Sermon: 1st Sunday after Trinity, Text: Mark 3.20-25
This story from Mark’s gospel is one of the most unusual and most dramatic stories. It has all the features of TV or movie drama. Jesus’ public ministry has been launched to great success among the people. They are thronging to him in Galilee. The word has gotten out about how Jesus is healing and casting out demons. At the beginning of Mark chapter three, Jesus gets away from the crowds to pray and to appoint the twelve. He is equipping himself for all the hullabaloo that is to follow. He is also organising himself to cope with the crowds by appointing disciples to help. But more significantly, Jesus’ public ministry is the launch, the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, which is signalled by the appointment of the 12 disciples representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve who will rule in the new age with the Messiah.
Jesus comes down the mountain, like Moses came down from Mt Sinai. We are now in the heart of this drama. Jesus comes down the mountain and he is crushed by the crowd. So much so that they cannot even eat their meal. Jesus’ fame and reputation is spreading and people want more and more of him.
Standing back and watching all this is Jesus’ family. They realise that they are losing Jesus. He is the eldest son and oldest brother. He has a responsibility to the family and the family business. It was kind of interesting that he took such an interest in spiritual things and in matters of the Law and faith. In fact, he took so much interest in all these matters that people were starting to call him a rabbi. But ever since he was baptised in the Jordon by his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus seems to his family as to have gotten a bit carried away. And since John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus has begun to focus more and more on being with the crowds than being at home. The family does not quite know what to make of his actions, miracles and exorcisms. On the one hand they are amazed, on the other hand they cannot quite believe it is Jesus who is doing this. Each day things seem to be getting more and more incredible.
And now, the crowds are overwhelming. People are everywhere demanding Jesus’ attention. The family cannot quite grasp it. They wonder. Has Jesus lost it? Should they begin to bring him back down to reality, bring him back home to the carpentry family business? They tell him all this. Jesus faces the fact that his public ministry, his grasp of his commission by God at the river Jordon and during his time in the wilderness is being questioned by his own family. A test of loyalty that he did not expect has come. Should he turn his back on all that is happening, all that God seems to be doing, and go back to Nazareth and be with his family or go with God?
Watching and observing from the side are also the religious leaders. They have noticed his growing popularity. The have seen the amazing things he is doing. They know their grip on the people is slipping away. So they begin their campaign to discredit Jesus. It is a media spin to turn the crowds against Jesus. The religious leaders pit their reputation and authority against Jesus.
They say, this man is not an agent of God, but of Beelzebul. They say that the source of Jesus’ power to do the incredible things come from the devil himself. They portray Jesus as a trickster trying to draw people away from God into the arms of the evil one.
It is a clever ploy. They stake their ploy on the fact that many people would look up to them because they were the religious leaders and they were the knowledgeable ones who could discern what God was doing. They seek to totally discredit Jesus.
Jesus replies. First he replies to the religious leaders, the scribes. He challenges them how it is possible for Satan to be against himself. Jesus’ actions and exorcisms is showing that evil powers are being defeated, broken, expelled. If Satan was behind this, this represents a house divided which will not stand.
Jesus explains that he has come into the home of the strong man (referring to the devil) to take it back. The strong man must be bound so that the house can be returned to its rightful owner and inhabitants. Jesus subtly implies that it is actually the religious leaders who are in cahoots with the evil one. If they are opposing what God is doing, they show themselves to be on the side of evil. Jesus makes it very clear that if one actively opposes what God is doing, if one calls the work of the Holy Spirit evil, then one is in danger of being excluded from God’s house, from the Kingdom of God. They are stern, harsh words. Jesus shows he is no meek and mild wimp. He stands up to the religious leaders. He answers their accusations with reason and spiritual insight. He presents a choice to the people. They must decide if they will trust the religious leaders or embrace what Jesus is doing as God’s work.
We all face those choices. Do we go with God or another way? Sometimes the option to go it alone w/o God is enticing, just as the serpent enticed Adam and Eve to eat the fruit and to go their own way against God’s way. The rewards of pleasing self or of storing up the riches of this world are attractive. But what is truly right and best? To go with God can mean that we go against the tide and flow of the majority. It can be costly to go with God and walk in his ways. We all face the choice. Do we go with God or another way?
Jesus faced another choice as well. His family wanted him home. They appear to question his sanity. It was a bit too much for them. Again, to go with God can be a test of loyalty. And people all over the world face this challenge. It is not so much a test we face here in the UK. My older sister, a product of the liberal, hippie 1960’s for years lived a life common to her generation. She dabbled in spiritual things, but it was all about self-realisation. You know, crystals to give you energy; meditation to give you personal peace. She lived a very comfortable life among her friends in Calif. But she moved to be near my other sister in Tennessee. From her many visits to my family and going off to church with us, she wondered if the Episcopal Church might be a place to meet new people in her new town. To the chagrin of her friends, my sister not only made new friends, she found a transforming faith that she says is no longer about pleasing myself, but about loving and serving God. At 60 she has found a new family, a church family, and she has never been happier. She faced choices of loyalty with her friends and her life path, but like Jesus she decided that whoever does the will of God is one’s true family. For some people that choice can actually cost them the love of family. Where is your loyalty? We do not have to reject family to be a child of God. But sometimes family rejects us. Are we willing to pay the price of going with God? Jesus’ family would eventually become disciples, and that would only be possible because Jesus chose to go with God and not return home.
Today, the gospel reminds us that like Jesus we face choices. We must be careful not to call the things of God wrong or evil. We must be careful in where we place our loyalty. God is at work among us. God calls us to go with God. May God help us all to walk with Christ, to grow in faith, and to do what is right, true, and holy.