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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Dear Mary and Alice - 06/06/2021

Dear Mary and Alice, our newest sisters in Christ,

(This weekend, we joyfully celebrate the baptisms of Mary Goetz and Alice Plaxton.)

The occasion of your baptisms is especially joyous for our community, this early June weekend of 2021.

It has been far too long since we’ve been able to gather as a community of Jesus-followers around the sacrament of baptism. We are so thankful and abundantly blessed in the act of welcoming the two of you—and all the wonderful ways in which God has made you—into Christian Community.

Your baptisms today are tangible signs of hope that we are indeed coming out from under that which plagues us in these times. As we go to that font with you today and ask the Holy Spirit to dwell within you and fill you with praise for God and love for your neighbor, a sense of justice and a heart of mercy for the most vulnerable among us, we sense that we ask that same Spirit to break freely and boldly into the whole of this place. We sense that through these mysterious and life-giving waters there is healing, reparation, forgiveness, unity and rebirth for all of God’s Beloved Creation.

This is a joyous day, indeed!

Another particularity about the day on which you are adopted into the Christian Way and claimed by Christ forever is the Gospel reading appointed for the day. A lot of us might say, you got a doozy. Mark 3:20-35. Fifteen verses packed with teachings likely to cause us to respond, “Wait, what did he say?”

In this snippet of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, it seems that Jesus rejects his family and introduces this idea of eternal sin. Wait, what did he say?

So here’s a little bible study method for you—when Jesus says something that seems out of character (like threatening the scribes with eternal sin) or contradicts what he teaches us in other places (like “honor your mother and father” and [Mt 19.19]; “Do not think I have come to abolish the law …” [Mt 5.17])—when this type of thing happens in scripture it’s often a signal to put on the brakes, back up and take a closer look at what is going on. It’s one of Jesus’ most skillful teaching methods.

“Wait, what did he say?” The question invites us to investigate and in doing so, grow in our understanding of what it is to be Jesus’ disciples right now. We take the Jesus Way into ourselves more deeply.

Today’s reading itself asks us to notice and imagine in our mind’s eye what is going on here right off the bat. “[Jesus went home;] and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat.” (Mark 2:20)

The crowds that followed Jesus were getting enormous. When Jesus was at the seaside just days before, teaching and healing, the crowds nearly crushed them several times. It was overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating and terrifying. Jesus and his disciples needed food and rest and some time unplugged. But even at home they couldn’t get this. The crowds still followed, desperate for healing, for the Word of life Jesus offered. Everyone was talking about him.

This whole scene begins with Jesus and the disciples being tired, overstimulated and hangry. Remember, Jesus is fully divine and fully human. He gets to experience hangry too. That changes how we see Jesus in this story, how we interpret the way he reacts to his family and even the scribes.

There is a hidden Jesus lesson here for us, Alice and Mary, and all with ears to hear. Jesus knows we have these kinds of moments—that we get hangry, that we melt down on occasion, that we sometimes fail. But these things do not define us.

What we are here to remember today, is that you, Mary and Alice, that we are defined by the presence of the Risen Christ in these waters and at this table.

So, what might we say about Jesus’ treatment of his family if we stop and look a little more closely? When they heard Jesus had come home, they also heard people saying he was out of his mind. Just as many of us might do when we learn a family member is in trouble, perhaps even self-inflicted trouble, Jesus’ family went out to protect him.

The family is also aware of the power Jesus has. Mary, his mother, has recognized the power of God in him since the moment she knew she was pregnant. She knows he is no ordinary child.

Still, she loved him like ordinary mother—fiercely. And she and the others knew the attention this kind of power would draw, and when they get to Jesus, they see this attention has already arrived.

The scribes, powerful religious leaders who have come down from Jerusalem, are already there. They have come to check Jesus out—all these miraculous healings, his captivating interpretation of law and prophets. His family already knew, this is the kind of attention that leads to death on a Roman cross.

Both the family and the scribes were in awe of Jesus’ power and terrified of it.

This kind of thing can happen to us too, Mary and Alice. God has gifted you in a variety of ways with the Divine vision that these gifts will be the way God works through you for the benefit of others—for the benefit of Creation. Sometimes sharing those gifts and passions can feel as scary as they do right—those who love us may instinctively want to protect us from the attention God’s power can draw. Sometimes we might try to hold God’s power back in ourselves or others.

Our fully human Lord Jesus knows this and, again, says to us—this doubt, this hesitancy to let God’s power work in and through us does not define us.

What we are here to remember today, is that you, Alice and Mary, that we are defined by the presence of the Risen Christ in these waters and at this table.

And finally, what about this idea of eternal sin? “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

What do we do with this “Wait, what did he say?” statement –and especially on the occasion of Holy baptism? —where we confidently proclaim, “By the baptism of Jesus’ death and the resurrection you set us free from the power of sin and death and raise us up to live in you.”

You might think these two ideas do not go together. And you’d be right. This is a specific warning to specific people—the scribes, who also recognize Jesus’ power and see it as a threat to their own. This is not the first encounter with priests from Jerusalem.

Scribes were present when Jesus healed a paralyzed man dropped through the roof to get to Jesus. They saw Jesus heal him and heard him say his sins were forgiven. “(The formerly paralyzed man) stood up, and immediately … went out … so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” (Mark 2.12)

Other priests had already questioned Jesus about his disciple’s poor fasting habits. They saw Jesus heal a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath. They recognized the power of God in Jesus and “immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” (Mark 3.6)

When Jesus says this in our reading today, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,” he is speaking specifically to those who see and recognize the power of God, God’s Holy Spirit active in the world, and then call it evil and say it’s the work of Beelzebub. It is a strong warning.

But not to worry, Alice and Mary – or any Beloved people of God. Because today, through ritual, Word and the simple, life-giving element of water; in our celebration of God’s Holy Spirit living in and through you, we promise to nurture you in Christian Community. It is our promise to show you how to recognize God’s power in faithful people, Holy Communion, prayers, God’s law, the scriptures, even in your own faith and those who will someday be your descendants. It is our promise to teach you to recognize that power and to name it holy and good.

Because of the Christian Community God has given us, you are not defined by the blindness and fear of those threatened by Jesus’ power—by the power of God.

What we are here to remember today, is that you, Mary and Alice, that we are defined by the presence of the Risen Christ in these waters and at this table.

Love, Your Siblings in Christ at Eden Lutheran Church, Munising, MI.

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 ~

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