Link to the video reflection for this sermon: https://youtu.be/_Yd0IeDz6lQ
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, and Mark 3:20-35
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
In our gospel we are in the early days of Jesus ministry. It’s a confusing passage as there is a lot going on. In the action that proceeds this passage, Jesus has just gathered and named his disciples, and has already got the hackles up of the Pharisees and Herodians through his actions – He is the centre of attention and packed crowds are following him around, and in this passage are outside his home.
Jesus’ family appear to be struggling with this sudden and rapid chain of events, and had already set out to restrain him (In response to people saying ‘he has gone out of his mind’). In and around his hometown and his home, this change in Jesus must have been quite startling. I am also guessing the family had gone out to restrain Jesus before he got home. They re-appear later in the account and will have found the huge densely packed crowd now outside their house when they do! More of that later…
More surprisingly at one level, Jesus’ activities have come to the attention of the Scribes from Jerusalem, so they are there too. They have travelled especially to denounce him. The fact they have come to him is interesting, and these learned leaders coming to him in a way gives him credibility. They must have viewed him as a significant threat to their powerbase to have taken the trouble. On arrival, the scribes are not in the mood for talking or listening to what Jesus has to say – they straight away get on with condemning his actions without a hearing. According to them – Jesus is possessed and using the power of the ruler of demons to do the healings and miracles he has been working. The language of demons and Beelzebul is not language we often use today.
Jesus responds by giving them very short shrift. How can the forces of evil have any influence over the forces of evil…. And he then talks about the importance of standing together. He says the same thing – using kingdom and house – if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. This is stressing the importance of unity and working together at all levels in our homes and in God’s kingdom. The kind of kingdom of love Jesus is bringing and the kind of home of grace and welcome he is building in us. There is also some deep seated irony in countering what the Scribes said too. Instead of working for Satan he has come to overpower and overcome Satan once and for all.
He uses a short story here to make his point. It revolves around advice on how to undertake a successful robbery (which is a very unusual topic for Jesus to use). The story describes tying up the strong man so his house can be plundered. There are a number of ways we could interpret this for example
Is Jesus the one coming to tie up Satan and defeat him with his message of love, hope and peace once and for all?
Or maybe Jesus is the one who has come to tie up the strong men of his day – the religious leaders who are leading the people badly and astray. They have been diverting people via meticulous rules and regulations rather than faith being a matter of the heart and love for God.
Or even is this showing the house of God needs to be radically reformed and plundered, to get back to where it should be and that is what Jesus has come to do at this point. We can think of references to strength and weakness and how they work in Jesus from other places in the New Testament- for example in 1 Corinthians 1:27 – But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
Jesus then saves his most damming remark for the Scribes and what they said. He says ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven’. Those who opposed Jesus were saying that his power came from the chief demonic power, Beelzebul and Jesus takes this very seriously. It is this statement that the power of the Holy Spirit is a demonic power, which he identifies as a blasphemy. The radical change and healing God brings through Jesus never have as their purpose to destroy or tear down; they are always for building up and wholeness and for our good.
The premise of standing together in the kingdom and in each home and household is important. It is important we work together for God’s kingdom as we move forward in this next period and being drawn together to build God’s kingdom where we are. Standing together, and supporting each other are central in this. Standing together with kingdom values and aspirations at the centre of our endeavours is also key.
Circumstances are such that we will need to work out not only what we do to move forward but how we do it in our new reality – utilising the gifts and talents of all of us to make it happen. To do this well and bring glory to God is going to take some time. Working together well isn’t a nice to have but an absolute essential in this endeavour, and not getting caught up in what divides us rather than what unites us.
Added into this is a level of ‘unknowns’ about how things are going to go in relation to Coronavirus and the lifting of restrictions, and moving forward positively. Certainty about anything is in rather short supply, at the moment. This all feels provisional and temporary in a way I never imagined we would still be experiencing at this point, and yet I can see this is going to continue for much longer than any of us want.
Based on how it has all been up to this point – I also know this is going to be tricky – but we need to work at it together. Patience is important as is being kind and listening carefully, accepting where we make mistakes and learning from them.
The kind of unity Jesus is looking for in his followers is that of family – a community working together interdependently and based on love and the common good. Towards the end of this passage Jesus declares to the gathered masses that are all around him who do the will of God are members of his family.
It is a bit tempting to see what Jesus says here as a slur on his own family, who at this point are quite frankly and understandably not really getting what he is doing and why – but that isn’t the point Jesus is making at all. His own family trigger his use of this example and he is not advocating hostility towards them but moving to a wider definition of family – his family of followers.
Family was in fact a very important and valued unit in Jesus’ life, and his faith. Loyalty, respect and obedience were hallmarks of Jewish family life. What he is saying is about the closeness we need to aspire to in belonging and working together to do the will of God. And the closeness he wants in his followers – so that we are loving and supportive of one another – and the best worldly example he can see in that is family. In our case our church families.
I don’t want to finish without referring to some wisdom given to us by Paul in our first reading from 2 Corinthians. He reminds us that Jesus came to bring us into his presence by grace – continuing ‘so we do not lose heart’. We need to stay focussed on the certainties of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit in these strange and unpredictable times. Particularly as we work out how we move forward serving God as his body the church in our communities. We as Paul recommended, need to see beyond our earthly issues, to seeing we have an eternal dwelling place in the loving heart of God. And an understanding as Paul so mystically put it that one day we will experience the eternal weight of glory beyond measure.
Paul is saying this ‘even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day’. Let’s concentrate on that inner renewing and let the outer things that are wasting away take care of themselves. When we can, and when we have worked through whatever steps/guidance comes next and the dust has settled, let’s keep on working on that critical inner renewing as we move into the next phase of all this – whatever that may be. On a personal note, I am having a few days away and then some retreat time over the next 10 days, I would be particularly grateful for your prayers for that retreat time and for inner renewing as we prepare for the next steps.
When I was a curate – I met a lovely man called Ken, sadly he is now no longer with us. His first sea-going draft was on HMS Royal Oak. At the age of 16 as a ‘Boy 1st Class’ he was the youngest member of the ship’s company to survive a torpedo attack while at anchor in Scapa Flow. 834 lives were lost, only 386 survived. When I met him, he was an elderly man of deep faith. He was the secretary of the Royal Oak association and still making the annual pilgrimage to Orkney to remember his ship mates, his extended family. Ken introduced me to a prayer written by William Penn, which he loved and points to the deeper perspective we need. Subsequently I have used it many times (particularly at funerals) – but it sums up something of what I have been trying to say today:
Let us pray – life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to Thyself and while Thou dost prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where Thou art we may be also for evermore. AMEN
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989