By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 4:35–41 (NRSV) 
Jesus Stills a Storm
(Mt 8:23–27; Lk 8:22–25)
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Have you ever had a day? You know the day I am talking about. It is a day where you wake up in the morning just knowing nothing will go right. When you finally force yourself out of bed after debating and convincing yourself it was not the weekend and it is really only Tuesday, your day fulfills the prophetic feeling within. Nothing goes right.
I have days like those often. I nearly think I need to stop using the term on of those days, because it has seemed to become my new normal. And a day should be one where I do not wake up with a stiff back and head ache. But I had one of those days recently. I don’t usually let people know the deeper things in my heart but I feel that today is one of those days where I need to.
As most of you know my oldest son is currently in the Air Force. Most of you know that James grew up in a divided family, his mom and I never married but we, along with our spouses, tried our best. And I do not think it is bragging to say I think we did a pretty good job. The day that James left for Basic Training was one of those day. I had to go to work early and I stayed up a bit too late because I wanted to see him before he left. So, I woke up exhausted. I went into work and there was this constant idea that kept repeating itself in my mind, “Does he really know.” I sent off the last few text messages that I could letting him know how proud and excited I was for him, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking does he know how much I love him. As the day went on, the words in my mind went from just a question and became an acquisition, “He doesn’t know because I was the dad that wasn’t.”
For the next six hours, my mind played every moment in his life that I wasn’t the dad I wanted to be. I wasn’t at his basketball games, I wasn’t at his track meets. I didn’t teach him to shave (Probably because he didn’t figure I knew since I had a beard most his life). I didn’t. I wasn’t there when he broke up with his first girlfriend, to be honest I probably do not know who his real first girlfriend was. I wasn’t. I had a whole epic poem nearly written in my mind of every shortcoming I had.
But I kept asking does he know. Does he know how much I love him. Does he know that every one of the trips I made to pick him up and drop him off were the highlights of my week. Does he know that I lived for the jokes that he would tell? Does he know? Does he know that I long for each silly meme he sends me because? For six hours my mind was raging in this storm of doubt and self-accusation. I was grateful that I was basically working alone that day because I really do not know if I would have worked well with others.
In my mind I was looking at the past 18 years and only seeing where I wasn’t the dad I wanted to be. I dreaded that those moments would be the legacy that I passed on, the dad that wasn’t. And I wasn’t for many reasons. Many of those reasons are good reason, reasons that my oldest son has actually said he was proud of his dad for doing. I actually asked him if he thought I should be a pastor again after taking a couple years off while Kristy finished school. Because I knew that moving to a different town at the time would change some things. His answer was absolutely because according to him, “I was not myself when I wasn’t in the church.” James was eleve at the time, and those words were actually the ones that spoke the loudest. Yet by being and doing what I do, I felt I sacrificed too much. I felt like maybe in my pursuit in following God, I gave up something important.
A storm was raging in my mind that day. Not just a storm but it felt like an all-out tornado. And I have to admit there was some rain too. When he sent his last text letting me know that he was safely to his destination. I asked him if he knew and he said, “Yes, I knew because you never stopped trying.” So often fathers stop trying, the fight to stay involved in the lives of kids that do not live at home becomes tiring and they just stop thinking that the struggle will cause more damage and they would be better off if I just wasn’t. James knew that and he saw that. In his generation it is more common for that to happen than for parents to be together.
We all have days. Days that seem like a raging storm blasting through our lives only to leave us feeling that the pieces it leaves behind are beyond repair. Those days we feel like our jobs are on the line, our business is about to fold, our marriage is on the ropes, or countless other scenarios. There are days.
Jesus told his disciples, “lets go to the other side of the lake.” And the disciples and Jesus loaded up the boat and they went. They did not realize that one of those days was going to hit, but it did. Mark does not clearly tell us where they were at, but in chapter 3, we know that they went home, so more than likely they were in Capernaum on the northwestern shore of the sea of Galilee. After the eventful evening of Jesus being called crazy and possessed with the prince of demons, Jesus went to the sea to teach. So today they are going on a sea cruise, which will land them on the eastern shore.
