Revelation by Walfrido Garcia

Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost

Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

1 Samuel 8.4-11:  The elders of the people ask Samuel to appoint a king over them so they will be like the other nations.

Psalm 138:  The psalm praises God as source of life and protection for the people.

2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1:  We pick up in the middle of Paul’s extended argument for the validity of his claim to authority among the Christians in Corinth. Here, Paul notes that the kind of suffering and physical challenges he faces are signs precisely of the death of Christ at work in him, that the life of Christ may be made known to them.

Mark 3.20-35:  Jesus’ power has become so great (and wild!) that some begin to accuse him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Even his family comes to try to restrain him. Jesus names blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as the only unforgivable sin, and those who do the will of the Father as his mother, brothers, and sisters.

Missing the Obvious
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: ‘Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you see.’
Watson replied: ‘I see millions and millions of stars.’
Holmes said: ‘And what do you deduce from that?’
Watson replied: ‘Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like earth out there. And if there are a few planets like earth out there, there might also be life.’
And Holmes said: ‘Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent.’

The story reminds us that what we see depends on that on which we focus.

Though Watson knew that Holmes was not one to make idle conversation, especially not conversation that would call on Watson to suggest things Holmes himself could deduce, he nevertheless responded to Holmes’ question as though being given the opportunity to show his erudition. In doing so, he missed the obviousness of the crime that had been committed, prompting Holmes’ rebuke and his labeling Watson as an “idiot.”

I think the term “idiot” could have been in at least the backs of Samuel’s and Paul’s and Jesus’ minds when they were in the situations to which today’s scriptures refer. In conveying to the Israelites what would be the consequences of their having a king, Samuel might have said, “You idiots! Don’t you know that a king will only oppress you and not give you commensurate benefits in return?” Paul might have said, “You idiots in Corinth! Do you think because I have experienced such resistance and abuse at the hands of my opponents that such rejection marks my mission as a failure and my message as a falsehood?” And Jesus might have said, “You idiot scribes – and even some of my own blood relations! Do you think what I am doing demonstrates a mental derangement or that I am in league with God’s enemies?”

Clearly, doing God’s work is not always a matter of showing unconditional love to others and getting an invariably positive response. Sometimes being faithful to God brings rejection from those whose power or prestige is threatened by it, and they do their best to thwart the purposes of the faithful, even to the point of suggesting that their opponents are in league with Satan, as Jesus opponents do in today’s gospel reading.

During the past four days the nearly 400 churches of our Northern Illinois Conference have met for our annual meeting in St. Charles, Illinois, to discuss the business of our Conference, to worship, to fellowship, and to consider the budget we need collectively to do what we believe God is calling us to do as a group in concert with what God is calling each of our churches to do in our own locales.

Because I had attended a Unity Banquet in May that was sponsored by our Conference in concert with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago at a mosque in Villa Park, and had sought after that to find ways in which we United Methodists could openly provide support and encouragement to our Muslim sisters and brothers, I had decided to wear a kufi cap – which I am wearing now – which is a prayer cap worn by many Muslim men. It roughly corresponds to the hijab worn by many Muslim women as well as to the yarmulke worn by many Jewish men at the time of religious festivals of the Jewish faith.

A number of people approached me to ask why I was wearing the cap, and I was happy to explain it to them. On the last day at Conference, in response to my request, Bishop Jung allowed me to explain my wearing of the kufi cap to the entire body gathered there. In doing so, I said the following:

“Thus, by my wearing this kufi cap, I wanted to bear witness during these sessions to the support many United Methodists in our Northern Illinois Conference have shown our Muslim sisters and brothers over the years, and to encourage others to find occasions on which to do so in either this or other ways.”

And then I added, “There is too much ignorance of Islam and there are too many unfounded fears of Muslims in our country to take lightly the ongoing efforts of some – including fellow Christians – to stereotype and malign those in our nation who practice Islam. If we do not take responsibility to address the bearing of false witness against our Muslim neighbors, then we are no better than those who are actively seeking to erect barriers to their full and joyful inclusion in this grand social experiment called the United States of America. Not only that, but we are failing to bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ, who says to us, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

Now, fortunately, I was not subjected to ridicule or rejection by my fellow United Methodists – at least, not to my face or within my hearing. Those who attend Annual Conference are typically accustomed at least to showing tolerance for differences, if not support for the difference shown. However, were I to continue routinely to wear this kufi cap in public around Riverside and environs – as I go to Tony’s and Ultra Foods and Riverside Foods to shop, or into the First American Bank to deposit our receipts, or interacting with Village officials or neighbors or visitors to our church, I wonder if the reactions of others to me and to our church would be similarly positive? Something tells me they wouldn’t. Those who hold prejudice against Muslims might label me – and our church – as troublemakers, even, perhaps, like the scribes about Jesus, saying I or we are in league with Satan.

And yet, we cannot let the opinions of others who, like Watson, miss the obvious wrongdoing, shape our behavior. Like Samuel, and Paul, and Jesus, and the faithful through the ages, we must follow the call of God to make God’s reign more evident in the world. Our lives, inevitably limited, are of the greatest value only when we are using them to God’s glory and for God’s purposes. Anything less is a waste of a good life.

As Christ gives himself to us once more in the act of Holy Communion, let us rededicate ourselves to showing the faithfulness to God that these three heroes of the faith showed when they were among us in the flesh.