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Sermon for Sunday 10 June 2018

FIRST READING Genesis 3:8-15

8{Adam and Eve} heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”


PSALM Psalm 130

1Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication. 2If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand? 3For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared. 4I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope. 5My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 6O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy; 7With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.


SECOND READING 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1

13Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
1For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.


GOSPEL Mark 3:20-35

20Then {Jesus} went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that {Jesus and the apostles} could not even eat. 21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23And he called them to him and said 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 is coming to an end. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. 28Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — 30for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”



There’s a wonderful time-honored story that some of you many have heard before. It’s about a country preacher who announced that on the following Sunday he would preach on the story of Noah and the Ark. He gave the congregation the scriptural reference to read ahead of time. However, a couple of mischievous boys in the church noticed something interesting about the placement of the story of Noah in the Bible. So, they slipped into the church and glued two pages of the large Bible in the pulpit together.
The next Sunday the preacher got up to read the text. He was reading, as you would expect, from the King James Version of the Bible. “Noah took himself a wife,” he began, “and she was . . .” He paused for a moment as he turned the page to continue . . . “she was . . . 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high.”
Realizing something was definitely wrong, the pastor paused, scratched his head, turned the page back and read it silently, turned the page and read again, “she was . . . 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high.” He still didn’t realize that two pages of the Bible had been glued together. Finally, he looked up at the congregation and said, “I’ve been reading this old Bible for nigh on to fifty years, but still there are some things that are hard to believe.”
Now to be truthful, I must confess that there are times when I agree with that old country preacher. There are occasions when you read things in the Bible that make you scratch your head. A good example is our gospel narrative here in Mark 3 concerning Jesus’ uncertain relationship with His family. In verse 20 we read: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat . . .” Listen carefully here and remember Mark is talking about Jesus: “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” This is Jesus they’re talking about, and these are His mother and brothers doing the talking.
If you were a writer of a Gospel trying to convince people that Jesus is the Messiah, why in the world would you include the notion that, at the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus’ own family had questions about His sanity? Matthew and Luke, who incorporated much of the same material as Mark in their gospels, have nothing to say about this alleged rift between Jesus and His family, although the writer of the Gospel of John confesses, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5). I guess John felt that saying they didn’t believe in Him sounded a whole lot better than saying, “They thought he was out of his mind.” So why would Mark include this story?
It was bad enough, as Jesus was becoming more popular with the common folk, that His family had questions about His sanity, but the religious establishment was also growing in its opposition to Him. In fact, in this story some teachers of the law have come down from Jerusalem to accuse Him of being possessed of the devil. That’s an interesting statement; they came down from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is to the south of Capernaum. One would expect Mark to say “they came UP from Jerusalem.” However, we need to remember that Jerusalem sits on a mountain and Capernaum is near sea level, so technically the teachers of the law had come down from Jerusalem.
Of course, Jerusalem was also the seat of ecclesiastical power for Jewish believers, so based on the religious leaders view of themselves and their view of Jesus at this point, coming down is a good phrase, since they, quite obviously, looked down on Jesus. It’s a minor point, but I think all these things add up and it may help us better understand the story. That aside for the moment, for me it’s a bit unsettling to think that Jesus’ own family was questioning whether He was out of His mind. So, why does Mark include this event? There are a few possible explanations the first of which is the fact that this event really did happen.
There are a number of cynical people today who think a lot of things in the Bible were made up by the writers of scripture, allegories is one common phrase. If this is the case, these writers did a pretty poor job of it. If there was some kind of conspiracy on the part of early Christian historians to say things about Jesus that weren’t true, don’t you think they would have tried to reconcile their various stories? Even an event as critical to the Gospel message as the story of Christ’s resurrection is told from several different points of view.
Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense, if they were trying to fabricate the story that is the linchpin for all that is unique about the Christian faith, that they would have ironed out the wrinkles and made the narrative flow seamlessly, so that no one would ever question its authenticity? Instead the story is preserved in a jumble of eye-witness testimonies that agree only on the most important fact–that Christ certainly was resurrected from the grave–but give different accounts of how that truth was discovered.
We live in a time of fake news and “spin,” perpetrated by slick communicators who make sure they get their narrative straight and in agreement with others who are spinning the same story before it’s presented to the public. It’s particularly humorous to watch reporters trying to get at the truth with politicians who answer with the party line regardless of what they’re asked. It’s all about reporting only those stories that forward their agenda. And even then, the stories are presented in a manner that presents their particular view in the best possible way. When it comes to our news media, there’s no such thing as honest, fair and balanced reporting any more. One is forced to wade through multiple sources in order to get at the real truth. The whole situation would be humorous if it wasn’t so sad. But the same motivations didn’t apply to the writers of the Bible.
The writers of the Old and New Testament were modest folk who simply reported what they had seen and what they had heard. They weren’t trying to get the facts to fit their biases. Led by the Holy Spirit, they were reporting on facts as they truly perceived them. Sure, eyewitness accounts differ. That’s one thing you can always count on. If several people describing the same scene use the exact same words to describe that scene, they’re probably reading from a script. In other words, they’re probably lying. This is why Mark reports this story, about Jesus’ problems with His family, it really happened.
After all, Jesus’ teachings were hardly main stream. If He simply taught what all the other rabbis were teaching, why would He bother to come into this world in the first place? Even those who loved Him thought His teachings at times were a little extreme.
And we need to remember that Jesus never got all starry-eyed when He talked about family. Remember how He said to one man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59.) That’s a bit abrupt.
