A New Family
READ: Mark 3:20-35
I want to read to you three quotes this morning on the topic of family.
The first is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who once wrote:
“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
And of course the author Harper Lee wrote a quote about family that most of us are a little more familiar with.
In her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she writes:
“You can choose your friends, but you sho' can't choose your family…”
The final quote comes from Mark’s Gospel, which we just read a few moments ago.
Mark quotes Jesus, saying, “Who are my mother and my brother? … Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Now, depending on your own family dynamic, those quotes — all of them, really — can take on different meanings.
I have an awesome family.
Amazing, God-loving sisters I’d do anything for,
a step-dad who is like my own father in so many ways,
and a mother who has been the sun in the sky around which the entire family, like planets, orbit.
I have a loving family. And I am blessed.
And so when I hear Jesus loudly proclaiming “Who are my brothers and mother?”
I think about how his family, who is trying to help him out of a jam, waiting just outside the door, can’t help but to overhear those words.
If I said that to my family who came to help me out, I bet they would be sad, if not deeply hurt.
On the other hand, if you have a family that’s not so loving, or a family that’s abusive, or no family at all, Jesus’s words probably sound a bit better.
Maybe they would even make you happy.
But here’s the scenario:
It’s early in Jesus’s ministry.
His own family can’t really make heads or tails of who this special son is.
Mary knows what the prophets told her at his birth, and what the angel told her before his birth, and, of course, there’s the fact that Jesus was born by the Spirit…
But this is unchartered territory, still.
And at this point, Jesus is getting in some sort of trouble with the townspeople and mostly the scribes from Jerusalem who came up to check out this Jesus of Nazareth.
We enter the reading today entering a house in which Jesus is teaching back in his hometown.
It’s crowded, we’re told, and his family hears trouble in the house, and comes to rescue him.
The scribes — who are like leaders in Mosaic Law — have heard that Jesus is healing people.
Remember, most of the time — but not all — when we hear someone is possessed by a demon in the New Testament, we’re talking about a mental illness.
In Jesus’s day, they didn’t understand mental illness…
And so the scribes are sent out to see what this is all about, and immediately, they accuse Jesus of being a demon-possessed himself in Verse 22.
Jesus responds telling them basically why would Satan possess a person to get rid of Satan in another person? Verse 23.
A house divided against itself cannot stand… Verse 24.
The scribes are questioning Jesus’s motivation.
WHO is making Jesus do these things?
They’re not seeing that the Holy Spirit is driving the situation — that God is in control —
and so Jesus offers them a stern warning, and it’s basically this:
do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit — that will not be forgiven you.
In other words, be careful who you accuse here.
Biblical scholar Mary Ann Tolbert writes:
“It is forgivable to wrongly judge the evil as good,
but it is unforgivable to judge the good as evil.”
The good here is the Holy Spirit.
Of course, this raises some hackles and feathers, and Jesus’s mother, brothers and sisters try to get someone to pull Jesus out of this argument, which is by now, at a fever pitch.
When he hears those words, that is when he responds:
Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.” (Verses 34 and following.)
Who Is My Family?
So who is sitting around Jesus, that he calls them “my family?”
The disciples. The followers.
And who are they?
Well, we know, again, it’s early in Jesus’s ministry, but as we head into the heart of what Jesus is saying here, we know this:
Jesus has called his immediate disciples.
Earlier in Chapter 3, Mark names them:
Simon Peter, James and John, Andrew and Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, another James, Thaddaeus, another Simon and Judas Iscariot, the betrayer…
But Jesus isn’t talking only about the 12 he’s appointed…
Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there are others.
How do we know this?
Well, the room is swelling with followers — disciples — of Jesus, for one.
And also, that Jesus points out that his disciples include women — “sisters and mothers,” as well.
A few moments ago, we said that depending on your family experience, Jesus’s words can have vastly different meanings for you.
They could be words of sadness or words of hope.
But in Jesus’s day, and in a very Jewish culture, Jesus’s idea of A New Family was confounding.
First of all, family was EVERYTHING in this culture.
IT was one’s currency, passport, health and livelihood and access to everything.
Kinship — whose family you belonged to — was your social status in the world.
To give up kinship was not only an enormous insult — like the parable of the Prodigal Son, who begged his inheritance from his father, which is tantamount to telling his father “I wish you were dead! —
it’s not only an insult, it’s breaking THE most important social construct of the day.
Add to this that the bigger family was that of the Hebrews — God’s chosen people…
So the Jews believed that they were part of a bigger family — God’s chosen children — and forsaking the family meant forsaking God’s heritage.
Today, we hear all the time of estranged families.
I’ve known a whole lot of folks who don’t speak with their brothers and sisters at all. Or their fathers or their mothers…
Maybe we know people like this as well.
Maybe they are in our own families…
But to relinquish a family name in Jesus’s day was to become basically dead to them, and breaking off any claims to heirs or heritage.
