Our passages today focus on reconciliation, the hard work of forgiveness. It might not look that way at first glance, as the passages have more finger pointing in them than words of forgiveness. However, if you dig deeper you will find that the theme of forgiveness and the restoration of relationships is at the heart of the passage.
Scripture: Mark 3: 20-35
Thank you to all our musicians who work hard each week to bring the service to life: Carolyn Hyma, Diana Carr, Janet Leadbeater, Rob Lenters, and Brian MacInness.
A Statement About the Residential Schools
This week we learned the shocking and horrific news of a mass grave of children at the Kamloops Residential School. This news saddness us and renews our call for justice for First Nations peoples. The Presbyterian Church in Canada in parternship with the Federal Government ran 11 Residential Schools. At the time of church union all but 2 of those were transferred to the newly formed United Church. The PCC’s involvment in running Residential Schools ended in 1969.
In 1994 the Presbyterian Church in Canada confessed its role in running Residential Schools and the harm done. The church seeks to walk with First Nations peoples to address these wrongs. You can read more about the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s work on Healing and Reconciliation here.
This week’s Children’s Time is a sing-a-long with Rev. Reuben St. Louis God Welcomes All written by John Bell.
It seems that there are certain passages of scripture that appear to be designed to offend and today we have one of them. Why is our passage from Mark offensive today? Well Jesus seems to rip apart our notion of what a family should look like. When his family is concerned about him and decide to confront him, he seemingly turns his back on them.
It’s not as if his family don’t know who he is. His mother at the very least knows who he is, yet still she is concerned. Perhaps she, like so many others, had different expectations on what her son would be. How he, the anointed one, the Prince of Peace, the Messiah would go about God’s work. That seems evident here, his family thinks he’s out of his mind.
Now, perhaps Mary is simply concerned that Jesus isn’t eating enough. That is referenced in the opening sentence of our reading today. Perhaps she’s simply come to tell him to take better care of himself and to eat something! However, I suspect it’s a bit more than that.
The teachers of the law from Jerusalem are also present and they also have some concerns about this Jesus fellow. If we read earlier in the chapter, we can see what the concerns are. Jesus is teaching and healing on the Sabbath. This is a big no-no and probably what has his family concerned. How can Jesus be God’s son and not know that one basic thing!
Jesus often upsets our expectations. He does it in this passage with his family and the teachers of the law and he frequently does it with us. It’s because we expect Jesus to act one way and then he goes and does the opposite. We think we know, we think we understand how God operates but then something happens that upsets our expectations.
One commentator has noted that if Jesus’ main purpose in life was to make friends, he did a poor job.
Based on his teaching he has upset everyone from his family to religious authorities. Jesus is accused by the teachers of the law of being in league with the devil. What follows is a remarkable parable about a house divided. A reminder of the unity that we have in Christ, a unity which is restored and renewed through the power of the Holy Spirit.
After making this statement Jesus is told his mother and brothers are outside. To which he responds “Who are my mother and brothers?” It’s at this point that we wonder a little bit about Jesus. After all, Mary went through quiet the ordeal to bring him into the world, perhaps a bit more respect. It’s at this point that we cringe a little, because we wonder if we need to make the same choice or statement as Jesus.
In order to follow Jesus do I need to turn my back on my birth family, is that active choice a requirement of fellowship?
The answer is no. Throughout the gospels you will find stories like this, where Jesus says leave your family and follow me. Jesus isn’t saying abandon your families, Jesus is stressing that following him has a cost and it may tear you away from your families and the other things that you love and value in life. This is perhaps most easily seen in Matthew 10:37-39 when Jesus says, and I’m paraphrasing, whoever loves their parent more than me isn’t worthy of following me and whoever doesn’t take up the cross and follow me isn’t worthy of following me.
On crosses, Peter Enns writes, “Crosses are heave yes, but that’s not the point. You don’t take up a cross simply to carry it. You take up a cross to die on it. That’s the point of crosses.” (Enns, Peter. The Sin of Certainty, 2017, p 161).
Jesus isn’t being deliberately cruel to his family and he isn’t telling you to abandon yours. In fact, perhaps the most comforting statement we receive from Jesus in this passage is found right at this point after Jesus asks who are my mother and brothers? “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.’”
We might read this and be offended; Jesus is excluding his birth family. He is referring here to the people who crowded into the house to listen to him teach and seemingly turned his back on his family. We might be offended; we might even be justified in feeling that way. Think back to the Nativity story and everything Mary endured for Jesus only for him to seemingly turn his back on them!
Just what is comforting about this passage?
Jesus, in perhaps the clearest language he uses in the gospels, describes what a community of faith looks like. It is people who have gathered, those who have done the will of God. Jesus doesn’t explain what the will of God is or what that means in this passage, only to point out that those who have gone out and done God’s work and who have now gathered together again are his mother and brothers. And they sit and they listen. They are present, they are patient while Jesus teaches the teachers of the law and his family.
We have not gathered to sit, listen, and worship for well over a year. It has been a difficult year for a variety of reasons. But that does not mean that church has stopped. That does not mean that you have not been out, in your own circle of safety necessitated by Covid-19, doing God’s will. You have not stopped being the faithful people that you are. And soon, in the coming months we will gather together again in the comfort of this space, and we will worship.
And when that day comes you will look around and you will see your sisters and brothers, your mothers and fathers, you will see the family in Christ to which you belong. And as you look into the eyes of those who you know, you will realize that you were never actually alone. That this whole host of people were also individually doing God’s will in their own time and their own space. You will look around and you will see your family in faith.
It seems that what we have in our gospel reading today is a story about faithfulness and trust. Trust Jesus, he knew what he was about and what he came to accomplish. He did it for you, he did it for me, he did it for all of creation and we still have much to learn. Because our actions do not always measure up to our actions. And so, we trust in Jesus.
Soon, we will gather again in old familiar ways. Yes, there may be differences. We have learned over the past year that church is more than a building. In fact, if we take note from our passage today, church was happening in someone’s home. Church can be done in so many different ways. Our challenge is to demonstrate to the world why God matters. Our task is to figure out new ways to do that and the past year has demonstrated that as much as we love to gather and sit, we are capable of being the church beyond our worshiping body. We are going to need that creativity, we are going to need that resiliency. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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