Sermon – 6 June 2021

Let us pray: Lord help us to set aside our distractions so that your scriptures may speak to us and hearing your word may deepen our relationships with you and each other. Speak to each of us according our needs. Amen

Things are moving at a relentless pace for Jesus in these early chapters of Mark’s gospel – he has appointed twelve apostles and already he is being followed by large crowds of people wherever he goes. Mark has established Jesus as prophet, teacher, healer and miracle worker. He has cast out unclean spirits and perhaps most notably, earlier in chapter 3 the unclean spirits have recognized Jesus as the Son of God.

In today’s reading  Mark tells us Jesus goes home and there such a large crowd gathers that he and his disciples aren’t able to eat!!  

Mark introduces this story of Jesus and his family by telling us Jesus’ family, hearing reports that Jesus is “out of his mind” go to him intending to restrain him. (verses 20-21) but then he leaves us hanging. He suddenly switches to the story of Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes and will return to the story of Jesus and his family later (in verses 31-35). So let’s look first at the story of Jesus confronting the scribes.

The scribes that have come down from Jerusalem claim that Jesus’ power to exorcise demons comes from Beelzebul. Now Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind, but this accusation was far worse. In those days Beelzebul was another name for Satan, and so they were not just saying that Jesus was possessed by a demon, but by Satan himself! As he did so many times in his earthly life, Jesus is called to respond to the confusion of friend and foe alike.

Mark does not describe what prompts the reaction of the scribes but both Matthew ‘s and Luke’s gospels (Matthew 12, 22-37 and Luke 11, 14-23) tell us that this particular confrontation with the scribes from Jerusalem came right after Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute.

The scribes are seeking to discredit Jesus. They cannot allow this huge crowd of people to believe in Jesus and perhaps even pass on their beliefs to others. Jesus has already made it clear that he will not dutifully follow the rules. They obviously cannot deny his ability to cast out demons. Everyone can see that. But they can cast doubt on the source of his power. They are seeking to discredit him in the eyes of the people by planting the idea that Jesus is working by Satan’s power instead of God’s power.  

We can almost hear Jesus’ frustration in his words: How can Satan cast out Satan? (Mark 3:23-26)

Jesus is saying, “What you say doesn’t make sense. How can Satan drive out Satan? If Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan, then Satan is fighting against himself.   If Satan opposes himself and is divided, then he cannot stand; his end has come.” 

And to refute the accusation that he is possessed by Beelzebul. Jesus says:

“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.”

Jesus is saying  Satan is the strong man, a powerful, malevolent being. Jesus could not be robbing Satan’s house by casting out demons unless he had overpowered and tied up Satan first. Jesus is not controlled or possessed by Satan; Satan is controlled and overpowered by Jesus! Satan is strong, but Jesus is stronger.

After telling them these parables, (28-30) Jesus gives a warning:

 “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”

We need to remember that all kinds of sins and blasphemies can be forgiven – no matter how badly we have sinned against God, He can still forgive us. But Jesus draws the line at confusing Satan with the Holy Spirit. Being misguided, blind, mistaken can be forgiven. People may be slow to comprehend that Jesus, the man who heals, is in fact the Son of God and that Jesus’ healing power comes from the Holy Spirit. BUT Jesus is saying that we must recognise the strong liberating might of God and not confuse the action of God to free his people with the action of the enslaving enemy. The “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”  is the willingness to confuse God’s living, liberating Spirit with the death dealing imprisoning spirit of evil.

Having described the confrontation between Jesus and the scribes, Mark returns to his story about Jesus’ family; they arrive concerned that he is out of his mind, to take charge of him. A message is sent in to Jesus telling him they are outside looking for him.”  Instead of going out to see them Jesus addresses those inside asking:  “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!

Jesus is not dismissing or disrespecting his physical mother and brothers but he is saying that there is a family bond among Christians that is even stronger than physical ties. He is setting the stage for expanding the concept of family to include all who do the will of God.     Faithfulness to families is important, but faithfulness to God is even more important. He continues:

35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The word “whoever,” should encourage us.  It makes no difference what the colour of our skin is or our nationality or our gender.  Jesus excludes nobody – all who do the will of God are part of Jesus’ family circle.

This verse has been of great comfort to Christians who have found themselves separated from their birth families by faith and to many who have  been disowned by their families.  Even when unable understand the language, many are strengthened by being among their church family.  Being able to connect with Christian brothers and sisters relieves loneliness for many who are far from home.

Jesus redefines the criteria for who constitutes his true family. Jesus speaks to deeply embedded cultural assumptions when he defines his true family not by blood relations or kinship ties but by doing the will of God.  The family of God is concerned about obeying God and doing his will. Jesus NEVER acted outside of God’s will. He ALWAYS submitted to the Holy Spirit and the will of his Father. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught the disciples to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:9-10). And when Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39)

Doing God’s will is what unites us. All of us are here in part because of our desire to do God’s will. To carry out God’s will, we need Jesus’ and the Holy Spirit’s help – we can’t do it alone because of the strong man Satan’s hindrance. Eph 6:12  reminds us that “… our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  namely Satan.

 Our allegiance to Jesus goes beyond our physical family loyalty. For some of us this has, or will, mean we will face rejection and opposition for following Jesus. For all of us this means we need to work at being what we are, the eternal family of God. We need to cultivate our family bonds and love for one another. And try to minimize things (like culture, selfish desires, etc) that break those bonds.

We mustn’t disregard our duties to our physical family. Rather, our families are to reflect the faithfulness and love of God, Because of Jesus, we have been adopted into God’s family, and amazingly all of us are the realization of God’s covenantal promise to Abraham. We show ourselves to be ‘in the family’ by our love for Jesus, our love for each other and by doing God’s will.

God’s presence in the world, manifested through Jesus’ words and actions, repeatedly upends conventional assumptions about what’s “real” and what’s “normal.” It upends them, not to change them for change’s sake, but so we might reconsider just how they can be authentic manifestations of who God is and how God can be known. For God’s will is to be known by us, in the particularity of our lives and relationships.

Jesus has certainly promised good news, but he keeps insisting that we must not mistake that for comfortable news. What’s certain from today’s reading is that  the reign of God Jesus keeps talking about is certainly not about maintaining business as usual.

Today’s complex and rich passage from Mark’s gospel reveals the tension between the human and divine aspects of Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit is a strong message. It is a Pentecost message. We are in the season which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people, when the Spirit empowers God’s people to be witnesses and spread the Good News. Jesus’ ministry is outward-looking, and inclusive – he welcomes all who do the will of God into his family. The Holy Spirit is more than a force, a source of power. The Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity, fully God, who abides in us, calls us, helps and empowers us in our struggle against sin and darkness. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to do God’s will to become more like the people he wants us to be, to be true disciples.

So let us pray:  Lord God our heavenly father drive out the unclean spirits within us, and fill us with the Holy Spirit, that we may do God’s will, help us to be gentle, with our families and friends those who are not part of our Christian family as well as those who are part of it.  Give us, we pray, the calm that makes for consideration and the respect for others that makes us courteous. Let us be to others as we would wish them to be to us.  Amen