THE WORD Mark 3:20-35
and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 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.
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
THE MESSAGE “Part of the Family”
“The Lord of Life” by Ann Weems
O Lord, we’re playing Pharisee again,
More interested in the Sunday morning count
Than in the feeding of your sheep,
More interested in stars for our crowns
Than in that cup of cold water,
More interested in traditions and appearance
Than in the following of the Lord.
O Jesus, you were real
And we made you saccharine and
hung you on the church school wall
And told all the little children
you wanted them to sit still.
O Jesus, you were here and now
And we made you something in the sweet by and by
And told all the people in need
to see you in heaven.
O Jesus, you walked in our shoes in our marketplace
And we told you to stay in your sandals,
In a faraway place, in a long ago time,
Stay back in the Bible.
O Jesus, we made you a baby that didn’t cry,
We made you a boy with good manners,
We made you a man, sweet and gentle.
We tossed you pennies,
Then told you how to spend them.
We built you temples,
Then told you who could enter them.
We made you wood and plastic and concrete
And locked you in the church.
We made you a goody-goody god
And stood before the world with joyless faces
and pointing fingers
and tsk-tsk-tsk cold voices,
O Lord! We paid no attention to Who You Are: the Lord of Life!
Jesus is on a mission in these first chapters of Mark. He’s fired up and on the go - from his hometown of Nazareth to the wilderness, to Galilee, to the sea, to a house in Capernaum, to a deserted place, and back out to the towns of Galilee, and then back to Capernaum and home, and then to the sea, and to Levi’s house, through the grain fields and to the synagogue, and then back to the sea, into a boat, before heading up a mountain. And that’s just in the first two chapters!
All the while the crowds are following and increasing in size - and need - closing in on him, begging for healing of their diseases and release from their demons, and Jesus has compassion for them and does as they ask. He is on a mission.
Along the way Jesus has called a few fishermen to follow him - and Levi, a despised tax collector. That was a bit radical. And how dare he sit down at dinner with Levi and other tax collectors and sinners. What was he thinking? And that leper who begged to be made clean. Jesus ‘touched’ him, and he too was healed.
His reputation was growing, along with his detractors, those carping critics known as Pharisees and scribes: “You don’t heal on the sabbath. You don’t pluck heads of grain on the sabbath to eat. It’s unlawful. The parking lot conversations were gearing up: “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t back down. He confronts his critics. The kin-dom of God looked a little different to Jesus than to his detractors. He had a different set of priorities, a different view of who was important and in need. He wasn’t afraid of ruffling some feathers. He was on a mission. He knew his calling.
In chapter 3, after curing a man with a withered hand - on the Sabbath, God forbid! - he went up to a mountain and called the 12 who were to be his inner circle, who would be sent out to proclaim his message and cast out demons. And then he went home, to rest and eat, but that was not to be, as we heard in the scripture today, for the crowds once again gathered around him. We’re not given a demographic makeup of the crowd, but I doubt they were the highly educated, wealthy pillars of society. Those were not the crowds he ran in, and there was no litmus test for following him. All were invited, without exception.
But not all accepted the invitation. In fact, his behavior was so radical some thought he was nuts. The scribes came down from Jerusalem accusing him of being possessed by Satan. That’s a little harsh, and Jesus had harsh words in reply. He wasn’t one to be intimidated by those who disagreed with him.
Even his own family had concerns. They came to get him, to drag him back to the safely of home. Who could blame them? They loved him. He was family, and he was breaking the rules, challenging the authorities. It could get him into trouble. But Jesus had a different take on family. He wasn’t rejecting his own, he was expanding it. “Who are my mother and brothers?’ and looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
That was his invitation, and his challenge to all of those in that room, and to all of us. Join me on this mission as my family. We’re all here together to do the will of God. And as we’ve seen down through the ages, that will looks a little different depending on your perspective. Christians have never been in agreement.
All through the gospel of Mark, Jesus” inner circle are presented as a little dense, clueless you might say. They just don’t get Jesus or his message a lot of the time. The parables go right over their heads. They argue about who is the greatest, they deny him, one even betrays him. And yet, despite their foibles and limitations the church was formed - and thrived - and lived into the 21st century.
