Get your priorities right! And don’t leave the door open!

Tyler Jones
June 7, 2015
St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beltsville

“A lesson in soul-tending: Get your priorities right! And, don’t leave the door open!”

Every day, you and I need a little “soul-tending.” I mean we need to nourish our confidence and joy in the Lord! And, by soul-tending I don’t mean just acting pious or thinking pious thoughts! Soul-tending can be an awareness of God in the commonplace, mundane affairs of everyday life.

Yesterday, for example, sharing gorgeous sunshine with hard-working yard-sale volunteers was “soul-tending”. Even the delicious icing on that huge piece of carrot cake, and the tasty hamburger I enjoyed at 10 a.m. in the morning! Yep, soul-tending too! All the sharing, teasing, and “catching up” with my brothers and sisters here. Definitely soul-tending!

And, I don’t like weeding the garden any more than you do, but last Saturday, hoeing and pulling with my St. John’s family somehow went faster because (you guessed it!) I was soul-tending!

In today’s gospel story (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus teaches from his own experience of soul-tending! He was struggling to abide his upset family. He endured religious snobs and dangerous critics. Soul-tending for the best of us means finding God’s love in struggles and challenges too!

This story comes from a time in Jesus’ early ministry, when he was stepping out into the challenging role of a healer. The choices he made, egged on by the Holy Spirit, upset some people. And as he struggled, he must have known how “bridges were being burned”— and he could never go back, back safely home to being a carpenter. You might say, today’s gospel reading is a “coming of age story.”
Jesus was stepping into a very heroic role! Like anyone who is testing out his gifts and talents and passions for the work he was beginning to do, he would have had to call upon all his inner strength in order to be true to his call—to his inner spirit.

Imagine his leap of faith! Jesus was only a poor carpenter—of little account and with no connections. In his patriarchal culture, with all its strict religious laws and a ruthless hierarchy based on inheritance—Jesus’ role in the world was supposed to be very small! The only “permissible” and expected future for him had already been determined. It was predicted by his birth—by his being born under questionable circumstances!

Imagine now in the gospel story, members of his family, who knew and loved him, were struggling to get this young man’s attention. It was reported they had come “to restrain” Jesus. There they were, prowling the edge of the packed, rapt crowd. They had begun to distract people from his teaching! What made them so frantic?
Any one of us—anyone who’s done “his or her own thing” to be more true to “that inner voice”—we remember how that decision disappointed someone in our families, and may have upset folks back home! Confrontations like those reported in today’s gospel often end in upset confusion, and even an angry parting!

Remember, Jesus was quite new at being a rabbi, and he’s just begun to heal those who come appealing to God’s mercy, and this has given him certain notoriety! Some have even been making wild claims about him. The authorities want him to know who’s in charge. And so, even as the crowd was hanging onto Jesus’ every word, family members were pacing anxiously and trying to get him out of there!

Also, this new rabbi in this tender situation would have noticed the well-dressed strangers in the crowd—lawyer-types—who were there spying on him. This could mean but one thing. They intended to undermine Jesus’ reputation and make him appear the fool!

Of course, the presence of his own family and the “agitators” from Jerusalem were intended to “bring him around”! “He’s gone out of his mind.”

This presents a familiar, old story—with some themes that resonate with your own stories as they do with mine—
• The young versus the old (generation gap!)
• Taking a different path versus “doing the same old thing”
• Being spontaneous and responsive vs. being conventional and uptight
• Being real and authentic vs. being superficial
Bottom line: his story is all about paying attention to The Holy Spirit Within. For Jesus, the Spirit urged him to next steps, to do the healings he felt called to do!
Yet, in every crowd now there was someone who criticized and found fault, someone who mocked his best intentions, someone who just “knew better”!

Beneath the story of Jesus’ coming of age, his transformation from humble carpenter to mighty rabbi, there is a secret.

We know the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit within which causes you and me “to do more than we can either ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20).
Now, the most enthusiastic cheerleader of the little church in Corinth was the apostle Paul. Corinth, that mighty city of commerce, would have snuffed out the little struggling church. So, Paul wrote to them from time to time to encourage them. In this morning’s excerpt, Paul told them how he understood God’s power to be working—even through their troubles and challenges—even as that smothering anti-Christian city mocked them!
Paul reminded them how Jesus’ peerless ministry had been successful, despite setbacks, and was succeeding despite the contempt they were enduring. But, God’s grace (he told them) was there for them, every single day!

Note that Paul didn’t sugar-coat any of what they were experiencing! “Grace may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God…” he suggested. (No guarantees!) He didn’t pretend that all their hopes and plans to grow their church would work out.
“So [he reminded them]we do not lose heart”.
“Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
That inner nature, that part of us which pledges allegiance to the Spirit of Truth, that part MUST be “renewed”—be kept strong by soul-tending!
“So, [day-by-day] we do NOT lose heart!’’
The blessing of resurrection is that we are “renewed day by day,” That’s why we can sing joyfully about “Blessed Assurance” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”!

In the heat of that tense moment long ago, Jesus talked back! He gave the perfect “smack-down” for those taunting him: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
Yet he continued on…
“But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying him up; then the house can be plundered.”
This was the best part, the lesson he meant for all time, the lesson he had learned from his own experience!
You and I are those persons whose homes and valuables are vulnerable. Of course, “your house” is Jesus’ metaphor for “your soul.”
We sometimes leave the front door wide open, don’t we?
Jesus was reminding us: “Expect worldly temptations. Anticipate that your spirit will be tested! Beware how the world may rob and plunder your most precious soul!”

And so, the lessons for us:

Resolve to be one who renews and refreshes the Spirit within.

Honor what makes you precious. Soul-tend!

Accept no substitute for your beautiful soul.
And be savvy (as Jesus was savvy!)—at home, in school, or at work, or at the mall—wherever you find yourself—be wary of the phonies who will “come looking” to “tie up” your soul!

Finally this morning, refresh your soul…
in these gentle words from St. Teresa [of Avila]: May you be at peace knowing you are a child of God.
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you embrace the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use your gifts to pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you allow your soul the freedom to sing and dance, praise and love.
Amen

Copyright 2015 by Tyler Jones.

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