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Where Are You Standing:

Text: Mark 3:20-35


Jesus is home at last. No more mountain climbing, setting up tents, cooking over campfires, bonding with the boys. No more long lines of admirers awaiting an autograph. Finally, a few minutes of solitude, of peace and quiet.  

         Well, not exactly, for no sooner is Jesus home than the God-squad from Jerusalem arrives to disturb his peace. They say Jesus is not just off-base, but that he is possessed by demons, by Satan himself (3:22)! What a homecoming!  

         Along with the God-squad, Jesus’ family arrives. They come not in proud admiration or quizzical about why the crowds are growing so large when he speaks. They come not bearing balloons or bunches of flowers. They come with heads lowered so no one can see their embarrassed faces, because their “little Jesus” has lost his mind; he has gone mad and something has to be done. So, they come to carry out a family intervention.

           It is tempting to picture mother Mary and his brothers knocking on the door and then clearing out the crowd inside as they ask for a few minutes alone with Jesus. You can imagine the heated conversation that would follow behind those closed doors. But the trouble is that you would have to imagine that conversation, because, in Mark’s story, that conversation never occurs. The family of Jesus never steps inside the house. They wait outside for Jesus to come to them. They will not dishonor themselves by stepping into the house of a lunatic, even if he is their son or brother.  

         The family of Jesus expects him to honor the commandments like “Honor thy father and mother.” So, we expect Jesus to excuse himself from the crowd inside and to walk outside and face the family music. Instead, when Jesus is told that his family, his mother and brothers, is waiting for him outside, he asks those inside the house this outrageous question, “Who are my mother and brothers?”

         That should be an easy enough question for the crowd to field, “Jesus, your mother and brothers are outside and they want to see you NOW!” Wrong answer. Without waiting for a response, Jesus looks around and answers his own question: “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (3:34-35).   

          Whatever reason he has for telling this story, for Mark, tracing our family roots always requires more than a visit to Ancestry.com. We will never be “kin” to Jesus, says Mark, by standing outside, looking in. The sole requirement to be called Jesus’ “kin” is not biological; it is faithful discipleship or as Jesus tells the crowd, “Whoever does the will of God is my sister and mother and brothers.”

         Mark knew that when you and I stand on the outside looking in, Jesus does look crazy or possessed. From the outside looking in, Jesus seems to have no respect for the commandments or for tradition. He claims authority that belongs to God alone, and the Jerusalem authorities have every right, and even a moral responsibility, to silence him (3:6). From the outside looking in, Jesus seems to have forgotten family values and so his biological family arrives just in time to restore him to his right mind.

         From the outside looking in, the very idea of thought of following Jesus seems like sheer madness. For from the outside looking in, Jesus invites us to open our borders, when we know what terror awaits when we do not restrict and narrowly determine who we keep in and who we keep out.

           From the outside looking in, Jesus invites us to pray for peace when we know that there is no balm that can ever soothe the Israeli and Palestinian abscess. From the outside looking in, Jesus eats with all the wrong people. He takes tours to parts of town where tourism is always down. He forgives people who do not even repent. He calls people to service before they ever apply for the job. From the outside looking in, Jesus will be the ruination of the church, for what church can open its arms as wide as Jesus did and still survive?

         This story from Mark, though, is not a story about viewing Jesus from the outside looking in. No, Mark, invites us to imagine standing with Jesus on the inside looking out. From the inside looking out, obeying your father and mother is important, but extending the family beyond blood or nationality or ethnicity is far more important. From the inside looking out, washing hands and keeping the Sabbath are important, but healing the sick and fighting demonic social and political policies is even more important.  

         From the inside looking out, prayer is not an act of religious desperation, but an act of religious confidence that God is more powerful than the sum of all the forces that seek to contravene the will of God. From the inside looking out, kinship is defined less by bloodlines and more by love lines. From the inside looking out, anyone, absolutely anyone, who seeks to do the will of God is welcome in the family of Jesus – the church.

         Throughout my four decades of ministry as a Presbyterian pastor, the church has waged fierce battles about who belongs in the church and who can be a leader in the church. While this battle has raged, looking from the inside out, Jesus has said, “You are all welcome to come in. For all who are ready to do the will of God are my beloved kin.”

         From the inside looking out, Jesus sets the church free from gatekeeping because that is God’s job. Our calling is “door opening,” so that we never close the door of possibility on those seeking God’s grace, who wonder if there is a place in the church for them, some who are on the church’s doorstep trying to drum up the courage to come inside.

         Standing with Jesus on the inside looking out does not always lead to glad hearts. The Jesus we meet in Mark is met full-force by family and religious powers who seek to silence him. He is not silenced though, even finally by a cross. Jesus is   not a reformer, bringing alternative, better readings of the law. Jesus is God’s beloved child who is anxious to welcome any and all into the family of faith.

         The late Dr. Fred Craddock tells of the time that he and his wife were traveling through the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. As they ate before a grand picture window overlooking the valley below, an old man came to their table to introduce himself. When he found out that Craddock was a preacher, he told them this story.

         “My mother wasn’t married. In those days, that was about the biggest shame a person could carry. When we went to town, people looked at her and then at me, and I could tell they were trying to guess who my father was. It was painful and humiliating. I felt like nothing. At school the children made fun of me and had a nickname for me that I cannot repeat. I hid. I ate my lunch alone.

         “I started to go to church and there was this preacher, cranky and old. He had a bushy beard and a big voice. He scared me to death but fascinated me too. I’d come in late to worship and leave right after the sermon because I was afraid somebody would speak to me and ask, ‘Where is your Daddy anyway?’

         “One Sunday, after the sermon, people began filling the aisles to go to the altar and I couldn’t rush out as I usually did. I couldn’t get by! I began to shake and sweat all over. I said to myself, ‘Somebody’s going to stop me and expose my shame before the whole congregation.

         “Suddenly, I felt this big hand on my shoulder, and I looked and it was the preacher. He said loud enough for everybody to hear: ‘Boy, boy, you’re a child of . . . Boy, you are a child of God and I see a striking resemblance’.”

         That is the Jesus we meet in Mark’s Gospel, someone who is never fully understood by the God-squad or his closest followers or even his own biological family. Jesus is the one who looks right through us and does not see all the scars and all that mars our appearance that we see when we look in the mirror. Jesus looks at us and says, “You are a child of God and I see a striking resemblance.” For Jesus, looks at the world, looks at us, from the inside looking out.

         The question, then, that lingers from this ancient story is a all-too-current question that Mark asks all of his readers, “Child of God, where are you standing?” 

         AMEN

 

 

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