This gives me hope. I certainly don’t have all the answers. I can get sucked into what I call the ‘fear factor’. Am I following faithfully? Am I being good enough? Am I doing enough? giving enough? I worry that we don’t have enough: not enough people in the pews, enough money to meet our budget, enough people willing to step into leadership positions, enough volunteers. I can buy into that mindset of scarcity, but what does that produce? - nothing but fear and anxiety.
And then I have to stop myself and ask, “Did Jesus worry about any of this?
(Only five loaves and two fish? So? Get over it. Go out and feed them!) Jesus had a mission and he kept it in focus. He knew his calling, and that was to do the will of God. He was tapped into what that will was, and it filled him with passion and compassion.
Sure, there are times in the gospels he exhibits frustration and anger, even a little fear in the garden of Gethsemene. He was human after all. But he knew if he bought into those fears and anxiety he would lose his vision. How do I know that? - because that’s how he lived his life - fearless - faithful to God’s will and trusting that God would provide - that God was with him every step of the way.
He had a mission, and he knew what it was, and he invited all those misfits and sinners and clueless people to join him - to do the will of God in whatever way they could. His inner circle didn’t get it at first (that holds true for some inner circles today), but eventually they opened to the Spirit in that upper room on what we celebrated as Pentecost, and they “got it”, and the fear abated,and the mission became clear, and they got to work and set out on a journey, and look what happened.
There are people today who are saying the church, organized religion, is dying. According to the latest Pew Research Center’s report, “The total number of adults in mainline churches like ours dropped by 5 million from 41 million in 2007 to 36 million in 2014.” The church has veered off course many times over its history. Remember indulgences? How many of you have visited the Vatican and the Vatican museum?
Some say we’re going through a new reformation, a course correction, you might call it. We’re all busy worrying about membership and holding on to our money - be it our own, or our churches. Remember that old adage: You can’t take it with you when you die? I’d add to that, and it’s not going to keep you alive.
The church has to return to its roots - to widening that circle sitting around Jesus, listening intently to what he had to say, emulating how he lived his life. We have to return to doing the work and the will of God that Jesus called us to do.
The Eliot Church is not dying. We’re not broke, by any means. And even if we had no money, we have spirit filled people who are walking the walk, doing the will of God. That’s what’s really important. We’ve chosen to be here - to be a part of the Eliot family, Jesus’ family. Today, at our annual meeting, we will be making decisions on how we will continue to live as that family. How will we do the will of God? What are our priorities? What is our mission? Is it aligned with that of Jesus?
I leave you with the final words from Ann Weems poem:
O Lord! We paid no attention to Who You Are: the Lord of Life!
Jesus was into life
in such a way
That you either had to follow him
or you resent his attempt to bring you change.
That’s still who he is:
Someone who’s going to make you see yourself
if you have ears to hear.
O Lord, we’re playing Pharisee again,
Playing at church
And making excuses about the real thing:
Not with my income,
Not with all I have to do …
Or making after-all speeches:
After all, I give more than others I could name;
After all, I do have five children;
After all, I haven’t been feeling well …
Or putting God off:
As soon as we get the house paid for,
As soon as we get the kids through college,
As soon as we get this painting finished …
Christ was crucified for saying:
You’re storing up treasures
Feed my sheep!
Love God with everything you’ve got!
And don’t forget that cup of cold water.
Sweet and gentle? Meek and mild?
Christ came treading into our marketplaces, our temples, our
homes — even into our private person --
Teaching in the temple
Preaching by the sea
Questioning religious customs
Breaking the ceremonial law
Healing the sick
Being joyful in the company of friends
Calling the children
Chiding good church members
Caring for unimportant people
Seeking out the sinners.
Christ came humbling himself,
Came loving the poor, the hungry, the lonely.
Christ came loving --
This Lord of Life,
This living, loving Lord.
O Lord, open our eyes to see the Pharisee within us.
Open our ears that we might hear the prophesy
Of the possibility of change.
Open the church doors that we might follow
Our living, loving Lord
Out into the marketplace. Amen