Thank you for inviting me back to your wonderful church today, this third Sunday after Pentecost. Other than knowing I’m from Skaneateles, most of you don’t know much about me. I’m going to tell you just a little about my own background only because it’s relevant to the scripture readings today. I’ve been in the product development business for almost 60 years. My job is to help big companies reinvent their products and businesses. That means change. Now, everyone says they want to change —but, I bear witness — not so much. I am covered with scars inflicted by corporate department heads who despite what they say about change, are much more comfortable with how things have always been done. They do not want change. And with good reason. Change is very threatening. After all, even though things may be grim in the company, “I still have my job. And I got here by doing things a certain way.” Who can blame them? Change is always more threatening than keeping on keeping on. People want to do things the way things have always been done, the way everybody else does. Some call that “best practices.” Or, you can call it idolatry. And that brings us to today’s readings.
Today’s readings are about our resistance to change. The promised Kingdom of heaven was right in front of the Israelites — as it is right in front of us. But, it meant change. And our human nature fights change tooth and claw.
Here’s the heart of the problem. God is different. God does not think like humans or act like humans. We struggle with that. For example, God’s equity is different from our idea of justice. We work very hard to make God over into something familiar, comfortable, understandable by us. We want to make God into something like us. We stuff God into the small sack of human understanding. We even judge God as if He were a human. But No Go. It’s the other way ‘round. God’s plan is to change us, fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Why should we change? Jesus looked like us—100%. But he didn’t act or think like us—100%. Jesus was 100% human and 100% God. Yes, 200%. That’s a tough idea. But, so is the Trinity. 300%. We cannot figure it out. Our minds and imaginations are too small. The Good News of the Gospel is that God wants to change us. But, He doesn’t plan to become more like us: God plans for us to become more like Him. To be changed into sons and daughters who call God, Dad, Poppa, Abba. And that’s the underlying reason we are all here today.
Samuel and his sons were the last Judges of Israel. Ever since getting out of Egypt and into the promised land, Israel had been led by prophets who spoke for God and judged, or governed in the name of God. Now Samuel was a great prophet and Judge, but his two sons who succeeded him were just ordinary people. Like some of our modern politicians, they were guilty of one corrupt act or another. The tribal elders went to old retired Samuel, not just to complain, but to ask for a change in government. “Give us a King— we want to be under human leadership like the other nations. We’ve had enough of God’s so-called leadership. We want to be like everybody else.”
God explained to a saddened Samuel, They have not rejected you, they have rejected me. They are now doing to you just what they have done to me since I brought them up from Egypt: they have forsaken me and worshipped other gods. Hear what they have to say now, but give them a solemn warning and tell them what sort of king will rule them. Samuel explained to the people that getting rid of God’s leadership and substituting human leadership is a big, big mistake. God is willing to let you do it, but you will pay a predictable price. And Samuel tells them the price tag before they choose:
A king - human leadership - will draft you, tax you, put you under the yoke of his service and abuse you. He will govern by human rules. The people said, “We don’t care, we want to be like everybody else.” God grants them their free will choice to be stupid. God tells Samuel, Take them at their word and appoint them a king. Sure enough. They got Tall Saul for their first King. King Saul drafted them, taxed them, put them under the yoke of his service and abused them. Human nature.
We don’t listen. Even back then, we humans demanded the Creator of the Universe act the way we think he should, the way any ordinary decent person would. Or else! Or else we won’t believe in him. And, of course, we pay a heavy price for our presumption.
Here’s the good news! God gets it done despite our worst efforts. God lets us veer off the road in full flagrant exercise of our independent and willful free will. But He corrects for our failures. About 30 years of King Saul’s leadership, God directs Samuel to anoint a little boy of God’s choice to ultimately replace Saul; Samuel anoints King David. Later, even David wanted to build God a house, to be like the other nations who built houses for their gods. God taught us by refusing to let David build Him an earthly house. That lesson? As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians, We know that if this earthly frame that houses us today is demolished, we possess a building which God has provided—a house not made by human hands, eternal and in heaven. God doesn’t need our roof over His head.
Today marks the third week after Pentecost. On that first Pentecost shortly after Jesus was raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit made a visible flaming and auditory change to the believers. Those poor uneducated upstate fishermen suddenly broke into a dozen different foreign languages, all praising God. The crowd was stunned. “They’re drunk!” (This is upstate!) “No,” Peter told the skeptical crowd, “No, it’s 9:00 in the morning. These people are not drunk. This is the promised Holy Spirit. You too will receive this gift. This is what has been promised to you and to your children and to everyone whom the Lord our God may call." Many in this crowd of sophisticated world-travelers, Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover believed, and three thousand became Christians that day. Things began to change.
