Sunday, June 6, 2021

We Are Family!


Mark 3:20-35

We have spent the last few weeks reading from John’s Gospel. Today, we return to the Book of Mark. Let’s recall the first verse of the Gospel, because it reminds us of Mark’s reason for writing. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

We are in Chapter 3, and already Jesus has enemies. So far in Mark, Jesus has been baptized by John; he has appointed twelve disciples to be sent out; cast out demons and healed sick people. He has forgiven sins, which resulted in the healing of a person who had been crippled. He has eaten with tax collectors and argued with Pharisees. Some of what he has done is contrary to Sabbath laws. He is so popular, he has to hide in deserted places to find time to pray.

The Scribes are calling him names, accusing him of representing the Evil One, Beelzebul. They say, “He casts out demons in the name of the chief of demons.” But Jesus counters that. “That makes no sense! It would be counterproductive for evil to cast out evil.”

His family is worried, first that what he is saying seems crazy, and second, that what he says and does is having a negative impact on the whole family. Society in ancient Israel, in fact the whole region, was based on honor and shame. Honor and the reputation of the family name were of utmost importance. Anything a person did reflected on the whole extended family, far beyond the nuclear family of parents and children.

 So, a few family members show up where Jesus is teaching and speak to him. They try to save themselves from his growing reputation as a crazy person. “C’mon, Jesus, it’s time to stop this nonsense. Think about what you are doing to the whole family.”

Jesus’ response is not what they expected. “Who is my family? Maybe you are not really my family! Those who do the will of God are my family!” This is not the outcome the family members were looking for, of course.

It may look different today, but people are always guilty of forming in-groups and out-groups. Are you a member of the family or group? Do you conform to our rules, our standards? If you don’t conform, you risk being cast out of the group. If you don’t conform already, we won’t let you in.

This behavior begins early. It seems to be hard-wired into us. Adam and Eve struggled with it. They wanted to be part of the group who knew what would happen if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.

We learn the behavior from our parents and our peers in elementary school, refine it in middle school, perfect it in high school, and formally implement it in the community and workplace. We cement it in place with laws that reinforce the preferences of the in-group, resulting in the abasement and even abuse of the out-groups. The question becomes, where is Jesus? For example, is he in the circle of whispering, giggling girls? Or is he with the one girl who has been left out?

As Jesus’ ministry continues it is clear he sides with those outside the in-group circle. He challenges the rules that separate people into groups in the first place. Jesus eats with tax collectors and other sinners. He talks with foreign mothers and with bleeding women. He welcomes children. He says all those in the room are his family members.

Jesus works tirelessly to demonstrate that a relationship with God should be free and easy. He makes it plain that all are welcome in God’s reign. Yet, from the beginning the Church has struggled with this. Issues such as circumcision, baptism, skin color, ability, gender, and class have all been used to limit who is welcome. Those same descriptors have been used to determine who can be leaders even if they are otherwise welcome.

Jesus broke a lot of rules and included so many in his circle of welcome. We are not always so welcoming. This is hard work, admitting that we sometimes think some people don’t belong, that some people are less worthy of God’s love, because something makes them different.

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Here’s a story of very inclusive welcome adapted from the June/July 2021 issue of Living Lutheran. Emily worked for several years at a homeless shelter. She wasn’t ordained, but many of the clients opened up to her and considered her their pastor.

They expressed the desire for a faith community that looked like them, people who were homeless. They wished for a space where they could worship and not feel judged by their housing status, their past, or their appearance.

Emily found herself at Wartburg Theological Seminary, and was ordained in 2020. She is now serving as the mission developer for the Dwelling, a faith community designed for people who are or have been homeless, and those who choose to be among them. The Dwelling has established ministries including mobile showers and affordable housing. The participants are more than clients; they are also the leaders of the community.

One member describes the Dwelling this way. It is a place “where you can come in and get comfy. It’s OK to talk to the person next to you, get up and get a cup of coffee, doughnut or muffin.” She calls it one of her “God spots.”

Can’t you imagine Jesus sitting and chatting with these folks, calling them his sisters and brothers? Can you imagine St Matthew’s being just as welcoming? Does it help to remember that sometimes Jesus shows up looking like a person who is homeless? We can learn some things from our siblings at the Dwelling. Amen

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