Lectionary Readings: Genesis 3:8-15, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35
“We are family, I got all my sisters with me, We are family, Get up ev’rybody and sing.”
OK. So Sister Sledge is not exactly the same as the gospel reading. But in this reading, Jesus is not exactly going with “traditional” family values either. Jesus looks around at this crowd of people gathered, a crowd that had been following him and his newly named disciples; the crowd had been interested in his teaching, wowed by the healings. And at this point in the story we are told that Jesus’s own mother and brothers came “to get him”. In response, Jesus looks over this crowd, a crowd that included his own family and asks, “Who are my mother and brothers?”
I can imagine a quiet pause at this point.
Now, if you are asked the question “Who are your people?” as we are apt to do, especially around here, there are answers that come to mind. Think on it for just a second. There are kinships that are about biological heritage, some of that heritage is direct and some of it, especially in this age of DNA testing, allows us to reach back and think of heritage in terms of migration patterns over many thousands of years. There are kinships based on family, family which may be biological or adoptive. There are divisions based on job, profession, maybe career. There are tribes such as religious groups, belief systems, political persuasions. There are many ways in which we define our kind of people.
And then Jesus asks, “Who is my family?”
Well, the obvious answer in our gospel reading is that Jesus’s family are the ones looking a bit irritated and that are coming to take Jesus home. Maybe Jesus’s family was embarrassed at what Jesus was doing . . . or perhaps there were good intentions, efforts to protect Jesus. After all, his mother and brothers may be worrying about the crowds that he was drawing, feeling afraid of the attention of the religious leaders and the Roman authorities. His family would not have been ignorant of what happens when you cross the leaders in that day.
And almost assuming that Jesus was not aware of their presence, this person tells him, “Your family is here for you.”
And Jesus looks out at the crowd and says “Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my mother and sister and brother.”
Now y’all know, we are in the south. And even if you were not raised here, you know and I know that if this were a southern family, there’d be a few gasps from the crowd after Jesus said this. And in a more genteel time there might be a swoon and the fluttering emergence of a kerchief. What is more likely in this day and age is someone saying “Now just who do you think you are!?!”
But again, this Jesus does not do things the way that you should, at least not as the religious leaders of that day said that you should, not as that culture said that you should. He heals people on the Sabbath; he touches people that you are not supposed to touch; he talks with women and treats them as whole people, as equals. When you know that God loves everyone, when you practice radical acceptance, love and grace, when you preach healing and reconciliation, this is a message that disarms the powers of this world. This is how you bind up the strong man. This is how you sing, “We are family!”
Yet there is also a tougher message here too, especially for those of us who feel that we “have it right”. This convicting word may make us want to hide from God as Adam and Eve did, feeling the need to cover ourselves in excuses, to cover our nakedness, to blame the other, because “they made me do it”. Because what is most convicting about this story, this parable of Jesus, is this whole piece about a kingdom divided against itself, and how that kingdom cannot stand.
This story is situated just after Jesus has healed on the Sabbath, and the priests and religious leaders are accusing him of being in league with Satan, this Satan being a word that means “adversary”, the tempter.
And Jesus counters this assertion from the religious leaders through the logic that if you are on the side of this Satan, this adversary, then you would not be working against Satan. Because this tempter, this adversary, this Satan is one who seeks to divide us. This Satan is the one who encourages us to choose sides like family or kinship or race or gender or sex or liberal or conservative or democrat or republican or libertarian or green. It is hard not to hear echoes of where we are right now, right this very minute as a nation.
But Jesus says “we are family” . . . we are ALL family.
If you believe that God’s love is for all of us, then these divisions, as tempting as they are, work against the love of God. If we stand in the way of sharing God’s love, even for people with whom we disagree, then we are standing in the way of God’s Spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
And this is where any of us can feel a bit of a sting.
I know my sin. I know that there are times when I have been angry at the other side, have called them names, have dehumanized them. I also know the way of God’s love is not the same as accepting hurt or injustice. In the face of injustice, doing the will of God is showing the way of love, not hate. Because it is surely a life in hell to be in that place where they are on this side and you are on that side. If we fall prey to this sort of either/or thinking, we have fallen for the temptation. We are following the tempter, this Satan.
Jesus is about both/and, not either/or. This Jesus shows us the way of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of healing. Jesus points to a different kind of kinship, of family.
It is then that we are building something eternal, not temporary.
We are family. All of us are family. We are family. Get up everybody and sing . . .
[Sermon for St. Francis Episcopal Church, Macon, Georgia, 10 June 2018]
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Link to other writing on Medium: https://medium.com/@jasonhobbslcsw