Monday, June 11, 2012

Creating New Family

Scripture for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost includes I Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20; II Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

What an intriguing Gospel to hear on a day when we honor high school seniors. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: I don’t pick these readings. They’re assigned from headquarters, appointed for a given Sunday, listed in the Book of Common Prayer, and they are what we make of them.

To help us roll up our sleeves and discover what we’re hearing today, I’d like you to notice two of our stained glass windows. It’s said that in the middle ages stained glass became popular in churches because it became the Bible for people who couldn’t read. And for people whose attention span doesn’t match the length of an average sermon, I’ve often taken comfort in the thought that some of the wandering eyes I may notice from here land on Bible scenes that can launch alternative sermons, perhaps of the Spirit’s making.

So the first window I want you to notice today is the second one on the west aisle. That’s Jesus as a teenager in the temple at Jerusalem. If he looks as if he’s about to dive into a debate, he is: this is that scene where Jesus’s mom and dad are frantic because he’s been missing for 24 hours and when they finally find him he’s in the temple having it out with the religious high muck de mucks. And there’s electricity in the air, this kid Jesus carrying his side of the debate so brightly that the poobahs are beginning to wish he’d go home and stop showing them up.

What I admire about this window is how its designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany, plays with our eyeballs. Where does he direct our attention? To the face, yes, earnest and pure of heart but intense and ready to tangle. Also to the chest, where a dose of pretty outrageous color locates his heart, the seat of his passion. And to the play of light on the floor, where it looks to me like the shape of a cross emerges as light streams in from above and illuminates this young man’s future.

The second window is a lost cause to see until you come to the altar rail: it’s in the bottom half of the first window in from the left. It’s the same scene as our first window, but imagined differently. Jesus sits (a sign of a teacher’s authority) and his highly educated and officially powerful elders appear to be scrambling through their scripture scrolls as Jesus holds his against his chest, from the heart presenting to them the Word of God which he has come not just to explain, but to be.

How come one little church has in it two windows dedicated to the only story we have about Jesus as an adolescent? And it’s not an easy story to hear, if you’re a parent, because it ends with Mary and Joseph finally finding their runaway child, letting their feelings hang out as they say to him, “What were you thinking? Didn’t you know we’d be scared out of our minds worrying about you?”, only to hear him say, “What? Why didn’t you know where you would find me, right here in my Father’s house.” Here was an attitude that illuminated their future even more so than that light on the floor.

Today’s Gospel fast-forwards us almost twenty years. One thing hasn’t changed. Jesus is in a very different place from where his family is. He is neither tied to his mother’s apronstrings nor following in his father’s footsteps (I know there’s the legend that Joseph was a carpenter and so was Jesus, but by the time of today’s encounter Jesus has hung up his toolbelt).

He is at the epicenter of a tsunami of people who swamp him and the little band of disciples at every turn. What drives them to him is their need. Many are sick with physical disease, others with psychosis, some are paralyzed, others are troubled by guilt, and quite likely a lot of them were hungry and thirsty, and most were on empty in terms of their faith and hope and love. The rest were there to watch.

One joker has said that this sounds like your typical Episcopal parish.

That crowd was so vast and their expectations so relentless that Jesus and his team could not even eat. Word traveled to Jesus’s family that he was beside himself, maybe even losing his grip on reality. Loyal to Jesus in ways that only parents and siblings know how to be, they move in to protect him, maybe helicopter him out of there… somehow… but they get only close enough to overhear nasty comments from a few high-placed scribes from Jerusalem, maybe some of the same men Jesus had outshone in the temple, once upon a time many years before. “He’s possessed by demons,” these men say, discrediting him, defaming him.

What Jesus has done for the crowds, what has kept those crowds growing, the healing, the forgiving, the feeding, the teaching and empowering, he has done by the Spirit of God. So he defends himself now, pointing out that if he were an agent of evil he could not achieve what he does.

It’s at that moment that word reaches Jesus that his family is there, looking for him. Instead of letting that be a reason to step out of the eye of the storm, Jesus reveals and acts upon a loyalty that runs deeper than that between parents and child, deeper than that among siblings.

There had to have been gasps in the crowd when he raised his voice to reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking at those who were with him there on the front lines he exclaimed, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Doesn’t this remind you of how he stood apart from Mary and Joseph, twenty years earlier? Is this evidence that the American Psychological Association is right, saying that traits of adolescence, especially in males, can persist into the thirties?

However that may be, Jesus models for us a courageous use of freedom as he fashions his new family. Parents are wise when they recognize early on that this is the task of their children. Families that equip their increasingly adult children to create new circles of kinship may reap the harvest of grown children who, claiming that freedom, discover that they do not lose it when they maintain loyalty to their own original families.

We stand today with seven families who celebrate the high school graduation of their daughters and sons, whom they treasure, and whose freedom to create new community, new family, they respect (even while it may make them catch their breath in wonder).

What does it mean that in this holy place there are prominent windows remembering the adolescence of Jesus? Perhaps, situated at the heart of a college campus, this place just has to bear witness to the holy task of becoming. And to hallow and bless the rubs, those occasional confrontations, that generations must have as freedom is exercised. And to marvel at how increasingly adult children cause their parents to keep growing in wisdom, patience, comprehension, courage—all those traits parents have sought for their children-- until, eventually, parents begin to appear to their children wiser, smarter, braver than they once seemed.

Finally, perhaps our two windows of the becoming Jesus tell us that whatever our age, we are all, from God’s vantage point, simultaneously God’s treasured children, God’s trusted partners in creation and reconciliation, and God’s dwelling-place in the world, by the Spirit we have been given.