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Pentecost 3B Sermon
Mark 3:20-35
10, 2018


Sermon Archives


Mark 3:20-35

Jesus 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.’

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

This last week a very interesting obituary showed up online. A friend shared it on social media, and the next thing I knew, it was in many different places. It’s from a small town in Minnesota, and I am just going to read first names of the people involved. Kathleen was born on March 19, 1938 to Joseph and Gertrude of Wabasso. She married Dennis in 1957and had two children, Gina and Jay. In 1962 she became pregnant by her husband’s brother, Lyle and moved to California. She abandoned her children, Gina and Jay, who were raised by Katherine’s parents in Clements. She passed away May 31, 2018 in Springfield and will now face judgment. She will not be missed by Gina and Jay, and they understand that this world is a better place without her.
When I first read that I thought, “Wow! You had better watch how you treat the people who are going to write your obituary!” Then as I considered it alongside of our Gospel reading this morning I got incredibly sad. I know nothing about Kathleen’s family outside of what was written in those few paragraphs; but there must have been a lot of pain, anger and resentment behind the bitterness that prompted Jay and Gina to publish these thoughts about their mother for the world to see. I read that Jay told a news outlet, “We wanted to finally get the last word; you could write it down in a book and turn it into a movie and people wouldn’t believe what we went through.”

In the last verse of our reading from Mark 3, Jesus claims that the members of ones’ family are those people who do the will of God. Now certainly when this woman slept with her brother-in-law, bore his child and abandoned her family, she was not doing God’s will. There is no excusing that behavior, no circumstances that would justify doing this. But I wonder what Gina and Jay’s actions in printing this “not-so glowing tribute” to their mother has to do God’s will? It certainly does not fly with Martin Luther’s explanation to the 8th Commandment about not bearing false witness! Even if they are not lying about what their mother did, and even if they are expressing the pain that her actions caused them in life, we have to wonder how these surviving children will go on living as they hold onto the bitterness that is obviously still in their hearts.

Earlier in our reading, Jesus says, “If a house is divided, that house cannot stand.” A house divided cannot stand … no matter who is at fault or who has been harmed; who has sinned or who seems more “right” in what is going on, Jesus points out that a house divided cannot stand, and that applies to a family, a nation, and so many other types of entities, including a church.

This seems like a very counter-cultural call to us living in this time. Many people, I am sure, have no problem with the words of that obituary because these two have every right to feel hurt. After all, their mother was the source of all sorts of dysfunction in their lives. But as Jesus engages in this encounter with the scribes – theological heavy-weights who have come to Nazareth all the way from Jerusalem to confront him – he blames all sin, illness and evil on that human personification that we know as Satan. Indeed, the evil that causes sinfulness of any kind comes from a place which has been a mystery ever since the serpent told Eve that she wouldn’t die if she ate the fruit that God told her not to eat! And from that moment on, the blame game has been going on where we point the finger at everything that is going wrong with our lives to those around us … even those who are supposed to be our closest family members … even those that we are called to love the most.
But Jesus has come to tie up the strong man, Satan, who thinks that he owns this house. In so doing, Jesus has opened up the possibilities that those things that are rooted in Satan’s power – like sinfulness, illness and separation – might be healed, and God’s people might be saved from the division that sin causes. The greatest gift that Jesus gives to us as we share the houses that we share with our families, churches, friends and our nation is forgiveness – the unloosing and letting go of resentment, even when we have the right to hold onto those feelings until we pronounce those who hurt us as being judged and condemned.

Now I am not saying that Jesus insists on conflict-free life. We will have conflicts with each other, even those with whom we are closest. When healthy conflict is entered into, opinions expressed, compromises reached or deals made, relationships can not only survive, but be strengthened. But when conflict is unhealthy, one side or another does not show respect or civility or does not listen, then the house falls in on itself faster and faster until it is utterly destroyed. At that point, Satan has obtained total control of the house and death seems certain … and often comes to a marriage, family, church or even a nation.

The good news to those of us who worry about our respective houses is that even if things do collapse around us, there is still hope for new life, for a new house and a new start. In our second lesson, Paul proclaims that even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed in ways that we cannot understand. And that if (or when) this earthly tent – translate, “house” – is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. In other words the promise of new houses and lives along the way in this life is great, but the real promise is the healing that will prevail when the strong man has been totally defeated, and we live and love among God’s people in peace and harmony with God.

Now, this all may seem like pie in the sky talk. After all, (as I mentioned before) I do not know the hell that Gina and Jay went through in life, presumably because of their mother’s sin. I don’t know the hell that people go through for various reasons. I can only attest to the ways that I have suffered when I have been hurt by the sinfulness of others myself. Can these people ever find it in their hearts to forgive their mother and release the burden of the resentment that is obviously still alive in their hearts? Can our politicians work more toward unity and less toward division as we live in these contentious times? Can our church come together, work together and grow together in faith and in numbers? Can our families be strong in love for each other? Ultimately the promise of possibility is yes. But with the presence of sin, we also know that we have a long road to get there!
I would be remiss today if I did not talk about the terrible reality that is tearing families apart called mental illness and depression. When designer Kate Spade and chef & author Anthony Bourdain both died last week at their own hands, many in our country were reminded of this fact. Suicide rates, we are told, are up by about 30%. We all know people – close friends, even family members – who have chosen to end their own lives. We know what it does to those who love them.

A friend of mine who is a pastor posted something this last week on Facebook that surprised me. I knew that he had suffered from PTSD from years of being a first responder and having military connections, having seen pretty gruesome things. I also knew that for the past three years, he has had a comfort dog at his side and he credits that dog for literally saving his life. I did not know that once he was in a room alone with a gun in his mouth and the only thing that saved him was a text out of the blue from his son telling him he loves him. My friend’s quote about this awakened me to the importance not only of Jesus’ presence, but of a family of God around us to share the love of Jesus at the right times. He said, “Depression never goes away. It just hides until it can get you in a room alone and kill you.” He likens depression to a demon. Jesus casts out demons because he loves us so much that he wants us to be part of a loving family and to never be alone with those demons.

What is most important – holding on to resentment over a wrong, or forgiveness in order to battle demons together with Jesus? Family of God, I think you know the answer – may you never be alone with those demons, and may you always know the love of Jesus through your Christian family; Amen.