What do you choose?

The Rev. Bradford A. Rundlett

1st Samuel 8:4-11; 16-20
Psalm 138
2nd Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

If you’ve ever walked into the middle of a conversation, without any direct connection to the people or circumstances in that conversation, you know it takes a while to understand what you’ve walked into and to become a contributing participant.

We do that here every week.

We listen to some part of a story in a long succession of stories that began more than 3500 years ago. We hear them not in their original language, context, or time, but through our current view of this world and life. That can feel so awkward and (all things considered) be as dissonant as worms and ribbons that we often fail to appreciate our sacred texts in any way that is remotely authentic. We run into gaps and rifts that just don’t make sense; go figure! In the reading and hearing of Biblical passages we walk into a conversation that began long before we arrived, in a foreign land, by people significantly unlike us, with a radically different world view; with the inordinate assumption that words have univocal meaning for all people, times, and places.

That doesn’t work.

Good research and study can make a big difference. Consider the passages we’ve heard this morning.

Samuel was a prophet and priest when a selection of judges governed Israel. That was very unusual. The Hebrew people were surrounded by neighbors who were governed by kings. They had strong armies, lots of weapons, walled fortresses, and stores of food and water. The Jewish people felt vulnerable and threatened because they did not have a strong king. So they pleaded for a strong monarch who would protect them.

Some of the more zealous religious leaders viewed this as a rejection of the sovereignty of God. “If we are faithful” they swore, “The Almighty will protect and care for us.”

That ideological conflict is the central issue of our first reading this morning, and that collision of beliefs is still a very potent source of conflict al around the world.

Does that bit of contextual information help us understand the passage?

Consider our second reading. The Christian community in Corinth was likely the first ecclesia, the first Christian community that Paul started. Within twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus there was a full-fledged Church with all the questions and discord a Church can have. In the Epistles we have a record of the issues this completely unprecedented “Good News” raised for that first generation of converts. The passage we just heard represents the struggle to understand the implications of the resurrection. Jesus was dead; then he was alive again. He prepared and ate a meal with his disciples, he walked right through locked doors to bestow his Spirit upon them, Thomas confirmed he was not a ghost; he was real flesh and blood. He ascended to heaven, sat on a throne next to God, and he glowed, in fact still glows, with holiness.

That’s wonderful for Jesus, but what if anything does that mean for the rest of us? Will we die as humans always have? Or will we be taken up as he was when he ascended? If we die will God make us alive again as God did for Ezekiel and the dry bones? Will we be like Jesus, gloriously iridescent as he was on the Mount of Transfiguration? Will we be transfigured? Will we live in resplendent, eternal glory?

What do you think?

And then there’s the Gospel. According to Mark Jesus spoke the truth and that seriously upset the religious and political leaders of that time. His family feared for his life. You can ignore the ranting and raving of a crazy person because almost everyone does. But you can’t ignore a prophet who tells the truth and insists that we must topple the structures of power “that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.”

His popularity with the people became a very serious problem for the Jewish leaders; Rome would not tolerate this. A lot of people would die at the sharp end of a legionnaire’s spear. If the leaders could discredit Jesus that would prevent the slaughter of thousands of innocent Jews. Crazy and prophetic sound much the same. For the good of all, Jesus had to be stopped. However, faithful to his mission, Jesus cut right through their false claims and bogus declarations because there was a lot more at stake than their sense of security, wealth, or power.

These passages present some of the most serious concerns for the authors of the Jewish and Christian Scripture. When Moses got the Hebrew refugees out of Egypt he said “I set before you this day life and death; choose wisely.” That has been a major theme from the very beginning. Life or death; in the Kingdom of God, or not, it’s our choice; be careful.

Live the way Christ showed us how to live, or do it the way you’ve always done and see where that gets you. There’s more at stake here than may first appear.

So, who or what is most important in your life? Is your love and faith evident in your priorities and choices? How do you want to live and how do you want to be remembered? Jesus said there are only two great commandments – love God, and love your neighbors, all of them – actively, not passively.

On a scale of one to ten (one being not well at all and ten being very well), how do you think the people who know you best would rate you?

The passages we have today require us to examine our beliefs and values, and it’s not an easy thing to do. Our forebears in faith would insist that a thorough and honest self-examination is necessary. One way will ultimately consume us. The other way will fill us with a lively new spirit.

So what’s more important, more fulfilling – short term wealth and power, or a long term, really long term, joy that is greater than anything we have ever known?

Christ died for us so we can live. That choice has been made. We are now free to live generously, and without fear; to live the “abundant life” as Jesus called it, or settle for much less. We are free to live the way God wants us to live, loving God and our neighbors.

Do we accept or decline?

The changes that have just begun here in this magnificent Christian community St. Timothy’s won’t be painless or over and done quickly. We may reject them out of fear, or embraced them in faith. I don’ know what’s ahead for me or for you, but I believe there are wonderful surprises, blessings beyond comprehension, grace in great abundance, joys that will cause all of us to shine!