McFarland

2nd Sunday after Pentecost June 6, 2021

Readings

First Reading: Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Gospel: Mark 3:20-35

Prayer of the Day:
All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory. Increase our faith and trust in him, that we may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
lookup the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Gather Us In – ELW #532
Lead Me, Guide Me – ELW #768
Creating God, Your Fingers Trace – ELW #684
Go My Children, With My Blessing – ELW #543

Reflection on Mark 3:20-35

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

This past week, in my Facebook Devotion on this text, I joked that if anyone was tuning in for a happy, lovely, fun little Bible story, they might want to skip that day’s devotion.  I promised I wouldn’t judge because, if I could, I would rather talk about loaves and fishes or bodies being healed, but here we are.  Today’s Gospel is a prime example of what is great – and not so great – about the lectionary, the three-year cycle of assigned readings.  Lectionary preachers and congregations don’t get to choose what readings we want.  We can’t avoid the tough ones.  We stick with the hard ones and see what God might have to offer us, even if we have to chisel through the sediment a bit.

And today’s Gospel from Mark is not short on sediment.  There’s the accusation of demon possession, the complete disregard for family, and the metaphor of a homeowner being tied up in the middle of the night or, as one scholar put it, a “home invasion.”[1]  This is not the kind, “floaty on a cloud” sort of Jesus we want on a lovely summer day.  The Jesus we do get is the one who expresses just how serious he is about why he came and what he has yet to do – he is living into the proclamation that the kingdom of God has, in fact, come near.

But what has led to all this tension and animosity?  We’re only in chapter three, but it’s been a busy three chapters.  John the Baptist heralded Jesus’ coming.  The heavens were torn apart over the Jordan as the Spirit descended like a dove.  Jesus was with wild beasts in the wilderness.  He encouraged all to trust in the good news of the kingdom’s arrival.  He called fishermen to follow him and then there’s story after story of Jesus healing people from unclean spirits, fevers, paralysis, leprosy, and more.  And right before we jump into today’s reading, he appoints the twelve to proclaim the message and cast out demons, including Judas who we learn will betray him.

So what led to the animosity and Satanic accusation is…healing people?  And this accusation is not lobbied by some anonymous nobody on social media.  These were scribes who heard all about what Jesus was doing and decided to travel all the way from Jerusalem to Nazareth to have a face-to-face intervention.  In the words of Dr. Matt Skinner, “Those scribes were theological heavyweights.  They represent the authority and theological wisdom of the temple establishment […].  We should understand those scribes’ credentials as impeccable.”[2]

Dr. Skinner goes on to highlight that these men – these educated, respected, elite leaders don’t deny that Jesus possesses the power to do these miraculous healings, but their conclusion is that the power must be from the devil.  Jesus freeing people from the physical, mental, and spiritual ailments that are preventing them from living whole, true, authentic, and healthy lives…this must be demonic. 

We don’t know why the scribes came to that conclusion.  Maybe they didn’t want to lose their power, authority, respect, and prestige to this nobody from backwater Nazareth.  Maybe they were okay with the reality that some people are sick, some people suffer, and it should probably just stay that way – changing that paradigm in their minds took too much effort.  Or maybe they were so familiar with their role as the prime authorities of any thing and all things divine, that when Jesus did something unexpected, it couldn’t possibly be the divine.  They were so afraid when the Holy Spirit did something new that it was dismissed.  It is just easier when God is contained in ways that can be controlled and understood.

Whatever the reason, the scribes are confident that Jesus freeing people from what holds them bound couldn’t be anything other than from Satan.  This is what Jesus describes as the “eternal sin” – witnessing God’s work yet being unwilling to see it that way.  One scholar describes it as revealing “an entirely calcified mind.” [3]

Remember, Jesus is back in his hometown, surrounded by a crowd, is being accused of being in league with the devil, and the heat must have been increasing for a while because his family has come forward to take him home with them.  Out of deep concern or embarrassment – maybe a little of both – they come to take him back with them because he has clearly lost his mind.  Jesus then says that his mother and siblings aren’t his family, but those in the crowded house with him are his family.

This is a shocking statement now, but possibly even more so then.  The family was the basis for the social structure.  The family system impacted most elements of daily life.  So to shift the concept of “family” from bloodlines to something bigger, something different, something completely unexpected would have created a huge shift in how the culture, society, and world was organized.

