The Rev. Rhoda Montgomery, D.Min.
2nd Sunday in Pentecost
June 10, 2012
I spent this past week in Austin taking a class at the seminary, and by that I mean I spent a lot of time in Mexican food restaurants with dozens of old friends. I really did go to class all five days, and legitimately earned my continuing education attendance certificate, but every evening there were opportunities to catch up with friends from different parts of my previous life in Austin. Most every hour of the day and night I was with people, between the class, and the restaurants, it was extrovert heaven, and like a true extrovert, I came back refreshed from all of that human contact. I came back a little chubbier too, from all of the enchilada and queso contact, but that’s beside the point.
Perhaps like a lot of you, I have friends who are closer to my heart in many ways than people who share my DNA. Even as much as I care for people in my gene pool, there are those “soul friends” who come into our lives and connect with us in deep and profound ways…ways that transcend biology. You can choose your friends in ways that you can’t choose your family. There’s an old saying about friends being the family you make for yourself.
And of course I have built my “friend family” around things that are important to me, queso and enchiladas for instance….as well as other shared interests and viewpoints. Viewpoints that my genetic family doesn’t always share. That’s the beauty of the friend family…you can create whatever kind of group you want….as varied or as uniform as you would like. And of course…that’s the danger too.
It’s dangerous in my own life…and it’s dangerous for the church. And if I’m not careful…I’ll take these words from Jesus in today’s portion of Mark’s Gospel, and I’ll misappropriate them. And see Jesus’ rebuke of his family as justification for me to ignore mine and instead of doing the hard work of reconciliation and forgiveness…just give up and create some little exclusive club with people who think just like me. And I’ll miss an important lesson.
Even though we’ve been in Year B, the year of Mark since November, we haven’t heard from the Gospel of Mark in a while. Easter morning was the last time in fact, so let’s remind ourselves of some important features of this short, shocking Gospel.
In this oldest Gospel record, there’s not a lot of lovely poetry or prose surrounding the stories of Jesus. So the sentences are terse and choppy. The scenes change quickly without any transition. Your English teacher would give this writing back to you and say try again. There’s no miracle birth story, and as we heard on Easter morning, not even a particularly satisfying resurrection account. All of the details of the birth and resurrection of Jesus that we feel like we know, we actually learned from other sources, not from Mark.
And irony is a hugely important feature in this Gospel. The people, who ought to understand the most about Jesus, don’t. The people who are outsiders, unclean, demon possessed, even downright crazy, they are the people who understand Jesus.
So with all of that in mind…the terse writing…the odd jumping around from topic to topic without smooth transitions…the irony…and the usual challenge of 21st century ears trying to hear a 1st century text…plus…Jesus…we’re in for a wild ride this morning as we wade into this 3rd chapter of Mark.
From the beginning of this passage you know there’s going to be trouble because Jesus and the disciples are too busy with the crowd to be able to eat. There’s our first problem. Then the family is angry and running around trying to restrain Jesus and in the original language it’s the same word that is used later to describe taking hold of Jesus like when he was arrested.
This is serious. The family believes that Jesus has lost his mind and they have got to do something about it, even take him by force if necessary to shut him up. In 1st century culture, a culture steeped in an honor/shame system…you could not afford to have a crazy relative spouting crazy ideas. The damage that would do… you would be “that family” that family with the weird, dangerous relative and that would affect your ability to work, or worship, or survive in this community for generations. Something has to be done about this right now.
Then the scribes…the religious authorities show up…and they too need Jesus to hush. It’s only chapter 3, but already in the first two chapters of Mark, Jesus has challenged the status quo…dared to ask questions…dared to talk about change to the religious system of the day, dared to touch outcasts, called a bunch of misfits to be disciples, begun drawing an awful lot of attention and crowds, and the scribes will have none of that.
So from his family to the church leaders, Jesus is assaulted on all sides….all on an empty stomach apparently…until finally, he has had it and proclaims a word…a harsh word. A word that challenges and makes me swallow hard. This is not sweet Jesus with baby lambs.
This is not a tag line that we want on our church website…this is not some “family values” statement that a modern politician would try and use like a suffocating blanket, this is bare-knuckled, tough talking Jesus.
You want to be my family…great…it’s got nothing to do with a gene pool, or history, or honor and shame. It’s got everything to do with following Me, Jesus says, following even to death…as He will soon demonstrate.
“Who is my family?” Jesus asks. “Look around.” Whoever does the will of God…Whoever…the weak and strong, the sick, and the healthy, anyone can be in my family…anyone who is willing to follow and love and forgive and die to an old way of life.
You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to win it, you don’t have to show some special ID at the door. You don’t have to look a certain way or vote a certain way or be anything other than one who follows.
All are welcome…even those with whom we actually do share DNA material, all are welcome. But we won’t all agree, and we will have times that we are so mad at each other we can barely contain ourselves, but we are invited every day, to follow, follow this wild eyed tough talking Savior, the One who loves us…all of us…who forms us into something more than some exclusive little club, the One who makes us sisters and brothers.