We might think that this is just a casual trip, but the disciples realized where they were going. They were heading to an area that was largely Greek influenced. They were heading into an area where their countrymen lived more worldly lifestyles and catered to the gentiles, they were heading to Decapolis.
Often times we focus on the storm in this story. Yes, it was a storm but it was more than a storm. Storms happen all the time on the sea of Galilee, it is actually one of the things that particular sea is known for. Weather is a clash between extremes. Hot dry air meets up with cool moist air and they produce torrent and electricity. The majority of the land of Israel is nearly arid, on the verge of being a desert. It is very fertile but it can be extremely dry. The air coming off of this land will move over the sea which is significantly cooler and you have nearly spontaneous storms produced with very little warning.
Of all the backgrounds of the disciples, the most common among them were fishermen. These men were experienced sailors, there life and livelihood came from the sea. They knew how to weather a storm, yet here they are in the midst of a gale they have were not prepared for. The waves are high, they were crashing against the boat, and were getting so high that the water was crashing over the sides and filling the boat. I am not an experienced sailor, I do know that since boats are in water it is common that some water will get in, but I also know that too much water in a boat usually means that a boat ceases being a boat. Mark tells us that the boat was not only taking on some water, but it was already being swamped. These experienced sailors were concerned.
There is something that I learned about weather when I was growing up. Western Kansas is also known for storms, and most of us out of necessity picked up some knowledge of weather prediction. I cannot really explain it in words like the people on TV, but I can look at a map, look at the clouds, look at temperatures, and pressures and know if plans should change or not. I learned this from observing my parents. If they were not worried, and I was I looked at the information and learned. Eventually I was able to sense when to be concerned and when to carry on. Because on a farm you stay in the field until you absolutely cannot stay any longer. These men, were experienced sailors, they knew when to be concerned and when not to be. They knew exactly how to position their boat to tackle the waves and stay above the water. They knew, but they were concerned.
Yet when we read this story, Jesus was not concerned. They were yelling and bailing water out of the boat, they were turning the boat to meet the waves properly and they were fighting a losing battle. This chaos was raging all around and Jesus was asleep. The boat was swamped and his cushion was getting soaked, yet he slept. This tells us something, either Jesus is a really heavy sleeper or he was not concerned. Jesus was not an experienced sailor; his family’s trade was carpentry or stone work. The sailors were frantic, and Jesus slept. Was he just naive? This was a storm.
This storm was also brewing in their hearts. They were going out of their normal routine, they were going into the Hellenistic stronghold, more pagan than Jewish. They had just heard the respected leaders of the temple, a mosaic lawyer, accuse this teacher of being in league with the devil, and now their teacher is taking them into a pagan land. They doubt their calling, they doubt their faith. They are asking themselves if it was possible that they had been deceived. Sure, they had seen him heal many, they had seen lives being released from demonic bondage. They had seen this teacher speak with authority and even challenge the respected leaders with words that even silenced the most knowledgeable among the lawyers. They believed yet they doubted, a storm was raging in their souls. The storm inside was just as treacherous as the one without. Their souls were being swamped in the same degree as the boat. And here is the teacher just laying there on his cushion sleeping, he doesn’t even care that they are about to die.
They cry out to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I know that cry. I have cried the similar words. In the raging storm of the dad that wasn’t those same words came to mind and more. I even cried, “Lord what is all this for if all I get is a reputation as a dad that wasn’t, when all I wanted was to be a dad?” Scripture is filled with laments. It is filled with mighty men and women of faith crying to God, with the very question, “DO YOU CARE?” Mary and Martha said it when they buried their brother. David, the man after God’s heart, often wrote songs about his laments. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. And there is even an entire book of Lamentations. Life is hard. It is filled with days of raging storms. Days we wonder about our faith, where we question if God cares or even exists. It is as if he is sleeping on a cushion while our lives are being swamped.
We have all had days. Sometimes the days pile up to become weeks, months, and some of us have even had years. At times we find ourselves sea sick from the tumbling waves, unable to move forward and hanging on for dear life. We cry yet again, “Lord do you even care that we are perishing?”
