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Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 7, 2015

They say you can’t go home again, but you can – at least in your heart. Every time I drive through West Virginia, I get choked up because that is home. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t lived there since I was 18; my roots are there and I remember my time fondly. Now when I go home, it is to a brother or sister’s house. On Memorial Day weekend, I went to my brother in Annapolis Friday and Saturday to have my birthday weekend, where they take good care of me and make me feel like someone special, someone who stands out in their lives. This summer, I want very much to make my annual trip south to see my sister and my son and my best friend from Atlanta, but it looks like, with my surgery date changing, that won’t happen. My daughter-in-law assured me I could always come in the fall and I guess I can. I just have to learn when my friend will be back in town from her trips to Europe and several other places. When I am home with my family, my identity is safe and secure.

Jesus went home and had a much different reception than I did. He was certainly someone special in the lives of the people, but not in a good way in some instances. Remember in Luke when Jesus goes to Nazareth and nobody believes him and he tells them stories about Gentiles that are saved by God and not Jews – they try to throw him off a cliff. Well, this is Mark’s version of Jesus’ homecoming.

Jesus is crowded, backed up against the wall of the house so he cannot even eat. Jesus has healed and exorcised people and everyone wants to get near him because Jesus takes everyone. The broken, the outcast, the tax collectors and sinners all become part of his entourage. He is popular, and they finally feel like they have a group – a family if you will – to belong to. So much of the crowd that day are those that believe in him and his work through the Spirit because they have either experienced it themselves or seen it happen.

But there are two groups of people who do not share this enthusiasm for Jesus. One is his family. You’d think his family would have known and loved him and believed in him, but they hear someone say he is insane and they come to restrain him. They can’t get to him though, because they are not insiders from Jesus’ point of view. They are on the outside. They do not have the right view of him as the people in the crowd do. And we don’t know where the voices come from that say he is insane – some person or persons no doubt who feel Jesus has too many and the wrong kind of friends, too much and the wrong kind of power. It makes you wonder if they are shills, planted there by the scribes.

Because then the other group on the outside – the scribes – show up. They have come all the way from Jerusalem to check out and see if they can destroy this Jesus who is threatening to upset the family values and religious values that are so much a part of the Jewish tradition. Just think, they traveled 100 miles to see this carpenter who was doing great things. They don’t say he is insane, but they say he is doing miracles by Beelzebul, a minion of Satan. In those times, people controlled by Satan were just as capable of doing miracles on their behalf as those of God were. They were ready to turn people to their way of thinking and still are today. So the scribes call into question Jesus’ identity. Where is he from and how is he performing his wonders. It seems elementary to us today that a house divided against itself cannot stand. But Jesus has to explain to the crowd and the scribes, who have not evidently thought things through, that Satan could not possibly be the source of his exorcisms because by cleansing people from demonic possession he is loosening Satan’s grip on the world, not strengthening it. And if Satan keeps doing that Satan’s end has come.

He also leaves them with a parable about tying up a strong man to be able to defeat him and plunder his property. Jesus is not in league with Satan. Jesus is much more powerful than Satan – the power of life over the power of death – and so is able to bind Satan and plunder his house or exorcise demons.

Jesus is very certain about his identity. He knows who he is and whose he is. He is appalled that people think his work through the Holy Spirit for good is demonic. He issues a warning about the sin of thinking the work of the Holy Spirit is an unclean spirit within him. All kinds of sins will be forgiven, but not this one he says. People need to beware of what they call holy and what they do not.

But the challenges to Jesus’ identity are not over. His biological family is back to try to speak with him. And good Jewish boy that he is we expect him to at least send them a message. But Jesus’ identity has become different. He dismisses them out of hand, doesn’t even refer to them, but turns to his new family, the ones who do the will of God. If you have a loving family background, Jesus’ behavior toward his family may strike you as callous and cold, but if you were in the crowd and had a miserable childhood, what a grace it would be to find a loving family you could at last call your own (Thomas Troeger).

Jesus answers questions about his identity in this passage, but he also asks us a question. Who are we? Are we children of God who do the will of God? Many of us struggle with this question a lot. Do we make the right discernments when we pray? Do we see disagreements over church doctrine in black and white? Someone has to be right and someone wrong? Do we think people have abandoned the Bible or are not inclusive? Basically for Jesus doing God’s will meant loving God, self and neighbor. When we love ourselves, we accept God’s love for us and form a healthy self-image based not on how what we have done, but on the fact that God claims us as God’s children. Loving ourselves is a part of the second great commandment that is often lost in the love your neighbor part, but unless you can accept yourself, foibles and all, it is difficult to accept other people as they are, just as Jesus did. He accepted everyone who came to him – those on the outside of society mostly – and cared tenderly for them.

When we love others, we serve in the world. The Episcopal New Service reports that the crypt of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rome is home to the Joel Namuna Refugee Center, where hundreds of refugees can find breakfast and a host of resources to survive and rebuild their lives as they flee from their war-torn countries in Africa across the Mediterranean Sea. They center is welcoming the stranger as they would welcome Christ into their midst. Will Bryant, a volunteer at the refugee center, said World Refugee Day, on June 20, “gives us an opportunity to speak on behalf of those that have no voice. It allows us to honor those who are easy to forget: the millions of refugees living on the periphery of society. They are poor; they are homeless, but they are still the body of Christ.

Loving God is about thinking and praying about what God wants us to do, rather than striking out on our own. We may want to do great things for the world, but God may want us to do small things at home to help our neighbor. We may want to say yes to everyone who asks, but God may want us to say no to some things and take a break from too much service. Or God may call us out of our comfortable rut into other events and activities.

We are all part of Jesus’ family, no matter where we come from, and our community at St. John’s is part of Jesus’ family too. Jesus still heals and ties up the strong men in our lives – racism, sexism, materialism, violence (Nibs Stroupe) and many others – and helps us defeat them so our society can be more like the

kingdom of God. Know that your identity is tied up in Jesus as powerful friend and Savior and set your sights on doing the will of God in your lives so you know you are truly part of his family.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works cited:
Thomas Troeger, Feasting on the Gospels, Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 107-109
Nibs Stroupe, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 119