Debie Thomas describes this inverse beautify: “Outside the house stand the insiders — the family, the religious folk, the pious, the careful.  They think they have God pinned down.  They know what the Holy Spirit is supposed to look like, and Jesus doesn’t fit the bill. Inside the house sit the outsiders — the misfits, the rejects, the tax collectors, the prostitutes.  They’re not interested in dogma or piety; they just need love and they seem to have found it in a man who heals the sick and feeds the hungry. And in the midst of them?  Smack in the center of the sick, the insane, the deviant, the hungry, the unorthodox and the unwashed?  There sits Jesus, saying, ‘This. This is my family.’”[4]

Jesus is inverting expectation, the status quo, and the “way things have to be.”  He proclaims that if healing people – if helping release people from what limits them, causes them pain, and interferes with their daily life – if that’s categorized as demonic, then he’s flipping everything upside down.  He is turning what people are familiar with on its head in order to include more people, to open doors and welcome more people, to embrace more people, particularly those who have been cast aside and diminished.  He is tearing down the kingdom that says “it’s okay for some to be excluded, for some to be left out, for some to suffer” and replacing it with one that says, “you know what?  No, that’s not okay.”

Jesus is making the community – the family of God – bigger.  This is great news if you’ve ever been kicked out or excluded.  But this might not be great news if you feel like you’ve had to claw your way in or if you’re comfortable with how things are, and now just anyone can come in.  I mean, who doesn’t love an elite, Members Only group?  I’ll admit, there are people I don’t want Jesus to love or to welcome into this big family.  I’m not a fan of everyone, but Jesus isn’t about diluting the group.  More and more are welcomed in, even if I don’t understand it or don’t want them there.  There’s the rub.  That’s why God is God.  Once I start establishing parameters around who is in and who is out, I get the calcified mind that can’t recognize what awesome, expansive love God is spreading throughout the world.  I’m the one with the calcified mind who is okay with some people being left out.

By pushing against the limitations placed by the scribes and redefining what is considered family, Jesus is showing that the Holy Spirit can’t be contained or controlled.  And isn’t that just like the Spirit?  The heavens were torn over the Jordan River, in a few chapters we’ll hear about a temple curtain being torn in two, from top to bottom, and a few days after that we’ll hear about the power of death being torn apart.  Any barrier that tries to separate God from God’s people is ripped apart by God’s commitment to the creation God so loves.  In the words of Dr. Karoline Lewis, “Bookending this Gospel is the conviction that there is no keeping God at a distance anymore.”[5]  Clearly the Spirit is unwilling to be controlled or contained.

So the status quo of who is allowed to be in the kingdom is not going to work any longer.  The power of Rome, sin, and death will have the final say no more.  Jesus is upending who gets included in the family of God and reveals that the guest list will no longer be decided upon by fellow siblings.  While this is incredibly comforting, empowering, and humanizing for some, it is obviously disorienting, uncomfortable, and hugely unwelcome for others.  It was pointed out this week that this upheaval, this reframing, this new way of living runs so contrary to what is familiar that it becomes – in part – the catalyst of Jesus’ own death.[6]  Jesus’ actions of healing and loving and accepting are making people in positions of power and authority feel so threatened that the groundwork for Good Friday is already being laid…and we’re only in chapter three.  There’s plenty more of the story to explore as Jesus continues to establish this new kingdom.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Matt Skinner from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 787: Second Sunday after Pentecost (Ord. 10B) – June 6, 2021,” May 29, 2021, video, 30:35, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTGdnBikaUc.

[2] Matt Skinner, “Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 10, 2018, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Mark 3:20-35,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-10-2/commentary-on-mark-320-35-3 (accessed June 1, 2021).

[3] Matt Skinner, “Third Sunday after Pentecost.”

[4] Italics hers.  Debie Thomas, “A House Divided”, Journey With Jesus: A Weekly Webzine for the Global Church, Since 2004, June 3, 2018, accessed June 1, 2021, https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1805-a-house-divided.

[5] Karoline Lewis, “Preach this Week, November 27, 2017, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Mark 13:24-37,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-mark-1324-37 (accessed November 20, 2020).

[6] Matt Skinner from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 787.”

Let Us Pray

God of life, thank you for creating a kingdom – a family – that is bigger than we could have ever imagined.  When we are cast aside and rejected, wrap your courage and grace around us to remember that you love us, even when it feels like the world does not.  When we are welcomed and embraced, embolden us with the Gospel to recognize the places where others are left out or excluded, and help us find ways to open doors for them.  When your love is bigger than our comfort zones, stir your compassion in us to see not a stranger, but a fellow beloved member of your creation.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.