Embracing What’s Not Normal

The Rev. Robert P. Travis 2nd Pentecost Sunday Sermon  – 5pm, 8 (Zoom) and 10am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI – Revised Common Lectionary Proper 5 Year B 6/6/2021

Scripture Text: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, Psalm 138, Mark 3:20-35

Sermon Text:

There was a lot of talk last year at this time,

at that point just two months into the pandemic,

when we had no idea how long the restrictions

were going to last,

Of one biggest questions was,

“When will we get back to Normal?”

That was the big question, but it spoke to a deeper yearning,

In our society, that connects us to ancient Israel in the prophet Samuel’s time,

maybe to most other cultures in the world even.

That question is “Can we be normal?”

 

And this week we are also invited to ask with Jesus,

“Who are my mother, and my brothers and sisters?”

That question also has something to do with what was considered normal.

 

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is positively mobbed

By a curious crowd, who had just witnessed him

Heal many people,

And cast out demons, and those demons

“declared that he was the son of God,”

Showing authority that made everyone amazed.

And he had appointed his 12 apostles,

Giving them authority to cast out demons as well.

As if that wasn’t abnormal enough,

he showed tremendous boldness,

breaking the religious law,

in the presence of the religious leaders,

by healing a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

Which made the religious authorities begin to plot to kill him.

 

The implications of these healings are staggering,

And while his family knew he was on a mission,

They surely were afraid that he had gone too far,

And that he was just going to get himself killed.

He certainly wasn’t acting normal, maybe not even for him.

Was his family saying that he was out of his mind?

Or were they just hearing that from others in the crowd,

And getting worried for him?

 

It’s hard to say from this passage, but it’s clear

That Mary’s protective instinct as a mother,

Was active and she was trying to get her son out of trouble,

Going with his brothers to restrain him.

It’s possible that his mother and brothers were saying to themselves, why can’t he be normal?

 

But rather than heed his mother, or give concern for

Her worries about him. Rather than heed the authorities desire that he fall in line with the norms of their community, Jesus’ concern remains full of compassion for those who need

his ministry.

And he makes the radical statement,

That those around him are as significant to him,

As his own mother and brothers.

For a faithful Jewish man of his time,

And probably for most people today,

This was a big break from the norms of society.

And then he extends the break even more,

By saying that those who do the will of God,

Are his brothers and his sisters and mother.

If what he was doing before had them concerned

For Jesus’ sanity,

That statement may have made them certain he was crazy.

 

What he did though, was set a precedence

For compassion and love,

Which extends our care from those

To whom we are biologically close,

To care for those who need our care most.

And since then, the Christian family has been challenged

to show care,

To pay attention,

To those who need it most,

Rather than watching out just for our immediate families.

 

But it’s thousands of years since then,

And while we’ve had a lot of practice,

I think that most Christians, myself included,

tend to put their families first, before their neighbors in need.

 

That’s why one of the things that most of us were unable to accept during the pandemic,

was the limitations on our being close to our families

even if they didn’t live in our homes.

Remember how the state put us into a Pause between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because they knew we couldn’t keep from having a feast with our extended families who don’t live in our homes,

and we saw a spike in infections after that holiday?

 

Imagine if we were as willing to put our lives at risk,

to eat with those we don’t even know.

That would seem abnormal, even dangerous.

 

Jesus established that new normal of family by saying,

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother,

and my sister and mother.”

And what is the will of God?

“Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, mind and soul,

And love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus made the point,

To his mother, and the rest of his family,

That he was willing to risk his life,

For the sake of those gathered around him,

Which is a crazy kind of love.

 

And did Mary and Jesus’ family reject him at that point?

I bet they got upset, but they went from trying to restrain him,

To following him all the way to the cross and beyond.

Jesus was not simply giving lip service to this crazy, abnormal kind of love.

He willingly walked in the way of love,

Even to his death on the cross.

And by doing so, he set an example for all of us to follow.

 

Jesus calls us to reject society’s notion of “Normal,”

For the sake of love.

But people have been striving to be Normal,

Just as long as there have been others in community.

We are prone to reject diversity

and strive to be like everyone else so much

that we reject the very unique gifts that God has given us.

 

That’s what was going on in the story from 1st Samuel,

where the people of Israel,

who since Moses’ time had been given judges to lead them, with only God as their king.

 

They asked the Lord through his prophet,

over and over again to give them a king.

And I want you to notice a small but important detail of that story. The reason they said they wanted God to give them a king, was so that they could be like the other societies

around them who had kings.

