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June 10, 2018

“A Dynamic Family”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 138

Mark 3.20-35

June 10, 2018

Have you ever sat down to dinner, only to have the phone ring or hear a knock at the door? Have you ever experienced chaos or dysfunction in your family life? Have you ever experienced chaos in your work and professional life? If you have, then you might be able to relate to today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is experiencing all of the above as he sits down to a meal in this brief scripture passage. Jesus was sinless and he was fully divine, but he also experienced the full chaos of human life. We are reminded of that today in the pandemonium that ensues.

The framing of the first sentence sets us up for the rest of the passage. The fact that the verse and lectionary begins right in the midst of a sentence is reflective of the chaos.[1] We already come into the scene unsure what is happening. Jesus had just called the disciples and he has been healing and hanging out with sinners and people who are outcasts. In Matthew and Luke we are given a fuller picture of his healings and exorcisms, but here we find ourselves in the midst of family drama. The author of the Gospel of Mark is known for using a technique called “sandwiching.” This is where one story fits in between another story.[2] The main account here is about the scribes calling Jesus out on his actions, but it is stuck in the middle of the story of his family coming to take him home and essentially calm him down.

The two really are not unrelated, as Jesus is feeling the chaos of his family and of the community. He is even more isolated as his ministry goes on, and we can see how both the community and his family are affecting him. We know that even when we are able to keep our professional or public life separate from our familial life, both sides affect us when something is wrong. That is what is happening with Jesus, where he is being torn in different directions.

Let’s first look at family dynamics. His family members (who go unnamed) seem to think Jesus needs to be a certain way. For whatever reason they do not understand his healings or his divine actions. I can’t imagine that his mother is in this group, as Mary had an idea from the very beginning of his conception that he was special and ordained by God. His family outright thinks and states that he is crazy, and so they have come to take him home and “help” him.

The scribes also misunderstand his actions. They are threatened by his authority and claim that he is possessed by a demon. Jesus’ personal and professional lives collide as they seemingly team up against him to make him stop healing and teaching.

 

 

Why are these groups so concerned? Jesus is hanging out with a different crowd: outsiders, misfits, those who were “unclean.” The social standard was to avoid these kinds of people, yet Jesus is being more than an acquaintance – he’s eating with them and laughing with them and touching them to heal. What probably scares them the most is best said by Wendy Farley: “Those closest to Jesus are not morally perfect.”[3] If Jesus is fully divine, how could he hang out with those who appear to be the farthest from divine? If Jesus is fully divine, how could his family not be perfect?

I believe this is a myth that Christians have created and perpetuated over many centuries – that Christians, and therefore those around Christ, including his family and friends – are perfect. We know that it isn’t true, though. If it was, our lives would be perfect. Too often Christians feel like they need to put on a show for Sunday morning, but the truth is that God wants us to come as we are – because Jesus loves us as we are. We aren’t perfect, which is good – because that is where God meets us – in the mud and muck of life. Theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote: “Churches should be the most honest place in town, not the happiest place in town.”[4] When we are honest about our imperfections, perhaps we can realize that we all are sinful – that we all struggle. Yet, even more than that – we also are able to recognize that God is gracious to everyone.

I do not believe that Jesus’ family or the scribes saw the ugliness of their actions. They truthfully saw themselves as trying to “save” Jesus – which is sort of ironic, because he is the one that saves them. They did not understand that he was doing what God called him to do – to be a lover of those who were oppressed, those who were alone. The family and scribes did not understand that they were being healed of their own sinful ways by Jesus showing them how they should act. They didn’t understand that he was being gracious to them, as well.

This past week while I was volunteering for the Summer Lunch Program I witnessed God’s grace and love through the action of a high school student. She sat down and chatted a bit about her life, casually telling about the abuse she had endured in her family. Just as casually, she also told about how she was applying for jobs, working hard, and trying to make a better life for herself. In the midst, a boy came over, picked up his lunch, and sat at another table. “Can you get his attention for me?” she asked me. So I tapped him on the shoulder, and when he looked she said, “You go to my school. Why don’t you come over here – I want to get to know you better.”

It takes bravery to sit with someone you don’t know – someone who might be an outcast or who just is different than you. Yet, she took that risk and invited him over and they became friends. We have to take that risk, too. We have to be willing to introduce ourselves to people we don’t know and just sit and listen, not worrying about what others might think of us. Jesus said that his family included those who did God’s will. In many ways I have seen how the people who attend the Summer Lunch Program have become a family together.

“Satan” is used in this passage. It is important to recognize that even though we often envision a devil with red horns and a pitchfork, this was not who Satan was to this group in ancient near east. In fact, Satan was not an individual, but a force of evil or unrest. Ha satan means “the accuser.” Satan is anyone who opposes God or tries to thwart God’s plan.

Jesus makes the logical point that he is exorcising demons from others and fighting the evil in the world. How can evil fight evil? How can he be in opposition to God’s work by doing God’s work? It doesn’t make any sense.

Jesus goes on to tell the crowd that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. This can be interpreted as not recognizing the good work of God in the world.[5] When people accuse Jesus of acting in cahoots with evil, they are denying the Spirit. When people ignore the Holy Spirit’s work in the world, they are denying God.

We are a few weeks after Pentecost and usually we call this liturgical time “ordinary time.” Others call it “Pentecost season” and stretch it throughout the summer. I think this makes sense because it makes us more aware of the Spirit’s movement in the world beyond that one day shortly after Easter. The Spirit is always moving but is perhaps the one entity of the Trinity that is mentioned the least. The Spirit is the motivator who moves us in the direction of God.

So, I ask you – how is the Spirit working in your life? In your family? In your work? How is the Spirit working in the church? As I go to General Assembly next week, I will ask myself over and over: “How is the Spirit working in the denomination?” The Spirit is everywhere and proceeds us. The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. We can be reassured that we are comforted by the Spirit and loved by the Spirit, who works constantly in our lives.

The psalm we read today is about answered prayers. The author is praising God for good works and that God has been a strength and source of peace. The Spirit is answering our prayers, even when the answer is not what we want or expect. Though, we are reminded that God is faithful, and we can give thanks for the Spirit, who is with us always.

As you go throughout your week, breathe in the Spirit, and breathe the Spirit out into the world. Be encouraged by the Spirit, and encourage others in your actions. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Wendy Farley, “Mark 3.20-35” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 116.

[2] C. M. Tuckett, “Mark” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 894.

[3] Farley, 120.

[4] Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), 66.

[5] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 303.