Sermon by Fr Andrew Starky 7 June 2015

OS 10B Genesis 3: 8-15, 2 Corinthians 4: 13-5:1, Mark 3: 20-35

When it became known around Amberley that we were leaving and I was going to study for ministry in Auckland there were some interesting reactions. People were trying to make sense of it in the best way they could. Some had seen it coming, but others were blindsided and looked for some way to rationalise what was happening. The one that was curious which came back to me second-hand was, “Andrew’s gone all religious.” (If only they could see me now!) It wasn’t quite, “He’s gone out of his mind,” but it was heading in that direction. They saw me travelling into a space that was unknown as it seemed pointless.

For many of you here I suspect you have had some kind of experience like this for identifying as a church goer, a member of St Michael’s, a Christian. Friends and family can struggle to make sense of it. They can feel confronted by the implicit question to them, “Where are you?”  This is a time when a new identity is being formed. It is sometimes called a liminal space. It’s like standing on a threshold. It is, as Paul says, “a slight momentary affliction [which] is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen.” This is a place of challenge and temptation and it was a place that Jesus frequently inhabited during his ministry. (Wilderness, Peter’s confession, Garden of Gethsemane). The challenge is, “Are we going to blend in for the sake of peace and safety, or are we going to be true to our calling?”

Mark tells us that Jesus was becoming a rock star. His fame was spreading far and wide. People were flocking to him because they saw and heard of his mighty acts of healing. Even the evil spirits fell down before him. He even had to resort to getting in a boat so he wouldn’t be crushed. Then he took his disciples up a mountain where he selected the twelve. And following this he went home, and, as we heard in the gospel reading today, the crowd again surrounded him so they couldn’t even eat.

His family were very concerned. They thought he had gone out of his mind and they tried to restrain him. It’s worth noting that Jesus had not chosen any of his family among the twelve. Just as with Jesus, sometimes our own family try to restrain us. They understand life as it has been and often can’t imagine what has gone wrong to upend everything.

But the sternest challenge for Jesus comes from the religious authorities who came down from Jerusalem. They were embarrassed by the success of Jesus’ ministry of liberation because it showed up their own impotence in the face of evil. The only explanation they could give was that Jesus must be in league with Satan. Jesus refuted that by saying that it is plainly illogical for Satan to rise up against himself. Rather they were misreading the real spiritual battle which is between Jesus the Son of God and Satan the strong man. Indeed Jesus is tying up that strong man and plundering his house so that the people who are held captive there can be released.

It is really important to dwell on Jesus’ statement, “Truly I tell you, all people will be forgiven their sins and what ever blasphemies they utter,” before moving on to the exception. That statement is the core focus of Jesus’ purpose under God. It is also the heart of the objection to him by the temple leadership because they taught that it was only God who could forgive sins. It was blasphemy to claim otherwise.

The exception Jesus brought to blanket forgiveness was the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This was the counter charge he laid against the scribes who challenged him. Juan Luis Segundo puts it, “The blasphemy resulting from bad apologetics will always be pardonable…. What is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation into something odious. The real sin against the Holy Spirit is refusing to recognise with “theological” joy, some concrete liberation that is taking place before one’s very eyes.” The church in our own time, particularly with regard to debates about sexuality, needs to think very hard on that statement.

The crowds coming to Jesus contained people who were desperate for liberation. They had the scent of freedom they came running. There was an air of chaos as they poured in around Jesus. But by the end of the scene they were sitting around him and you can sense the peace and joy that now abounded. The scribes melted away but Jesus’ family remained outside (perhaps experiencing what being on the outside is like for the first time.) They sent a message in to him, but Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at those sitting around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus’ family of origin, which in some sense stands for faithful Israel, has the choice to come in and sit with the needy crowd in the liminal space of challenge and temptation around Jesus, or to walk away, to try and ignore him or even to plot his demise. We know that’s what the scribes and Pharisees did. We also know from other sources that his family, and particularly his mother, did come to understand and join Jesus. Indeed his mother was found by his cross when his disciples, his new family, had largely fled.

Jesus re-made the idea of family and he would consummate it in the last Supper by the creation of a new covenant with his broken body shared, and his blood poured out for many. By sharing the Eucharist today we join ourselves ever more deeply to the family of those who do the will of God with all its challenges and temptations as we seek to live his Way in our daily life.