They wanted to be like everyone else so much.

But they didn’t even see the value of what they had,

which was truly unique.

They had been set apart by God, a holy people, intentionally different from the others.

There was true value in having the Almighty and perfect God as king and not a weak, fallible human being.

But they were unwilling to see it, because it was different from the other nations.

The Lord warned them through the prophet Samuel,

that a human King would lord it over them,

ruling them for his own self interest.

But they saw other countries who had kings,

but not from within.

They saw the other kings in battle and thought,

“a human king will fight our battles for us!”

But they missed the truth,

that a human king simply brings the army into battle,

but really it is the people who are fighting the battles for his benefit, and also giving everything they have to him in taxes for the support of his palace and his army.

 

God warned them all of this, through Samuel,

But still, they wanted so much to be “Normal,” that they rejected God’s kingship, and begged for a king.

And the Lord relented and gave them one.

The rest of the history of Israel, was of one corrupt and fallible leader after another,

with a few “Good” kings thrown into the majority

who were mostly very selfish,

and . . . well . . . normal human beings.

And the people learned that what was Normal,

was not necessarily good.

 

So last year, when people were asking repeatedly,

when can we return to Normal, a few people were saying, “Maybe Normal isn’t what we want to return to.”

Maybe God is giving us this opportunity

to rethink what was normal, and to live a better way?

 

This month is Pride month,

where flags of various colors alert us to the presence of the Queer community (as my own children asked me to refer to them). I’m not sure I’m ready for that, and I told them the word queer was a pretty derogatory word when I was young, but they say that LGBTQ+ is cumbersome and not relatable, and apparently the community is reclaiming the word “queer.” In any case . . .

These people encompass all sorts of gender and sexual diversity, and they ask us to accept them,

though for centuries society has rejected them as abnormal.

 

My own children are included in this diversity, and there is a part of me that struggles with how to love them for who they express themselves to be, for who they are right now,

when that seems so different from who I knew them to be when they were little, and who they are seems to be changing year by year. But I know, that above anything else I can do for them as their father, my first job is to love them self-sacrificially, as no one else can.

 

One of the worst and most common experiences in the queer community is having parents and family members reject them because they’re abnormal.

The very people who are supposed to love them most,

reject them and that causes deep psychological pain,

and even leads directly to suicide.

I know of parents who asked the Lord, “just make my child ‘Normal’,” but if they thought God would affirm that prayer, they were barking up the wrong tree.

 

Because God made us all different,

and created as much variety in humanity

just as in the rest of creation.

When we have a child, or a loved one who is different from our notion of normal,

It is like God is saying to us,

“How about you love this person because they don’t fit your notion of normal,

just because I made them that way?”

Jesus risked his life, and ultimately gave it,

for love of those who were rejected by society.

 

As followers of Jesus,

Does that mean we must risk our lives,

On behalf of those in most need of love in the world,

On behalf of those who are most different

from what we see as normal?

For some Christians it does mean risking our lives.

But for most of us, at least,

It means we can spend time caring for people,

Who make us uncomfortable,

And love those who are our neighbors where we live.

 

For example, here at Ascension

We have this wonderful ministry,

Where we feed people who come to our spiritual home,

For physical sustenance, and loving community.

There are people there who come more for

the company than for the food.

So volunteering to bring food for Sunday Supper

is a good place to start.

But staying to eat with those guests we invite,

Talking with them as members of our own family,

Even if they’re different from you, is even better.

 

I’m sure there are other ways,

That each of you are called, to be a loving welcome

To your neighbor who is seen by society as abnormal,

Treating them as dearly as a brother, sister or mother,

In your places of work, your schools,

or your neighborhood.

What if we showed people who are different greater honor than those we perceive as normal?

St. Paul describes that in comparing Christian community to the human body, in the 1st Letter to the Christians in Corinth chapter 12:

“the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect…”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Co 12:22–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

That is how we show ourselves, to be in Jesus’ family. That’s how the Kingdom of God is to be, with God as King,

the least respectable members are to be treated with the greatest respect.

 

My own children challenge me to broaden my love to go beyond simple tolerance of differences,

But to reject the idea of normal entirely,

And truly embrace diversity.

 

We will be hanging a banner on Main Street in Wakefield next week, that says, in Rainbow letters,

“Come as you Are, We’re here for you!”

I invite you to join me in that radical welcome,

And I pray that our loving embrace can welcome all

God’s people, just as they are,

into the work we can do together,

As brothers and sisters of Christ.

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details