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July 1, 2018

“Being the Kin-dom”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

2 Corinthians 8.7-15

Mark 5.21-34

July 1, 2018

I want to share with you some of my experiences at General Assembly but I have struggled with how to put nine days of fun and excitement into a sermon – I’m pretty sure it is impossible! So, look ahead to the first Wednesday in August where I will give a detailed presentation but today I want to focus on the theme of General Assembly which came out every day in conversations with individuals and as a group, through worship, Bible study, decisions and votes and more.

The overall theme was to welcome people into the Kin-dom of God. No, the sermon title in your bulletin is not a misprint. This is a term I first heard when I was in seminary, encouraging students to reframe our understanding of God’s realm. Instead of thinking of God’s Kingdom, we were challenged to imagine God’s Kin-dom. The word “Kingdom” can be fraught with assumptions. It assumes God is male, or King. It also assumes dominion or power, which can be harmful to an oppressed people.

At General Assembly we were inspired by conversations of family – that we are all kin in God’s realm, and we are to treat one another accordingly. Each day at General Assembly we had “Kin-dom Time” in which we connected with one another and shared stories with people around us that we did not know before arriving. As an introvert I immediately hated this idea, but I gave it a chance. This gave us time to listen to one another, to learn about other churches and people and parts of the world, as well as connect with one another. By the end of the week I was exchanging contact info and being hushed by parliamentarians for laughing too loudly. We focused on commonalities and differences.

Before leaving for General Assembly I had planned to preach on God’s Kin-dom and whatever I learned during that week. I was planning to listen to the Bible studies provided and choose a scripture passage outside of the lectionary readings. One of the studies, though, was on the book of Mark and spoke to this passage we read today, which is also lectionary.

Dr. Deborah Krause, a professor from Eden Theological Seminary, has done extensive studying and research on the Gospel of Mark and so she focused her presentation on how the author of the Gospel examined the empire and dominating culture of the time and created a space for those who were oppressed to come together.

Before we dive right in we should try to have some understanding about the context of the Gospel of Mark. This book is known for being short and to the point. It is the shortest of the four Gospels and is actually repeated in parts of Luke and Matthew. The author uses the word “immediately” frequently throughout the book, transitioning quickly and showing the importance and immediacy of Jesus’ message. The author of the Gospel of Mark also uses something called the “sandwiching technique.” This is a story within a story. The author introduces one story or parable, then tells another story, and finally finishes the first story. This was done to emphasize the lesson to be learned because the stories are usually related in theme.[1] Today we are only reading the first part of the first story and the entirety of the second – I have left out the finale of the first story because I want to focus on the latter story. Though, if you’re interested, you can look up the ending to the first.

Dr. Krause explained in her Bible study that the Roman empire was ruling at the time this was written. Rulers declared their power through statues and monuments in favor of the empire to remind the citizens and oppressed that they were under Roman regime. They were to always know “You are a defeated people.”[2]

For many reasons, the Gospel of Mark can be confusing. The sandwiching can make following a story difficult. The immediacy can make it unclear what is happening next. Though, Dr. Krause explained that the Gospel is not written to be read from beginning to end, but spatially. The author shows Jesus’ movement from place to place – within Jerusalem, and then leaving Jerusalem. In homes and on streets. In the passages we read last week and this week we see the movement from the left and right shores of Galilee. This is the second crossing in the lectionary we have read over the past couple weeks. One side is home to Gentiles and one side is home to Jews. To some of the empire he might seem like a double crosser as he makes friends with one side, doubles to cross over again, and makes friends on the other side, and then returns.

Jesus is claiming these spaces and demanding a reevaluation of how we look at the world and the structures set up in the world. Dr. Krause used the words to “resist and reimagine” the world around us. Jesus is on the move in this passage because he has been asked by Jairus, a leader, to heal his daughter. Immediately Jesus follows Jairus and the disciples are close behind. They are moving through the crowds and it is crowded and intense. As Jesus walks through this crowd he feels power drained from him and asks the disciples who touched him. They nearly laugh at him – who could tell who touched him? The place is crowded!

