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Pentecost 2B Sermon
Mark 3: 20-35

June 6, 2021

Sermon Archives


Mark 3:20-35

20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But 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.
28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

How many of us yearn for the days of our lives when we were children and life was so much less complicated? I bought this olivewood carving of, “The Holy Family” a number of years ago in the Holy Land because I liked the symbolism of this solid, healthy family upbringing for Jesus. While there are no siblings depicted - and the jury is still out on if or how many siblings Jesus actually had - he looks content, standing peacefully with Mary and Joseph while he points out something in scripture. I venture to say it is probably what many people picture when they think of a perfect family. It is what many of us want to put out to the public when we portray what our family lives are like. It is rarely what a lot of families look like when no one is carving a statue of them.

This is definitely not a depiction of Jesus’ family from our Gospel reading this morning. Something has happened to turn their quiet, content relationship into one of deep concern and worry. This third chapter of Mark has what some people might call an intervention - family confronting a loved one because they consider his or her actions to be destructive. So many people have claimed that Jesus has gone out of his mind that they try to restrain him! It makes us wonder why this crowd pressed in on him so that he could not eat, and why his family came to get him to stop.
According to the previous two and a half chapters of this Gospel, Jesus has begun his earthly ministry with a bang! He has been preaching and teaching, he has been healing people of various ailments and casting out demons, and he has appointed twelve of his followers to proclaim the very message that he began his ministry with: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. Sounds like the words of someone who has come to establish a kingdom! Sounds like the preaching of a powerful leader. The problem is there is already a powerful leader in charge of this world and he is not going quietly.

This is the strongman to whom Jesus refers when he talks to the scribes who have come down from Jerusalem to shut him up. Jesus is acknowledging that Beelzebul or Satan or the Devil - whatever title we want to give to the demonic powers that defy God - has a foothold in this world. And so, since there is such a strong and extreme opposition to God’s kingdom, he is called to extreme and powerful measures of love on God’s behalf. In order to re-claim this wonderful creation and all of the creatures in it for God, Jesus must go about the process of tying up the strongman and plundering this world while he is restrained. Ironic, isn’t it? How Jesus’ family has come to restrain him, but he has restrained Beelzebul!

Let’s get an idea of who this Beelzebul is in the first place. In 2 Kings 1:2-16 you can read the weird story of one of the bad kings, Ahaziah, who sends for a priest of Beelzebul, the god of the land of Ekron, to heal him after he fell from his balcony through a lattice. The prophet Elijah hears about this and stops those that Ahaziah is sending. Two times the king sends soldiers to get rid of Elijah, and both times Elijah calls fire down upon them and they were destroyed. Finally, Ahaziah convinces Elijah to come to him - and Elijah tells the king that because he tried to find healing with Beelzebul - a name which means Lord of the Flies or Lord of Filth - instead of Yahweh, he would die, which he did. A very strange story ineed.

It is almost as strange as the story in our first reading, that some people have occasionally described as, “The fall of humanity.” It begins with Adam and Eve hiding when they hear that God is out for his daily walk. They hide because they are naked and afraid - not like the Discovery channel reality show, but like two people who have done something that they knew was forbidden: eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Ultimately the lowly, crafty serpent gets the blame for tricking the couple into eating the fruit, even though they each carried part of the blame themselves. I have always thought of this serpent as being a manifestation of Satan - if not Satan himself, at least a creature being manipulated by Satan. I have also always thought of the man and the woman as being very childish … like a couple of five year-olds that did something that they knew was wrong and are hiding from their parents. It is a legendary story that describes our common human experience of maturing past our childlike innocence to face the realities and the challenges of the grown-up world, part of which is the discernment between good and evil.

As I reflect upon these rather strange and primitive biblical stories, I wonder … what do these have to say to us who don’t talk to snakes or hear God out for the daily walk? What if we have never seen anyone call fire down upon someone who goes to an idol for healing? What if we treat those who suffer from mental or spiritual illness not with exorcism, but with prayer, counseling and other mental health treatments? What if we are confused about the presence of evil and have never really thought of Satan as a strongman and the world as his house? What about those of us who live with totally different concerns than all of these scripture passages relate?

What if my concerns have to do with such things as the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of my family and me? What if my concerns have to do with how I can love my neighbor and promote mercy and justice in my community? It seems to me that Jesus wraps up our Gospel reading by dealing with these very real and down-to-earth issues that Christians have every day. He does that when he says that our family isn’t just the people that share your household, and this is good news to us as it isn’t the typical family of Clinton Heights right now. Sure, we have a few young people that we haven’t seen much over the past year or so, but our family is bound together not by DNA, but by the waters of baptism. We are bound together as family by our relationship to God’s son, Jesus Christ, as our brother and co-heir of God’s blessings. It is in this relationship that we are to pray and worship, learn and study, share concern and serve, laugh and have fun. Indeed, our family of God is that group in which we plunder the proverbial house of the strongman, Satan, in order to learn the difference between good and evil, grow mature in the faith, and love even the most unloveable in Jesus’ name!

In the late 80s and early 90s there was a Lutheran musician named Jay Beech. He wrote a lot of songs that were used at camps, youth gatherings and in church settings. One of my favorites is called, “We’re Family.” It’s fun - listen to the lyrics: “I don’t remember seeing you around, you must be from the other side of town. You look a little bit strange to me, but that’s okay I like variety! We’re family; we’re family! I need you, you need me, we’re family.” Second verse - I’ve got a sister name of Betty Sue, my little brother, he’s Bubba Lou. My uncle Benny and my Auntie May, a little crazy, hey, but she’s okay! We’re Family!” And one final verse - “Brothers and sisters standin’ hand in hand, let’s hear you sing it all across this land. If love has found you then let’s have a nod, we’re living in the family of God - We’re family!”
Families may seem strange when compared with this statue of The Holy Family - but holy families today have diverse models. The holy families of this congregation are made up of widowed people, divorced people and single people who have never been married. We have families with a mom and dad and multiple children, one parent and children and some with two moms or two dads! We have folks who consider the others in this very congregation as the only family they have. The important thing about Jesus’ presence to bind the strongman and plunder his house is that we identify with each other as people who discern together what is good and evil, and who strive to do the will of God with each other, united by the Holy Spirit and the baptism of Jesus Christ that we all share!

I consider it a privilege to call each of you brother and sister. We’ve been through a lot of challenges as a congregation over the last 100 years of our existence, and we are promised that as we faithfully worship and serve God, there will be more challenges in the upcoming years! We are a holy family! As we deepen our relationships with each other and others who strive to do the will of God, may we be blessed and strengthened with insight, creativity and courage to live and mature in faith so that we not only discern the difference between good and evil, but we love everyone to defeat evil and those who stand for it, just as Jesus did in his life. Amen.