about the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia:
The Loving Story (documentary)
Loving (feature film)
Sign up to receive the Equal Justice Initiative’s daily History of Racial Injustice Calendar in your inbox.
Ready to take an even bigger step? Sign up for one of Be the Bridge’s courses (faith-based) Click here for more information.
2018 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2018/06/do-not-lose-heart/
2015 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/06/theres-no-place-like-home/
2012 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/06/one-big-hopeful-family/
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