Sunday, June 10, 2012

SERMON: Jesus Starts a New Family


Date: The First Sunday After Trinity (June 10, 2012)
I

The door to Mary’s house shakes as it is pounded from the outside. Mary opens the door to a familiar face: “Jesus has come home, Mary. Come quickly.” Mary snaps into motion, and calling Jesus’ brothers together, they walk out the door, as the Gospel of Mark says, “to restrain him.”

They pass a crowd of people. She overhears, “Who does he think he is? The scribes from Jerusalem will sort him out.” Mary knows the religious teachers can be dangerous. She quickens her pace.

As Mary and the boys approach, she hears her son’s voice inside the house, “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” Through the door, she sees the faces of the scribes. One is ashen. The other is angry. The angry one grabs the other and pushes him towards the door. One mumbles to the other, “He has gone out of his mind.”

The house itself is full to over-flowing. Jesus is sitting and teaching in the middle of the room, and everyone is sitting in a circle around him. Mary and Jesus’ brothers are outside, on the periphery. But, Mary has come to get her son to the safety of her home, so she passes word through the crowd. Someone leans over and whispers in Jesus’ ear. His eyes open in surprise. He looks through the doorway at his mother and says so that everyone can hear, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those sitting around him, he says, as Mark testifies, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mary looks at her son, shocked and probably offended. Jesus has refused to come home.

II

Here in the 21st century, we try to bring Jesus home with us all the time, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad. When I was in high school, a friend taught me a song. It starts out, and you’ll have to imagine the country and western style, “I don’t care if it rains for freezes, as long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of my car. Comes in colours pink and pleasant, glows in the dark ‘cause it’s iridescent, take it with you when you travel far.” This is probably one example of the bad way of bringing Jesus home with us.

Another of these were the once-ubiquitous “What would Jesus Do?” bracelets. They were there to remind you to be intentional about the way you lived, a laudable goal! But the problem was, looking around, everyone came up with different answers. For the Baptists, Jesus would never drink, smoke, or dance. For the Catholics, Jesus would do all of those things. For the Christian Right, Jesus wouldn’t vote for a liberal. For the Christian Left, Jesus wouldn’t vote for a conservative. For some, Jesus was a man of tolerance and peace, a hippie before his time. For others, Jesus was a stalwart defender of the Truth with a capital T, a fundamentalist before his time.

But, for every follower of Jesus, there is a moment when we walk up to the house like Mary did, and we try to call Jesus back home, when we try to remove him from the centre and turn him into the plastic Jesus we can put in our car. As we stand on the outside, and our message is passed on to Jesus at the centre of the seated learners, Jesus looks straight at us and says, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus refuses to come home with us, too.

III

Jesus refuses to go home with his mother, because he was starting a new family. Before Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes, he was on a whirlwind tour, healing illnesses and casting out demons. Just before returning home, he chose twelve disciples who would later, minus one, become the apostles we remember and revere. And then he comes home, but the crowd is not far behind him. There are so many that he can’t even eat. But instead of turning them away, he sits down in the house and begins to teach. But, his fame is spreading too quickly. Scribes come down from Jerusalem and make the accusation that Jesus’ power and influence come from an ominous source. As Mark has them say, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.”

The seated crowd at Jesus’ feet goes silent. Seconds tick by. Jesus answers, only indirectly, saying that if a Kingdom or a Household were internally divided then they would not stand. Can Satan be divided against himself? No, he says, I am the one raiding Satan’s house, not vice versa. I am the one breaking through, the one breaking in, and my ministry of healing and exorcism is a sign of a new Kingdom, a new House, a new Family. And when you scribes say that the Kingdom of God comes by the agency of evil spirits, you are blaspheming against God himself.

One of the scribes goes ashen. The other mutters angrily. One grabs the other and starts pushing towards the door, past Mary and the boys. After a moment, someone leans over to Jesus and says, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” Jesus looks up in surprise – all this talk of Kingdoms and Houses wasn’t meant to be about his house, the place where his mother and brothers live. But, then, he realizes, no, it really was. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and the woman who bore him, his natural family, has come to collect him, to tie him up and bring him to her home. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asks. It is those who choose to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear his teaching, those who do the will of God. THOSE are Jesus’ brother and sister and mother. Jesus came to start a new family that could include, but extended far beyond, his earthly mother and brothers.

IV

St. Bene’t’s has a statue of the Virgin Mary holding her son. Throughout the history of the Church, Mary has been represented with the baby Jesus in her arms. If you look at these pictures, even though Our Lady is often the centre-piece, Jesus is obviously the object. If she looks out of the picture, she is pointing to Jesus. If her eyes are focused elsewhere, they are on Jesus. Whatever else happened that day when Jesus started a new family, the Church remembers that Mary learned a lesson – that her family was not the centre of her world, that Jesus was the centre, and that Jesus needed to stay in the centre always.

Jesus calls us to belong with him. When a parent brings a child to be baptized, they are in effect saying that they want their child to be a part of Jesus’ new family, to live a life with Jesus at the centre. Today, when baby Felix comes out from under the water, he will be reborn into this new family. In effect, his godparents will carry him into the room where Jesus sits teaching the crowd. They will sit and listen and learn with Felix in tow. Over the course of years, Felix will grow up and ask questions, and he will come to a moment in his life where he comes to call Jesus back to his house, to his party, to his understanding of the world. And Jesus will ask him, “Who is my family?” And then, as he has done for all of us, Jesus will look around at the simple, the lame, the weak, the rich and poor, the Baptists and Catholics, the conservatives and liberals, the hippies and fundamentalists, all who have put down their placards to sit at his feet, and he will say “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. Sit. Listen. Learn.”

Where are we, then? Are we standing on the outside, calling to Jesus to come home with us? Or, are we here willing to be made a part of Jesus’ family? Every week we have that choice, as we come again to the Table of our Lord. We have here an opportunity to sit down again at Jesus’ feet, to become part of his family, to learn again how to love God, ourselves, and our neighbours. May we be the people who stop trying to co-opt Jesus and his message for our own purposes. May we be the people who sit down at Jesus’ feet as part of his new family.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


**Virgin Mary photo by Matic Zupancic
**Dashboard Jesus photo by scasha
**Jesus icon photo by Dimitri Castrique
**Mary and Child icon, copyright TatianaVartanova

2 comments:

Gav said...

Thanks Jason, for this personal and intensely relevant take on a difficult gospel passage. I never thought about the context and you made me realise that Jesus could NOT have gone out to see his mother and brothers without destroying (or at least distorting) the message he had just delivered.

Jason Ingalls said...

Thanks for the comment, Gavin!

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