Proper 5, Year B: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1,Mark 3:20-35
Then he went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But 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.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-35)
Happy 150th Grace Church! There is so much to say about that!
And so I’m glad that we have a full year to say it all. Someone suggested this week that I take a minute for every year of Grace in this morning’s sermon. You can be relieved that I’m not going to take them up on that idea. After today we have 364 days left to explore the history and future of Grace and so there’s plenty of time to do that. We’ll publish a history of our church probably in several forms. We’ll have presentations and pictures to share from every generation of Grace as we go. We’ll look back on buildings and people and ministries. And we’ll look forward too. All with deep and very genuine thanks.
Today we just need to get this party started. And so we’ll celebrate Eucharist and then we’ll unveil and dedicate the State of Michigan’s newest historical marker which is under that big tarp in the front yard. After the dedication, we’ll head downstairs for a barbeque feast and after that, come back up here at 1:00 for a recital led by jazz saxophonist, Jordan VanHemert, who happens among other things to be the grand-nephew of Vivian Cook. Viv died last year but has and perhaps will forever have the claim to fame of being the longest ever member of Grace Church. Viv lived her whole 94 years as a member of this parish. Many of the connections we’ll make today and throughout this year have special meaning, something to tell us about being Grace. As you walk through the Commons of Grace today you’ll see the beginning of a digital version of LEGO Grace. This will be built over the course of the summer by a team of Grace kids, led by big kid Graeme Richmond, helping us celebrate the shelter this place has provided for generations.
And so we’re beginning this year-long celebration in fine Grace form. My work here and now in terms of the sermon is to focus in on the gospel with you, a communal act which has happened here at Grace since 1868. For almost eight thousand Sundays, the people of Grace Episcopal Church, Holland have gathered to hear, to reflect on, and to proclaim the good news of Christ.
Which can be a little challenging to do when you get texts like this one from the gospel of Mark. I realized several weeks ago that this was going to be the gospel on our Sesquicentennial Sunday and I became immediately jealous of the priest who preached on Grace’s opening day. Given that those were pre-lectionary times, he probably made a slightly different choice than this passage from Mark chapter 3. Something nicer. Less challenging. Perhaps a little “happier” in tone.
But the more time I spent with this passage the more I came to believe that it was in some ways the perfect passage for the Grace we are celebrating, and for the Grace we are always discerning how to be.
The first thing I want to say is that this is not a passage about Jesus being mean to his Mom, which is how it’s often heard. And so together let’s move beyond that interpretation and try to listen to what this passage is all about.
The crowds had gathered around Jesus “again” the gospel says. Chapter one of Mark was filled with healings and teachings and lots of shared meals, but by the end of chapter two, the religious authorities had begun to take notice of all of that. The Pharisees began questioning Jesus because (side and important note – while Jesus was healing and teaching and feeding lots of people, he was also breaking with religious law.)
Last week we heard that Jesus was being challenged for healing on the Sabbath, touching the unclean, and eating with outcasts and sinners. He had three strikes on him by the end of chapter two. And so, by here in chapter three, the crowd was not only full of people seeking healing, there were also people shouting at Jesus, saying terrible things like, “He has gone out of his mind!” and even worse, “He’s full of Beelzebul, the devil – because he casts out demons!”
And we hear in this passage, that Jesus’ family went out “to restrain him,” probably very simply because they cared about him. They didn’t want him to get yelled at like that anymore. While his family was coming for him, we Jesus said his first words to the crowd in response to their shouts. To “He has a demon because he’s casting out demons,” Jesus said, “Wait a minute! That doesn’t make any sense. Satan wouldn’t be casting out Satan, would he? If that were the case, our work here would be done. We’d simply let evil defeat itself. End of story.”
But apparently, it wasn’t going to work that way, not enough of the time for what Jesus was out to accomplish, anyway. And so, Jesus went on to talk about the need for forgiveness in this whole work of creating a new heaven and a new earth. And then he took some hits for that too. But Jesus remained insistent. He responded to them that forgiveness was the work of the Holy Spirit, and to get in the way of that could be an eternal mistake.
