Last week we had our South Dakota UCC Annual Conference Meeting in Sioux Falls. This is the message that I used for today with our report embedded in it. The scriptures that I used were the ones from the Conference Meeting. The Conference was titled, “Unexpected Places.” The scriptures were: Mark 3: 30-35 and Genesis 28:10-16. The title was “Ladders and Siblings.”
This past Wednesday when I spoke at the Eureka Health Care Center, I backed up a few weeks in our lectionary and talked about Pentecost and the beginning of the Christian Church. Without going into the whole of our message, I will share that I began by talking about the birthdays in my own family. My three sisters and one brother all have summer birthdays. I noted that my being born in April rather than June or July makes me the oddball of the group. I am the one that doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest.
I will be honest and tell you that another place I often feel like an oddball is where James and I were last weekend. In case someone missed where that was, we were in Sioux Falls at the annual conference meeting. I am not sure why I feel like an outsider there. We have been going often enough. I know lots of the people there and no one has ever been snubbish or rude to us. And in hindsight I know that if I were just a little more outgoing at those events, it wouldn’t be difficult to get in the middle of things, but for some reason it always feels like being on the outside looking in. Perhaps it might be a bit of an intimidation factor, or on the other hand it might be a hesitation to give in to being a part of the group. I will have to ponder this a bit more to find my answer.
At the least, in both the sibling thing and the church conference I will admit to feeling like the one on the edge of the crowd looking in at the group and wondering what my issue is all about.
As I thought about the whole conference meeting a little more, I stopped and looked at some of the notes I took while we were at the Saturday morning meeting in Dow Rummel. The devotions that morning were led by the National Minister of the United Church of Christ Rev. Goeffry Black. The point of the devotions he led was that Christianity is not about you and it is not about me. He used the passage of Acts 2:1-12, which is what we used a couple of weeks ago on Pentecost when we talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church. His point was that it is about US. It is about We and what we do together in mission. It is about what we do for the world to share the good news of Christianity. It is all about what we do as a whole church. Now it began to make a little sense. It is not about me—it is not about how I feel, or how I fit in. It is about us, it is about we and us, and what we do to make things better for someone else. It is about what we do in mission to continue the work that Jesus started.
Then I backed up to think about the worship service on Friday night. It concentrated on the Genesis passage that we read earlier, but it wasn’t simply read and interpreted. A professor from Augustana came and worked with a few people to present the scripture in drama form. He explained the text from the original Hebrew, and it was very informative.
Interestingly, this week as I was going through my new devotion book: Be Still and Let Your Nail Polish Dry, I found a very interesting point that seems to me to fit with that particular passage, and the whole of where we are today. I want to read just a portion of it to you. Pages 26-27.
The girl in that story was looking for a boyfriend and had chosen one that wanted nothing to do with her. Her aunt pointed out that maybe she was putting her ladder in the wrong place. Maybe she was going about it the wrong way. Perhaps I need to look at myself when I think that I don’t fit in. Maybe it is my attitude, maybe it is that I am so worried about me, myself and I that I am getting my ladder all messed up.
Jacob in the scripture we read from Genesis has a dream about a ladder between earth and heaven with angels going up and down. As he is dreaming, God stands beside him and speaks to him about all that he will do for him. When Jacob wakes from this dream he speaks out that this, the place he has been sleeping is a holy place.
Jacob hasn’t had the opportunity to put his ladder on the wrong building or in the wrong earth to heaven connection, God placed it for him. In his travels God led Jacob to this place even though he was on the run from his older brother. You know the story. He has swindled his twin brother, Esau, out of the birthright blessing from their dying father. He has stolen a most precious gift of who will be the next Patriarch of the people of Israel. Yet God is with him. God had chosen him and God was with him to tell him that he had a mission to fulfill to become the leader of a great family. It wasn’t about Jacob. It was about the family that he would father and lead until he grew old and passed the blessing on to the next generation.
Our story in Mark today comes near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and shows how the crowds swarmed him and how passionate Jesus was. We would expect the leaders to throw a fuss and say that he was demon possessed, but in this story, it is his mother Mary and brothers and sisters who come to take him home. They are concerned for his health. They can see that the crowds don’t let him rest or eat or have any time to recover from one day to another, they only want what is best for him. But he refuses to go home, and then he makes an interesting point about exactly who he is.
We, who look at family as very important, might almost be offended by his response when he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?…Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And then we know that he is talking about way more than his earthly/human family. Jesus is talking about the family that he has in all of us. We/Us/everyone who believes in him and what he did for us, that is the family that Jesus acknowledges. Jesus sees way past his human earthly family. Even though he came to earth in human form, he never, ever expects it to be about him, to be for his own glory, for his own purposes. Jesus always kept his focus on his mission which was to bring salvation to all of humanity. Jesus knew exactly where his ladder belonged.
No, Jesus never put his ladder against the wrong building or in the wrong area. The leaders, Satan, even some of his own disciples tried on occasion to lead him to the wrong way of doing things, but he never faltered and for that we can be so very grateful. Jesus kept his ladder in the perfect position between his earthly ministry and his heavenly home, and he went about his tasks with the good of the whole of humanity on his mind. He wasn’t about me, myself, or I. He was about us, and we, and everybody who would and will believe in him and the Good News he brings to the world.
The gospel of John in chapter 17 is the prayer that Jesus prays in the garden the night that he is betrayed before he is arrested and turned over to Pilot. In that prayer are the words that we use as our denominational motto: “That they may all be one.” What Jesus says in this passage is this: vs. 20-21 “I ask not only on behalf of these, [meaning his disciples] but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word [including us], that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus as he is about to be betrayed takes the time to pray not just for his disciples that he has chosen and led and trained and spent time with and really had some investment in, but he also took that precious time to pray for us. “That they may all be one.” It seems to me that he was really trying to arrange for all of us to be family. He didn’t want anyone feeling left out like an odd ball, and he certainly didn’t want us putting our ladders in the wrong place. He wanted us to be family and together in the same way that Jesus, the only begotten, is family with God. He wanted us to be One!
Last weekend as our Conference met in Sioux Falls, we voted in a new conference minister Rev. Gordan Rankin; we said farewell to Rev. Dr. David Felton who will be retiring from our midst later this year; we honored ordained and licensed Clergy for years of service, including Pastor Dianne; churches were honored for their anniversaries; the final deeds of South Dakota lands were returned to their rightful places in the Dakota Association, and the gavel of moderator for next year was handed to the first Lakota woman to lead our conference. We also heard from guest speaker Sharla Steevers on her work in education on the WoLakota project, and about the progress of the Placerville Camp Capital campaign, and we adopted a budget that asks us all to dig a little deeper with our OCWM support to keep the things going that are intricate to the function of our conference. And at the end, we were reminded by outgoing President and minister of the National UCC Geoffrey Black that we as the church are called to be: one to share the Good News that Christ came to earth for us.
He reminded us on Sunday morning that we are called to be brothers and sisters in mission doing Christ’s work in the world. And that whatever we do ought to be done with the purpose of sharing the Good News which is Christ’s gospel. We are called to do that in word, in song and in deed. Go this week with the idea of sharing and doing for Christ, and as you do, think a bit about exactly where you are placing your ladder. Amen!