Family and Faith for Followers of Jesus

Psalm 138, 2 Corinthians 4: 13—5:1, Mark 3:20-35
Jesus: The Problem —
Upsetting the Equilibrium.
Our families are important to us. Dad’s recent death, caring for our granddaughter last week, and awaiting another grandchild in August are clear reminders of being family. As the presidential campaign heats up the flurry and fury of “family values” is heard.  Many Christians politicize “family values” as a central political issue.  But there’s a problem: Jesus! Jesus has bad news for family systems and political systems.  Today’s gospel is one of the most challenging of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s gospel.  That’s why Jesus keeps reminding us: Whoever has ears to hear let them hear.
Hear God’s Word from Mark’s gospel – a Word that takes place early in Jesus’ ministry.

Mark 3: 20-35 (I read/tell gospel)

Then Jesus went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.
When Jesus’ 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 Jesus 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 Jesus’ mother and brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.
A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to Jesus,
‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’
And Jesus replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’
And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said,
‘Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Jesus: The Way — Unpacking the Gospel – Hearing Jesus

Jesus confronts authorities and calls followers in town, country, seaside, synagogue.
Immediately conflict arises, especially in the synagogue with good religious folk.
The Pharisees confront Jesus about keeping the Sabbath, as Amy proclaimed last Sunday.
Jesus refuses to participate in or promote “a religious system that centers on purity laws, ceremonies, and legal prescriptions (2:1-3:6). He will redefine God’s faithful people as those who gather around himself. A religious system gives way to a spiritual family” (Geddert, BCBC, 78).

Jesus needs to be prepared and prepare his disciples to be a new family, system, and kingdom.
So he goes up on the mountain with the 12 disciples and commissions them for this new life.
Then Jesus came down from the mountain and “went home” – the first word of today’s gospel.
Immediately crowds crowded around Jesus “so that they could not even eat.”
A series of conflicts take place in this gospel, framed by a conflict of family values.
We’ll get to the family conflict in a moment but first let’s look at the other conflicts.

Religious authorities show up again and confront Jesus.
This time it is the scribes. They accuse Jesus as being aligned with the demons he is casting out.

Jesus challenges them by saying you don’t cast out demons while having demons.
Even more interesting, Jesus goes on to challenge the scribes about
“a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.”

Today we could say that Jesus is wrong: a kingdom divided can stand. Ours does.
Friday night UN Rapporteur and international legal scholar Richard Falk spoke at UTUMC.
Falk underscored the obvious truth that equally obviously makes no difference inside the beltway of Washington DC or in Israel. The truth is that Israel’s influence so dominates US policy that our nation acts against the wishes of citizens, in violation of international law, and against even US national interest as well as global security. The US is a kingdom divided that still stands. In the same way all 16 US intelligence agencies agreed in 2003 that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program. Yet all political and public discourse rushes headlong toward war with Iran justified as necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program that doesn’t exist. Hypocrisy and lies rule the day in a kingdom divided yet standing.
Nevertheless, Jesus is right – it won’t stand forever.

In this conflict Jesus confronts the scribes with questions and stories.
“Jesus’ defense becomes offense by turning his antagonists’ words back upon them as a question and a riddle” as Ched Myers says in his excellent commentary on Mark’s gospel (165).
Jesus issues a strong clear challenge and alternative to all the systems of the world.
Jesus disrupts systems of power, position, prestige that oppresses so many people.

But it gets harder. Jesus goes on to say:
‘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.’
(vv. 29-30).

Few words of Jesus have been so misconstrued and abused.
When I was growing up I was afraid I would inadvertently commit the unpardonable sin.
We were told that Jesus said, if you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit you will not be forgiven.
I never knew what blaspheming against the Holy Spirit was but I knew it was deadly.
How many of you ever wrestled with or were afraid of committing this “unpardonable sin?”
A childhood memory: One day my older sister and I were talking about another youth.
She wondered whether that person had committed the unpardonable sin.
I was afraid for this youth who may have become unpardonable.
I am not criticizing my sister. She was only repeating what she heard in church.
A word about what Jesus is not and is saying here – at least as I understand it.
“The intention of the text is not to primarily define the unpardonable sin
and even less is it to equip us to decide who has committed it” (Williamson, Interpretation, 86).
Jesus precedes this warning in this controversial context by first saying,
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter’ assuring that all sins and blasphemies may be forgiven.
Then Jesus goes on to say, whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’
I am not sure I have yet heard a really good explanation of this hard saying of Jesus.
But this is the best way I know to say it at this time.
Jesus is warning about the seriousness of deliberate rejection of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.
In other words Jesus is pointing out the consequences of intentional persistent trust in the systems of this world rather than the Spirit of God.

Jesus: The Clue to Jesus’ New True Family

I want to end where Jesus ends this encounter – with the family – which is where we began.
Jesus’ family is convinced he is delusional and the authorities are convinced he is demonic.
The crowds are still pressing around Jesus.
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.
A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to Jesus,
‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’
And Jesus replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’
And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said,
‘Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Jesus calls us into a new true family making of us who we already are – the family of God.
Jesus is not ignoring, dismissing, or rejecting family.
Jesus is confronting and disrupting the system –
the systems of power and privilege operative in nation, synagogue, village, home, family.
Following Jesus in the new family is living by a new system – God’s system that honors all.
‘Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister…’

The Apostle Paul elaborates on this new family of God in letters to the Corinthian church.
Paul tells them and us that “we have the same spirit of faith in accordance with scripture.”
God who raised Jesus from death to new life is doing the same in the new body life.
“Why? “So that [God’s] grace extends to more and more people…to the glory of God.
…So we do not lose heart” as we heard in the scripture from Second Corinthians today.
God is building a new house not of our making…a new creation…a new body politic.
In the Corinthian letters Paul elaborates on this new creation new body politic.
We are members of a new body…a body in contrast to the systems of this world.

Let me offer a glimpse of what it means for us to be members of this new family-body.
Jesus doesn’t call us to, ‘Come and see if you qualify for my club.’
Come and pay your membership dues and join up.
Come and jump through these hoops.
Come test into the system.
Jesus calls us to, “Come, follow me” and you will be my disciples.
Come be a member of my new body. That’s why Paul elaborates on being members of a body.
Sisters and brothers, we do not have membership in the Jesus organization or Jesus society.
We are members of Christ’s body…a living organic body of Christ.
Membership is what we have. A member is who we are.
We constitute a new inclusive organism not an exclusive organization.
Being Church is constituted by Christ’s living body not bylaws which are necessary yet limited.
Being members of Christ’s body costs not less than our lives yet offers us true life.
This is what Jesus means in saying we must give our life to receive life.

Nothing confronts or threatens the systems of this world more than this new body life.
Jesus, from the first days of ministry, embodies this life and calls us into this new body.
With Jesus we say, “Here are our sisters and brothers.”

In these few minutes with Jesus if you feel like you have been taken from mountaintop to home, from scribes to Satan, from family to kingdoms of this world, you should.
It is where Jesus has traveled and taken us in this brief gospel today.

Even now Jesus bids us, “Come and follow” – you are my sisters and brothers in God’s family.

%d bloggers like this: