Mark 3:31-35

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.

A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The Word of God for the People of God.

            Thanks be to God.

It was Christmas break the middle of my freshman year at Davidson.  I had finished a couple of weeks at home that were full of rest, but also with the conflicts, that you may be able to imagine, when someone who is used to being able to come and go as he pleases goes back to the home in which his parents are used to, for good reason, being able to decide who comes and goes and when.  When those worlds collide things get…complicated.  I was planning on returning to school Sunday to begin class Monday morning, but had a call from a friend and folks were heading back Saturday in order to have an extra night to…enjoy not having firm boundaries anymore.  I was talking about this with my parents at dinner on Friday night and said, without even thinking, “I’m just ready to get back home.”  It was that word that did it.  My mom sputtered and her face fell… “I thought this was your home…” she said, and I realized what I had done, and it was too late, too late to take it back.  What I MEANT to say was something about how much I loved the friends I had made at school and how much that community mattered to me.  What I did instead was push some of my immediate family aside, causing hurt.

All of which makes me feel like I can imagine the face of dear Mary, Jesus’ mother, here.  Jesus’ boundary-breaking ministry is in full swing.  He has called disciples from their homes, cast out an unclean spirit, healed, preached, cleansed a leper, all in chapter 1.  The first verse of chapter two is important:  “When he (Jesus) returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.”   Something different is already at work.  My friend Dan from my preaching group notes… “The “home” here is not Nazareth, where Jesus had been brought up, but Capernaum, probably Simon Peter’s home (where Jesus had not long ago healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law). Jesus has already left his own home and taken up with others, perhaps foreshadowing or demonstrating the radical call that is to come in this passage: that we ought to redefine our understanding of family in terms of allegiance to God and God’s ways.”[1]

In chapter two the people flood his ‘home.’  The “crowd” in Mark is a character unto itself, pressing in on Jesus…[2]  Brian Blount writes, “the people mob Jesus in desperate pursuit of his revolutionary abilities to transfigure physical (illness) and spiritual (sin, possession) maladies.  They are equally attracted to his groundbreaking critique of religious laws (holiness and purity) that had become tactics of social exclusion.”[3]  There are a couple of cycles here in chapters 2 and 3 – the crowds show up at the house, the crowds chase Jesus to the edge to the sea, he wrestles with fasting and the Sabbath, escapes up a mountain.  The crowds yearn; leaders’ suspicious.

Whatever the boundaries used to be, Jesus is moving them out.  The rules say you are unclean?  No, I decide that, Jesus says, and I make you clean.  The rules say not to work on the Sabbath.  Sure, rest in God’s creation, but don’t ever stop tending to the human need in front of you.  Jesus in Mark is immediate and sure and bold.  The time is fulfilled, he says at the very beginning of his ministry.  The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent.  Believe.

In the scene before this Jesus is back home – Capernaum home, not Nazareth home, the crowds blocking the yard out front.  His family, Mark says, tries to restrain him, because, even in the massive support of the crowds, some were already sowing seeds of doubt.  “He has gone out of his mind,” they said.  Jesus pushes back, we cannot undercut each other as we move towards the kingdom.  We cannot sabotage each other.  We must move towards God’s reign together.  It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, who you are related to and what you have.  You’re either with me, Jesus is saying, or You’re not.  There is no in-between, no straddling the fence.  The work of the kingdom is not something you do when you have spare time.

It is the same in this text.  We see Mary and his brothers outside, sending someone in.  It’s us, Jesus.  Won’t you move the crowd and let us in?  By introducing the family back in verse 21, Pheme Perkins writes, Mark creates the impression that the family’s motives are hostile.  Also having the family call from the outside is supposed to indicate that they are not disciples.  All of those lines are shifting.[4]  I think that’s at the heart of what’s in today’s text.  All of the lines you used to think you can count on are changing, Jesus says.  The things that used to be important may no longer be.  What is is seeing all of our allegiances, every single one of them, through the light of following Jesus, being drawn towards the kingdom of God.  As Jill Duffield writes:  “I don’t want Jesus to cause offense, but that’s exactly what Jesus does…He offends those closest to him, those with the greatest power to hurt him and even, I suspect, some in the crowd and the newly appointed apostles, too. Jesus offends because he upends everything we’ve heretofore thought sacred: family, religion, civility, established order, home, church, country. Jesus calls us to give up all the loyalties that in comparison to God should be penultimate, but in practice become working idols that drive our decisions, thoughts and actions.”[5]

For those of us who prefer things stable and predictable, this causes discomfort.  What would it look like if we lined everything up in our lives with living towards the kingdom of God?  What would it do to our families and friends, the social circles we run in or think we want to run in?  Where we go and what we do.  The way we treat other people, at work, here at church.  Does the way you are raising your children build up the kingdom?  Does the way you honor the relationships you are in honor the kingdom?  Does where you spend your money, the homes you live in, the appearances we ALL, I’m owning this too, work so hard to maintain, do those things bring honor to Jesus and build up the kingdom of God?  Nothing’s off limits.  How you vote – knowing that NO PARTY OR LEADER has a corner on the kingdom.  Jesus sticks his finger in everyone’s eye here.  Get on board, he says.  Look at every piece of it, he says.  Look deep in your heart.  How does all the stuff in your life help you follow me?  And if it doesn’t, no matter what that thing is, you have to leave it behind.

I must confess sometimes I wonder, even here at the church.  Events and things and buildings and staff transitions and day to day management and all of the things that are required to keep things moving, as we all do our best to support the ministry we feel called to do, together.  In an unbelievable busy time of year.  But you all keep stepping up.  In this campaign, as so many of you are so generous, stretching, because you believe in the future of this place.  We had a packed house as we worshipped with La Nueva, worshipping a whole almost 90 minutes last week, which is the longest a Presbyterian church has ever worshipped, with joy.  As we sat around tables and continued to build a partnership with our brothers and sisters at La Nueva.  As we listened and talked together in ways that were so moving with brothers and sister from the Divan Center here on Friday night as we broke the Ramandan fast together, because how we know all of our neighbors matters.  As you packed meals for local schoolchildren.  As many of you signed up to, today, on the weekend right after school gets out, to put your faith to work in your hands and feet and shoulders.  As we prepare to wish our dear Heather Ferguson farewell next week.  As we hear about the growing Haitian partnership the Sunday after that.  In a world in which it’s so easy to be divided from each other, and draw lines that separate us, from people and groups, we reach towards.  With the Spirit’s help, we reach towards each other, and all of the world.  Come, Jesus says to us all.  Come.  Join my family.  Let’s do this together.

All praise be to God.  Amen.

[1] From the Rev. Dan Lewis’ paper on this text at The Well, Charlotte, 2018.

[2] Also from Dan.

[3] Brian Blount and Gary Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2002), p. 42.

[4] Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995 ), p 566.

[5] Looking into the Lectionary, by Jill Duffield, Mark 3:20-35, June 10, 2018, “Standing on the Side of Jesus’ Vision”