House United: The Family of God

 

Meditation on Mark 3:19b-35

June 10, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

“Then he went home, 20 and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to restrain him, for people were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul! And by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.  27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” 30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” 31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

***

The sky had grown dark and storm clouds were rolling in as Marilyn and I arrived at the Personalized Peach Creative Studio Friday night.

We didn’t see the little workshop in a Rockledge strip mall from the road. But we knew we were in the right place when we saw the pig on a license plate in the parking lot and knew Pam, the organizer of the women’s event, was there. Slide23

The first raindrops were falling as we entered the brightly lit room. Our friends turned to us with smiles. Although we were 10 minutes late because of me, Pam said, “You’re just in time. We were just getting ready to start.”

Billy, our leader, guided us through all the steps of the project we would be making together. The first thing, she said, was to sand our boards.

I felt a stab of alarm. “I didn’t know we were going to use power tools!” I said.  “I didn’t ask Jim if it was OK.”

I watched others before I tried it myself.

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Someone turned on the sander and put it in my hand. I smiled, thinking, “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be doing this.” But it was fun, though my hand vibrated for hours after that.

We worked together, talking and laughing as we helped each other prepare our boards, stain, fan-dry,

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place our stencils with the sayings we chose, paint, and dry again before carefully pulling the stencils away.

Thunder crashed, lightning flashed. Rain began to pour down.

And I thought I had never felt more comfortable, more safe and cared for with people I had only known a few years.

Though I hadn’t heard it in years, I had a song in my head throughout the evening. “We are family” by Sisters Sledge.

We are sisters. We are brothers.

We are a house united: the family of God.

***

Jesus talks about family in a new way in our gospel reading today. He stuns his hearers, which include his family, when he redefines the word as something other than those who are blood relatives.

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Family is of the utmost importance to people in biblical times. Without family, many struggle to survive. Family is particularly important to Jewish people. While some people convert to Judaism from other faiths, the Jewish faith is traditionally passed on by blood. If your mother is Jewish, then you are Jewish, even if you aren’t very religious. Converting to another faith, if you are born Jewish, may be seen as rejecting your family and ancestry.

Today’s reading brings up the question of Jesus’ identity. What do people say about him? What does he reveal about himself?

He has, up to this point, performed many miracles of healing and has cast out demons. Whenever the “unclean spirits” see him, they know exactly who he is. They fall down before him in 3:11 and shout, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus “sternly” orders them “not to make him known.” Multitudes of people are following him, seeking healing, when today’s passage begins with, “Then he went home. His family have heard about the crowds, so much so, that Jesus and his disciples “could not even eat.” So they come to “restrain him.” What does that mean? And what do they think of him? Do they think he is crazy?

We only know that they have heard people saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” This is one of the false narratives, possibly spread by the religious leaders, who hate and fear him, worried that they may be losing their power and control over the people. Now the scribes, the religious teachers, insult him in the worst possible way. Since they can’t say they that he doesn’t have the power to heal or that he hasn’t healed multitudes of people, they say that the source of his power is evil.

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“He has Beelzebul,” they say, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And this isn’t a misprint, if you are wondering if it should say, “Beelzebub.” Only the Latin translation of the Bible from the Middle Ages says, “Beelzebub” here, meaning “lord of the flies,” but this isn’t correct. Mark says “Beelzebul,” which possibly means “lord of the house,” and may refer to an old Canaanite deity. The phrase “house divided against itself” (remember the famous person who said this? Lincoln!) may be a pun on this name.

Jesus responds to the lies by speaking logically and rationally– not anything like a person who has “lost his mind.” He speaks in “parables”–and this is the first time Mark uses that word. “How could Satan cast out Satan?” he asks. In his talk of kingdoms and houses divided, he is saying that demons fighting against each other would be weakened by inner conflicts.

His words, spoken long ago, are meant for the Church in every day and age. For the Church is often plagued by conflicts from within. He is urging them to be a house united: a family of God.

His parable reveals his role in salvation. He compares himself to a thief, as he will in Matt 24:43 and Lk 12:39 when he talks about his Second Coming. Jesus is the one entering the “strong man’s house”–Satan’s territory– to “plunder his property”– to forgive and save sinners, and claim them for his own.

He provides the hard truth to those slandering him, saying he has an “unclean spirit.” They are blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They will not be forgiven or saved.

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Their response doesn’t immediately follow. Instead, Mark finishes the story he introduces at the beginning of this passage–when Jesus’s earthly family comes to “restrain him.” Are they concerned for his wellbeing, wanting to protect him from himself, the crowd pressing in and threatening to crush him, and those who are spreading lies about him? Or are they concerned about him hurting the family’s position in the community with his challenges and insults to the religious leaders? Mark doesn’t say.

The key point is that Jesus chooses to obey God rather than his family when their desires and actions interfere with what God wants him to do. Jesus provides a model for believers, especially in the Early Church, who will be severely persecuted for their beliefs by their own families and communities.

Jesus may be narrowing the traditional definition of “family” but he is also widening it to include the possibility of everyone–all who seek to be faithful to the Lord. This will, eventually, include his mother and brothers.

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For in Acts, they are among the believers gathered in a room in Jerusalem–with all of Christ’s sisters and brothers–waiting and praying for the Holy Spirit, as the risen Lord has told them to do.

***

     The day after I gathered with my sisters to make inspirational or humorous plaques, 4 slides my neck was really hurting. I probably shouldn’t have used the power sander! But I was still glad that I went for the fellowship. And the message I had chosen for my board,

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“My grace is enough for you,” reminded me to reach out to some of my sisters for encouragement and prayer. For this is what we do–the family that is Christ’s Church. We laugh together, share our sorrows and pain, and pray for one another when we are suffering or carrying heavy burdens. The Holy Spirit leads us, illumines God’s will to us, and empowers us to obey.

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Women's retreat

We welcome 3 more people today into the MIPC family–Tammy and Lloyd Lewis and Linda Whitten. We will embrace a fourth who couldn’t be here today– Jill Moore—at a later date. We are blessed by these precious children of God, seeking to walk in Christ’s ways.

Tammy, Lloyd and Linda, we hope to be a blessing to you and your families. We look forward to sharing this journey of faith together. Loving one another, as Christ loved us. Revealing our unity in Him and God’s grace to the world.

Welcome to the family!

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Heavenly Father, thank you for your love for us, for sending your Son to die for us so we may be forgiven for all our sins and live forever with you. Thank you that Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters–that we are all family–your followers in every time and place. Help us, Lord, to pray. Reveal your will to us every day and empower us to obey. May we be pleasing to you. And we ask a special blessing on our new members, Lord–our sisters and brother in the faith. We pray you will continue to grow us in Spirit and number as we seek to reach out with the gospel of love and grace to our families, community and world. In Christ we pray, Amen.

 

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