Text: Mark 10:1-16
On the first day of elementary school each year, I would leave the house with brand new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and a 3-ring binder. If I had earned enough from mowing lawns or selling lemonade that summer, I would also proudly carry a handsome new Superman or Batman lunch box. But that is not all I carried.
I was in elementary school at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at the height of the Cold War. The question of my childhood was not if there would be a nuclear attack, only when and who would strike first. The school insisted that all students bring a clean, new blanket with them on the first day of class. So, along with my notebooks and pencils, binder and lunch box, I would carry a new blanket and place it in a specially marked cubby hole for our daily Civil Defense Drills. As a child, like Linus in the Peanuts cartoon who always held tight to his security blanket, I just knew that my blanket would protect me from any nuclear fallout.
Sixty years later, I still keep that blanket close by even though it is now invisible to the human eye. Like the real blanket that I pulled over my head to “protect” me from a nuclear attack, I pull this imaginary blanket over me to protect me from the worst fears that the world has to offer. Believe me, I have made frequent use of this blanket over the past four months.
This blanket is not unlike Harry Potter’s cloak that renders him invisible or Bilbo’s ring that once worn makes the hairy hobbit disappear to everyone except for the dark forces of evil. It is fine to sing that the whole world is in God’s hands, but just in case that song is wrong, I keep my blanket handy. I even bring it with me into Cove, just in case the baptismal waters fall short of their promised power or the bread runs out and the cup of salvation is empty.
I still climb under this invisible blanket when my fears get the best of me. Though intended to provide safety, it does just the opposite. For beneath this sheltering blanket, I start to doubt if Jesus knows what he is talking about in today’s text. I start to doubt that the face of every child really isthe face of a child of God. Growing up in the segregated south, early on I learned to be suspicious of some faces, because of the way their eyes are formed or by what they wear on their heads or by their skin color. From my earliest childhood memories to the most vitriolic media broadcasts today, I have learned to pull my blanket over me and to fear that certain children are somehow less than children of God.
In the 10th chapter of Mark, Jesus throws a coming out party for anyone ready to toss aside their blankets of wealth or position, privilege and prejudice. Today’s text opens with Jesus giving a pop quiz about divorce. In this quiz, the question is about the divorce of a man and woman. The Pharisees ask Jesus: “What do you have to say about divorce?” They ask this question as ones who are huddled together beneath the blanket of male privilege. This religiously-blessed blanket allows a man to send his wife packing when her dowry is done or she cannot produce children or he grows bored with her. The religious leaders claim it is a holy blanket because Moses said so.
Jesus refuses to join his brothers under this musty blanket. They come to him not looking for advice on how to invigorate a struggling marriage or on how to strengthen a strong marriage, but instead to test him, to get him to bless their blanket of patriarchal privilege, but Jesus will not do it. He lets them know that the only reason Moses issued this decree was because the people suffered from “kardio-sclerosis,” a bad case of hardening of their hearts.
As they hide under their privileged blanket, the male leaders want to talk about their rights to divorce, but Jesus says that it is God’s creative intention for love to deepen, not dissolve. Jesus invites them to come out from under the blanket of male privilege into the joy of relationships borne of mutual respect and responsibility, whatever the gender.
Not to be too hard on the Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus also carry around their own blankets of privilege. Throughout chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel, the disciples try to blanket Jesus, keeping him out of view of all the “non-people” of Roman society, be they young children, blind beggars, or shattered divorcees. Jesus is not mildly perturbed with his disciples’ attempt to keep him under their blighted blankets, far away from “those people.” Jesus is fighting mad. The NRSV says that Jesus “scolds” them. That is a really tame translation of the Greek here. A better translation is that Jesus “rebukes” them, just like he rebukes the demonic whenever he sees the demonic at work. Jesus invites them to come out from under whatever the demonic blanket that keeps them separate from “the least of these,” so that they can finally see that the “least of these” are actually also children of God.
I remember vividly cowering under a blanket in a school hallway as a child. It provided no real protection then and it provides no real protection now. The late preacher and anti-nuclear activist, William Sloane Coffin once wrote: “What is clear is that henceforth nations are called to confer, not conquer, to discuss, not destroy, to extend olive branches, not their missile ranges. The new era already upon us reminds us that God is not mocked: we have to be merciful when we live at each other’s mercy; we have to learn to be meek or there will be no earth to inherit” (A Passion for the Possible, p. 25).
Jesus has made his way back not only to the Cove pulpit today, but also to this table. Soon, you and I are to come, despite the very real threat of COVID, to a table that for too many and for too long, has been a blanketed table. If you had attended worship on a communion Sunday at Cove in colonial America, there would have been an invisible blanket covering this table. Communion was RESERVED only for those who could produce a communion token, proof that they were of “true” theology, the right age, and of penitent heart.
The Jesus who chastises the Pharisees and rebukes the disciples in Mark 10 is the same Jesus who stands at this table and invites us to “come out” from beneath our homespun communion blankets that allow some to feast at this table and others not, some to celebrate this sacrament and others not. The risen Jesus invites all to the “coming out” table, whatever our age, whatever our gender identity, whatever our skin complexion, whether our finances are secure or could not be more unstable, whether our opposite sex or same gender marriage is thriving or surviving or about to go on life support, whether our theology has a Roman Catholic or Protestant or free church bent to it. We are all invited to come out from under our not-so-secure blankets whether and to take a seat at this table, even if our feet have not been under this table for a long time.
At this feast prepared for us, you and I are invited to discard our blankets as the blind beggar, Bartimaeus will soon do in Mark’s Gospel and to be fed at this feast where there is always enough for everyone.
Eat this bread. Drink this cup and “come out.” “Come out” on this World Communion Sunday and by the holy and beautiful grace of God, cast aside your blankets of fear. When we do, we can follow the lead of Jesus to help others “come out,” help them pull off their thick blankets of privilege and mildewed blankets of fear that they are too tired or too weary, too scared or too confused to do so themselves.
At this table, grace literally surrounds us all. So, friends, Jesus awaits us and it is time, long past time, to “come out.”