When Lauren and I were out on a walk though a neighborhood a couple of days ago, I noticed a small and subtle yellow circle staked up in many of the yards. I snuck over to get a closer look at one and they were exactly what I thought they were – security system signs. They promoted – or should I say, warned of- the security system hidden within the house. It is a sign that says, “Hey, if you are thinking of breaking into this place…think again.”
Now, I don’t know if you have ever had the scary and violating experience of having an intruder enter your home, but ever since I was a little boy, the thought has always terrified me. Maybe it is because when I was 6 years old, my mother accidently set off the silent alarm, which led to armed police officers surrounding our house. Or maybe it is because almost every morning during middle school, my older brother managed to set off the audible alarm system when he left for school. Each morning, it would pierce my ear drum and send my body lurching up, like it was raising the dead. Whatever it was, I have always feared an intruder entering my home.
Well, there is an intruder in our gospel text for today. A home invader. But it is not the person you think it would be. It is not the type of person with the unkept goatee and snarly looking face you see hanging up at the post office and it is not the sketchy individual whose mug shot is displayed on the six o’clock news. No, the intruder in our Gospel story is Jesus. He is the home invader. Someone who sneaks into a house, ties up the owner, and steals all their stuff. But in this story, it isn’t your house that Jesus is breaking into. It’s Satan’s. It’s the devil’s house.
Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had been going around casting out demons and healing the sick. He’d been forgiving sins and eating with tax collectors. And he had been breaking the law of God by feeding and healing people on the Sabbath. Naturally, like many renegades, this made him very, very popular. A crowd had begun to gather around him. But while all of this made Jesus popular, it also made him notorious – a problem. He was a rule breaker. He wasn’t behaving the way society said he should. And as a result, his family thought that he had gone….well…insane. They thought he’d gone out of his mind. That he’d lost his marbles. So, in our story, they’ve come to take him home. To prevent him from making a fool out of himself and from embarrassing them.
But before they could do that, another group had come to deal with Jesus – the government, the ones with authority. The Man, if you will. You see it’s people like Jesus that always attract the attention of the government. Anyone who threatens the status quo, anyone who threatens the power of the government is always a danger. So the scribes from Jerusalem have come down to investigate Jesus. And their fear isn’t that Jesus has simply gone crazy. It is that he has become possessed. Possessed by the devil. And so he must be stopped.
Now, it’s in the midst of this chaos that Jesus does something a little strange. He tells them a parable.
“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asks. “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. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.“
It’s a curious little tale, isn’t it? Essentially, Jesus is saying to these government officials, “How can I be Satan, when I cast out Satan.” Makes sense. Jesus isn’t possessed by Satan, he says. He is Satan’s enemy. In fact, he is an intruder in Satan’s house. One who ties up Satan and steals back all the things Satan has taken from society.
Jesus says he is plundering, destroying Satan’s house by breaking these rules. By forgiving people’s sins even though they maybe don’t deserve it. By healing the sick on the Sabbath day, even though it is against the law. By having a meal with people, even though every one else hated them. You see, at that time, following God meant following the rules and obeying. Because Jesus didn’t do this. So naturally, the people thought he was crazy. No, they thought he is possessed by the devil.
Now, I’m curious. Are we any different than the people who confronted Jesus? Aren’t there certain rules we think we are supposed to follow and if we don’t, people will think we are crazy?
I recently heard the story of a couple, Mark and Betsy, who woke up one morning to the smell of smoke. The barn just outside their house was on fire. The barn that held their sailboat, the old cars they’d be restoring, and other family treasures. All was lost. Nothing could be done. Everything burned. The worst part – it wasn’t an accident. Partying teenagers started the fire in an act of teenage rebellion.
Mark and Betsy were no strangers to troubled youth. They had worked with them before. They loved them, cared for them, and wouldn’t give up on them. So, why stop now, they thought. They decided not to press charges. In fact, they invited the teenagers over to their house to help them build a new barn.
It is people like Mark and Betsy who break the rules our society has set up. We have laws in place for situations like this. But Mark and Betsy didn’t follow them. Instead of making the teenagers pay for what they did, Mark and Betsy asked for their help.
In 2006, tragedy struck an Amish community in Pennsylvania. You may recall the story. One day, a man entered a one-room schoolhouse and started shooting. Five students, along with the gunman, died that day. You can imagine the horror and outrage. But what no one expected was the way this Amish community would respond. They should have been angry! They should have called for justice! But within hours of the shooting, the community had offered forgiveness to this man and his distraught family. They held his sobbing father in their arms and comforted his wife. One of the grandfathers of a student killed said, “We must not think evil of this man.” A couple days later,, thirty members of the Amish community attended the gunman’s funeral.
It is people like this Amish community who break the rules our society has set up. We have laws in place for situations like this. But this community didn’t follow them. Instead of proclaiming that this man was evil, unforgivable and destined for hell, they forgave him and cared for his family.
When I hear stories like this, it reminds me…no, it confronts me with all the times in my life when I could have responded like that but didn’t. Like the times I sought to get even with someone, rather than be compassionate toward them. Or the times when I thought only a certain type of person was worthwhile or worthy of my time and attention.
When these memories come, suddenly it feels like Jesus is sneaking his way to my life. Crawling in through a window I didn’t know was left open. Suddenly, Jesus is stealing from me things that I hold onto – my desire to get even with someone, my tendency to favor those who think and act like me over those who don’t. And I like those things. I don’t want to give them up. So before he can take them from me, Jesus first ties me up with love, reminding me that that not the person I want to be.
Our parish has come up with a new mission statement: Feeding Body, Mind, and Spirit with the Love of Jesus. One of the initiatives we came up with for this mission statement is to look at how we welcome people in our parish. What do we feed people with when they walk in the door of Aurora and Trinity? Is it the love of Jesus, or is it the rules we’ve set up here?
Maybe a place to begin is to ask: Are there unspoken rules here in our churches that we aren’t supposed to break? Maybe you aren’t supposed to sit in someone else’s seat. Maybe until you’ve been here 15 years, you’re still considered new, and thus, suspicious, and not to be trusted?
Or let me ask you this, are there people in this room you’ve worship with for years but have never heard a word about their life story? Why is that?
A member told me that they’ve seen visitors come to church without anyone ever welcoming them or greeting them. Why is that? Is there an unspoken rule there?
If these unspoken rules do exist, I wonder if Jesus might be inviting us to break them? Maybe Jesus is intruding his way into our parish, into our hearts and asking us to live life differently. So what might that look like? What might Jesus be inviting us to do differently here at church that our families and friends might think was a little crazy, a little out of the ordinary, a little different, a little possessed? Maybe it isn’t rushing for the same pew each Sunday, but it’s looking around to see if there is anyone new who is sitting by himself or herself. Maybe it’s inviting your neighbor who you know has a drinking problem and wouldn’t fit in very well, but could use a community that cares. Or maybe it’s sticking around a little longer after church to talk with a kid you don’t know very well about their soccer game. Just think of the small, easy ways Jesus asks us to break rules. I’d love to hear what we can come up with.
Such things might not be the most comfortable for us at first. But maybe doing them isn’t crazy at all. Maybe it is one of the many ways Jesus is calling us to feed one another, and those who visit us, with the love of Jesus.
So, can we let Jesus intrude his way into our parish and invite us to break some of the rules? AMEN
 The Most High Reverend Laura Aase