A woman comes forward and admits that she was the one who touched him. This woman was desperate. She has been bleeding for twelve years straight. I love the way Dr. Krause phrased it: she had spent all her resources on “fraudulent medical care.” That never happens, does it? This woman was ignored in society because she was considered “unclean.” She was vulnerable.[3] Perhaps she saw no other option and took a chance at touching Jesus’ robe.

Healing can be physical but it can also be social. She had been ostracized because of her medical condition. Now she had touched Jesus – most likely the first person she has touched in twelve years. She has been welcomed back into society – into the fold – and has been healed – perhaps physically, but definitely socially.

Commentator Michael Lindvall tells a story about a friend of his who had Parkinson’s Disease. Every night Lindvall’s friend would pray to God for healing of this disease. Many years later, the man told Lindvall he had been cured. When asked if his Parkinson’s had disappeared, the man said, “I have been healed, not of Parkinson’s disease, but I have been healed of my fear of Parkinson’s disease.”[4] Sometimes the healing is about assumptions and misunderstandings about diseases and the people who have illness.

After this woman has explained why she has touched Jesus, he does something remarkable: he calls her daughter. Dr. Krause explains that this is where the reimagining of oppressive structures comes in to play in this passage. Rather than continuing to ostracize her, Jesus calls her family. He shows the crowd that family includes those who seek healing from God.

One of the events that happened at General Assembly was a march from the convention center to the city jail. This march was organized by Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, as well as other church leaders and various civil rights activists in St. Louis. While it was planned ahead, we did not march with a permit. At the first worship service the offering was collected to end cash bail in St. Louis. Over $47,000 was given to release prisoners who were too poor to pay the cash bond. These were offenders of minor crimes like parking tickets. The assembly marched in the hot sun, chanting and demanding freedom of people who could not earn the money to pay for their exit out of jail. There was a call to end the workhouse that had awful working conditions. One of the groups the Stated Clerk worked with was the Poor People’s Campaign. This is an organization led by poor people to advocate for the rights of people living in poverty. They are trying to find a way to restructure the system of poverty in our world so that people can live in justice and peace.

In many ways the passage in 2 Corinthians looks to restructure the society and create justice for all people, especially for those living in poverty. Paul is writing to the Corinthians about a collection that was taken for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul talked about this offering before but he offers more details of how it is collected and how important it is in both circles of people. He is emphasizing that this collection brings about solidarity. The Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians are connected through this offering.[5] Through this offering they are united in Christ.

We have to begin rethinking our way of structuring. One way is through the structure of our committees. After lowering the number of ruling elders on session from seven to six, we have begun restructuring committees. We will think of ways to more evenly distribute work in the church. Yet, committees are just the beginning. We have to reconfigure how we imagine church in a world that is changing. This means changing how we worship and serve, and maybe even where we worship and serve.

On the Sunday that I was in St. Louis I visited a More Light Presbyterian Church in University City. This church was fascinating in many ways. In the past several years they have gone from a membership of sixty to over 120. Their minister is part time and takes off about seven weeks in the summer. During that time the ruling elders preach and provide pastoral care in the congregation. There is a strong ruling elder leadership built into this church. They have restructured the way their leadership is run but have also reconfigured their sanctuary. They removed pews, put in new flooring, and then put pews on the side aisles, leaving the middle open. The Sunday I went they had added chairs because they expected more people, but they often remove the chairs for yoga during the week and potluck meals and fellowship after worship.

The picture on the front of your bulletin is from this church. I love this – because it reminds us that as we go out into the world, we are going out into sacred territory. The sanctuary is not the only holy place – the world is holy. We have to rethink how we live our lives inside and outside the church, creating a safe and equal environment for all people. Let us redefine possibility in this space and in all spaces. Amen.

 

[1] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 328.

[2] Dr. Deborah Krause, “Monumental Reading of Mark: Resisting domination and building the kin-dom of God,” June 8, 2018.

[3] Mark D. W. Edington, “Mark 5.21-43” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 190.

[4] Michael L. Lindvall, “Mark 5.21-43” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 190.

[5] Craddock, 327.