This change threatened senior management. The Scribes, the Pharisees, the Priests, these were Israel’s senior management. They were working for the Roman Empire which swallowed up the country in a hostile takeover. The Roman occupiers of Judea let the local religious authorities keep their positions because it was convenient. The religious authorities usually were able to control and manage the unruly Israeli population. But these Jesus people were a terrible threat. Change was in the air.
This background prepares our minds to understand today’s Gospel. God sees things differently than we do. Scripture tells us over and over, God’s ways are not your ways. God’s Justice and Equity are different from ours. God wants to change us, to complete us. To make us his own.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus’ own Nazareth family says he is out of his mind. Those who should know him best, his own family, they think he has gone mad. Instead of behaving decently and in order, like his brothers, there he is, teaching, healing, driving out demons in a house so packed with crowds he and the disciples have no chance to even eat. His family hears about this and sets out to “take charge of him.” They said, “He is out of his mind.”
At the same time, religious authorities came down from Jerusalem to see what this messiah thing was all about. They hadn’t authorized a messiah. Jesus was bringing about unsanctioned change. These Scribes, too, accused Jesus of not being in his right mind. “He is possessed by the Devil!” they claimed. Their argument? “Yes, he is driving out demons, but he is doing it by the power and authority of the prince of demons.” Ingenious! Anything to deny, to stop change!
Jesus, no madman, calls the religious leaders to him, and speaks to them gently, but challenges their logic, “How can Satan drive out Satan? On the other hand, no one can break into Satan’s house and make off with his goods unless he has first tied Satan up; then he can ransack Satan’s house.” It takes someone very strong to do that.
His mother and brothers show up. They are here to rescue their crazed sibling. Instead of going in themselves — and seeing the miracles happening for themselves— they stay outside and send in a message asking Jesus to abandon what he is doing and come outside to them. In the middle of the crowd, word comes that Jesus’ mother and brothers are outside asking for him. Looking at the crowd of believers pressing in on him, Jesus announces something new in Israel: “Who are my mother and brothers? You, here, you who are listening, changing your hearts, believing. You are my family. You are my mother and brothers. ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
But think about it. Why shouldn’t we be like everyone else? What’s wrong with holding on to time-tested traditions, like everyone else? If it worked in the past, why should we try something new? We say we want change —but, not really. As Paul teaches later in 2 Corinthians, We groan indeed, we who are enclosed within this earthly frame; we are oppressed because we do not want to have the old body stripped off. What we want is to be covered by the new body put on over it, so that our mortality may be absorbed into life immortal. Just as ordinary people managing ordinary companies want change, but only on the surface where it doesn’t hurt, we too want to put on the Kingdom of God like something on the outside, like a new suit of clothes. We don’t want to go through the risky business of allowing change inside, in our heart. But, Jesus teaches us. It doesn’t work that way.
Here’s the good news. It is for this destiny that God himself has been shaping us; and as a pledge of it he has given us the Spirit. Pentecost is not a one-day holiday. Pentecost is happening today. You’ve got the Spirit’s fire lit inside you. So, as a product development guy, a change guy, let me urge you to take a little risk, fan the flame. Be a little out of your mind. Here are some practical ways to begin:
Forgive someone that long, long-standing grudge you’re still holding. Forgive them.
Realize you have been forgiven for that terrible, terrible thing you did years ago. You’ve been forgiven.
It’s not your fault. It’s not their fault. We’ve all been forgiven.
Our work is to let the awareness of our forgiving and our forgiveness seep and flow and permeate from inside out. Like the river of healing water that begins under the altar of the Temple. This river of living water flows out of Jerusalem and through all the nations of the world and finally into the sea, turning salt water fresh and giving life wherever it flows. This river is also flowing within us. Changing us. Fitting us for the Kingdom of Heaven, which is right here, it’s at hand, The Kingdom starts now.
But remember this one caution. Jesus warned the Scribes, who not only said Jesus was out of his mind, but that he was possessed by the Devil: ‘Truly I tell you: every sin and every slander can be forgiven; but whoever slanders the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ So, be careful to give others the benefit of assuming they are under the influence of God’s Good Spirit and not other spirits when they irrationally forgive, when they trustingly hope and patiently endure with a smile. And, give yourself this as well. Give yourself the blessing of accepting that this is God’s Holy Spirit at work in you. You are no more out of your mind than is Jesus.