Jesus stands from his cushion, and rebukes the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” The winds calm and the waves die down.
I want us to just imagine that scene for a moment. Imagine the rolling waves. Imagine the whipping winds, the salty sprays. Imagine the fear you feel as your boat is being swamped. Imagine crying out, your voice cracking from fear and exertion. Imagine seeing you teacher, your lord, the messiah just laying on a mat sleeping while your life is falling apart. Does he care? Does he know?
The reality is that Jesus did know exactly what was going on. He knew their feelings and what was going through their minds. He knew the spiritual wrestling match they were enduring, and he also knew that they needed to struggle so that they could become aware of the reality beyond the current turmoil. They cried out, and Jesus responded. “Peace! Be Still!”
He did not respond until they asked. And even after they asked they had to continue to sail across the sea. Think about that for a moment. What are we doing while the storms rage in our lives? Often, we use what knowledge or wisdom we have making attempts to fix things. Our fixes, our attempts to correct the situation while in the midst of the storm often compound the problem. Like a sailor attempting to face a wave only to turn too late or too soon and instead of riding the wave they are rolled. We try and keep trying, yet we struggle alone because we have not spoken out.
Scripture tells us we do not have because we do not ask, or when we ask we ask incorrectly. They fought the storm, they struggled, but why? Jesus was there asleep yet they did not wake him until they felt they were perishing. It is as if they do not want to worry God with their problems. Saying I can’t come to God until I get my life in order. Yet the struggle continues because it’s a storm it is out of your control. You are caught in the middle and cannot see beyond the next wave. They do not ask so God does not step in. Or maybe we do speak up, but in our torment, we cry, “take me out of this place!” We ask incorrectly. We are in that place for a reason, maybe it was a choice we made or maybe it is because that is where we are needed. And the deliverance we seek is not the deliverance we receive.
They finally cry out to Jesus and he brings fair winds, and a calm sea. Then he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Let those words saturate your soul. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? Apply those words to your storm as you reflect on the life of Jesus. Jesus healed many, why are we afraid to speak about our illnesses? Jesus released people from spiritual bondage, where is our faith as we fight our chains? They had seen Jesus perform many things, they had experienced his peace as he faced the most heinous accusation imaginable and saw his calm response. How did he do it? As we reflect on His life and lifestyle we find that he made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he would often withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and the would then reengage serving and ministering to the needs of the community. He showed us the lifestyle of spiritual peace. It requires not only personal devotion but community encouragement and engagement. It is both personal and private, and very public. Why are we afraid? Have you still no faith?
Often, we are afraid because asking for help is a perception of weakness. Because we do not want to be seen as weak we stay silent while the storms rage, and our souls are swamped. We are often afraid because we want to control the outcome, or the direction. I have this goal and I will get there and I am afraid to veer of course because that is an unknown realm. Why would we go there? Where is our faith?
We do not have because we do not ask and when we ask we ask incorrectly. The disciples struggled in vain when all they had to do was wake up the teacher. All they had to do was speak, let God know about the storm that is raging within and without and ask for peace and fair winds to move through. For hours I struggled with the torment of the dad that wasn’t, for hours even days I wondered if I did enough to show and tell my son the pride and love I have for him, I struggled but I struggled alone. Some might have known that I was struggling but I did not voice it. I did not want to be seen as weak or as lacking faith. It was not until I spoke that the storm calmed. And to be honest I did not know the words to say, yet God did calm my storm. As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends let us speak, let us ask Christ to help us through the storm and let us be still so we can find the right paths to the other side.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 4:26–34 (NRSV) 
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
(Mt 13:31–32; Lk 13:18–19)
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
The Use of Parables
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
This week has had me thinking about a wide spectrum of things. On one side I was thinking about Father’s Day, on another I was thinking about bar b que. I gave blood at a blood drive at the library, so I thought about how that could help someone in need, and I thought about the conversations I have had on diverse topics. I have felt like this one week has been filled with about a month’s worth of activity I almost can’t remember picking high school students from camp yet that was only six days ago. But throughout the whole week I have thought quite a bit about the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is something that I have often tried to get a grasp of, and yet every moment of every day I seem to get a different glimpse as to what it is. Over the years I have learned that the kingdom of God is more than just heaven, that is an important part of the kingdom, but I have found that it is not everything. If all the Kingdom is something beyond the veil, then what is the point of the approximately 70 years of life we have on earth?
