We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Pentecost 3, Year B, June 9, 2024

Mark 3:19-35

If you were a character in Mark’s gospel, who would you be?  In what group would you belong? As you heard today’s gospel, where did you imagine yourself in the story? 

Right before the scene in today’s gospel, Jesus has been on the mountain where he has called his disciples.  Verse 19, which I included in the gospel reading, says that after gathering his disciples Jesus goes home to Capernaum, to the house that he uses as headquarters. 

Outside the house are the crowds, who follow Jesus everywhere, excited by all that he is doing.  In Mark, the people in the crowds are those who are on the fence, the undecided voters, the ones who cheered Jesus when he came to Jerusalem for Passover and then shouted “Crucify him” when Jesus gets hauled before Pilate.  Right now, in this story, the crowds have surrounded the house where Jesus and the disciples are, hoping that Jesus will come out and work some miracles.  The crowds are the “what’s in this for me” group. 

Two other groups have gathered with this crowd outside the house, the scribes from Jerusalem and the family of Jesus.

The scribes are religious authorities who believe that they have the best understanding of who God is based on all their studies, and they do not like this up-start, Jesus, who has such magnetism, such healing power, someone who is even casting out demons. The scribes and the Pharisees realize that if Jesus is not stopped, he will shake up the religious structure of the time, and the scribes will lose some of their power.    They don’t like this idea.    

So the scribes accuse Jesus of being under the control of Satan himself because Jesus is casting out demons.  But Jesus is actively working against Satan by casting out demons.  So common sense tells us that Jesus cannot be from Satan, for Jesus is doing the opposite of what Satan would want by casting out evil, and therefore, Jesus must be from God. 

These scribes have aligned themselves with evil in order to preserve their own power over the people. They realize that the crowds, momentarily enthralled with Jesus, could also turn against Jesus.  So they twist the truth and discredit all that Jesus is doing and saying by accusing Jesus of being evil.    They use evil against Jesus because they acting out of fear. 

The group in this story that I can really identify with is the family of Jesus.  They are outside the house too.  And they are also acting out of fear, but their fear is because of love, for they are there hoping to save Jesus from himself.  What a challenge this family must have had—they sense that one of their beloved family members is going to be in danger, and so their fear for him compels them to try to interfere out of love.  So they pull the “family card” to try to get Jesus to talk with them. 

In a way, what the family has to offer to Jesus is much more threatening to Jesus than the hostility of the scribes.  For who wouldn’t be tempted by love, for the promise of some rest, to go home to your family and rest for a while.  The family doesn’t realize that out of their misguided love, they are tempting Jesus to lay aside God’s will for his life and the work God has asked him to do, and to put himself at the center.  Sounds like some of the temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness—if you’re hungry, you know that you can turn these stones into bread. You, Jesus, of all people, don’t need to be hungry. 

And that’s the family’s reasoning, I think.  “Jesus, we care  for you.  You don’t have to live in this crazy three-ring circus, followed by curious people out to get what they can, as well as your outright enemies.  “You just need to come on home for a while.”

What they don’t understand is that Jesus is home.  He is inside the house with his disciples, the ones who have decided to follow him, to proclaim the good news and to bring the kingdom of God near by doing God’s will.     So Jesus sends a message to his concerned and upset family who are outside. 

This message probably hurt a lot.  For Jesus reminded them that it wasn’t the fact that they were “blood kin” as we say in the south,  that made them family, but that his family was made up of the people who were doing the will of God, the people who were inside the house with him, the ones who would go out to do his work with him, the work of making God’s love visible out in the world.    I’m sure that Jesus hoped that his family would develop a more expansive understanding of who the true family of Jesus is—those who lay aside everything else to follow Jesus and to do the will of God. 

The dilemmas in this story speak directly to us.  As individuals, we start out as members of the crowd milling around Jesus.    We get curious about Jesus.  We want to know more, and so we start following him around, maybe paying more attention to him and to giving more thought to God in the midst of everything else we have going on in our lives.    And then at some point, we have to choose.  We can choose to be followers of Jesus, doing what he asks, going where he leads, or we can continue to just fit Jesus in on the margins of our lives, only when following Jesus seems convenient. 

And like the family of Jesus,  we get tempted to bring Jesus to our house rather than to go to him in his.  We want Jesus to be a safe figure, a gentle savior who loves us and comforts us.  We like to come to church and leave feeling good, which is fine, but there’s a problem when we don’t want to also be challenged by Jesus.  As soon as we get our backs up when we talk about “political” issues, that is, how we relate to one another and to  the world with justice, and we say that these issues don’t belong in the church, then we limit Jesus to a stained glass Jesus who would never speak a word of challenge to us because those words just might disturb us.  We want a tame, civilized Jesus who would be fine with us putting ourselves and our own comfort first. 

Believe me, church leaders struggle all the time with finding a balance between comforting and challenging the congregations we lead,  for both words of comfort and words of challenge have their place in the family of God.  The temptation for any leader is to lean into the comfort and to keep the peace in a congregation, rather than to challenge the congregation to go out into the world to do God’s will, especially when there’s the inevitable disagreement within the family about what God’s will is and how to do it.     

Trying to figure out what God’s will is for our church can bring out the scribes and the Pharisees in all of us, for now we get tempted to fight over our differences rather to struggle together with what it means to follow Jesus in perfect freedom, to figure out together how following Jesus means not to be at the beck and call of tyrants, or the government, or the people with the money, or the people with the power and the prestige, or the people with all the answers.   Instead,  we come together to try our best to discern what God’s will is for us as the followers of Jesus and  the family of God.  This discernment takes place through prayer, through scripture study that welcomes a diversity of understandings, and through worship, when we come before God in humility and thanksgiving, bringing our questions and our uncertainties to God rather than our answers and our solutions.    

God’s will for us will change through the years, sometimes comforting, and sometimes challenging.  Sometimes God asks us to do what will fill us with fear.  We have to struggle with ourselves and with one another about what God’s will for us is—but our constant goal is to follow Jesus the best we can.

A collect in the prayer book by John Henry Newman, entitled “In the Evening”  encourages those of us who pray it to accept and to faithfully try to do all that God asks of us.  At the end of the day, or at the end of our work, or at the end our  lives, we can rest in God, at home with Jesus, for we have actively chosen to do God’s will, and to follow Jesus, and we realize that God has been with us all along. 

So let’s pray that prayer together now.  Open your prayer books to page 833 and find the prayer entitled “In the Evening.” 

Let us pray. 

“O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.  Amen.”