A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; St. Mark 3:20-35
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us into one holy family. Amen.
“Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod.”
These are the opening words of the papal bull, Exsurge Domine (the Latin phrase that leads off the document) signed by Pope Leo X threatening to excommunicate Martin Luther in the year 1520. When Luther refused to recant, he was formally excommunicated a year later at the Diet of Worms. Excommunication, at the time, carried with it dire political consequences in addition to the spiritual; Luther became a fugitive, under constant threat of execution. And while the pope’s language was strong (later in the same bull, he called Luther a destructive hog threatening the Kingdom of God), the polemic would soon get worse. The German Reformers were called demons, and Father Martin himself was called the Anti-Christ. One sixteenth century Catholic painter depicted the former monk as having scaly, cloven hooves – as though this Saxon priest were the devil incarnate.
It’s the same accusation we see leveled against Christ today in our reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel. After a whirlwind opening to his ministry in which Christ began healing, casting out demons, calling disciples, and proclaiming repentance and the coming Kingdom of God, and after a brief-but-testy showdown with the Pharisees over healing on the Sabbath, Jesus is back home when the crowds pack in around him. The multitudes gather in not because they are eager to repent and follow this strange new teacher but because they want to see the weirdo who’s been saying such outlandish things. They’ve come to gawk like the crowed that gathers any time there’s chaos in the streets. “He’s gone out of his mind,” they say.
And then the Scribes, the religious leaders from Jerusalem who’ve come to investigate the commotion coming out of Nazareth, say that “He has Beezebul [fun side note: literally, “Lord of Flies”], and by the ruler of demons he cast out demons.”
Even Jesus’ own family members try to keep him quiet as the authorities turn their attention to this upstart zealot – perhaps for fear of what the Romans and their collaborators might do if they get wind of Christ’s ministry. You can almost picture his brother James elbowing him in the ribs and harshly muttering under his breath: “Shut up! Don’t you know that we’re a powder keg about to explode? Haven’t you seen the crosses on the side of the road? Do you know what’ they’ll do if the chief priest or the governor gets wind of what you’re saying?”
Doing the work of God is rarely popular. It requires that we speak truth to power, that we take positions that put us out of step with the dominant culture. In a world marked by the demonic powers of violence and greed, to speak words of peace and act sacrificially is to come into direct conflict with the rulers of this world.
But working for the Kingdom will always be met with staunch resistance as the powers of this world cling to their authority.
Consider how the prophets were mistreated, driven out of cities, and even murdered. When the kings of old did what was wicked in the Lord’s sight, those who spoke on God’s behalf faced mockery and scorn, violence and bloodshed. They were accused of treason.
Think of the example set by Bonhoeffer and members of the Confessing Church, refusing to bend the knee to Nazi ideology. When the Church in Germany incorporated anti-semitic, racist, heretical beliefs into their statements of faith, Bonhoeffer spoke out boldly. He was labeled an “enemy of the state,” driven out of Germany, and upon his return and continued work with the Resistance, was eventually martyred.
And in the American South, as Martin Luther King struggled to exorcize the demons called Jim Crow and Poverty, he was greeted with jeers from his fellow pastors who urged him to suffer quietly and maintain the status quo. In April, we marked the fiftieth year after this other great reformer named Martin Luther was martyred by an assassin’s bullet for doing the will of God.
Even today, as Francis, the Bishop of Rome, works to continue the reform of the Catholic Church, bishops and cardinals quietly – or not-so-quietly – fume. While Francis speaks of drawing the circle wide, of serving the “least of these,” of “lifting up the lowly,” others within the Church would rather turn back the clock to the days before Vatican II, holding on to their own power and prestige at the expense of the poor.
Sisters and brothers, the powers of this world will mock us, scorn us, beat us. Even our fellow Christians will tell us that we are sinners and heretics, that we are listening to Satan. We’ll hear it from family members and those we love. Those words hurt. They will continue to cut deep.
But the Spirit of God is upon us, sending us out to push back against the demonic powers of this world, to proclaim sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. As we follow Christ’s example, it will invariably bring us into conflict with the world, but we have been given the grace to endure.
How do we endure when the work of God is so costly? What consolation did the prophets, or Luther, Bonhoeffer, or King have? What consolation does Francis have? What consolation do we have?
Only this: that we are part of God’s family.
But that is more than enough.
A house divided against itself cannot stand, but we are united into a common household, a common family with God as our Heavenly Father, Christ as our brother, and the communion of saints as siblings. While the authorities of this world fight for earthly power and promote their own self-interest, we, the Church, are being united into one family through our shared faith, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the celebration of the Sacraments.
It is because we are family that Christ has gone before to prepare a place for us in a house with many rooms, a house built not by human hands. In the promise of this glorious Resurrection, we are free to lay down our lives for the sake of others now, to put aside the temporal pleasures of this life for the glory of life everlasting in the Kingdom. Any present afflictions are nothing compared to the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. It is because we are family that Christ has set a table where we are fed with grace upon grace, where we are given the strength to persevere through many dangers, toils, and snares.
In sure and certain hope of our place in the Kingdom, fed and nourished by the grace found in the Sacraments, let us go out and do God’s will. If we believe, then let us speak! More than that, let us act! Following the example of Francis, King, Bonhoeffer, Luther, and all the saints, but more than that, following the example of Christ our Incarnate Lord, let us feed the hungry, welcome the strangers in our land, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. Let us proclaim liberation to the oppressed. Let us drive out the oppressive and demonic powers of this world. Let us live into the new reality as brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, our Lord who has risen victorious over the grave.