The True Kindred of Jesus: Jesus Redefines Family” (Mark 3:31-35)

IMG_1078.JPG“The True Kindred of Jesus: Jesus Redefines Family” (Mark 3:31-35) – May 14, 2017

Our scripture text for today does NOT come from the lectionary, but rather in response to Laura’s confession and question, how do I honor my mother and my father?

As she noted, today is indeed a hallmark holiday, Mother’s Day, one in which some find great joy and others, great grief. Perhaps you had the greatest mother(s) on the planet, you two (or three) remain close; she’s the first person you call when there is joy to be shared or when crap is hitting the fan. Mom is your go to sounding board, support person, and friend.

Or maybe the fond memories you have from childhood to adulthood continue to carry your love for her even in her absence today.

I must confess, one of my greatest “mother moments” have come from watching some of the mothers of this congregation – Em, Susan, and Claire (just to name a few) – those who support young new moms who are street based. In fact, if you are not yet aware, these moms not only ‘adopted’ individual moms but they also established a baby closet to
fill a gap in lakeview youth programming services, and this continues to serve and support young mothers to this day.

Witnessing your mothering has brought me great joy. But alas, for some of us here today, maybe you never knew your mother or your mother has since passed on and this has left a gaping hole in your life? Maybe your relationship with your mother is strained today and you are debating whether a card or call will change anything.

Maybe, as a mother, you have experienced the loss of child, whether to war, disease, poverty, police brutality, or our criminal injustice system?

Zolo’s, our friend who visited us just two weeks ago, presented me with this painting of a mother and child; it is a stark reminder of such a POC mother’s struggle. How will I keep this baby alive?

Or maybe, like me, you greet the day with some ambivalence and/or (un)assurance. How should I feel about my own mother or the many that have “mothered” me? Some more welcome than others!

On one hand, I have had a wonderful, albeit complicated relationship with my own mother. She is strong and giving, always so generous with her love of others. She is someone who can always find something about someone to love and I can honestly say that she has never really hated anyone. This is something I personally try to ascribe too.

At the same time, as a woman, I often find days like today somewhat annoying when others assume that I am a mother. “Happy Mother’s Day!” They say as you pass by on the street.

However, they don’t know my story and struggle around this. I have never given birth to a child nor do I think I ever want to, and I have known many mothers who have tried and suffered great loss. What does Happy Mother’s Day bring up in them?

In the midst of this, I feel grateful for those who have lovingly claimed and called me, godmother or “ma” Nevertheless, I struggle with traditional notions of “mother” and wonder, does my love of other people’s children make me any less of a mother?

Days like today can certainly deepen our joy and our pain; however in this space, it is my hope and prayer that we make room for all the feelings. Holding them in tension with the various experiences of others and the mixed feelings that are sure to follow.

But alas, as Rev Mousin reminded us last week, we believe in an AWEsome [Mother/Father] God, amen? One who loves and calls us out of this world and into an entirely Other realm of possibility. One informed by God’s AWEsome ways.

With this in mind, hear what our teacher and liberator Jesus has to say about his family on this day. From the Gospel of Mark 3:31-35:31:

Then [Jesus’] mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is mybrother and sister and mother.”

Will you pray with me?
God of Grace and Wonder, you have brought each of us to this place to hear some Good News today. What does it mean to do your will and how can we do it together? As we wrestle with your ways, we seek your guidance and wisdom, giving thanks for your forgiveness along the way. In the name of the Human One, Jesus, we pray, amen.

As we enter into this part of Jesus’ story, we find him teaching and surrounded by the crowds when someone informs him that his mother and brothers are looking for him. However, rather than stop what he is doing, Jesus looks out on the people and asks, “Who are my mother and brothers?”

“Who are my mother and brothers?” Not dissimilar from the Good Samaritan story when he is asked, “but who is my neighbor?” “Who are my mother and brothers?”

My first thought here is: Oh snap! Because I know that were I to ignore or blow off my own mother like that, the anger and wrath of myearthly father would surely follow. Because honoring our mother in our house meant not questioning ANYTHING our parents said or did, notmatter how well-intentioned or harmful it may have been. So admittedly this part of the story makes me feel a little bit nervous and anxious to see what happens next…

However, if we know our teacher at all by now, we know that when he asks a question something life-changing and awe-inspiring is surely on the way. And yet, for some, this question can be rather anxiety producing, which may in fact be the point.

But what about those with whom I share genealogy – my blood?! Indeed, for those of us who have become accustomed to defining family strictly by biology, this question may feel like a slap in the face; is Jesus really questioning these important family relationships in front of a crowd?

When Jesus asks, Who are my mother and brothers? He slips the script, dis -orienting and re-orienting our allegiances, beyond family, at least as we have defined it, and provides a new qualifier.

Side story: I remember when I first got here to Wellington and it took me a whileto recognize that there wasn’t an American flag anywhere in the  sanctuary. I didn’t have strong feelings about this at the time, however, the more I accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, I recognized this way in which the Good News necessarily dis-oriented me from this“American tradition” and re-oriented to the other world that is possible. One beyond bio-family, creed, nationalism, militarism andthe other death-dealing powers that that flag represents to so many.

