1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
This sermon was preached at Grace Episcopal Church in Martinez CA on June 7, 2015.
Thousands of years before Moses received the Torah from Mt. Sinai, there was a massive explosion about 400 miles north east of here as one of the largest mountains on the continent, Mt. Mazama, violently spewed out smoke, lava and rocks, leaving the western half of the continent covered in volcanic ash. The amount of magma that ejected from the mountain was so copious that the top of the mountain crumbled and collapsed so that the peak of the mountain was essentially inverted. Anyone witnessing the volcanic eruption would have thought it was the end of the world and in a way it was. The surrounding landscape was permanently changed and Mt Mazama no longer stood tall and proud among the Cascades. The Klamath Native Americans believed that the eruption was the violent manifestation of a devil from the underworld. The chaos and cataclysm, however, gave birth to what is now called Crater Lake. The inverted mountaintop formed a vast bowl called a caldera or cauldron, which over the years collected rain and snow and formed the deepest and perhaps the most beautiful and profoundly blue lake in the country. Some call the lake a “mirror of heaven.” A few days ago, I visited Crater Lake for the first time and it certainly felt like one of those places that John Muir refers to when he says, “Everybody needs…places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” Crater Lake is one of those beautiful places in which to play and pray and it would not exist if it weren’t for that great catastrophe thousands of years ago.
During the time that the Gospel of Mark was written, the Jewish people were dealing with their own apocalyptic explosion. The great temple on Mt Moriah, which was considered the most beautiful temple in the world at the time, was flattened and laid waste by the Roman military. The destruction of the temple created its own spiritual caldera that eventually gave birth to Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus knows this chaos and destruction is immanent and yet he also knows that new beauty and life will spring forth from the chaos. He is preparing his disciples for the new life, encouraging them to let go of their old ways of thinking, their old wine skins (2:22). He also embodies this new life and consequently poses a threat to those whose authority and security were wrapped up in the old temple. To them, Jesus’s ministry seems like a volcano erupting, threatening their power and prestige and their glory among the nations. They interpret his actions and ministry as a sign of his affiliation with the devil himself: “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
Jesus explains to them that his ministry is about shaking things up; shaking things that need to be shaken. He uses the imagery of someone plundering a house. Jesus is breaking in, trespassing, throwing the furniture around and even stealing property while the only thing the owner can do is watch. This is not “gentle Jesus meek and mild” this is Jesus the Volcano.
But as the Volcano, Jesus is also pointing to and embodying the new world that the explosion will form. The volcano will form a new opening, a cauldron. Jesus will form an expansive community known for its openness and forgiveness (Jesus says, “people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter”), a community that extends beyond bloodlines and ethnic boundaries (Jesus says, “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”).
During times of volatile transition, it is tempting to demonize the people and events that are forming the new world. The religious authorities demonize Jesus and his ministry as he begins to form this new community and bring the Kingdom of God to earth. Jesus responds to their demonization of him by saying, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” This is Jesus’s harsh and hyperbolic way of saying, “If you continue to see all change and agents of change as evil and demonic then you will never be able to experience new life and forgiveness, you will never be able to welcome the new world that I am creating.” Jesus is inviting his listeners (including us) to refrain from demonizing change and to welcome it even when it might seem chaotic.
The Persian Sufi mystic Rumi wrote about welcoming all human emotions, including those associated with chaotic change. In his poem The Guest House, he writes,
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
There is enormous change taking place in the Episcopal Church, in the country and in the world. It might feel like apocalyptic and explosive brought about by the devil, but the Gospel invites us to resist demonizing change and the agents of change. The Gospel invites us to see Christ at work in the change and turbulent transition, slowly transforming us and the global community into an open and extended family of forgiveness, “clearing us out for some new delight.”
Change is clearly taking place here at Grace Episcopal Church. This community is experiencing a transition that might feel chaotic and disorienting. Things are in flux and things are being shaken up. Even the cross above me has been shaken up!
The Gospel invites us to see Christ at work in the midst of the chaos and change and to refrain from demonizing one another in the midst of the chaos. By welcoming Christ into this process of transition and discernment, even when Christ might seem dangerous and disorienting, we allow ourselves to be cleared out for some new delight. We can allow Christ to make this community even more open, and expansive and forgiving than I’m sure it already is. By welcoming Christ into this time of transition we let Christ make this community into a caldera of grace, a beautiful place in which people can pray and play. We let Christ make this community be even more fully what it was called to be way back in 1869 when it was named Grace Episcopal Church. By welcoming Christ in the chaotic change, we learn to pray with the Psalmist, “The LORD will make good his purpose for me; O LORD, your love endures for ever. Do not abandon the works of your hands.”