God's Chosen Family

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, June 9, 2024
Mark 3:20-35

When I ask people what they like about our church, often their first response is, “It feels like a family.”  This of course is meant as a positive statement.  When we think of family, we think of warm, caring people who know us well and love us, especially in difficult times.  The reality is that being a part of a family, and being a part of a church, is also sometimes unpleasant.  My family – my brothers, their spouses, my parents, and my nephew as well as my kids and husband – are trying something we haven’t done before.  We are meeting in California for a joint vacation, all eleven of us.  It could be great, and I am also fully prepared to realize it could be something we never do again!  We all love each other and get along pretty well, but there are so many ways in which our differences can create conflicts, especially with a prolonged vacation together.  We have morning people and night owls.  Spendthrifts who want to eat sandwiches all week and those who want to dine at Michelin star restaurants.  Extroverts who do not understand the concept of alone time, and introverts who are terrified of this fact.  And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, not even considering our differing views on politics, religion, and other sensitive topics.  I’m sure we’ll still love each other after this trip, and it’s the power of our love of family that I rely on when we do go through periods of conflict.
Similarly for the church, we need a constant reminder that it is Christ’s love that unites us.  In our gospel for this morning, Jesus calls anyone who is striving to do God’s will his family.  The church IS meant to be an extended family.  We are a part of God’s family not because of what it says on our birth certificate, or adoption papers, or through marriage, but because of our faith in Christ and our unified desire to follow him in Christian community.  We are Jesus’ siblings and are called to see one another as our family in faith, even when we may be very different from one another, even when we may not even LIKE each other very much.  Jesus also shows us that sometimes being a part of a family, our church family or our family of origin, can be quite difficult.
Notice why Jesus seemingly rejects or at least ignores his mother, brothers, and sisters in Mark’s gospel for today:  they think he is crazy!  They appear to be buying into what others are saying about him, “He has gone out of his mind.”  They want to restrain him.  In Jesus’ time, mental illness was attributed to demon possession:  “He has Beelzebul!” people say.  But Jesus brings up a pretty good point:  how can he be casting out demons as Satan?  And if Satan has in fact gone against himself by casting out demons, his power is divided and his power won’t last.  Rather, Jesus shows us and the crowd following him, he is possessed by God’s Holy Spirit, which gives him the power to cast out evil.  So when his mother and brothers come calling for him, Jesus claims a larger “chosen family” because of their desire to do the will of God and their understanding of what Jesus’ larger mission is.  Thankfully, we know Jesus’ mother Mary and at least some of his brothers and sisters that they come around to joining him and his followers in the book of Acts.  Mary the mother of Jesus stays with him by the cross as he is crucified.  Jesus does not reject his family completely or permanently, but remains focused on God’s larger mission for him as the Son of God even when his own family tries to restrain him.
Now we skipped a bit in the gospel of Mark in between last week’s passage of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in chapter 2 and through chapter 3.  Why do some people think he’s crazy at this point?  Mark is known for being the shortest gospel and getting to the point about Jesus, but despite the gospel being short, he repeats the main points about who Jesus is and what he has come to do several times just to make sure we get it (because as we see even Jesus’ own family and some of the disciples don’t get it).  In just half of a chapter, Jesus keeps healing diseases, casts out unclean spirits, and calls and appoints his twelve disciples.  He and the disciples try to escape to a mountain to pray because already in just two chapters what Jesus is doing is so attractive, the crowds are pressing in, never giving him a break.  In our gospel for today, Jesus and the disciples are in a home so crowded they can’t even eat, Mark tells us.  You can see how that might get to anyone and make them a little crazy.  But the power of the Holy Spirit sustains Jesus to keep him focused on healing, standing against evil and the forces that seek to defy God, and connecting to God regularly in prayer despite the crowds.
It's hard to imagine how the good that Jesus is doing could upset people so that they think he is demon possessed; but Jesus is threatening the “way things are” or “the way we’ve always done things,” by healing and feeding people on the sabbath (breaking the rules), he is paying attention not to the powerful but to the every-day average or in fact below-average person, he includes women in those he is teaching and ministering to, and this is upsetting, even to his own mother, brothers, and sisters.  Certainly, a majority of Jesus’ first followers would have experienced division and hurt in their own families for following Jesus, because a lot of people didn’t understand who Jesus was or why he was doing things differently.  Certainly, many of us today know division and hurt in our families for following Jesus, or at least some of our family members do not understand why we take following Jesus so seriously.  In this way, even though this gospel passage is difficult, we find good news that Jesus gathers people to himself as his brother, sister, and mother.  For people who do not have much family, for people who are estranged from members of their family, and even for those of us who get along fine with our family but just agree to not bring up religion with certain family members, the church IS our chosen family.  
Today we celebrate our graduates.  Going off to college or starting at a new job or new school brings an opportunity to expand our relationships, to find friends who become like family.  At the same time, it can be lonely and difficult moving to a new place or starting a new career.  Finding a church, campus ministry, other Christian friends is a great way to remember we always have family in Christ, even when we are apart from our family of origin or far from our church home here at Faith Syosset.  Our mission is to continue doing what Jesus does – extending healing, resisting evil, caring for people who are physically and mentally ill, practicing forgiveness for ourselves and others, feeding the hungry, taking time for prayer and worship despite the demands of the world around us, and so on.  We are a family of faith.  It doesn’t mean that we all agree about everything, or that we always get along.  Like Jesus’ own family members, we may misunderstand or fall astray at times.  Being a part of a Christ-centered community brings us back to remember that more important than any other issue is Christ’s faithfulness to us, and our striving to be faithful in return.  And we strive to be a chosen family, a family united by Christ’s love so that people hurt by other churches or by their families will know a different way of love here.  May it be so.  Amen!