Sermon June 7, 2015
Mark 3:20-35, II Corinthians 4:13-5:1
This week as we were pondering the context for the reading in Second Corinthians, I turned to the notes section in the New Revised Standard Version Bible and it said that the honeymoon was over for Paul and the church at Corinth. I have to say that it took me by surprise to see those words in a Bible commentary. I must have expected something a bit more dignified than human reality. It’s funny how often that human reality shows up in our readings. The readings today are not especially easy. I would never choose to preach the lesson from Mark today. That’s why the lectionary is a good thing. I don’t get to choose the ones I like. I have to struggle with the ones I don’t like or don’t understand, or would just prefer to avoid altogether. The lectionary is a three-year cycle of readings. There are four readings per Sunday – usually an Old Testament, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel lesson. Year A focuses primarily on Matthew. Year B focuses on Mark (that’s where we are) and Year C on Luke. John gets thrown in late this summer and during Lent. The advantage is that a good percentage of the Bible is covered in this three-year cycle. The disadvantage is a set of readings like the one we have today.
While I never thought much about it before this week, it doesn’t seem that Jesus ever got a honeymoon. He manages to anger and offend people from the very beginning of his ministry. People love to ask ministers if the honeymoon has ended soon after they take a new call. It is interesting language to use. I think all relationships live in that place between romance and reality. In ongoing relationships we are tasked with finding ways to honor each other and keeping a sense of wonder in the relationship. We learn to care for each other when we feel like it and when we don’t. This is true for couples and for communities. It is true for friendships, coworkers, and neighbors. It is just part of being human.
Another awkward piece of the gospel lesson raises questions about family. Jesus’ family learns that he is getting into some embarrassing situations so they come to take him home. He says some weird stuff about Satan and plundering property. Everyone is squirming by now so someone calls out, “Hey Jesus, your family wants you to come outside.” That is code for “we’ve had enough of your talking.” Jesus tells the ones gathered that they are his family. He is redefining family and saying it isn’t as much about biology as saying yes to God. There are a lot of ways we can interpret that. Perhaps he has snubbed his biological family or perhaps he is calling everyone into a deeper relationship. He knows this following thing will not be easy and it will demand a deep commitment to care for one another along the way. If we are going to follow him, we need to be sure that we can hang in there with each other.
Jesus has this funny way of welcoming all the ones on the edges – the lesbian single mom, the young gang member just out of prison, the recent amputee, the person who slept under a bridge last night, or the one who can’t remember her name. As Wendy Farley put it, “When we think about who is near Jesus, it is not the morally perfect. It is just the diverse mess of humanity with all of its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection.” (Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, p. 120) Yet, he doesn’t just give a pass to the ones who are supposed to be on the inside – the scribes and his own family. Perhaps he coined the whole “tough love” concept. Wendy Farley goes on to say, “It is an odd feature of Jesus’ ministry that he is open to everybody: Gentiles, Jews, the poor, the demented, the sick, working class, women, tax collectors, sexual outcasts. The only people who provoke Jesus’ intolerance are his family and the normal, law-abiding scribes.” (p. 118)
In a world that touts family values, it is interesting that Jesus didn’t always have the easiest relationship with his family. Some of us are blessed with easy family relationships and others struggle to stay in relationship with family. Some have to walk away altogether. I don’t have any easy answers about this, but I do see Jesus clearly expanding the notion of family beyond biology. Our family has adopted members, people who don’t look like us or think like us, and people who live very different lives. Perhaps the pain that exists in so many families is part of what makes the faith community so important. The faith community has also been a source of pain for many, but it has the potential to be a source of healing. When Jesus talks about a house in this text, he is referring to what we call the church today. He calls us to a higher way of being with one another. He calls us to care for our individual wounds so that we don’t project them onto others. Ultimately, he wants to free us from captivity. Captivity comes in many forms. Some are inner wounds that haunt us. Others are outer relationships or circumstances like toxic job environments, or contentious neighbors, or trauma. There are so many life experiences that hold us hostage and until we can find healing, we are not free to relate to others in a way that is life giving.
Years ago, I read a story of wounding and healing that occurred in a family and it continues to move me today. Alice Walker told about her experience in an essay called “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self”. Alice was the youngest of eight children. She knew she was loved and cute. She was full of confidence. All of that ended when she was eight years old. While playing with her brothers, Alice was shot in the eye by her brother’s bb gun. She became really sick with a fever. Her family was very poor and it took them a week to seek medical treatment. She was afraid of going completely blind in both eyes from the accident. But the thing that bothered her the most was the glob of white scar tissue on her eye. She was no longer the cute little girl and she no longer looked at the world with confidence. In fact, she rarely made eye contact with people after the accident. It was complicated by the fact that her brothers told her to lie and say that she ran into a piece of barbed wire so that they wouldn’t get in trouble. Years later an older brother took her to have the scar tissue removed and what was left is a bluish crater where the scar tissue had been. She continued to be self-conscious and humiliated by her eye.
At age twenty-seven, Alice had a three-year-old daughter. She had worried since her daughter’s birth about the day she would realize that her mother’s eyes were different from most people’s. Would she be embarrassed? Every day she watched a television program called “Big Blue Marble” that began with a picture of the earth from the moon. It was bluish, a little battered looking, but full of light, with whitish clouds swirling around it. One day she was putting her daughter Rebecca down for her nap, when she suddenly focused on her eye. Alice cringed, ready to protect herself from her daughter’s cruel response. Rebecca studied her face intently holding Alice’s face between her hands. Then, very seriously, she said, as if it may just possibly have slipped Alice’s attention: “Mommy, there’s a world in your eye. (As in, “Don’t be alarmed or do anything crazy.”) And then gently, but with great interest: “Mommy, where did you get that world in your eye?”
Alice said that for the most part the pain left then. As Rebecca sang herself to sleep, Alice looked in the mirror and realized that there was a world in her eye. She saw that it was possible to love it: that in fact, for all it had taught her about shame and anger and inner vision, she did love it. That night Alice dreamed that she was dancing and was happier than she had ever been. She visualized herself as a dancer who is beautiful, whole, and free. (In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, by Alice Walker, excerpts from pp. 384-393)
Some of us will always carry pain from our families. Some of us experience healing and new ways of relating to one another. Every Sunday, we say the words “No matter who you are and where you are on your faith and life journey, you are welcome here.” Tonight we will host the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community for a Pride worship service. Many who come tonight have known profound pain and rejection within their families, churches and the larger community. Jesus invites all of us into relationship with him and offers healing. He invites us to place our trust in his unfailing goodness. No matter who you are and what you may be carrying today, you are invited into a relationship of healing and hope. The table is a place of forgiveness and healing. Come as you are and know that Christ will feed you. Come to this table to be sustained by his healing love.