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Specialty of the Day--Markan Sandwich

Below is the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 7 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church. The gospel text is Mark 3:20-35.

Do you like sandwiches? What is your favorite kind? Is it peanut butter and jelly, roast beef, a meatball sub or maybe it's beef on wick. We know that a sandwich usually consists of two slices of bread with something in between them.

Believe it or not, today's gospel also has a sandwich. It is a literary sandwich. This literary device is used by Mark in trying to explain a sub theme within a theme. Some scholars call this literary device, the Markan Sandwich. The Markan Sandwich begins with a story. Once you are really drawn into the story, Mark switches to another story. When that story is concluded, he switches back to the original story and finishes that. 

The first slice of bread is Jesus' Nuclear family.
People love to talk about the sensational and spread rumors, don't they? It was no different in Jesus' day than it is in ours. Jesus' family heard the rumors people were saying, that "He has gone out of his mind" (v. 20). In fact, the Greek indicates that this was the people's repeated charge against Jesus and his disciples--not that it was said to Jesus at a particular time. Like any good family, Jesus' family wanted to rescue him from this embarrassing situation. Not only would Jesus be ashamed, but it would reflect negatively on his family as well.

Then we come to the meat of the sandwich, this is the second story in our literary sandwich-where does Jesus' power come from?
The crowd is in place, the family is distressed and the religious authorities are putting in their two cents. Scribes were considered to be qualified interpreters of the law. They add a religious stamp to the charges Jesus had been accused of. They represented the official center of the Jewish authority; the holy city of Jerusalem and its temple; claiming Jesus is not only out of his mind, but that he's in cahoots with demonic powers.

Remember, the scribes were religious leaders and if anyone should be in the know about what God would do, it would certainly be them--or so they thought. They have the facts to discount Jesus and his credentials.

However.......... they were unable to perceive the hand and will of God in Jesus' activities. Notice that the scribes did not deny Jesus' power to work miracles. Friend and foe alike accepted this. The issue at hand was the source of his power, the meaning of his miraculous works. This is the issue that separates followers from opponents, insiders from outsiders and believers from unbelievers.

What is Jesus' response to their accusations? He tells a parable, using indirect speech concerning who has the real authority and power. The strong man is the devil. Jesus pictures what is happening in his ministry as the binding of Satan at the end of the age. However, in the meantime, as Jesus and his disciples preach, heal and cast out demons--they are devastating Satan's kingdom and setting the prisoners of the devil free.

God's kingdom is proclaimed in a world that already has a kingdom in place, that of Satan, who has usurped God's rule. Jesus demonstrates how the devil's kingdom is already doomed. Even if we go by the scribes' premises, that Jesus' power is from Satan in casting out demons, this shows that the divided demonic kingdom cannot endure.

Jesus' point is that the kingdom of God he proclaims is already destined to destroy the kingdom of the devil. Demonic power was active in Jesus' world, and in ours, but in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we have the ultimate end of that regime. We pray "Thy kingdom come" in assurance that the rule of God in Christ will finally prevail.

Sometimes Christians regard the devil as someone with power equal to that of God. He is treated like an alternate deity. This was a heresy that was prevalent in the early church. It is called dualism. Satan is not the equal of God. He was an angel created by God who turned against God. Satan is still subservient to God. Scripture declares that there is only one ultimate power, not two, and that the power of evil, still fighting against good, has already been conquered in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. In Mark's view, the only choice we have is who we will serve: the enslaving demonic power or Jesus, "whose service is perfect freedom."

What is it that God is calling us to see and hear in this portrayal of Jesus? Who  has the power to change our world? How is that power going to be exercised in those of us who are called to journey along with Jesus? The answer lies in our

The second slice of bread where Jesus redefines family --put another way, baptismal water is thicker than blood. Jesus has established a new family bound together by God's will, not blood. Those who gave themselves to Jesus and his movement found themselves estranged from the familiar domestic foundations of life--and in some cases, thrown out of their communities and their households for following Jesus. In the kingdom of God, baptismal water is thicker than blood. In the waters of baptism, we are made God's own children. We are ushered into the family of God. No matter how good or bad our nuclear families were, we can be confident in our place in the family of God. At the Eucharist, we are invited to eat together with other members of God's family as we remember our Lord's sacrifice for us.

Now that we have our literary sandwich, what do we do with it? Like any sandwich, we have to digest it. In a literary sense, we have to take the points of the gospel and apply them to our lives. So, how do we apply this to our lives when we leave church today? It basically boils down to one word--relationship--relationship with God, relationship with each other and relationship with our community. Like any family, we have responsibilities and relationships to one another. We need to open our eyes to look around and become aware of the needs of others. It can be as simple as saying hello to a stranger, offering to give someone a ride, becoming a tutor or a mentor to our teens and young people or helping the elderly to go to the store, to get groceries or do yard work or whatever.

If we are open and responsive to God's work in our lives, he will bring people and situations our way. Some of us may not get out much. What can we do? Let the love of God in your life embrace everyone you meet. You can be a prayer warrior. Spend time praying for the members of our church family. Remember you are invoking the power of the God who loves all and conquers all.

How we live our lives when we leave this place either enhances our relationship with others or it diminishes our relationship with others. The choice is ours. Amen.

M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary
James Boyce,
David Ewart,

comic strip-Agnus Day 


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