For Jesus to say this was extremely counter-cultural.
Of course, Jesus wasn’t disowning his own family.
(And notice, too, he never says anything about his father…
and that could mean that Joseph, his “dad,” may already have died or that the only father in Jesus’s life is his heavenly Father.
Either way, Jesus is stressing here that women are extremely important in this new family,
and in a culture in which women aren’t regarded highly at all, this too speaks volumes about inclusiveness — and that’s a lesson we must heed seriously today).
A New Family
So what does all this mean to us here today?
Just a week or so ago, my eldest son found it incredibly hard to believe that his own dad — me — was born back when there was segregation and violence toward black people and that Martin Luther King was killed just a year and a half before I was born.
To him, you see, that seemed like it had to have been much longer ago.
Or, more accurately, that it couldn’t possibly be in anyone’s lifetime that he knew.
That wound couldn’t still be that fresh.
As a child, and growing up in central New York, discrimination against blacks was still very prominent.
And like my son, when I moved in my early 30s to South Carolina, I couldn’t believe that one of my new best friends there said he was the first black child to enter a formerly segregated school in 1974.
1974. It took South Carolina 10 years — an entire decade — before it allowed black students into formerly all-white public schools.
And so as a child, race tensions weren’t lost on me.
And as an adult, they became more pronounced.
And now, I can’t help but notice all the places where our old traditions, heritages and ways have created an unfair culture in which we live, often oblivious, to its sins
and in which we, often obliviously, contribute to its sinful proliferation.
But if we actually lived into Jesus’s vision of family, how would the church today be different?
If we actually lived into Jesus’s vision of family, how would the world today be different?
Jesus is asking who are our brothers and sisters and mothers?
Who is our family?
Are they simply biological?
Are they only the people who love us and act worthy of being called that?
Are they only believers in Christ?
Because earlier this morning, Joy and Joe King showed us a very clear picture of who our brothers and sisters in this world are.
They don’t know us, but they know of us.
And we don’t know them, but we know of them.
And right now in this very moment, they are waiting for their brothers and sisters — us — to know them.
To recognize them.
And to help them.
To be, what Jesus calls us to be. A Family.
I have two boys, who are sitting right here with us today.
But I also have another special little boy.
His name is Vinicius, and he lives in Argentina.
His birthday is May 17, and he is 9 years old.
Through Compassion International, we write to each other frequently.
His favorite Bible Verse is Mark 9.23: Jesus said “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
Of course, the financial help has elevated both him and his entire family, and with education and spiritual upbringing, this child will be able to help future generations.
Not just his biological family, but maybe his village, or his country, or the world — God’s family.
See, Vinicius is my family, too. He’s my brother.
And he knows it.
From out of nowhere, one day, he awoke and was told that someone more than 5,000 miles away is praying for him, wants to help him, and is aware of how hard his life is and the struggles he faces.
Sometimes I think that I have no idea what that must feel like.
And then I read this passage in Mark about Jesus’s family.
And how we are called to recognize one another, both here in the church and all around the world as our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
And not just in some superficial way, as in “Oh, we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ…”
No. Because that always seems to just go out the door whenever we leave this building.
But eternally, we hold one another as our family.
We don’t discriminate.
We don’t segregate.
We don’t isolate.
We don’t not give.
We don’t not care.
We don’t not help.
Vinicius is an innocent 9-year-old boy who did nothing to deserve having to struggle for food,
or having to live in a one-room tin shack with a dirt floor,
and to wonder, each and every day, whether his parents will be there at the end of the day.
He has no control over that as a 9-year-old boy.
Know what? We do.
Because that’s our little brother suffering there.
The same little boys and little girls who are suffering around the world right now.
Going hungry on places like Africa and India.
Being sold into sex slave trades in China and Asia.
Being ripped from their parents and being held in detention centers in our own border states.
And wondering what what their futures will be like as they grow up among the rubble of Syria.
Are they wondering if there’s a God who loves them, too?
And what about this Jesus, who calls all of us to love everyone.
Are those who follow Jesus really who they say they are?
Or is it just another hallow religion, like so much of the world believes?
I hope not.
For our sake, and their sake.
And for Jesus’s stripes and death on the cross.
This isn’t a plea to sign up for Compassion International,
but it is a great entryway into the discussion that we have to have about what it means to be what Christ calls us to be, a New Family.
How do we treat one another, both here in the church, and outside these doors in our own community, and even those who are so different from us halfway around the world.
Jesus tells us this:
They are our brothers.
They are our sisters.
They are our mothers.
They are our fathers.
They are our next of kin.
It’s an enormous responsibility.
But it’s an even greater gift.
Because if we truly can live into what it means to be family the way Jesus calls us to,
then the love in this world,
the care in this world,
and the peace in this world just grew exponentially.
Welcome, my brothers and sisters,
my mothers and fathers,
to living in the kingdom now.