Rev. Jeff Bacon
June 6, 2021
Let’s join our hearts together in prayer. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, forgive the sins of your faithful family. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point about forgiveness. She said, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before your sin is forgiven?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up, “You have to sin.”
Young children and families are wonderful, but many families are pretty complicated. Consider the marriage of 76-year-old Bill Baker and Edna Harvey. Edna is Bill’s granddaughter’s husband’s mother. It caused a lot of complications according to Bill’s granddaughter, Lynn, who explains, “My mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother. My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law. My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew. But even crazier is that I’m now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins.”
It’s complicated! Lots of families are complicated. Jesus makes it easier by saying that we are all one family; brothers and sisters in the love of God, our Father.
At the time of Jesus, it was getting complicated in the Jerusalem religious community, and it was getting complicated in Jesus’ family. Jesus left his family to pursue his ministry near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has just appointed his twelve disciples and they went to his home. The crowds were blockading them in the house and they couldn’t even eat. During the confusing dialogue, Jesus utters one of the most troublesome statements of the New Testament. With his mother and brothers outside the house calling for him, Jesus says, “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’” It doesn’t seem to fit with our understanding of the importance of family.
The evidence is convincing that the better our family relationships are at home, the more effective we are in our careers. If we’re having difficulty with a loved one, that difficulty is often translated into reduced performance on the job. In studying the millionaires in America, U.S. News and World Report, painted a picture of the “typical” millionaire as an individual who has worked eight to ten hours a day for thirty years and is still married to his or her high school or college sweetheart. A New York executive search firm, in a study of 1,365 corporate vice presidents, discovered that 87% were still married to their one and only spouse and that 92% were raised in two-parent families. Families take lots of different forms, but the evidence is overwhelming that family is important.
Mark tells a complicated little story about Jesus and his family in a very interesting way that helps to shed some light on his message. There are actually two stories embedded, one within the other, in a literary form called a chiastic structure. The themes go A B C B’ A’. Theme C is the focal point in the middle and is the primary message. In our gospel reading today, the A’s are the parts about Jesus’ family, the B’s are the parts about the scribes, and C is the parable about the strong man, who is Satan.
Mark begins by mentioning that Jesus’ family went out to restrain Jesus because he’s gone out of his mind. Jesus’ family is outside and Mark literally says that they believe Jesus “stood outside” himself. Jesus’ opponents are always outside in one way or another and those who believe are inside.
The dialogue then moves to the scribes, who are the religious authorities who have come from Jerusalem to charge Jesus with being possessed by Satan. At the time, people charged with demon possession and doing magic could be either banished or executed, so the charge is serious.
The middle “C” part of the story is Jesus speaking in parables. The parables turn the tables against his opponents by showing the absurdity of their views and fixes the absurd image of the parable in people’s minds. First, a house divided cannot stand and it’s ridiculous that Satan would cast out himself. The readers of Mark already know that the demons recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God, so it’s ironic that the demons know who Jesus is, but the religious authorities do not. The next image is of robbing a strong man and Jesus is able to bind up the strong man and is therefore stronger than Satan. Jesus is one with God and is stronger than evil. That’s the primary message: Jesus is one with God and is stronger than evil.
Then we return back to the scribes and Jesus accuses them of blasphemy. “People will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemes they utter.” It’s an unconditional statement about the forgiveness of sin. And then in apparent contradiction, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable eternal sin. Here, the unforgivable sin is the scribes’ lack of belief in the Holy Spirit in Jesus, which separates them from God, who is the source of forgiveness. A sin that separates one from the source of forgiveness makes the sin impossible to forgive.
Finally, we get back to where we began, with Jesus’ family, who have come to take him away. All of Jesus’ disciples had left their homes, left their families, and left their careers to follow Jesus. Jesus’ family are still outside; they’re not disciples. Jesus warns that family can sometimes be the source of traditions that aren’t positive. Some traditions may need to change. The raising of children within families can be wonderful, but it can also be influenced by the strong man from whose binding Jesus sets us free. Family authority cannot be set above doing the will of God.
Jesus’ true family are on the inside and see God’s presence in Jesus, who says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus is telling us that we are all one family living together in God’s love. And God’s love is stronger than the forces of evil.
Author Keith Miller tells of a 40-year-old woman who was part of a sharing group that he led. The woman told her story:
“When I was a tiny little girl, my parents died and I was put in an orphanage. I was not pretty at all and no one seemed to want me. But I longed to be adopted and loved by a family as far back as I can remember. I thought about it day and night, but everything I did seemed to go wrong. I must have tried too hard to please the people who came to look me over and what I did was to drive them away.”
“But then one day the head of the orphanage told me that a family was coming to take me home with them. I was so excited that I jumped up and down and cried like a little baby. The matron reminded me that I was on trial and this might not be a permanent arrangement, but I just knew that somehow it would work out.”
“So, I went with this family and started to school. I was the happiest little girl you can imagine, and life began to open up for me just a little. But then one day a few months later, I skipped home from school and ran into the front door of the big old house we lived in. No one was at home, but in the middle of the front hall was my battered suitcase with my little coat thrown across it. As I stood there it suddenly dawned on me what it meant – I didn’t belong there anymore.”
Miller reports that when the woman stopped speaking there was hardly a dry eye in the group. But then she cleared her throat and said almost matter-of-factly, “This happened to me seven times before I was 13 years old. But wait, don’t feel too badly,” she continued, “It was experiences like these that ultimately brought me to God – and there I found what I had always longed for – a place, a sense of belonging, a forever family.”
I’d like to close with a prayer that was found on a scrap of wrapping paper near the body of a dead child at the Ravensbruck concentration camp built in 1939 for women and children prisoners. Over 90,000 women and children perished in Ravensbruck. The prayer is: “O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”
We are all welcomed as brothers and sisters into the forever family of God, and by the grace and forgiveness of God, we are all loved and we all belong. Thanks be to God. Amen.