Scripture readings: Genesis 3:8-15 and I Samuel 8:4-11,16-20 in addition to the Gospel reading below.
Then he 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 has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” – Mark 3:19b-35
So Kenny Chesney was in town this past week. I know nothing at all about country music, but this guy packs in such a huge crowd that even I heard about it. He was in the news. His fans were in the news. The people protesting his fans were in the news. It kind of reminded me of the days of Beatlemania.
Not that I’m saying Kenny Chesney is as big as the Beatles (sorry, Kenny Chesney fans). But the craziness, the way people forgot who they were and how to behave, the fact that so many people who went to the concert didn’t actually get to enjoy the concert because of the things other fans were doing… that’s what reminded me of Beatlemania.
Speaking of Beatlemania. some of you here may remember the concert the Beatles gave in Pittsburgh back in 1964. I don’t (sadly). I do remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan but I wasn’t aware enough back then to realize over 4,000 fans showed up to greet the Beatles’ plane when they arrived in Pittsburgh, or that the fans at the concert screamed so loudly the music couldn’t be heard. It wasn’t until much later I understood why the Beatles stopped touring at the height of their popularity. They couldn’t hear themselves play, and the crowds were getting way out of hand. Everyone wanted a piece of their clothing or a lock of their hair… it was crazy. It was dangerous. It was no way to live.
The scene Mark describes in the gospel reading for today is like that. Jesus has been healing people and casting out demons and preaching the good news, and he is being followed around by a crowd of people that’s getting bigger and bigger by the moment. Shortly before our reading for today, in Mark 3:9, Jesus and the disciples arrive at Galilee, and Jesus “told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him…” (italics mine). It was getting crazy.
At the height of Beatlemania, I wonder if Mama McCartney and Mama Harrison and other Beatle family members had the band over for tea one afternoon and said, “ok boys, you’ve had your fun, but really this is going too far. There are strangers digging through our rubbish bins, and you all look awful, you’re run ragged, and look, you’ve done well lads, but it’s time to settle down and get a proper job and get married and start a family…” I mean, people from Liverpool are very sensible people.
And that’s sort of what I hear coming from Jesus’ family in Mark’s gospel. Mark writes “[Jesus and the disciples] 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 has gone out of his mind.”” Looking at the Greek in verse 21, “out of his mind” has the flavor not so much of insanity as amazement or astonishment. And the Greek suggests it was Jesus’ family, not ‘people’ in general, who were concerned for his safety. And rightfully so. Crowds can be crazy. And this particular crowd was getting so much into Jesus’ personal space that he couldn’t even eat a meal! From a human standpoint at least, it’s no wonder his family was worried.
The scribes, on the other hand, were not worried about Jesus’ safety. They took one look at the situation, saw how crazy it was, and told everybody Jesus was serving Satan. (I notice there is no comment about how crazy it is for the scribes to have walked 63 miles from Jerusalem to Galilee just to criticize the ministry of a preacher they’ve never met before.)
Jesus answers the scribes very reasonably, pointing out that if Satan is driving out demons then Satan is essentially throwing himself out, and/or Satan’s kingdom has become divided and is about to fall. But the truth is, Jesus opposes Satan, he has come to bind up the ‘strong man’ (a euphemism for Satan) and plunder his house… this is Jesus’ game plan.
The sad thing is, God’s people don’t get it. The nation of Israel – represented in this passage by the scribes, and the crowds, and Jesus’ own birth-family – don’t understand what Jesus is up to. The religious leaders run him down publicly. His family doesn’t trust that he is in control of the situation. And the crowd, much as they love Jesus’ teaching and the miracles he does, they ignore his physical needs, they refuse to let him be human.
And this is not the first time in Biblical history that God’s people have gotten God wrong. It started in the Garden of Eden and our first scripture reading for today. Whenever I read a Bible story I try to imagine what it would be like to be there. But it’s hard to imagine what life on earth was like before sin entered the world. The garden was flawless and beautiful; animals lived at peace with one another; Adam and Eve were completely innocent, living as human beings were designed to live, natural, unsophisticated, unaware there is such things as shame or regret, secure in God’s love. They walked with God in the garden as friends, completely un-self-conscious.
