"What Counts?"
Scripture – Mark 3: 19b-22; 31-35
Sermon Preached by Thomas R. Stout
Sunday, June 7, 2015

So, here is the first question I'd like you to consider with me this morning:

What is the best part about coming to church for you?

Take just a moment to consider that, then turn to someone sitting near you and share your answer.

I'll be ... we have quite an array of answers!

So my next question to us is simply, what have you done with this?

Has it led you to try doing something for the Lord in this place?

About this time last year, I was lead to follow one of the things I most enjoy in church, and it lead me to the summer "pick-up" choir. I have always liked to hear and to sing hymns in church. I can remember one Sunday, while I was still a teen, having my Dad say to me after church: "Tom, do you have to sing (actually the verb he used was "bellow") so loudly on the hymns?!" Well, I followed that bliss (to use Joseph Campbell's word) and began to sing with the regular Westminster Choir for most of this past year. I do want to express my appreciation this morning to my fellow choristers, and to Paul Fleckenstein, for putting up with my not always elegant attempts to sing the baritone lines.

Friends, this choir is filled with patient people who are committed to providing their very best each Sunday for the praise of God, and for the support of God's people in their singing, and for the support of each other. For me, this experience opened me to a whole new dimension of worship. I saw beauty and praise in a new way. Music brings that and more to this time; and I was thrilled and privileged to be a part helping that to happen.

When I read the Gospel lesson for this morning, my next question was, does my following up on my joy count, does it measure up to Jesus words about what it takes to be a part of his family. Does following my bliss count as paying attention to and doing the will of God?

Mark's story begins with this very intriguing sentence: "Then he (Jesus) went into a house." The term "house" is fraught with meaning in Mark's Gospel. It is central to this story, but Jesus goes into other houses as well to heal, to eat, and even to teach the will and the work of God. And, by the way, what do we call this place in which we find ourselves this morning? Correct, it is a "house of God". Do you catch the flavor here in this lesson then? A house is a pretty important place. Among other things, it tells us who is in and who is out.

Jesus's family and the crowd are outside of the house, and they bring two unexpected perspectives on Jesus. His family says: "He has gone out of his mind." And the religious leaders in the outside crowd say: "He has Beelzublul, and by the ruler of demons, he casts out demons." Maybe in light of that comment, we might come to think that Jesus family is actually coming to his defense. But in any case, these are not very nice things to say about a member of your family, or of anyone. Yet it does help us to see who is "in" and who is "out" when it comes to Jesus and what he is about. And, that makes me also wonder: where do I stand when it comes to Jesus' way and concerns and work.

I think what this story has always asked the Church to consider is one central question: What does it take be a follower of Jesus? And am I doing that?

For his part, Jesus is very clear and very direct about who is a member of his family. The Gospel lesson puts it this way:

And looking around at those who sat around him
he said: "Here are my mother and brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is
my brother and sister and mother."

"Whoever does the will of God", not whoever "says" or who "claims", but whoever "does", this is the family, this one is "in" the house with Jesus. What about me, what about you? What do you and I "do" here in this house?

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," tells about his grandfather who was a blue collar worker back in early 20th century Lithuania. But, Kushner says his grandfather was far more than his work. He was a man of God, living literately in a world of ignorance and lovingly in a world of cruelty. He believed, as he told his grandson, that everything he did was important, because he also believed that God really cared about "what he ate; how he earned and spent his money; how he respected his wife; how he treated his children." Faith that he was doing God's will made the life of Harold Kushner's grandfather meaningful and significant despite the conditions around him.

And, that leads me to wonder, how significant and meaningful is my life?
Do I believe that what I am doing is important to God, and is it the will of God that I am following?
Does something as simple and as fun and as demanding as singing in the choir count?
Is this a part of "doing" for Jesus?

Go back with me to where we started this morning.

What do you think about your answer to my first question?
What is the best part about coming to Church?
Does that put you "in the house" with Jesus as one who does the will of God?
Does that include you and me in the family of Jesus?
I pray that it does.

Dear Lord, accept who I am, and keep me open to doing ...; and keep me open too to anyone who does your will, even if at first I do not recognize them as one of yours. Amen.