That question might seem simple or even silly but, in all honesty, I ask it. If the Kingdom of God is only about Heaven what is the point of such a long life? Of course, seventy years is a blink of an eye in eternity so maybe it pales in that comparison, but it is a journey everyone must make before we enter that eternal realm. And if we adhere to scripture at all we find that everything in this life directly impacts our experience in the here after. Which means that if the kingdom of God is there, the kingdom must also be here and now as well.
Last week we met with Jesus at his home, well what he called home. I do not really know if they were at his actual home, but we know his family was there, so we will call it home. During that visit Jesus faced some harsh criticism from the religious leaders, they literally said he was possessed with the ruler of all the demons. And they said that because Jesus challenged their perception and position in life. Which I mention was because someone got a bit too hungry.
Hunger is not a good place to be. When we are hungry our minds do not function to their fullest. Our decisions are not the clearest, and our emotions are on razor wire. When someone speaks to us we can easily be triggered into anger, as for decisions, I dare you to go shopping while you are hungry, there is a good chance you buy at least one item that is unnecessary. Hunger can cause people to act in ways they normally would not act, it makes them think in ways they normally would not think, it may even cause someone to act without thinking because their minds have resorted to some base instinct to fulfill the body’s needs.
Hunger is an example of stress. Stress can be both good and bad but how we handle the stresses in our life are an indication of the true personality we are. This is why fasting is such a powerful discipline, it gives us a glimpse of who we truly are.
But today we are not talking about he hangry lawyer from Jerusalem who could not get to the dinner bowl. After that awkward meeting Jesus went back to the sea side and taught. It was after his encounter with the hangry lawyer, that Jesus gave his parable of the sower and the seeds. It is fitting that this would be the topic at hand, the disciple just days before had angered the religious leaders for “Harvesting” grain on the sabbath when the absent mindedly pulled heads from stalks and ate the berries while they walked through the fields. It was harvest time, and in a predominantly agricultural society this is an important season of the year.
Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” For someone with an agricultural degree I get this. For as much as we have learned about plants, and crops there is always more to learn. Like why do plants grow up? Do they grow toward the light, toward heat, is it a reaction to gravity? We after thousands of years of study, do not fully know why plants grow up. There are many theories and many of those theories have been tested in the laboratories in space. And the conclusions they have made from these tests are basically, yes, all the above. We do not know how a plant grows completely. We have made observations, we have identified factors and environmental conditions that affect growth, we have even identified portions of a plant’s genetic code that contribute to growth, but why and how is still a question whose answer is often answered by philosophy instead of science. Plants grow because that is what they do.
A plant grows because that is its purpose. It grows it produces seeds, or rhizomes, so it can grow some more. That cycle has continued from the very first plant to this day. We have made observations and through various manipulations and selections we have encouraged various plants to grow in ways that are more beneficial for consumption, but it continues to grow, and reproduce and we still do not fully know how or why. It just grows because that is what it does, unless it happens to be a house plant under my care then it ceases to grow.
Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like that. Seeds are scattered, and they sprout, and they grow, and we do not know how. Have you ever just sat and thought about that? Have you just considered what that might mean? If the kingdom of God is both life and eternity how can that possibly be like this story told by Jesus? Plants grow because that is what they do.
It is a bit simple yet profound. It is as if after all our searching for the meaning of life we are given an answer like the one in a Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The answer to the question of life the universe and everything is 42. The kingdom of God is like seeds scattered that sprout and grow, and are harvested, which means the kingdom of God is about life and life is what we do.
If life is what we do and what the kingdom of God is all about, how then should we life our life? The earth holds a seed, the seeds produce stalks, the stalks grow and produce seeds, which fall to the earth and the cycles starts again or a harvest occurs, and the seeds then give life to others. The kingdom is like a mustard seed, Jesus continues, which is one of the smallest seeds, but it grows to a great shrub with branches large enough for birds to nest. The kingdom gives life and rest to others, the kingdom grows and spreads, the kingdom reaches out, nourishes, and provides a home for those in need. What is Jesus telling us?
If the answer to how or why a plant grows is because that is what they do, then the answer to life the universe and everything is similar. We live our lives within our purpose too. That purpose God revealed to us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is not only the law of God, but that is our purpose in life. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you did that?
What would happen if we actually lived fully engaged in that purpose of the kingdom, to love God with everything we are, and to love others as ourselves? If we were to look at some of the most inspiring stories of the saints, we would get a glimpse at what would happen. Billy Graham lead numerous crusades around the world and is said to have presented the gospel to 215 million people. Graham said that his first sermon came from a Moody Press book. Which leads us to DL Moody. Moody was the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. As he worked in Chicago selling shoes he realized that his life should not be spent amassing wealth as much as on helping the poor. He began his missional Sunday School drawing children and adults from the German and Scandinavian immigrant underclass. For the kids he offered pony rides, and for the adults he offered English classes. His ministry grew to a church, and eventually to a college and publishing company. Even today we are affected with the remnants of the ministry he started so long ago. Going on back we have people like George Fox and the society of Friends, who inspired DL Moody to some degree in his opposition to fighting in the Civil War. And Fox and those early Friends were inspired by earlier saint, like Augustine, Luther, and anabaptist. And all those saints were inspired by the apostles, and ultimately all were inspired by Jesus the Son of God.
These men and women of faith that inspired us began any of us. They were just common people living their lives. Yet they found their purpose in Christ. When they found that purpose their lives changed, they began to grow up, like a plant. Their lives began to produce seeds that feed others or sprouted new growth. Their branches provided rest and shelter for those in need. They lived in the Kingdom of God.
We do not know how our lives are going influence others, yet we live. Recently the movie “I Can Only Imagine” was released on DVD. We all know this song that inspired this movie. It was one of the most popular songs on both Christian and Secular radio when it was released in 1999. This song was one of those songs that helped me as I searched for my own place in the kingdom. In the movie we were told about the life of the song writer, Bart Millard. He grew up in an abusive home, his mom abandoned him and left him with his abusive father while she sent him to church camp. He tried to please his dad by playing football, but when broke his legs and could no longer play that relationship became even more strained. When he could no longer play football, according to the movie, he was given or forced into taking the lead role of a musical, and music became his dream. He was invited to sing at church and he invited his dad only to have a plate broken over his head. But his dad turned on the radio and listened. Bart left home and went on to form a band we know as Mercy Me. They traveled and sang at gospel events, and Bart’s dad continued to listen. When the band tried to get their first major recording contract they failed, and Bart began searching and went home to find answers. What he found was his dad, still rough around the edges but changed. They reconciled their relationship and when Bart’s dad died he was left asking more questions. Over the course of a few years he kept writing the words “I can only imagine” randomly in his journals. As he looked at those words a song that inspired a generation was found.
Bart’s dad was not a dad anyone would want. He was abusive and continually belittled his son, calling him a worthless dreamer. Yet as Bart pursued his dream of singing for God, his life dropped seeds into the life of his father, and those seeds grew, and the kingdom life spread from son to the father. The kingdom is like that, seeds that fall to the earth, which sprout and grow. We do not know how or why they take root, we don’t know how or why they produce but we can observe it and try our best to make the environment better for them. But even then, we still wonder.
Billy Graham, DL Moody, George Fox, and countless other saints throughout history began like everyone else. Common people just trying to live in the kingdom. We see them as great saints of the Church, but they would only see themselves as people trying their best to be obedient to God. People just trying their best to love God with all they have and to love their neighbor as themselves. What would happen if we did that? What would happen if we like DL Moody would decide that our life was more than chasing wealth for ourselves but instead it was about helping the poor in our community? What would happen if we like Fox would be so moved by hope that we would boldly proclaim wherever we were? What if we were like the apostles who so loved the lord who died for their redemption that we were to go out, even when it was illegal, to help those in need and share the message of Jesus with them? What if?
The kingdom of God is more than just some future place beyond the veil of this life, it is here, and it is now. What if we were to think of those words written by Bart Millard were not just words for the future but words now? I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by your side, I can only imagine what my eyes will see when your face is before me…today. We are surrounded by His glory today, everyone around us is an image bearer of our very creator. Do we see Him? Do we love Him in them? What will your heart feel?
Today we remember our fathers, and those men in our lives who have shaped who we are. At times they have failed, and at other times they give us a glimpse of the kingdom. We are thankful for those men of faith who inspire us, those men whose lives planted seeds in us, whose arms gave us comfort and protection. Will we be reflections of the kingdom, both as men and women of faith, to those around us? Will we be the ones to bring hope, nourishment and safety to those in our community? It is hard in our world today, but no harder than any other time. When D.L. Moody first started his Missional Sunday school he said this, “If you can really make a man believe you love him, you have won him.” Will they see the love in you?
 Image: Earl Bales, Farmer at Harvest, by Larry Bales. (Earl is my grandfather)
 Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. (2018). Dwight L. Moody. [online] Available at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/dwight-l-moody.html [Accessed 17 Jun. 2018].
Mark 3:20–35 (NRSV) 
20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
The True Kindred of Jesus
(Mt 12:46–50; Lk 8:19–21)
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
At what point do you start to question what people are saying? I ask that because it is important to consider. Do you start to ask questions when people are drawing attention, or do you question them because of the content of what they are saying? There is usually a point where we draw a line. We will let things continue up to a point, but once that is obtained we must speak out.
I say that I ask that question seriously, but I am also asking in jest because I find this passage of scripture to be a bit humorous as well. Jesus and his disciples went home, and then they came together again. And there were so many gather in that one place they could not even eat. As I studied this week that statement just struck me as funny. I am serious about my faith, It is the most important aspect of life to me, but at times I really think God just wants us to laugh. There were so many people crowded around that they could not even eat. What is Mark trying to tell us by including this remark in his gospel account?
If you happen to be left handed like me, you might understand this to a degree. People like me are often delegated to sit in a special section of the room when it comes time to eat. Left handed members of the family always must sit together, and as the family grows the space left for us seems to dwindle. I make it sound terrible, but it really is not that bad. The fact that I was left handed only made me more acutely aware of the fact that our family dinners at grandma’s house were huge. And to be honest I would sacrifice room for my arm to spend time with them. But there were so many people with Jesus that they could not even eat. Just let that sink in. How much space do you really need to eat?
At what point do you begin to question someone? Well for Jesus’s family, the last straw was when their ability to eat was jeopardized. Meals in 1st century Israel were not like meals at my grandma’s house. In fact, they are not like meals in the United States at all. For most of us when we think of coming together for a meal, we think of sitting around a table with empty plates in front of us. We then pass bowls and platters filled with food clockwise around the table, while we each take a respectable amount and place it onto our plate. We continue this until every dish is passed and if it is like dinner at my grandma’s house, you can no longer see the plate you started with, and you probably added at least a salad plate to the mix. When the plates are filled then we start to eat using the utensils that were properly placed beside the dishes. That is our family meals, of course there are some alternatives to this format like the buffet style, where we all meander around the dishes holding the food and fill our plates, then carrying the to the tables where we sit. These formats are not the way that first century families ate. If we were to be invited to a meal with people from Jesus’s culture many of us would probably be appalled. There is a reason that there were specific laws requiring washing before meals.
There were so many gathered they could not even eat. Imagine one big dish in the middle of the floor with mats surrounding it. Many hands ripping off bits of bread and scooping the contents from the dish and being placed into their mouths. If the crowd was too large, then people could not reach in to get to the main dish, and as a result people would go hungry. Jesus’s family was upset because they could not eat. Jesus came home they expected some good family time, yet he brought half of Israel with him. The room around Jesus is so crowded Mary and Jesus’s brothers cannot even get into the house, and if they can’t get in how will they eat?
And there were more people coming into town to meet with him. Imagine the scene if you can. A seemingly intimate meal with friends and family, suddenly morphs into a community block party. People are getting excited, and others are becoming upset because they feel they should be treated with more respect than the crowds are treating them. Respected members of the community have come, and the crowds are not moving aside to give them room. And the longer this goes the more agitated people are getting. Eventually it becomes more than they can bear, and Jesus’s family begin to hear members of the highly respected class of community say things like, “Jesus must be out of his mind.”
Can you feel a bit of that tension? If you can’t just consider driving on I435 during rush hour, when there is an accident. Nobody is moving, and horns are honking, and the people in the cars next to you are shouting and making animated gestures. I say the people in the cars next to you because we would not be acting in such a manner, right.
The talk around the house is starting to escalate, and the family is beginning to get concerned. Not only can they not eat but now the crowds are getting so large that even the most prominent members of their community can’t get in and they would have gladly given up their seat to allow these men an audience with their famous relative. But no one is moving. And Jesus seems to be clueless to the social ramifications to what is going on. Seems to be clueless. Each of us can read into scripture and pretty much any situation our own personal feelings. If we happen to be depressed, then everything around us is just justifying our feelings, and if we are filled with joy at that moment then the sun is bright and beautiful instead of hot and energy sapping. Jesus’s family is feeling the tension rising in the crowd and they decide they will put a stop to it all. They will restrain Jesus, they will bring him away from this crowd and allow him to have a smaller audience with more respectable members of society. So, they move in.
As they are moving the disgruntled statements are getting even worse. Just as they are getting close to Jesus, a respected member of the religious community, a scribe, says “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” That statement causes everyone to stop everything and turn. This is not something that one just says. This is an indictment. When this scribe makes this statement, he is literally demanding an investigation. This accusation is serious, because it can only end in one of two ways, banishment or death. Jesus’s family is in shock, and the crowd surges and they are again pushed to the outer realm.
Jesus looks toward his accuser, and he begins to tell a parable. The parable is very important but before we get to that I want us to consider why this accusation came in the first place. Jesus went home, and the gathering was so large they could not eat. Before Jesus came home this time, he healed a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit, he healed Simon’s mother in law and several others, and he cleansed a man inflicted with leprosy. He was teaching in a house and the crowd was so large that people dug a hole in the roof and lowered their paralyzed friend down to Jesus and Jesus forgave his sins and healed the man before their eyes, and then he went to share a meal at the home of a tax collector in the presence of sinners. To this point the religious leaders considered Jesus an oddity, they were not pleased with his statement to the paralyzed man but still he was not seen as a threat.
But as Jesus’s name became known they began to question his teachings on practical matters. The pharisees were fasting and Jesus was not requiring his disciples to fast on that day. How could he be righteous if he is not observing the traditional fasts? Then his disciples walk through fields on the sabbath, and they “Harvest” grain, and on that same day Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. How can he be righteous if he does not follow the law?
This is a sticky point. We often think of the people of Israel as the people of the law. We are not necessarily wrong in that thought, but we are not fully correct either. Our concept of law comes from the Greek expansion. The Hellenistic culture was a culture of the rule of Law, which has formed much of western civilization. The Hebrew people had law, but their law was not intended to be draconian, but their law was more about learning, and discipline. Their law was not rules to be obeyed but a lifestyle to be formed. As their culture became more influenced by outside cultures they became less oriental in their applications to law, and more westernized. The pharisees were applying the teachings of Moses, their interpretation of the teachings as a hard-fast rule, and obedience was necessary for acceptance. Yet that was not the intention of the law, the intent was to develop a people of justice and mercy for all.
Jesus goes home with his disciples, and the crowds follow. There are so many people around that they cannot even eat in their own home. And standing outside is a lawyer, whose authority and reputation is threatened so he screams out in frustration that Jesus is possessed by the devil himself and that is the only reason he can perform these magical feats. He is not a righteous man, he doesn’t observe the fasts like we teach, he doesn’t even observe the Sabbath, he works on the day reserved for worship.
What was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back? Jesus attracted too much attention and he did not follow the rules of the religious leaders, and when they came to talk to him, Jesus did not show them the proper respect they thought they deserved. Jesus treated all people equally, and that really upset them. No more talk this lawyer demanded an investigation. And he wanted this line of teaching eradicated from Israel, because there was no room for a different opinion. And the fuel that added to the fire, Jesus’s own family is being pushed outside in their own home, they can’t even eat.
I began with a question, where do we begin to ask questions of those around us? When do we reach that point where we just can’t let things continue? We all have a point. And that point is based on our interpretation of how life should be. But what is our interpretation?
Jesus goes on to teach in a parable. He says, “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 against himself and is divided he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”
Let those words just sink in, let them percolate through your body and saturate your very soul. What is setting us off, and are we allowing those things to allow division within us? Jesus knows where the accusation of this lawyer is coming from. He knows that it has nothing to do with the ministry that Jesus has done and that it has everything to do with the shaky foundation of this man’s ego. This man’s entire life is built on the authority and power given to him by his status. And if a different interpretation is allowed then his authority diminishes. He did not build his life on the God behind the law, but the man behind the interpretation of the law. He did not look at why God would give a law, but only to blindly follow.
Some might say that I ask too many questions that I try to understand too much, and I’m ok with that view of who I am. If God says something, I want to know why it was said from pretty much every angle possible, because if I am going to speak about it, I want to know that my words will reflect God. I have, over time, become less fundamental and have focused more on grace and that bothers some people. But what really matters? Does it matter more that you tithe a legalistic 10%, or that you recognize that everything that you have is a blessing from God and if God is prompting you to give to further his kingdom that you are obedient to Him? Does it matter more that tell truth when asked or that we live lives of integrity all the time?
Life with God is not merely commandments, but a way of life. It is both religion and relationship. It is discipline and grace. Our faith and practice must not be so rigid that we do not have room for a different perspective, yet we also should not jump fully in with a different point of view that we forget who we are and where we come from. Life with God is just that, life with God. It is a life and life style that does not only focus on myself, but who I am in relationship with God.
This lawyer came to Jesus’s family’s home, and he was upset with Jesus. He was upset that Jesus spent time with people, he considered unworthy. He was upset that Jesus’s teaching was lax on Sabbath and on ritual observances. He failed to see that Jesus’s teaching was heavy on love for those around you, the bearers of the image of God. He failed to see that to love those bearing God’s image was to love the God who created them to bear that image.
Jesus understands that it is difficult to accept his teachings. It is difficult because it is not a message of contrasts, but a teaching of tender encouragement. With some Jesus’s teachings can come across as harsh and others liberal, it is not because Jesus blows in the winds of change, but because the personalities he is talking to have different perspectives. To those who like stark contrast he will point out in stark contrast where they are wrong. To those who are more sensitive he will be sensitive. To those with a disciplined background, he speaks about discipline. And to those ignorant of the law he speaks in terms within their knowledge. The message remains the same, the Kingdom of God is at hand, believe and follow Him.
Jesus closes his parable with a statement that has stuck with me over the past few years of my ministry. “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”This statement in many ways encourages me, but in others it haunts me. It is encouraging because all sin is forgiven. How wonderful is that, to know that there is nothing I can do that will cause God to reject me. I am forgiven. But it haunts me as well, because there is one sin that will never be forgiven, the blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. What is that sin? That is the sin of rejection. Not only our rejection of God but our rejection of the ministry God has given us. It is a refusal to participate in what God has called us to. God called Israel to be a light to the nations, he called them to be a blessing to all people. He calls us to do the same, because through Jesus Israel has become a light to all nations and a blessing to all people, and we are grafted into that life by faith. But what are we allowing to distract and divide us? What are we allowing Satan to use to keep us from participating fully in God’s kingdom?
As we enter this time of open worship and communion as friends I encourage us to consider what unites and divides. Is this division based on the life of Christ or is it our tradition? And is it preventing us from becoming the people we are called to be, a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
 Diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu. (2018). Art in the Christian Tradition:. [online] Available at: http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/diglib-fulldisplay.pl?SID=20180610485021673&code=act&RC=54917&Row=5 [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].