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9: 59-62). Later He puts it even more starkly: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
There was another occasion when Jesus’ mother and brothers came looking for Him. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He asked. Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31–35). You can appreciate that Jesus’ family might have taken some of His teachings personally? How would you feel if you were in their place? All families have issues. There are no perfect families. And this is the second reason Mark mentioned the problems Jesus had with His family–to emphasize that there are no perfect families.
The Bible is very open and direct about the difficulties of family life. Think of the stories that grace its pages–Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Think of the troubled marriages–Abraham and Sarah, Hosea and Gomer, David and his many wives. It’s very difficult to find an example of an ideal family in the pages of the Bible. However, all that changed with the coming of Jesus. That’s one reason Christians made such an impact on the society of their time.
In spite of some of Jesus’ rather radical teachings, the early Christian community took marriage and family life very seriously. Obviously, that was because of their association with Jesus. They knew that Jesus wasn’t anti-family. He was simply pro-kingdom of God. He knew that if you sought God’s kingdom first, everything else–including your family life, would fall in place. The Romans, on the other hand, were infamous for their lack of marital discipline.
As someone has put it, “The Romans shared nothing . . . but their wives. Christians shared everything . . . but their wives.” The Christian community affirmed the dignity of women and even children when many non-Christians cast their family members aside with little thought to their well-being. Thanks to Jesus, the early Christians were radically pro-family. And we should be too. Here’s something to think about: Bruce Wilkinson, of Walk Thru the Bible” Ministries, suggests that today’s church may be more like the pagans than the early Christians.
Bruce says, “The church, reflecting trends in society, no longer takes marriage as seriously as God does!” He quotes a law professor who points out that it’s easier in this country to walk away from a marriage than from a commitment to buy a used car. Most contracts, he says, can’t be unilaterally annulled, but marriages “can be terminated by practically anyone at any time, and without cause.” And today we find that many Christians are no different. This is, of course, sad.
We’ve all heard the statistics. A recent study reports that the majority of elementary school children today will live in at least three different families before finishing eighth grade. That includes family of origin and families with step-parents. A divorce is granted every 26 seconds in our land. Slightly more than half of all marriages, and nearly 60% of all remarriages end in divorce. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. Some of you are victims of a marriage breakup. The effects of a broken marriage lasts years and affects a good number of people. As a church we need to take this seriously and do all we can to help people live in healthy marriages. However, for those affected, you can take comfort in the fact that God hurts for you.
There are many reasons for divorce. There are many forms of betrayal and spousal abuse. Nevertheless, the situation is reaching crisis proportions. My son-in-law shared with me an experience he had on our latest cruise. He and Krystle were up watching one of the shows called the dating game. He said there were couples of all ages, many my age. The announcer asked how many in the audience were married over 35 years and only one couple raised their hands. Most in the room had been married 15 years or less.
I remember one of the girls coming home from school several years ago and proudly announced that she was the only one in the class who was living with both her parents. I know there are many reasons for divorce, but this needs to change. This is one situation where the church cannot sit on the sidelines. We need to be more active in helping people stay together in healthy relationships. But the reality is, there are no perfect families.
The third reason that Mark may have mentioned the conflict between Jesus and His family is to set the stage for what happened to His family in the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. According to Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13: Jesus had four brothers: James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. He also had sisters, but we don’t know their names or how many there were of them, nor do we know the real source of their unhappiness with Jesus was. What we do know is that it’s sometimes those closest to us who have the greatest difficulty seeing our worth.
I wonder if Mary and Joseph ever told Jesus’ siblings the stories of Jesus’ birth, of the angel’s visitation or the wise men or of the angels singing in the heavens. Perhaps they decided that it would only cause confusion in the minds of the other children, maybe even resentment, as in the story of Joseph and his special coat. In any case, Jesus’ siblings didn’t immediately embrace the idea that He was the Messiah, the one for whom Israel had been waiting for hundreds of years.
I mention this because there’s a psychologist at Emory University who made an interesting discovery. He says it’s important for us to tell our children stories of our family. He and another psychologist at Emory asked children to answer 20 questions about their families, questions such as ‘Do you know where your grandparents grew up?’ Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know about an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? They then compared the children’s results with a battery of psychological tests the children had taken and reached an overwhelming conclusion: The more children know about their families’ histories, the stronger their sense of control over their own lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
Maybe Mary and Joseph made a decision not to tell Jesus’ brothers and sisters about the wondrous events surrounding His nativity. Or maybe, they did tell them, and they reacted like Joseph’s brothers in the Old Testament story who sold Joseph into slavery. Whatever the background of this story of Jesus’ family’s embarrassment over His ministry, that makes it even more thrilling to read in Acts 1:12-14 that on the day Jesus ascended to be with His Father, “the apostles returned to Jerusalem as directed. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” Now listen to the next verse: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
Something had obviously happened in this family that had been torn with so much conflict that they tried to take Jesus home and deny Him of His ministry, something that made them change their minds about His teachings. In fact, we later learn that these same brothers became quite important in the history of the early church. According to tradition, Jesus’ brother James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem and the author of the book of James. He’s sometimes referred to as James the Righteous to distinguish him from James the Apostle. His brother Jude is credited with writing the book by the same name in the New Testament. The point is, this was a wonderful turn of events.
The same family members who had earlier thought He was out of His mind had become a part of the family of faith. Why? Because it all really did happen–Jesus’ amazing but unconventional ministry, the strife with His family, His crucifixion by the religious authorities, and most important, His resurrection from the grave. It all really happened. The early Christian writers didn’t try to get their stories straight. The Bible isn’t full of allegories and fake news. Jesus, King of kings and Lord of Lords, is risen from the grave. He experienced all the things we experience. If you doubt it’s true, just ask any member of His family.

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