Readings for this Sunday:
1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20 | Psalm 138 | 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1| Mark 3:20-35
I’ve preached this Mark text a number of times in the past, but I had never really noticed before that Jesus goes home. I don’t know about you. I don’t really think about Jesus as one who had a home. But that’s where he is. He’s home—apparently where he grew up. This is reinforced at the end of this section when Jesus’ mother and brothers show up. But this turn doesn’t seem to make home any homier. They think he’s gone too far, and the way Mark tells the story, their attempt to restrain Jesus is perhaps the greatest injury, personal rejection piled onto the charges made against him by the religious authorities from Jerusalem.
Maybe the question isn’t “Can you go home again?” but “Why would you want to?” What a blow this must have been!
Many of us know the complexities of family life. Our hunger for the idea of home is all the greater because those places where we would expect to find home are sometimes the places of our most infrequent encounters. Ask any therapist. We spend our lifetimes working in one way or another to make sense of our family ties, to live out from under them, to allow them to fund our strength and courage and wholeness.
The majority of my pastoral conversations have some element of family in them, and I suspect the ones that don’t are lacking that dynamic only because I’m not paying close enough attention.
I suppose I’ve noticed this idea of home this time around the lectionary cycle when I hadn’t before for good reason. My brother’s wife Dana has been fighting cancer for nearly six years, and on Friday she lost the fight. Breast cancer metastasized, and recently made its way to her brain. She went under hospice care this week. The question of home has suddenly taken a more prominent role in my thinking.
It’s a strange thing, though, family. I noticed it when I served a congregation for a few years in a farming community in Eastern Washington. There are patterns, you see. Almost to a family among the farmers in the congregation, some of the kids had stuck around to help out, to take over the family business. But what I began to notice after a while was that some family members were noticeably absent. Some of the kids in every family—usually the younger siblings had left, gone far away, and rarely came back. It was a curious thing that got me wondering how we think about family and how they form and evolve and get redefined. Home is a wonderful and difficult and complicated thing around which we rap more hungers and hopes than we could possibly unravel in any given moment.
Our family is going to be ok. My brother lives in Texas and they have a great circle of support there and in Portland where they used to be. And more than anything else, I’ve found myself wondering about new possibilities as our extended family gets redefined a little bit. For a complicated set of reasons, in spite of the sense of loss, I sense at least as much possibility for something new.
I wonder if the same is true in this house where Jesus grew up that is suddenly so wildly chaotic that people can’t even break bread and his immediate family are stuck on the outside.
The breaking bread part, of course, is Mark’s way of telling us he’s also talking about church. The opposition has suddenly come together—from the religious establishment, and yes, even from his own family—it’s added to the growing chaos around the questions of who this Jesus is and what he’s up to, so much so that the community’s worship is compromised. The swirl of chaos and opposition outside has come inside. Change is afoot perhaps in a similar way as it is in Samuel when everything is changing and no one seems particularly happy, even as possibilities seem evident.
Surely the prophet Samuel is discouraged. He feels a sense of rejection that Jesus probably knew, and perhaps us too from our own families whether they are families of origin or of choice. And the writing on the wall in ancient Jerusalem seems dire as Samuel imagines a shifting of resources and energy. The king will take and take and take, Samuel tells the people, yet they don’t care. They need a leader. They want a king like the surrounding nations. They don’t like being so different, it seems, and are willing to tithe money and family and land to the ways of war and struggle that nations seem to be so good at.
But it turns out Samuel may be a little biased too. Things turn out exactly as Samuel suggests, but if you look at some of the other scriptures that look to Saul and David and Solomon and the other kings of Judah and Israel, they aren’t so bad either. Change is change is change. Change is what happens, and God doesn’t disappear in the midst of it, just like God doesn’t abandon us in the midst of our own family reformations.
What’s strong here is God’s faithfulness, Jesus seems to suggest. God’s power to heal and renew and resolve is far beyond any other power. It’s the healing on a Sabbath that brought the Scribes, after all. God will not be bound, Jesus proclaims. And that’s good news that allows us to keep at this work of ours to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and perhaps a little laughter and joy and with some good food and fellowship along the way.
“Yes,” says second Corinthians to the church, “everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” And the church may still be that place where we get our lives and our loves and even our families back, and more.
Leigh Weber and I were talking a little about her experiences working among the homeless. We were noticing how strong the idea of church is for so many of the homeless community, and how even as experiences within religious communities contributed to the struggles of so many, these same communities and their promises may be just the ticket for their own healing.
Leigh sent me an email about an encounter this week at her last morning prayer at Seattle University. She said she went a bit sad given it was her last as a student. But she met a homeless woman named Savannah, who was sitting in the narthex when Leigh walked in. Understanding herself fundamentally as a pastor to the homeless—in part because of you and the REACH community—she stopped to check in with the woman. Leigh said, “I only had to put my arm on her shoulder for her to fall over and cry. After we talked for a few minutes and I was able to help with a bus pass, she said this: ‘I came here to the church because I didn’t know where to go and I’m scared. I need help.’”
Thinking of the conversation Leigh and I had had just a day earlier, she offered this reflection: “If the church is supposedly irrelevant, no one told her. It hit me that the church’s call, in part, is to own the responsibility of being relevant.”
You see, the good news is that there is a Spirit here that is bigger than us, yet has everything to do with us. God has not abandoned us but made a home with us. And faith is living into it, holding onto that promise that it is relevant until we see yet again for ourselves how astonishingly true this is, until we see yet again God’s power to rewrite our stories, and renew our families and reshape our lives and fill us with good things that heal us and transform the world.
Thanks be to God.
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