A sermon, based on Mark 3.20-35, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 10, 2018
Jesus inaugurates his ministry. Preaching, teaching, healing, miracle-working; exciting the crowds and inciting the animosity of the authorities who consider him an ungodly lawbreaker, unobservant of the Sabbath.
Jesus goes home, his presence causing a ruckus. “The crowd came together again, so that (he) and his disciples could not even eat.” The people clamor for his attention. I can hear their cries: “C’mon, Jesus, more preaching and teaching, more healing and miracle-working!” The scribes, the keepers and interpreters of God’s Law, condemn him: “He’s a spawn of Satan! Only by the devil’s power does he do what he does!” His mother Mary and his siblings, fearing for his safety and his sanity, want “to restrain him,”(1) forcing him into protective custody from those who would harm him and from himself.
Yet when Jesus is told, “Your mother, brothers, and sisters are asking for you,” he replies, oddly, it might seem, “Who are my mother and my brothers and my sisters?”
Underlying all talk of Christian family values is an assumption, I think, that Jesus always favors the family. Yet his question, “Who are my mother, brothers, and sisters?”, reflects a critical and consistent element of his teaching…
When the twelve-year-old Jesus went missing and was found in the Jerusalem temple by his desperately searching parents, he responded to their anxious concern, “Why have you sought me? Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?”(2)
At the Cana wedding feast, Jesus initially reacted to his mother’s request that he fix the problem of the lack of wine (though, yes, he did!), saying, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”(3)
Jesus, in response to a crowd giving honor to his mother, “Blessed is the womb that bore you,” answered, “Blessed rather are those who hear God’s word and obey it!”(4)
Jesus, God forbid, doesn’t hate his mother! Yet something deeper, greater is at stake. The call of God on one’s life. A call to a new life. A call that immediately, insistently challenges every other allegiance of one’s present life; even that fundamental, formative basis of all human social structure: the family. A call that one must choose; not once-for-all, once-and-done, but always and in all ways.
Jesus testified to God’s call in his inaugural preaching: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”(5) In Jesus, his words and deeds of unconditional, Self-sacrificial love, the kingdom – God’s nature, God’s life, who God is, the way God is, what God does, God – entered time and space. This gospel, this good news is the life of Jesus, which, as his life is his greatest allegiance that he could not choose not to follow!
So for Jesus, so for his first disciples. Responding to his call, “Follow me,” they came to learn a new life. At times, they were concerned, they complained about the cost of that choice; Peter once crying, “We have left everything to follow you!”(6) Nevertheless, those disciples who had come to learn became apostles sent out to proclaim God’s kingdom.
So for the first disciples, so for us. In baptism, we have answered his call, “Follow me.” In gathering today, we continue to answer his call. And in leaving today, we will pray to be present day apostles proclaiming God’s kingdom: “Eternal God, heavenly Father…you have fed us with spiritual food…Send us now into the world…to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart…”(7)
We live in the twenty-first, not the first century. Ours is a more complicated, confusing time. We have manifold commitments; many more choices than faced Jesus and his disciples.
Yet one thing remains the same. We, with our forebears of two millennia ago, are human. As human, all we have individual perspectives, preferences, prejudices; our lenses through which we perceive the world and make choices; some of which inevitably conflict with our allegiance to Jesus.
Yet one other thing remains the same. The call of Jesus. So, when amidst conflicts that might keep us from loving and serving God “with gladness and singleness of heart”, proclaiming in word and deed that the kingdom of God is at hand, may we hear the voice of Jesus calling unto us: “Choose!”
(1) It is interesting to note that the Greek verb, translated “to restrain”, is the same used to describe Jesus’ arrest before his trial and crucifixion (Mark 14.44). This suggests the zealousness with which Jesus’ family sought to bring him under control.
(2) See Luke 2.41-50, my emphases
(3) John 2.4, my emphases
(4) Luke 11.27-28, my emphasis
(5) Mark 1.15
(6) Mark 10.28, my emphases
(7) From the Post-Communion Prayer, The Book of Common Prayer, page 365
All the City Was Gathered at the Door, James Tissot (1836-1902)
Finding Jesus in the Temple, William Holman Hunt (1827-1910). Note: Hunt portrays an anxious Mary and Joseph hovering over their son Jesus as the teachers of the Law, “who heard him (and) were amazed at his understanding and his answers”, look on.
Miracle at Cana (1887), artist unknown. Note: The artist depicts Jesus giving instructions to the servants to “fill the jars with water”, which he will transform into wine, while Mary looks on.
Jesus Teaching on the Seashore, James Tissot. Note: I love this painting, for, for me, as it portrays Jesus teaching a crowd that includes a goodly number of women, it is illustrative of Jesus’ egalitarian spirit.