If any of you have ever had that feeling that your family, your own family, doesn’t really understand you, you’re going to sympathize with Jesus in today’s Gospel. His family thinks he’s gone crazy. He’s been out preaching and curing people and driving out demons, and everywhere he goes, he’s attracting these huge crowds of people, and his family is worried about him. They basically plan an intervention, and when they hear that he’s come home again, they go looking for him. Their plan is to restrain him, to take him away and make him stop what he’s been doing.
But when they get to the house, the crowds are so thick, the family can’t get to Jesus, so they send in a message: “We’re here!” They want him to come out so they can take him away. And he’s not exactly glad to hear that they’re there. In fact, his response is quite insulting. He asks the question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and then he points to the ragtag bunch that he’s got sitting around him and says, “These are my mother and my brothers. This is my family.” He turns his back on his own biological family.
I went looking for a quote that would capture some of the complexity of family relationships, all the love, and the frustration, and sometimes the lack of understanding. I found one. I wanted it to be a nice, sentimental kind of quote, but it’s not.
The one that caught my eye, if it gives you a clue, it’s from George Burns. He said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close knit family … in another city.”
That does capture the complexity, right? We’re hard-wired to seek out that connection. To seek out the love and support of a family, and yet at the same time it can be really hard to make that work, to sustain that. We want that family connection so much that, if our own family is dysfunctional, or if they’re far away in another city, we’ll create a new family, a replacement family.
When Chris and I were getting married I kept getting lists of people who hadto be invited. And I wanted to know, who arethese people? They weren’t biological relations. They were the people who were so close that without them, we could not have a wedding.
Well, Chris’ mom was born in Germany. She came over in the ’30s. She was an only child, and she left her whole social web behind, even though, thank God, she had a little family here, because that’s how she was able to get in. She married Chris’ dad, and he was an only child whose mother had died when he was five, and his father was a bit of a ne’er do well, and they were estranged. So this young couple starting out to make their own family didn’t have that web of family relationships, and they reached out to other people who were in similar circumstances, and they created a family.
There’s a family with whom they celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving every year almost to the end of my mother-in-law’s life. Chris had breakfast with the son in that family last week—they’re still in touch. We are made for family life. We crave it and will make a family of our own if the family we’re born to isn’t working the way it should.
And if we’re made for those human family connections, how much more we’re made to find our place in God’s family. That is exactlywhat we’re made for.
I often hear people here in this congregation say, “Good Shepherd is like a family,” and that’s a good thing. What people mean when they say that is that people find friendships here. They find support. They find people with whom they can share the good times in their lives, and have people who will be there for them when times are not so good. That kind of parish community is a blessing and a gift and a very good thing. But that that’s not exactly the kind of family that Jesus is creating in this Gospel story.
I want to say four things about the family of God, the family that Jesus makes.
Number one is, to belong to this family you have to begin by admitting your own need for the kind of healing that Jesus offers. That is the number one thing that brings us into this family: our brokenness, our neediness, our need for healing. And because that’s the basis, we can never judge who else is worthy to be in this family, because we have to accept that the rest of the family is just going to be as crazy and mixed up and needy and broken as we are.
We are the sinners and tax collectors and demon-possessed people of our time. I think this is maybe the hardest for us to accept. That’s who belongs in church, and those are the people that we need to go out and find. More and more misfits to be part of this family. So that’s number one.
Number two is, we’ve got to let Jesus be Jesus. Jesus was doing things that were crazy. His family couldn’t understand it.
Certainly the religious leaders of his time couldn’t understand it. They said he was possessed by a devil, but they actually knew perfectly well that what they were seeing was God at work in the world. They just couldn’t deal with it. They couldn’t accept it, because it upset their norms for what the church ought to be.
And Jesus criticizes them for this. In fact, he says in this Gospel, that’s the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit is seeing God at work and saying that it’s the devil. And the people who are most susceptible to doing this are religious people, because they have their own ideas of how the church should be, and it’s very hard to open up to all the wild and crazy things that God is actually doing.
The thing that’s a mercy to us is, it isn’t just making that mistake that’s unforgivable, it’s making that mistake on purpose. So as long as we’re trying, we’re okay. We’ve got to keep trying. So that’s number two. Let Jesus be Jesus.
Number three is to live with Jesus at the center of everything. That’s what the crowds were coming for. They were all gathered around Jesus, everywhere he went. And in fact, as soon as this story ends he’s back out. He’s at the sea, and I think that’s the place where the crowds are so great on the shore he has to get into a boat, basically, so he doesn’t get pushed into the water, and he speaks to them from the boat.
We live with Jesus at the center. We come here to be in the living presence of Jesus, not that we could ever get away from it, but when we gather here as the body of Christ, Jesus is here in a special way. We are nourished by his Word, just as he taught those people long ago, and we’re nourished by the body and blood, by the bread and wine. Every good family really finds its best moments at gathering around the table.
So, admitting our neediness and our brokenness, letting Jesus be Jesus, and keeping Jesus at the center of our lives. Those are the first three, and there’s one more.
This is going to sound contradictory, but I think the fourth is actually the most important of all. The fourth is, we come together, but even more important than that, we leave this place again. We take that message of healing love out into the world. That is our mission as members of the family of God.