And then they were deceived by the serpent into believing God, who loved them so much, hadn’t been honest with them. The serpent told them: “God knows that when you eat [the apple] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) He’s implying, ‘God’s been holding back on you’.
Have you ever loved someone and then been told that person you love can’t be trusted? You begin to doubt, and unless that doubt is nipped in the bud it eats away at the relationship and finally ruins it even if your loved one is innocent. That’s what happened here. That night God walked through the garden alone. Adam and Eve are hiding because they’ve learned what shame is. Innocence is dead, and their ability to blame others has been born.
God in love sees what happened and does not leave it there. God finds a way to set things right, to restore the relationship: he says the seed of the woman will someday crush the serpent’s head. That seed is Jesus, who restores our relationship with God.
In the second reading for today, from I Samuel, we see God’s people asking for a king. They seem to have forgotten they’ve already got one. God, their king, who rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and brought them into the Promised Land, and arranged a system of judges to help settle disputes between the people. But the people now come to God’s prophet Samuel and say ‘you are getting old and we don’t want your sons to rule over us. We want a king, like every other nation has.’
God says to Samuel, ‘it is not you they have rejected but me’. And God says, warn them. Tell them what a king will be like, how a king will take their children for soldiers and their slaves for servants and their crops for food, how the king will take a tenth of everything they own…’ (these days they take about four tenths… I wish our taxes were only 10%!) God says they will regret this decision. But the people don’t listen.
And just like in the garden, the people suffer the results of their lack of trust in God. And just like in the garden, God provides a way to set things right. Before Samuel dies, he anoints David, a shepherd boy from Bethlehem, to be king over Israel. David will prophesy about the Messiah, and Jesus will be known as ‘the son of David’.
All through scripture, people fall short of what God intends for their lives. And all through scripture, God provides a means to set things right.
Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And the will of God is to believe and trust in Jesus.
I started off this morning talking about fans. There’s one other aspect of fandom that I’d like to return to, and that is the aspect of how a fan perceives the object of their admiration. We can see it in the crowd’s treatment of Jesus, how they didn’t allow him to take care of his basic physical needs like eating.
Here’s a contemporary illustration. Back in the ‘90s I had the chance to meet my favorite rock band and chat with them briefly. And it was wonderful to discover the people who had had such influence on my musical understanding were truly kind and decent people, family men who plan tour dates around their childrens’ birthdays.
Some time later I overheard another fan talking about this band, and the things she was saying didn’t seem quite right to me based on my admittedly limited experience. And I said to her, “that doesn’t sound like the real people.” And she looked at me like I’d just grown three heads and said to me, “I don’t want to know the real people!”
As a musician that was an eye-opener. As a human being it made me sad because I thought, she has no idea what she’s missing.
As a person of faith I thought: there are a lot of times people – myself included – get into moods when we don’t really feel like knowing the real God. We think: God’s out there, far above us, God isn’t like us, I can’t reach God, nothing I can say or do would ever make a difference to God… we get discouraged, we get caught up in religiosity or get caught up in our own lives and lose sight of who God really is.
And when that happens we don’t know what we’re missing. Whenever we get tangled up in church politics or theological debates or even some news report on religion, we lose sight of the real God. The real God loves us. The real God does not reject us. The real God wants to be with us, wants to spend time with us. The real God loves us so much Jesus went to the cross to set things right, to make it possible for our relationship to be restored.
When we know the real God, we trust Jesus as God-with-us, and we recognize the Holy Spirit as God-in-us. And I don’t know about you but I breathe a sigh of relief because I know it’s not up to me. God sets things right. My job, our job, as Jesus says, is to stay in God’s will, and be Jesus’ family, his mothers and brothers and sisters. AMEN.
Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Crafton United Methodist Church, 6/7/15