Hear the good news in these words Jesus spoke to the crowd: “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And you know— Jesus is talking about us. It’s like he’s telling the whole world: “Yeah don’t worry, they’re with me.” We’re with him!
In these verses, Jesus is advocating for what we call chosen family. You might know what this is. Chosen family affirms that the relationships of our choosing can be every bit as valid and valuable as the relationships with our biological relatives. Your adopted children really are your children. The woman who grew up with you, and fights with you, and fights for you —really is your sister even if you have different parents. Chosen family demands that we claim our family with intentionality.
But here’s the thing about chosen family: It’s still family. And that means there are some things we don’t get to choose. As much as family is more than biological assignment, it’s also more than latching onto the cool kids, as though when we stop liking them, or they stop liking us, then the family gets canceled.
On the one hand, family is more than simply sharing genetic material. On the other hand, family is more than a fickle preference. So how do we know who our family really is, and I wonder whether it might be this…
I’m pretty sure. The day will come when in some subtle way, or in some monumental way, the judgement of all the world will come hurtling toward a person you care about, and suddenly, you find yourself standing on the line in between.
It could be the judgement of the world is undeniably correct, and it really is your granddaughter’s fault, and now she’s getting charged with a hate crime.
Could be the judgement of the world is undeniably cruel and your brother is getting bullied for his mental illness.
All I’m saying is, if you know what it is to find yourself standing on that line between a person you love and the judgement of all the world, that’s a pretty good indication that this person is your family. You might feel ashamed of them! You might feel mama bear protective. You might feel that strange combination when being ashamed and being protective spill into each other until there’s no way to tell them apart. If you know this feeling, well. You know what it is to have family.
Today our scripture comes from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. It is early in Jesus’s ministry. Not long ago, he had come home, and the crowd was so eager to hear him, they packed into the house, and the faithful had to cut a hole in the roof so that a man who was paralyzed could come down through the ceiling and reach him! Now Jesus has been back teaching by the seaside, he’s gone up the mountain to give authority to the apostles. And once again, he’s come home.
Once again, the crowd is pressing around him and packing into the house where he’s teaching. The Bible says, they don’t even stop for lunch! Here he is a prophet in own his hometown, and that’s a problem.
Already his ministry is threatening the religious leaders who have come down from Jerusalem to investigate. The scribes were saying that he’s got Beelzebul in him! “He must be possessed by the ruler of the demons — that’s why he’s so good at casting them out” said those scribes. The people were saying that Jesus has gone out of his mind! The people were saying this, and his mother heard them.
Mary and Jesus’ brothers went to the house to try to get Jesus away from the crowds. The writer of Mark actually uses the word arrested. Mary wanted to arrest her own son — maybe she was afraid of him, or maybe she was afraid for him, or who can tell the difference.
Here Jesus is captured by the crowd, inside the house. He’s going on and on about a kingdom divided against itself and the barrier that blocks us from receiving forgiveness, as though the Holy Spirit herself is left out in the cold unable to reach our sin-filled hearts. But while he’s saying all this, it is Mary who’s left outside along with his brothers.
They knocked on the door and whoever answered promised to get the message to Jesus. But this time, there’s nobody to climb up and cut a hole in the roof! Mary is finding herself stationed on that line. She knows the judgement of all the world is hurtling toward Jesus, and here she’s trying to put her own body in between the world and her son. And it’s not even enough. And oh Mary did you know…
Because she does not want to hear, Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother! She wants Jesus to send the people home, and just calm down, and stop making a scene. She wants to keep him safe, and we know the truth. That’s exactly what she does not get to do.
But you want to know something… When it comes to what Mary is going through, I think we get it. I’m pretty sure we understand this more deeply than we want to.
On one side of the line is all the world rushing and snarling with judgement. On the other side is the person we can’t help but love, so of course we’ll stand in between. And it’s not that we’re not ashamed and it’s not that we’re not protective— I dare you to find out protective we can be— it’s that it all spills into each other, and you know. If you have any family, you know what it is to stand on this line. You know what it is to be split in half! You know, Jesus does too…
You might remember. Last fall, Church of Peace named five priorities that are central to our congregation’s mission. In November, we voted on the five and named Twenty-Twenty the Year of Caring and Service. But the four runners up are still priorities for our church, so in the coming weeks, we’ll dedicate one Sunday to each of the four. Today the theme is Our Greater Family.
And that’s no surprise. If you were to name one word that describes Church of Peace, there’s a good chance that word would be family. For one thing, many church members are literally family by blood and by marriage. More than that, we understand Church of Peace to be a kind of chosen family. So whatever your family situation, even if you have no family, you will find a family in our church. We play like family, and eat like family, and argue like family, and we show up for each other. Like family.
So when I first heard somebody suggest this topic, I thought I knew where this was headed. I thought the Year of Our Greater Family would involve bringing in new members and making them feel like part of the Church of Peace family, and certainly that would be a great thing to do.
Then I listened to the people presenting the idea, and this is what you said…
We know what it is to be parents. So we know the parents at the border must be terrified and devastated to have their children seized and detained by ICE agents.
You said: We know what it is to be grandparents, so we know how painful it must be for grandparents who don’t get to see their grandson on his birthday because he is in jail.
You said: Because we know what it’s like to be family, to get put on that line between all the world and the one who needs us, then we know what that’s like for other people too. And what if we could show up next to them! And what if we could help…
And here’s the thing. When we do this, when we make it our mission to go stand beside people from other families who are feeling that strange combination of shame, and protectiveness, and who can tell the difference, well you know what happens… The division starts to lose its power.
The hurtling force of all the world has to take a breath. The judgement gets softened by grace. Those sharp designations defining who is who’s family, those start to get blurry, and the compassion of the Holy Spirit begins to flow between us, and pretty soon your kids are my kids, and those people’s grandparents are our grandparents too.
The people of Church of Peace know, there is no power like the claim laid on you by your family. But we also know, this claim is not something to keep for ourselves. Family is not a structure to live inside. Family is what gives us the empathy to reach out to people we don’t even know in order to share God’s boundary-breaking love. Now when it’s you who gets put on that line, get ready. We’re coming to stand beside you.
This is the love we learn from Jesus when he says: Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother. Whoever does the will of God is with me. This is the love that makes it so enemies can become friends, strangers can become family, and all the judgement of all the world is no match for the peacemaking mercy of the Holy Spirit.
God knows what it is to stand between the world and the one in trouble. All division overcome by compassion. This is the love we learn from Jesus, and you know he learns this love from God. It’s just, Jesus is Mary’s son too, and you and I better believe —our Lord and Savior also learns this love from his Mama.