Nowadays, that flag serves as a symbol of accountability—so when I am with my bio-family, and my dad is frustrated that I do not pledge, I stand alongside him and think about our history. But my allegiance has been shifted.

That said, I imagine Jesus’ questioning of family might have been painful for his mother and brothers to hear. Which begs the question, is THIS how Jesus honors his mother?

Our liturgist’s confession called us to wrestle with this question. As adults, we may still have a “mother” or some kind of motherly figure(s) in out life for which we wish to show deep gratitude and respect. Indeed, for some  of us, these are our first seed sowers (to refer back to the seeds of Changes series we began a few weeks ago). And yet, Jesus seems to almost uproot this notion given what he does next in the Gospel of Mark: 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus redefines family as those who do the “will of God.” What does he mean by this? To his hearers this would have been a new or unusual phrase, one mayhap never to be heard again; until later on when it would literally only show up later in the letters of Paul, written and read in the early Christian communities of Romans, Corinth, and
Galatians. For example, in Romans 12:2, he writes:

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

What is ‘good and acceptable and perfect’ – according to who? God!

That AWEsome God we were reminded of last week?

Yes! So what is the ‘will’ of this AWEsome God?

Some more context: The ‘will of God’ sometimes refers to the reign and/or realm of God, one in which God’s justice—that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect—prevails! Some thought this would be made perfect during some kind of messianic era, a future period of time on earth in which the messiah (mayhap one of the prophets of Israel, or
Jesus) would reign and bring universal peace and brotherhood; a world without crime, war and poverty.

Well, that sounds pretty damn good to me! To do the “will of God” was not only an invitation, but also a preview of what was and is to come. It was an invitation to live it NOW – give up all your belongings and follow me. Jesus seemed to have a clear vision of what was to come.

So you mean to tell me, another world is possible? Yes, contrary to what national politics and international news would have you believe, another world is indeed possible. And it begins right here. In the midst of the people who gather to discern and learn together, to pray and break bread together. Those who seek to embody God’s hope and healing together. Until we ALL get free. (s/o KuumbaLynx)

That is what this church has been for me—a place in which we wrestle and challenge one another as we seek to be that transformed and transforming body of Christ here on Earth.

Indeed, I come to this place to be with you all and be reminded that such a thing exists! Because such an AWEsome God calls us together to be Easter people. People of the Resurrection. People who wake up and wonder. People who give light and love to one another. People who forgive and hold fast to that which is good, knowing that with God’s
grace, all things are indeed possible.

In other words, as people who claim to be Christian, seeking to do the ‘will of God,’ we are being called again and again to risk relationship, be in community, and live out liberation. And by liberation I mean freedom—freedom from the bondages of this world
whether they be based in family, identity, racism, classism, sexism, patriarchy, etc; anything that keeps us in bondage and unable to live and love more freely.

I’m talking about a world without prisons and police; place where everyone has enough to eat and a warm place to sleep. That is the other world that I believe is possible.

Moreover, I believe THAT is what it means to do the ‘will of God;” although, like you, I am still discerning what that looks and feels like in this time and place, here at Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ. With this in mind, I hope you will join us next week as we gather to share a meal and set some goals together; to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect according to an AWEsome God!

Otherwise, what are we doing here but occupying a building on a street
in Lakeview, Chicago?

To return to our story one more time today, I must say I find Jesus’ notion of family in this story quite healing and liberating as it re-orients me to the awesome ways of God; towards freedom! Not just from something, but for something [UCC polity].

What does it mean to do the will of God? and join the kindred of Jesus?

I feel blessed to say that I Jesus’ idea family familiar. Not just from what I have seen here in this place, and among the street based youth, and queer chosen families…

But growing up in Orlando, Florida, we were far from our biological family; and yet we always had someone else living with us so my idea of “family” was often informed by an Other; whether it was my dad’s friend, a drug addict trying to get clean or my cousin (who was dis-owned by her own bio-family when she came out as a lesbian), other
kids we knew from school whose parents were going through divorce or disease; then there brother James, my mom’s friend’s boyfriend who spennt time in and out of jail, but always stayed in contact with us via colorful cards and cartoon-laden letters; I even remember the cross he sent me for Christmas one year, entirely made of garbage bags. What a humbling gift!

In other words, our home was a place of radical welcome, mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love, a place where family was constantly being redefined.

Who are my mother, sisters and brothers?

THIS is where the first seeds of scandal and change were planted in me by my mother and my father. Seeds that would eventually be radicalized by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for whom family was and is and ever will be, “whoever does the will of God.”

So I ask you, Wellington, what is the will of God? And how might we live it out together in this place? We are on an awesome journey here at WAUCC. Until we ALL get free. In the meantime, I hope and pray that you will hold fast with us.

To God be the Glory!
Let is be so.
Amen.

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