Third Sunday after Pentecost 10 June 2018
(Genesis 3:8-15 Psalm 130 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 Mark 3:20-35)
“Sing Loudly the Love of Jesus!”
I hear two important questions in today’s Gospel reading: “Who is Jesus?” “Who is Jesus’ family?” Both are connected!
Here are the words from Mark 3:19-21 (NRSV): “Then Jesus went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
King James translates the concern of Jesus’ family for him with these words: “He is beside himself.” The J.B. Phillips N.T. translates it, “People were saying he must be mad.” The Contemporary English Version, says, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.” The 2002 translation called The Message, says “They went to rescue him by force, if necessary, because they suspected he was getting carried away with himself.”
“He’s mad!” “He’s crazy!” “He’s beside himself!” “He’s getting carried away with himself!” “They went to restrain him!” “They went to get him under control!” “They went to rescue him by force!” This is Jesus they’re talking about!
If all of that doesn’t make you squirm in your seats; if that description of Jesus doesn’t make you raise an eyebrow, either you haven’t had your second mug of coffee or you stayed up late celebrating the Belmont Stakes winner; so could the person closest to the AED to go out and charge it up because we may need some radical heart stimulation!
Dorothy Day, of The Catholic Worker movement understood Jesus well. She once said, “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only thing. To love is not sentimental, but heart-wrenching; it is the most difficult and the most beautiful thing in the world.”1 One of the things we hear Jesus doing in this text is forcing us to rethink, to re-imagine our Christian life, our church life, our love with Jesus.
In the very early church, whenever converts sought baptism, their entire lives were re-imagined. Just as Baptism was a symbol of people’s dying to their old lives and rising to new ones, so there was the very real sense that the old ways of living were gone and something new was here. That’s the tone of what we are hearing in this part of Mark’s Gospel.
How to re-train a radical discipleship that is multiethnic, intergenerational; includes Millennials and Gen Xers, and Boomers and Elders, and blended families, and those who are single and married, both with and without children—that’s the radical nature of what Jesus was doing, and that is what we must be about! Otherwise we just end up being surrounded by people who look like us, think like us, and respond to the Gospel in exactly the same way we do. That robs us of the gift of community and of what it means to be Christ’s Body with many different facets. That’s the tone of this Gospel.
When I think of radical discipleship, I have a great true story of something that happened three weeks ago when I was at the Larger Church Pastors’ Conference. We were in a big hotel. They have those big ballrooms but they divide them with large partitions so they can have several groups at the same time. (They are not always totally soundproof). We are at the opening worship service. We ended with “Jesus Loves Me.” Think about it. You get @ 500 people together, half is Lutheran pastors and the other half is Lutheran pastors’ spouses–singing “Jesus Loves Me!” Imagine it! No sooner had we finished worship when the hotel manager came into our room.
He told us that the group next to us complained that we were singing too loudly. We were singing, “Jesus Loves Me” too loudly! Sounds like radical discipleship! So for the rest of the week, we hummed all our hymns at worship. Have you ever hummed all four verses of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”?
What an extraordinary thing it must have been for Jesus to sit around a table with that eclectic mix of Zealot revolutionaries, Roman tax collectors, peasants, Samaritans, prostitutes, and fishermen, all conspiring to find a radical new way of life.
But Gospel-writer Mark is realist, also. He knows that we are all held captive in today’s world. Jesus names this captivity “Satan.” However we might name it, I think it is that power that keeps us from being the reconciling and compassionate love of God to others. It’s the power of racism and patriarchy and militarism and materialism, the forces and configurations of power that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, to hurt others, and to hurt God. Jesus indicates that the power of these categories (and so many others) must be recognized and confronted in our lives if we are to experience deeply the gracious and stunning love of God.
What about family? Take a look who is around Jesus: the crowd of misfits, crazies, and his relentlessly befuddled disciples. Jesus is not surrounded by the morally perfect; rather, we see a diverse mess of humanity, with all its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfections. To these Jesus says, “those who do the will of God is brother and sister and mother.”
We may be hearing Jesus blast away at the crowd, but we also are hearing a Jesus who is tenderly reaching out to each one of us, wanting to embrace us, not when we finally have it all figured out, but exactly at the times when we are most confused, most bewildered, most sinful, least compassionate and tolerant of others. This is when Jesus seems most mad and crazy, least to himself and most in need of rescue. And in the theology of Gospel-writer Mark, this is precisely where the Risen Christ is to be found.
If you truly choose to go beyond your comfort zone, to live into the possibility of a more radical response to Jesus in your life, people may call you “mad” or “crazy” or “not to yourself.” But take heart, they’ve already said all this about Jesus!
And, oh yes, sing loudly the love of Jesus! Sing boldly that when Satan has you bound, Jesus will lift you–no humming allowed this time, because we do want the people in the next room to hear us! Amen.
1 Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. ed., Robert Ellsberg. 1992. (p. 339)