Sermon: “Enlarging the Family”
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
1 Samuel 8.4-20, 11.14-15; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1; Mark 3.20-35
Today’s gospel wraps a story within a story. Jesus’ message and actions in the vicinity of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee were creating quite a stir! Mark 3.8 says, “Hearing all that Jesus was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon” (NRSV). Our reading omits the fact that Jesus, after having chosen the disciples, had gone home – apparently to Nazareth. A sizable crowd has assembled around him and is pressing in such that Jesus and the disciples cannot even eat. When Jesus’ family heard people saying he was out of his mind, they set out to restrain him. After all, the honor of the family could not withstand such reports. Something had to be done!
The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem accused Jesus of demon possession, for they said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (Mark 3.22; NRSV). Jesus spoke to them in a parable: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come” (Mark 3.24-26; NRSV).
We generally think of a parable as involving a story, but the word means to throw something along side. In this case the parable was a question – an invitation to think things through more clearly.
In effect, Jesus was pointing out the miracles he performed took place through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see this in the words Jesus next spoke: “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3.28-29; NRSV). When the scribes accused Jesus of performing miracles in the name of Beelzebul, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Having set forth this parable, Mark now returns to his consideration of Jesus’ mother, brothers, and sisters. As they had arrived and were standing outside, they sent word to Jesus. The crowd informed Jesus of their presence, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He then looked around and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3.31-35; NRSV).
Many are troubled by Jesus’ statement for they see it as disrespectful of Mary, as a rejection of his family. When teaching a course on biblical perspectives in St. Petersburg, Russia, the translator pulled me aside and asked how Jesus could treat his mother so callously. I do not recall exactly how I answered. But one may ask, Was this a statement of rejection or inclusion? I believe Jesus was teaching about the greater family of God. All who do God’s will are members of God’s family, and we are commissioned to work for the extension of God’s family!
The extension of God’s family is emphasized in today’s epistle from 2 Corinthians. In this culture, it was customary to meet a new person through letters of commendation. Paul had already visited Corinth. Thus, he asks, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?” Then Paul continues, “Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3.1-3; NRSV). As Christians, we are living letters of Christ to be known and read by all. When people read your letter, what do they discover?
A joke that has been making the rounds on Facebook provides a great illustration of how some people read our living letter:
A man was being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, dropping her cell phone and makeup.
As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.
He said, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday-School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally… I assumed you had stolen the car.”
Hopefully, that does not describe any of us!
As Paul continues his letter, he reminds the Corinthian Christians that Moses wore a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at God’s glory. Paul points out that those reading the old covenant do so with veiled faces, for the veil is set aside only in Christ, i.e., only in the new covenant. When one turns to Christ, the veil is removed, and one is able to see God’s glory. Then Paul writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror [i.e., in Christ], are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3.18; NRSV).
Paul writes, “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4.7; NRSV). Then we come to today’s epistle where Paul stresses the fact that “grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4.15; NRSV). Listen to Paul’s words again: “But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—'I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4.13-15; NRSV).
We have treasure in clay vessels, and we are called to bear witness to God’s glory through the letter of our lives such that grace may extend to more and more people. This Wednesday evening, we return to Burgers and Brats on the patio. Please remember to invite someone to join you such that they may experience the fellowship of the family of God, such that God’s grace may extend to more and more people. May our witness be more effective than that of the lady with the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday-School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk!