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Sermon

What Keeps Us Away? (Sermon June 10, 2018)

Mark 3:20–35 (NRSV) [1]binding-strong-medium

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”[2]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.

[1] 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].

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mk 3:28–29). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.

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