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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Good News of A Ridiculous Way - 06/10/2018

Have you ever thought about how strange Synod Assembly is?

I mean think about it compared to other annual meetings in our secular lives you might have attended or even seen depicted on TV. Meetings that take place in board rooms among high-powered donors and officers each year, and even among handfuls of passionate founders of grassroots organizations who gather around someone’s kitchen table or in a church somewhere.

It can be very business-oriented, task-focused. The financials are typically a big focus. “Do we have enough money,” “spend enough money,” “how do we get more,” “how do we spend less?” There can be a lot of political jockeying around these tables; motions made to protect the assets and resources of the organization. A lot of attention is given to nominations for specially elected roles that can give one influence and agency within the organization.

All these things happen Synod Assembly too, but not quite in the same way. The framework is different. The very first thing we do, once we register and pick up our nifty tote bags of info and goodies, is we worship together. And it is a glorious worship lifting up the many voices of ELCA in the U.P. and some of northern Wisconsin.

In starting our synod-wide business meeting of the year by worshiping God together …  we are reminded of who calls us there and urged us to invite the Holy Spirit into all we do and say in the course of our days together as a synod assembly.

And then – after the worship service – everyone leaves. Some of us go home and get to bed so we can get up early and start again in the morning. Many more gather in restaurants and homes with friends they haven't seen in a long time or only get to see at synod gatherings.

From that point on, most of our time at assembly is spent praying and singing, hearing reports on our ministries together … information about new ways and resources for being church in this synod.

We attend workshops and presentations that sometimes point out where we fall short as church, but also gracefully remind us that we are a forgiven people and inspire us to be those mothers and brothers and sisters and fathers who are kin to Jesus because we do our best to submit our God-given lives to God’s will.

It isn’t until the last day of the meeting that we talk money and pass a budget together. And when it’s done, we worship again before we part.

That’s really not most of those other meetings that happen each year in our secular lives. And compared to how annual meetings work for the most part in the rest of this world, people from outside of the church – whether they be seekers, nonbelievers, cynics, those the church has wounded, or those who just want to stay out all Saturday night and sleep in on Sunday morning – they might think we were a little off for conducting our annual business in this way … it might seem like we were out of mind, or a least, very poorly schooled in the tasks of electing and shifting power and adopting budgets and resolutions.

It is a very different way of conducting business – Maybe some might say a ridiculous way …

As is this way of conducting our lives as God's people that Jesus is bringing to the people of Galilee and beyond.

Let's just take a minute to review what has happened thus far in the Gospel of Mark so we can better wrap our heads around how we got here … to this point in the story today where the scribes are spreading fake news about Jesus and even his family seems to have turned against him saying that he was “out of his mind.” (3:22)

We started this story with John the Baptist – who already had a reputation for being a rather ridiculous wilderness preacher who talks a lot about baptism, wears really itchy camel hair underwear and eats locusts. He is proclaiming the coming of the Messiah out in that wilderness – “Prepare the Way!” he says between fingers full of wild honey.

Then he baptizes Jesus and God proclaims: This is him! The one John was talking about. “I am so pleased so say, this is my son, the Beloved.”

It's a ridiculous idea, isn't it? God come to walk among us and experience this place as a human being.

Immediately, Jesus is driven out into the wilderness and tempted by Satan – the adversary – for 40 days without shelter or food or water. That sounds pretty ridiculous too.

When he comes back victorious from that experience he starts his ministry. He calls disciples – and they are ridiculous choices, by the standards of many. They are not powerful or rich. They are not schooled, some of them are probably not even charming. But that's who Jesus calls.

And then Jesus casts out a demon and the news of his seemingly-ridiculous activity begins to spread throughout Galilee. He heals many people as more and more seek him out. He preaches, cleanses a leper.

He heals some more and the scribes from Jerusalem show up.

He calls Levi the tax collector as a disciple and the Pharisees show up.

They don't confront Jesus directly at first, but you can hear their influence when the people start to question Jesus about why he does some things so differently from the Pharisees and even John's disciples – like fasting practices.

When we get to the reading we had last week, the disciples are eating grain from a field as they pass through it one Sabbath day – that is a ridiculous idea too. It would be like one of us gleaning our way through the produce section at Bob's and calling it dinner. It's just not the ways it's done.

The Pharisees cannot hold back anymore and they question Jesus' knowledge of Sabbath law. Jesus answers their questions with questions that turn the tables on them and they don't particularly like that. So when Jesus heals the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath, they begin to conspire with the state against Jesus.

After that happens and just before we get to the point where we are today in the story, Jesus begins to draw people from much farther than just Galilee. And so to cover all these growing ministry needs, he appoints twelve disciples as an inner circle to proclaim the message and cast out demons too.

And then Jesus goes home with these huge crowds following him, even making it impossible for him and the disciples to eat. The Scribes see the crowds and attention Jesus is drawing and start spreading fake news. “He has Beelzebul and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons,” they say. (3.22)

It’s a silly and shallow idea and Jesus undoes their logic quickly.

But the scribes are already getting desperate and taking desperate measure because they cannot afford for the people to believe and start behaving as though the ridiculous things Jesus is doing and teaching are true and are of God.

They want people to keep the way they have prescribed, the way of the Jerusalem-centered, Jerusalem-powered Jewish life is far superior. It is much safer and more efficient to keep things just as they are – a religious community in which those in power in Jerusalem tell the people what to sacrifice and when, what taxes and fees to pay and to whom. They can rest assured that the high priests in a distant city on a hill will say prayers for these people and make sure they are right in the eyes of God's law.

“And, hey” we can imagine the scribes and Pharisees telling the people, “no worries about faith formation or being a part of the wider expression of the religion of the Israelites – you can all do that on your own. Just celebrate Shabbat each week and keep the Sabbath in your homes. It's all good. ”

The truth is, it wasn't. Many of the Jewish people in regions like Galilee had stopped practicing what you could call the day-to-day pillars of the faithful Jewish – daily prayer, tithing, care of the poor, restoration of creation, Sabbath rest for themselves and the rest of the planet.

In an admittedly simplified summary – religion and life as a religious or spiritual people, had been reduced to paying annual dues, making sure those at the top knew that minimum requirements for membership were met each year.

And Jesus says, “Now that is ridiculous!”

It is why Jesus has come to this world with God’s Ridiculous Way – and we find that it is ridiculous only in that it is so different and so powerful that it can quickly upset people like the scribes and the Pharisees who find they are desperate to maintain control as Jesus’ teachings and ministry bring their motives and deeds into the light.

This, my friends, is the Good News we subscribe to as people of God and followers of Jesus. It is a Ridiculous Way that may be scoffed at by those who see how we conduct our business affairs Holy-Spirit forward, not stock0market, consumer-opinion or world-power forward. It is a Ridiculous Way, disparaged by those who count on our fear and doubt and worries of scarcity in order to keep their power and privilege in this world.

It’s a Ridiculous Way – a way opened by a God who loves us so much, that God was willing to do the most ridiculous things to make sure that we are not salves to our sin, or at the mercy of the Adversary’s evil ways.

It is the wonderfully Ridiculous Way of a God who gathers us around font and table to remember who calls us here and that we live our lives Holy-Spirit forward – that no matter the hierarchy and business practices out there, in here we are equal … that no matter the dismissive remarks, cat calls or fake news regarding our belief in a ridiculously wonderful God, we are strong and resilient together, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand as the ridiculous evidence that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (1:15) Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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