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Family Resemblance

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 6/10/18 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. It is sprinkled throughout with family pictures. The text was Mark 3:20-35.

It is nearly officially summer and we look forward to all those activities in which we participate at this time of year. For you it may be boating, bicycling or traveling. Among the various summer ventures, you may find yourself at a family reunion. And often at such events, we find quite a variety of lovely and loving family members that we may know well or perhaps never met. Then there’s always a character or two who you may try to escape throughout the reunion.

l to r: Nick and Sarah Van Staalduinen, Hugh & Kathy Van Staalduinen
Grace Alessi (in middle)
Prior to today’s gospel reading from Mark, Jesus had been quite busy teaching, healing and setting people free by exorcising demons. His popularity was on the rise. Jesus had to be exhausted, so he went home. One would expect a nice family reunion. We would expect his disciples to be with him, but as well as them, the crowd came along. The riffraff crowded around Jesus so much so that he could not even eat. 

What are some of the things we expect to see at a family reunion? Among all those things is food, and lots of it. There may even be some sandwiches there. 

What we have in this episode of Mark’s gospel is what is called a Markan Sandwich. That is because in this instance, Mark starts out talking about Jesus’ family in the first three verses, which is our first slice of bread. Then Mark proceeds to the sandwich filling of parables and other teaching for the next eight verses. After that, we come back to Jesus’ family in the final verses. 

In our first slice of bread, Jesus’ family does not understand him.  They likely thought he allowed the crowds too much liberty. Imagine not even saying “no” to them when they pressed so closely to him that he could not even get food to his mouth. Jesus’ family wants to control him for his own sake as well as theirs. After all, he is out of his mind.

What Jesus is doing in his ministry is throwing into question the entire Jewish system of social construction. He threatens to undermine the core of social stability. Jesus is always turning things upside down and who likes change?

Then we have the scribes who have come from Jerusalem, over 93 1/2 miles away. They add their two cents suggesting Jesus is not only crazy, but possessed by Satan. The scribes do not question the results of Jesus’ work, but the motivation and source of the power. To suggest that Jesus is at cross purposes with God and serving the devil-now that is truly crazy.

The family questioned Jesus’ sanity because he was doing the kind of things that shake up the world and get the powerful in that world angry with him. Others would try to lay low in such a situation, but not Jesus.

Jesus’ actions jeopardize his family’s social standing. The entire family is shamed and wants to control him. They say he’s crazy while the scribes declare that he’s evil. If Jesus follows his family, he cannot continue his ministry in obedience to his Heavenly Father. 

This family reunion has gone south before it really had a chance to get off the ground.

Neither Jesus’ family nor the scribes are evil. They are earnest people desiring to maintain stability in difficult times. Jesus’ family wants order and peace in the domestic sphere, while the scribes desire order and peace in the religious sphere. They just want to keep things respectable.

In the sandwich filling, Jesus responds to the allegations leveled against him. He points to and uses the results of his ministry. How could something be evil if it produces healing, peace and love? 

Jesus attacks the scribes’ close-mindedness and blindness to God’s work. In their estimation, God certainly could not do such things. If they deny the power of the Holy Spirit and consider it evil, attributing to Satan the work of God, then they cannot be forgiven. Jesus demonstrates that it is the legal experts from Jerusalem that are actually at fault. 

Jesus is going for deep change, not only for individuals, but so that the social institutions that helped create the diseases he has healed are transformed. Today, movements like #MeToo and others have shaken various social institutions with revelations of abuse. These movements are seeking to exorcise not only sexual abuse but a whole system of privilege systemic in our society. They seek deep, systemic change, as did Jesus in his day. 

Now to the second slice of bread—back to the family, the presumed insiders—and yet they and the religious, pious, careful folk are on the outside of the home Jesus is in. Inside the house sit the presumed outsiders—the misfits, rejects, tax collectors, prostitutes; who just need love and have found it in One who heals the sick and feeds the hungry. Smack in the middle of the sick, insane, deviant and hungry sits Jesus, declaring these to be his family. Outside is in and inside is out. Jesus invites the crowds in, asks them to stay and he makes them family. No longer are blood-relations the primary bond that defines and orders one’s life.

In our time, who might we see crowding around Jesus? Rather than lepers and demoniacs, we might see the disabled, soldiers with much of their bodies burned from a firefight or other soldiers imprisoned, unable to escape the horrors they witnessed and perhaps committed. There may be legless Afghan or Palestinian children. We might see those reeking of cigarettes and coffee at an AA meeting. When we think about who is near Jesus, it is not the morally perfect, but the diverse mess of humanity, with all of its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection. We don’t see those on the outside looking in, who think they know what religion and family life is supposed to look like. All will be forgiven, except those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit. The inability to tell the difference between the power of the Holy Spirit and the demonic is an unforgivable sin (Wendy Farley).

Let’s face it, Jesus just loves to turn everything upside down and inside out. He causes trouble. It’s like going into someone’s meticulously decorated house and rearranging all the furniture right before their eyes. With his new people, he calls them, orders them, fashions them and renames them so they have the power to preach the nearness of God’s future reign, which is already transforming the present time with such force that demons are exorcised, illnesses cured and ignorance enlightened. His new family does likewise. Family units become change units and family love becomes love for justice and hope. Jesus’ family reunion becomes the time to plot the strategy for changing the world around them (Brian K. Blount). 

Father (l) & son (r).
Fred and Christian
There’s often a resemblance between members of a family. When my son, Christian, was born, he looked exactly like my father. Now as an adult, he looks like his father. As you look as these other family pictures, maybe you can likely see who belongs with who. 
            
Today, do we find ourselves doing with people what Jesus’ family and the scribes did with him? Who do we dismiss as crazy or evil, thus cutting off a possibility of relationship? Think about the motley crew of disciples and the followers in the crowd. They were not all nice and clean and looking or acting like they were ready for church, but Jesus was interested in relationship. Jesus desired that they follow him and become more like him, so the family resemblance shone through. 

l-r: Ray, Ivy, Sarah, Fred
Sarah is the daughter of Ivy & Fred
Jesus wants to transform us to become more like him, not just as individuals, but as part of his new faith family to transform our world to more closely resemble his glorious reign. He uses us to feed the hungry, heal the sick, stand with the outsiders. Find a need and fill it.

Shall we stop looking in at Jesus from the outside? Welcome to the reunion of the great, grace-filled, world-changing family of God. Come on in!

Amen. 

Resources

Brian K. Blount and Gary W. Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices

David Ewart, holytextures.com

Wendy Farley, Don E. Saliers, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost

Peter Keyel, sabbath theology, crossings.org

Robb Mc Coy and Eric Fistler, pulpitfiction.com

Jeanne Choy Tate, christiancentury.org

Debie Thomas, journeywithjesus.net


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