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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

June 10, 2018

 Jesus’ Homecoming Blues

1 Samuel 8:4-20; Mark 3:20-35

            A little boy was saying his prayers one night before he went to bed.  He said, “God, don’t worry about it if you can’t make me into a better boy.  I’m having a lot of fun just being the boy that I am!”  That same boy was heading home after church, when his sister had been baptized, suddenly, he started crying, really crying.  His father and mother said, “Honey, what is wrong?”  He said, “Well, the preacher said that we are to be raised in a Christian home, and I want to stay with you!”

            All of us are placed in families, and all of us are placed in families by God, who thought of families in the first place.  Remember how it is first mentioned in Genesis?  “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  The idea of family is God’s idea in the very opening chapters of the scriptures.  It was no one less than Moses who came down from the mountain with one of the commandments that says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”  Jesus, we are told, was “at home” in Capernaum when we are told that His family was outside waiting “to seize Him.”  “Home” and “family.”  These are powerful words, aren’t they?  Frederick Buechner says “home” means at least two things for us.  First, it raises for us a specific time and place, or moment, that often dwells in the heart, that always involves family.  Secondly though, “home” is a longing within us for something nothing in this earth or this life can never fulfill.  This is why in Hebrews it says that we all seek another homeland, that is, a heavenly one.

            Judeo-Christian faith is faith in the family as God’s gift to humankind.  And yet, I don’t know if you have noticed this about your family, but I noticed it about mine very early.  My family is something that bequeathed to me gifts that I could not begin to express adequate thanks for, that I owe to this day, to my mother, my father, to the children that God gave me to raise in this world.  And yet my family of origin and the family I created had something else in common.  They were both woefully imperfect.  They were imperfect because they were made up of imperfect people.  I used to think, “My family is so weird!”  Then I served as a minister, and after a few years, it dawned on me that everybody else’s family was as weird as mine!  Families are imperfect because people are imperfect.  Yet God binds Himself to imperfect people, and to imperfect institutions like the family.

            I mention it because in Mark’s Gospel today we are told Jesus was “at home” – home probably being in Capernaum, a home away from home for Jesus.  Robert Frost used to say that, “Home is that place that when you get there, they have to take you in.”  Yet we are told in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus’ family was outside, because there wasn’t room to be inside, and they were trying – literally in the Greek - “to seize Jesus” or “to get their hands on Jesus,” because people were saying things now about Jesus.  Jesus had been preaching and teaching and healing.  He has been casting out demons, and the religious authorities were not pleased.  They thought Jesus was crazy, or possessed.  And according to Mark, Jesus’ family is outside because they want to “get their hands” on Jesus and “seize” Him.  Maybe because they are worried about what other people are saying, worried that Jesus might get hurt, or maybe they are concerned that Jesus is literally “outside of Himself,” translated “out of His mind.”

            Apparently, Jesus’ family, pictured here by Mark, is “His mother and His brothers.”  There is no mention of Joseph.  Joseph is mentioned in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel early on, and then never mentioned again.  Perhaps he has died.  We don’t know.  The family Jesus has is not inside with Him, but outside, wanting to get their hands on Him.  Could it be that Jesus, the Son of God, like you and like me, grew up in an imperfect family?  Or at least, a family that misunderstood Jesus, wanting to protect him?  Maybe they wanted to silence Jesus, or to speak some sense to Him, at worst because they believed, not the best, but the worst about Him.  Jesus models for us, and teaches us here, something incredibly important about being a member of a family.  People are flocking to Jesus as He preaches and teaches, heals the sick, and casts out demons.  And just as people are intensely drawn to Jesus, so there are people as well who are intensely fearful of Jesus, wanting to control Him or silence Him.  Stuart preached on the Sabbath last week.  Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and the religious authorities are outraged with Jesus, and it seems His own family is concerned as well.

            You would think, wouldn’t you, that the one place you would have support, the one place you would know people had your back, was your family and your home?  And here are Jesus’ mother and His brothers outside, trying to seize Him, trying to get their hands on Him, perhaps trying to protect Him.  Jesus does not need their protection.  Jesus talks in the middle of our passage in parables.  If you read the parables carefully, you recognize that Jesus understands Himself to have power over the devil, over Beelzebub (a word that means “Lord of the Flies,” for those of you who love Christian fiction).  Jesus offers these parables, communicating very clearly, “I am sent here by my Father to do His work, to proclaim His message, to build His house.”  I love the use of those images that Jesus uses in His parables: “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.”  And then one of Lincoln’s favorite Biblical images: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

            Jesus is speaking here about the work of God.  The work of God is not about division.  The work of God, for Jesus, is about multiplication; it is about bringing people together.  It is about forgiving sins and healing souls.  It is about welcome and inclusion; it is not about dividing people.  That, Jesus suggests, is the work of Satan.  It is not the work of God.  “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” for Mark, means simply to oppose the work of God, the Holy Spirit.  And who is any more the work of God, the Holy Spirit, than Jesus Himself?  Jesus has this family that does not yet get it, that is really struggling with how the religious authorities are viewing and speaking about their family member.  Proclaiming this word of the Gospel that Jesus and God are about the forgiveness of sins, Jesus offers to us a very helpful word on family.  He is told again that they are outside the house, and He asks simply the question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Jesus answers His own question, looking around, “Whoever does the will of my Father is my mother and my brother and my sister.” 

            Family is a gift from God, but it is never an end in and of itself.  It is a means that God established to help us to know Him better, to love Him better, and to live amidst the family of God more generously, more lovingly, more kindly, more mercifully.  When family gets in the way of our understanding and loving the human family the way God intended for us to be, family can be something less than a blessing.  All of us have experienced family as both, haven’t we?  Blessing that shapes our very identity, and very human, very imperfect people, who in some ways hurt us, and from whose hurts we have to learn.

            The point is this: God believes in the family.  “Honor your father and your mother.”  “Raise up a child in the way that he or she should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.”  Family is God’s idea.  It was not offered as an end in itself, but a means to teach us to live more faithfully, more trustingly, more openly, more honestly, more lovingly as a member of the family of God.  It is why when Jesus was asked, “Teach us to pray,” He said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father.’”  This is a reminder that we are to be as openhearted and loving and embracing of the entire human family, as we are of our own flesh and blood, because “God hath made of one blood all nations (and all families) of the earth.”

            Give thanks to God for the family that you have been given, but make sure your family, as best as you are able, prepares you to live the life that is pleasing to the God who is “the God and Father of us all.”  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God.

                                                                                    Amen.

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