Published on 11 Jun 2012
The Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 10, 2012
Dean Peter Elliott
Christ Church Cathedral
Click Here to listen to an audio MP3 of the sermon.
Of Queens and Kings, Brothers and Sisters.
You have to admire Queen Elizabeth II. Through all the pageantry and celebrations of last weekend she emerged an even more appealing leader, her reign spanning generations—for many of us, she is the only sovereign we have known. While the crowds cheered her in London, millions of people watched on their screens as she took her part with grace and dignity—at 86 years old she appeared to be full of energy, life and humour. Over and over again as the royal anthem was sung, the words “long to reign over us” seemed to describe both a hope and a state a fact—indeed, God Save the Queen.
I’m grateful to her for two very particular reasons today: first, it was because of her coronation in 1953 that our family purchased a television, and having grown up with TV I’m grateful that she provided the excuse. The second reason is that her diamond jubilee helps us approach the first text this morning from Samuel, because it’s all about monarchy.
Now we are not told exactly how old Samuel is in this story, but think about it this way: the gist of the story is that the elders come to him and say, “You’re old, and we’re ready for a change.” It would be like going to the Queen and saying, ‘Right—diamond jubilee—lovely– that’s enough now—we want a new leader.’ Samuel’s story begins with that kind of insult and behind this is a whole controversy within the Bible itself about the pros and cons of a monarch. The writer of this particular story—and it can be understood as a prequel—it sets up the anointing of King Saul and of course after him the great King David and Solomon—but this writer isn’t a great fan of kings. In fact, this text puts Samuel in a pretty good light and the elders looking not so good. Because they say to him “You are old….appoint for us a king to govern us, like other nations…”
And there’s the rub—they want to be like the other nations. They are no longer satisfied with being led by a prophet and a judge, a holy man: they want someone who can lead them into battle, someone who will fight for them, someone who will keep their enemies at bay. Old Samuel wasn’t their guy: and that choice with which Samuel reluctantly agreed, set in motion a series of events that would lead to a particularly bloody period of their history—we’ll hear more about that in the first reading through the coming Sundays. There’s battles and there are wars: everyone claiming that the other started it, and the memories of who did what to whom live long and violence erupts over and over again trying to settle a score: ancient Israel ends up exiled out of their land and a psalmist, reflecting on the period famously wrote “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered you O Jerusalem…”
The story of ancient Israel is, sadly, not unique—it is the story of human life, the archetypal story of how it is through the pursuit of our own self centered interests we easily can get caught up in the cycles of violence and blame that fuel the conflicts that carry on to this very day. Who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, who was here first, who gets the land…doesn’t sound like ancient history does it? Sounds like life.
It was into this life, and as a part of this people that Jesus came, and this morning we pick up our reading through the Gospel according to St. Mark in the 3rd chapter, just a little way into the gospel, and already, Jesus is misunderstood. Not only misunderstood but him family seeks to restrain him saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” What’s he done? Well he’s kept company with publicans and sinners, refused to have his disciples fast as John the Baptizer’s disciples did, violated Sabbath laws,and healed on the Sabbath day. Out of his mind, clearly: challenging the norms and expectations of his time, putting more stock in his call to be a healer and teacher than to obey the religious laws of his time. The family’s diagnosis is that Jesus is demon possessed: but Jesus does not agree, and speaks to them, Mark’s gospel tells us, in a parable, saying, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” If we dig into those words we find, I think, a key that unlocks not just this passage but also the entire gospel. Let me lead you through this in just 4 steps:
- The question “How can Satan cast out Satan” is a parable, a riddle, not just a straightforward rhetorical question. As a parable or riddle, it invites us to turn it around in our minds for a few moments.
- As we turn this odd phrase around we notice that the verb in it is ‘cast out’—so it has to do with the idea that someone or something gets excluded or cast out.
- Behind this is an ancient mechanism called scapegoating, where someone is identified to take the blame for the collective violence of the whole. The origins of this are evolutionary, coming from the Darwinian world of competition for mates or food or territory. Unable to resolve these competitive drives peacefully, early human society identified one, excluded them, scapegoated and killed them to bring peace and cohesiveness to the whole group.
