Family Matters

1 Samuel 8:4-11; 16-20
Psalm 130
Mark 3:20-35

The Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine


3:20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke 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 his end has come. 27But 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.  28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-35, NRSV)


Let us pray: God of judgment and mercy, when we hide ourselves in shame, you seek us out in love. Grant us the fullness of your forgiveness, that as one people, united by your grace, we may stand with Christ against the powers of evil. Amen.


It is summer time and that means many things. Sun, swimming, gardens, picnics, fresh fruit and produce.  It also means family reunions.  A family reunion—that special occasion when many members of an extended family come together to celebrate.


Everyone comes to a huge picnic and shares in a meal with lots of talking and storytelling and gossip.  You can almost hear it now. “Would you just look at Uncle Bob? You know he is an alcoholic.  Well there is Aunt Debbie, I can’t believe she showed up after she ran off with her personal trainer.  Look there is Cousin Steve, who is gay and crazy Sally, she is into that conservative religious movement.” Getting all of these misfits together and sharing in a meal and fellowship and storytelling can only be a family reunion because that is the only thing that would bring us all together.


Being together. Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, first, second, and third cousins.  If there is one human experience that is important to most of us it is our family.  Even in the midst of dysfunction, conflicts, painful circumstances, such as illness, divorce, and death, we often turn to our families.  In a sense, no matter how dysfunctional they seem to be at times, they are still our family.


We are early in Jesus’ ministry and he is worn down.  It seems that he needs a break—he needs to go home to be with his family where life will be calm and easy and peaceful.


You know the image of home and family.  Where everyone gets along and lovingly listens to each other with compassion and interest, where you sit around the table playing games, laughing and hugging and telling each other that you love them.  Where big delicious meals miraculously appear and the conversations are stimulating and enriching. Where everyone sleeps well and wakes refreshed and ready for another great day with the family.  You know those family get-togethers with lots of affirmation and confidence building that are so wonderful that you simply never want them to end. You know what I mean?  Yeah right!  Did any of you grow up in this family?  Me neither!


Most of us grew up in a family with a bunch of misfits trying our very best to live together.  The honest to goodness truth is that going home to family is rarely that peaceful, calm, wonderful image we think it is going to be.  But yet, there is something about family that still draws us in.


Family is a foundational concept in the Bible.  The Bible begins in Genesis, not with talk of nations and tribes…but families, Abraham and Sarah. The bible goes on from there telling of the growth of families.  And, sure, there are other great metaphors to describe the relationship between God and humankind. King and subjects.  Master and slaves.  But, it always comes back around to family.  Sometimes God’s faithful people are likened to the bride of the Bridegroom.  And our infidelities are then compared to adultery.  But, most of the time we’re God’s children. God’s daughters and sons who bring great joy as well as great disappointment. That is the reality of family.[1]


We like to think that Jesus held his family in the same regard as us, as the most important people in his life.  We like to think that when he came home his cousins and aunts and uncles would have run to see him, to see the local boy who has gone off and done good, but that is far from what happened.


Jesus comes home to his own people, his friends and his family, and they think he has gone crazy.  And when they bring his own mother and brothers to him, he doesn’t run and hug them instead he looks around at the crowd and says that they (The Crowd) “Here are my mothers and my brothers.”


Talk about family values.  How can Jesus be downplaying the one thing we hold so dear— our families?[2]


But if you think about it, Jesus’ life was not very good on families.  He called fishermen away from the family business to just abandon the boat and leave their aging parents.  He said things like, “I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.”  He told one person who said he wanted to follow only he needed to bury his father first “Let the dead bury the dead.  Follow me and let somebody else do the funeral.”  Whoa.  What happened to honor your father and your mother?  What happened to the family values that we think the Bible endorses?[3]


What happened is that for Jesus everything is secondary to his mission.  Nothing is more important than following him.  And following Jesus does not mean that we disregard our family.  Following Jesus does not mean we don’t love and care for and enjoy our parents and our children and our cousins.  Jesus is instead challenging us to expand our understanding of family.  Our close knit family is simply too small in Jesus’ world.  Jesus was constantly expanding the idea of family to include more.


So, before we see any of this as bad news, that Jesus is bashing his own family, we have to see the good news in it.


Remember Jesus ate and drank with sinners.  That is what got people so mad at Jesus.  He brought people into the fold that simply were not invited.  He brought people into his family that looked different, acted different, and ate differently, perhaps even believed a bit different.  The chief focus of Jesus’ mission was to find the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, to bring them all home.  Even as he was dying on the cross he invited a thief, a criminal, an outcast to join him and his family in paradise.  Right up until the end and beyond Jesus was forming a new family, a family where even misfits belong.


The family image is also a great metaphor for the church. Think back to the family reunion where all those aunts, uncles and cousins come together in a meal with lots of talking and storytelling and gossip.  You can almost see it now. Getting all of these misfits together and sharing in a meal and fellowship and storytelling can only be a family reunion because that is the only thing that would bring us all together.


And so here we are all the misfits gathered together to share a meal together.  Not just a meal but a feast.  A huge feast where the table is always expanding and there is always room for one more.  People will come from North and South and East and West.  They will come from rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat, people you like and people you don’t like, crazy uncle Bob will be there, along with sinful Aunt Debbie and the outcast cousin Steve and the annoying cousin Sally.  Everyone together and sharing a meal.  It won’t always be peaceful, because no family is always peaceful and we may not even agree on how the meal is served or what the meal means but we are here none the less.  And here with us is love and grace and mercy with a whole lot of forgiveness thrown in for good measure.


And Jesus will be there smiling and laughing and joyful because another lost sheep has come home and our understanding of family has just expanded even more.


Let us pray:


[1] The Reverend Dr. Karoline Lewis, Family Matters

[2] The Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Why Jesus? Part 4: Jesus the Home Wrecker, October 24, 2010.

[3] The Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Why Jesus? Part 4: Jesus the Home Wrecker, October 24, 2010.