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1 Sam. 8:4-10,19-20; Ps.138; 2Corin. 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

There are many thoughts and feelings that arise in the readings for today, some of which are difficult. I doubt we can consider all of them. But I wonder if enough, so that we “do not lose heart,” and look around and see, we are among family in Christ, at one table of grace, to offer the same gifts and heart to the world.

           Immediately in the gospel we hear, “Jesus comes home.” And so many people want to get close to Jesus that he and the disciples can’t even eat. The troubling images begin with Jesus’ family hearing of this and coming to “restrain him” because they have heard others say that “Jesus has gone out of his mind.” How do we understand Jesus’ family so misunderstanding him?

           But with a favourite literary device of Mark, before we can consider this, the scene switches to the religious experts accusing Jesus of being possessed by evil or Satan. We might think this an ancient idea too distant from us to be meaningful. But in fact, accusations of siding with evil and being Satan have be made against Church of the Cross just recently. During “go by bike” week, as Pastor Lyndon was handing out energy bars and saying hello to those biking past the church each morning, offering to pump up tires or oil a chain, someone driving by shouted, “Your Church is Satan.” A little taken back, Lyndon decided to press on with greeting people and engaging the community in this creative way. (Thank you for that, Lyndon, and Ben who joined on a number of the mornings.) Now we are not sure what caused the accusation that we are Satan, energy bars, bicycles, friendly morning greetings, or something like rainbow flags, a sign message, or who knows. Also recently, we have had some difficult email messages, a phone call, and conversation, and have been accused of siding with and calling evil good. It is best not to go into details about who and why, but simply recognize there are many ways in which we are divided in our world and our community that evoke strong reactions that can be difficult to hear and respond to. Jesus challenges the accusations against his own possession by evil by questioning that if Satan is against Satan, Satan will fall. That any kingdom, or house divided will fall. And then we hear this strange one sentence parable image, “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.”

           What does Jesus mean? A book I mentioned as we began this church year with the gospel of Mark, is, Binding the Strong Man, and subtitled, A political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, by Ched Myers. The book is not new, published first in 1988, republished and updated in 2008, but continues to be quoted and relevant for understanding the gospel of Mark and the political and social circumstances in Jesus’ time that can inform our own, including in 2024. And this parable image in today’s reading from Mark, of “tying up,” or “binding the strong man,” is at the centre of Myer’s understanding of Jesus’ purpose or mission as God’s anointed. And that purpose is to bind the strong and powerful through words and actions of truth and radical love so that the people in the political and social and religious kingdoms and households of Jesus’ time, especially the people who are vulnerable and marginalized that are Jesus’ greatest concern, can be set free. For living out this purpose, God’s mission, Jesus is accused by the religious authorities and others of being out of his mind, of being possessed by Satan or evil. But in the revealing and delightful irony of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is very much in his right mind, the mind of God, and is neither possessed by Satan or evil, but tying them up, in their political and religious expressions, in order to set people and the world God so loves, free in body and spirit.

           And what does this mean for us? We would be wrong-headed to simply think, we are like Jesus. If someone calls us Satan or says we can’t tell evil from good, we must be doing something right. Certainty and arrogance have led and continues to lead the church into causing great harm against others, even with good intention. But that we would seek in humility and honesty to be faithful to the ways Jesus saw and included and invited people who were suffering, outside, vulnerable, powerless, in need, “home,” into the dominion, the household, the family of God, over against and to bind the powers that would crush, put down, silence, God’s people, we will, by grace, be following the path and purpose of Jesus. Sharing in God’s mission for the world, of grace and resistance, of love and advocacy with the Spirit.

           In connection with the first reading from 2 Samuel, the risk in God’s people desiring to have a king as other nations do, which God through Samuel warns against, is the threat of oppression from within, which is described in the verses we did not read this morning, and which will come true for the people with at least some of the kings or strong men that will rule over them in the future. And so also true in our time, in structures and powers, including continuing colonial powers, economic, political, social, and religious powers that oppress and bring violence and suffering upon those who are vulnerable. How do we hear and heed God’s warnings, and with Jesus, resist and work to bind the powers and strong men in order that siblings and we ourselves come home, be set free? This mission is both in action and advocacy for the vulnerable in our communities and the world, and in the Spirit of seeing all others as siblings, in the one family of God. It is that Spirit, Jesus says, we cannot blaspheme or deny, God’s Spirit in Jesus, the Spirit in everyone.          

           Back to Jesus’ family, which the gospel returns to, telling us they come to Jesus, staying outside and asking for him. The crowd surrounding Jesus tells him that his mother and sisters and brothers are outside. Jesus looks around and asks, who are his mother and sisters and brothers? And then proclaims a radically new understanding of family, looking around, Jesus says, “Here are my mother and sisters and brothers, whoever follows God’s ways, is my family.” We may be troubled by Jesus’ rejection of his family of origin. But their wanting to restrain him, possibly protect him, and potentially themselves, rejects Jesus and God’s mission he fulfills. And what Jesus offers for many whose families, or households or dominions reject and divide them, is a new family, a chosen family of siblings in the Spirit of Jesus. The gospel invites us to look around at those gathered with us in Jesus’ presence, and to see in one another, parents and siblings, every diverse and beautiful expression of a new chosen family in Christ.

           Chosen family is a term in our time that has become very meaningful for those who do not have or have been rejected by their family of origin, like Queer siblings, and how critical chosen 

family can be to experiencing acceptance, belonging, and a sense of coming home, that Jesus offers, and to see family as much broader and bigger and more beautifully diverse than we ever imagined. As we strive to do at Church of the Cross, in the Spirit of Jesus, inviting and welcoming all! around the table, all God’s children, home, into the chosen family of God.

           The reading from 2 Corinthians invites us to imagine despite the sufferings in our lives and world, an eternal weight of glory beyond measure to come. Yes, part of that vision is in a life to come beyond this life to which we commend our ancestors and loved ones who have died, in trust to God and their eternal home. But also a glory possible and present in this life, by sharing a community, a family, a household of God, where all are home, and fed, and belong in body and spirit, as siblings in Christ. “So that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God. So that we do not lose heart.” Look around, so that we do not lose heart, we don not lose heart. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.