And that’s when Jesus family called out even louder to him because they knew he was stepping on some very righteous toes, and that ultimately, they would strike out at him even more. And here’s where the story got so good. While his family was reaching out to him, Jesus did an amazing thing: He reached out to others.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Who is my family?” And then, instead of listing Mary and the others, Jesus said to the crowd, “You are my family. You are my mother and my brothers and my sisters too. You all are family to me.”
Which was sort of a first century mic drop. What does one say to that? It wasn’t a slam on the ones to which he was known to be related. It was an expansion of what family means.
Don’t worry about Mary here. If there is someone who can be celebrated for her wisdom and strength in this gospel, it’s her. Mary knew better than anyone that this child of hers would do amazing and holy things. Remember the angel that came to her first. And there is nothing in this story that says Mary was hurt by Jesus words. She might have been nervous for him, but that’s a very different thing. Mary’s role wasn’t an easy one in the gospels, but she knew from the very beginning that loving Jesus meant letting him reach out and love beyond them all.
And it still means that today.
So, here’s our connection to Grace Church. Since the very beginning of this parish, Grace has been led by lay people first and eventually clergy (sometimes we’re slower to catch on) Grace has been led by people who, embraced by Christ, insist on an ever-broadening understanding of what it means to be human and holy family. We use the language of “family” often in this place and I think it’s important that we do. It’s telling us something about ourselves and about how Christ is present among us here.
Grace Church came into being so that those who were on the margins of this Dutch speaking Reformed community could have a place to worship in their own language, English. A place to worship with sacraments and Episcopal liturgy to shape them, guide them, bring them into community with Christ and one another. Starting Grace Church was a gutsy move by a small group of people, many of whom probably had their own families trying to restrain them for safety’s sake.
But there was something of the Spirit happening then. And there is something of the Spirit happening here still, something breathed and breathes life into Grace as we become and re-become family of God, as we become and re-become church for the world.
One of the charisms of this congregation is that Grace is able to grow through phases like the one described in this gospel passage. I’d go so far as to say that Grace has allowed this passage to be part of what it means to be Church. This gospel passage speaks to moment in time where part of the Body reaches out, and insists on the brother and sisterhood expanding.
For Grace over the generations this has meant including English speakers and Episcopalians as members of the Body here in Holland. It meant including women who felt called to work outside of the home and so Grace birthed the Infant Care Center right here in this building. It meant embracing the ministries of women in the church through liturgical leadership and ordination – the first woman ordained priest in our Diocese came from Grace Holland. It has meant inviting hungry brothers and sisters here to receive food, refugee brothers and sisters here to live, and among other things it meant welcoming LGBT people into the church. And so, when no other possibility existed in this town, Grace opened these doors to PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Grace opened these doors to parents and friends of people who needed parents and friends.
Because Grace Church knows that that’s all of us. Who are my mothers and brothers and fathers and sisters? All of you and more. How many times have we felt that in this place? I think that is the essence of this this gospel passage.
Imagine being one of those people in the crowd that day who had been labeled unclean and therefore untouchable by anyone else in the human family. Imagine being one of those people who had sought healing day after day after day and had heard from religious authorities that it was neither the time nor the place for that – “just wait,” they’d heard over and over again. Imagine being one of the people in the crowd who were never allowed to share a ritual meal with anyone else. And were for the first time, invited to the table.
Imagine hearing for the first time from anyone, “You are my sister….you, Karen, Val, Lauren, Amber, you are my sister.” “You, are my brother….you, Paul, Clay, Steve, Orion, you are my brother. All of you. We are family.” “Now be whole,” Jesus says. And “Let’s eat!” That’s the voice and the kind of presence we are called to be.
Finally, in the Second Letter to Corinthians we heard today that “Grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So, we do not lose heart.” And today we say one great big “Amen to that.” We say thank you to all of those who have risked Grace in years past and we look to be those people today. May our gratitude as Grace Church increase and the glory we offer to God continue for another 150 years at least. May our hearts and minds and souls stay strong as we become and re-become Body of Christ, Grace Church for the world.