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.

All the City Was Gathered at the Door, James Tissot (1836-1902)

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…

Finding Jesus in the Temple, William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)

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)

Miracle at Cana (1887), artist unknown

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 Teaching on the Seashore, James Tissot (1836-1902)

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.

5 thoughts on “Choose!

  1. This: “…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.”

    Paul, this is so perfect a description and connects so beautifully to what you described in your recent post about your insistent dreams and the shroud image. The scenes you described in which Jesus, nearly crassly, insensitively, dismisses his mother’s importance in his life I have always seen as undercutting some of the clear messages he gives almost universally elsewhere about the equal dignity and worth of women, about kindness, about love, about doing good to people, etc. But here you have made the point that those painful scenes, those distancing words are evidence of a “prior claim,” a “higher calling” for Jesus in the moments in which he speaks cold-sounding words about someone he is clearly supposed to, and no doubt does, love. The imperative of birthing something new, of revealing a new consciousness, is primary for Jesus, even over and above momentary kindness, consistent assurance of loyalty, and I would argue, it must also be primary for any and all who are struggling with collaborating and cooperating with God’s work of evolving a New Creation. While we might hope that things like crassness, distraction, depression, criticism, absence, even anger, could be minimized in human relationships, it’s probably a given that these too are a part of the sacrifice we make and accept in order to contribute in meaningful ways to God’s ongoing creative work in the universe.

    Thank you for these very poignant and valuable insights, accompanied as if by beautiful plan, by your sharing your own deep struggle with the same higher calling.

    Much love,



  2. Paul,

    I agree with Karen, this is perfect!!! Today I CHOSE to stay at home and “Do ME”….and rest and recharge… I had an amazing week last week and I have another emotion-filled week coming up as I’m going back to Chicago!! This work I am called to do requires ENERGY as I do the work God has called me to do!

    One of the things that struck me the most about this sermon, other than being called by God to follow him, for me was to discover who my mother, brothers and sisters are… AND who are the people who need to be preached to, taught and healed?

    First and foremost is the hard answer of who my Mom is. She’s still God’s child, YET different from the person who WAS my Mom. One thing I stress to people all the time about dementia is that no one EVER CHOOSES to have this disease, to have their behavior altered and memories erased. So for my Mom it’s hard to follow anyone even though I know deep down that her faith is still there. These days Mom mumbles a lot and only two words can be distinguishable which are “Jesus Christ”… That gives me huge comfort in the midst of this horror.

    So back to who are my brothers and sisters?? I have so many people I connect with whom I would never have CHOSEN as my friends, YET this disease has brought us together. We together follow Jesus AND CHOOSE to fight this disease together rather than separetely. I believe when we love someone, like we all love our folks who are afflicted by this disease, then we answer the call and move forward.

    For me this week, as Karen stated as well, it’s been amazing and heatbreaking to read your words and your struggle in darkness. You’ve always been a person in my life who I’ve CHOSEN to follow – through the ups and downs, the good and the bad, and the sometimes ugly. The four of us Abernathys and Veneys bonded as brothers and sisters and we all followed Jesus and try to touch other people in our lives. The speeches I give on the road are fairly easy at this point, and though they are always emotional, I could give them with my eyes closed.

    What’s difficult is that as close as we’ve been I don’t have a clue how to help you with the darkness, and I’d love to CHOOSE to fix it though I know that I can’t. What I will CHOOSE to do is just to be here, not only for my calling to follow God, but also for my brothers and sisters who are struggling with things not related to dementia. In this century as you said, we have so many options of things we need to do… but I think given the latest suicides of two stunningly amazing people, we need to focus more on the people in our lives to ensur they’re ok.

    As always, I’m sending you love and hugs, and I CHOOSE to be there for you always.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, bless you, love you, Loretta. There is no greater gift that you can give (truly, what greater gift could you give) than yourself and, as I am wont to say, your self (meaning your person, your individual being and becoming as common with others in its/your humanity and as distinct from all others in its/your individuality)? And, believe me, I am graced beyond the telling to be the beneficiary of your choosing to share your self with me…

    And, Lord, yes, you can and do give your self to and with so many, many others. Yours, as we’ve confirmed, is a truest calling. Indeed, you have accepted and donned the mantle of apostleship, for you go out and share God’s love in the wrestling and coping with care for loved ones with dementia and self-care for one’s self amidst this necessary, yet always arduous labor.

    With love undying,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Happy to choose to be there for you. Like many people I’m sure, I’ve been wondering about the team that was traveling in France with Anthony Bourdain. I wonder if while on the road they had “chosen” to be brothers & sisters who were there for each other OR if they were just famous chef and directors and camera people who weren’t all that close. Either way I can’t imagine being any of them. Filming an episode one day that all of us fans loved, to one of them finding him in his room. His decision seems different than Kate Spade’s as her friends and family said she’d been withdrawing lately and they were worried but the same didn’t seem true for him. Darkness must be a horrible thing, to push such special people to such a devastating end… and I pray for everyone, especially you, to find and embrace the light.

    Love you back!


  5. Loretta, yes, I, too, have wondered about the folk with and around Anthony Bourdain in what, now, we know we’re his last hours of life in this world. From what I have read, Bourdain was a warm and open soul who cultivated deep friendships. Hence, it’s my sense that those with him from fellow chefs to “Parts Unknown” crew members were close. If so, and I think it likely is so, then, for me, if further highlights how deep can be the darkness that surrounds a person; so deep that it cannot be seen by those, even when close by. In this, it stresses for me the importance for me – for I cannot speak for another and I dare not lay a burden on another by demanding more openness from her/him than she/he is willing or able to render – of speaking up for myself when I am hurting or otherwise in emotional/spiritual need.

    Love always,


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