- The truth that Jesus means us to see, then, is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The human way of trying to keep a house together will never ultimately work because it always relies on expelling someone, or being over against someone. Jesus comes proclaiming the kingdom, the household, of God. Jesus will let himself be cast out build God’s household on forgiveness.
No wonder they thought he was insane. His whole way of being was in opposition to the deep human instinct to exclude and expel: the good news Jesus brought in his teaching and ultimately through his dying and rising is that there is another way. There is another way to be human. There is a new life to live that is not bound by the old dynamics of expelling and excluding and scapegoating. There is a way to stop the cycle of violence. And, of course, because words were not enough, Jesus walked into this whole system of scapegoating, he became himself the sacrifice through his death on the cross, and, then, remarkably—unbelievably–miraculously in rising from the dead returned to his friends without a word of revenge—he broke the cycle of violence, inviting his followers into a new way of life, a way of forgiveness and reconciliation, a way of peace and justice, a resurrection of humanity freed from the old patterns of blame and exclusion.
And that is the gospel, the good news. Something has been changed, we believe, because of the life, teaching death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Something has shifted in the universe and it’s ever open to you and me to be part of it all. You don’t need to live bound by the old patterns of being over against others, of blaming and scapegoating: you can already now live in the household of forgiveness and new life. But you can’t do it alone and the road there is one of spiritual growth.
Over and over again, as a pastor I hear the stories of people’s lives, I am aware of how often I am invited into joining in with another in blaming someone else for their lot in life. Over and over again I hear stories of the deep hurt of being excluded or cast out from a family or a community, and I realize how close these old patterns reside in us. I often hear the chorus from West Side Story with the Sharks and the Jets each singing the words, “They began it…they began it…” “It was her fault, it was his responsibility, it was them that did it…” over and over again this pattern plays itself out, and in the words of the old Anglican Prayer Book, ‘there is no health in us.’ Alone, it’s hopeless, but there is a way out of it—and that’s what baptism is all about. Think about it—in baptism we die to our old selves and are raised to new life. We drown the old self and are given new life. It’s what the Eucharist is about—we remember again, each time we meet—how Jesus gave up his life and was given new life, returning as the forgiving victim opening up to us a new way of being—and we receive him into our very bodies through the sacrament of bread and wine so that we might be empowered to become just like him and take our part in ending the cycle of violence.
This all brings you into a new community, a new way of understanding yourself and others. Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, looks around and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God are my brother and sister and mother.” It’s a new community that he’s seeing: one not defined by bloodlines nor religious heritage, nor nationality nor gender—but one that is created by living into the household of forgiveness, the kingdom of God. It’s about nothing less than the salvation of the world, saving it from the endless cycles of destruction and hate—and you have a part to play, your life can be caught up in Jesus life and his energy and his spirit and his love will so embrace and change you that you become part of this transforming energy in the world.
There’s an old Jewish story about an ancient Rabbi who asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and day was on its way back. “Could it be” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or dog?” “No” answered the Rabbi. “Could it be” asked another, “when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No” said the Rabbi. “Well then, what is it?” His pupils demanded. “It is when you look on the face of any woman or man and see that she or he is your sister and brother. Because if you cannot do this, then, no matter what time it is, it is still night.”
May Christ, the dayspring shine on our lives and in our hearts that we may see in each others faces the image of the one who gave his life for us and rose again, opening to us the way of forgiveness, freedom and peace. Amen.
 1 SAMUEL 8:4-11 (12-15), 16-20 (11:14-15)
 Psalm 137
 Mark 2:18—22
 Mark 2:23—28
 Mark 3:1—6
 Important to note that the best translation of Satan is “The Accuser”—so “Satan casting out Satan” could be understood as “The Accuser casting out The Accuser”—therefore the cycle of blame, scapegoating, and violence. See more here http://girardianlectionary.net/year_b/proper_5b.htm
Paragraph 4 and the summary can be found here http://girardianlectionary.net/year_b/proper_5b.htm I am grateful to Paul Nuechterlein Kalamazoo, MI who has developed the extensive resources here.
 Old Jewish Story—source unknown in Celebrating One World: A Worship Resource Book on Social Justice, ed. Linda Jones, Annabel Shilson-Thomas and Bernadette Farrell (London: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 137.
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