June 10th – Communion

As most of you know, I attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada during this past week, and much of what was discussed there will be coming up here over the next few weeks, in one way or another. The theme was On The Edge, and the main focus was on how we, in the PCC, are on the edge of great changes. Like Joshua, who was leading the Israelites, across the river Jordan into the Promised Land, we are about to dip our feet into a metaphorical river, and, also like Joshua, we have to trust that God will be there to see us safely to the other side. I could spend the rest of today’s sermon speaking about this, but there are other things to discuss. However, stay tuned to this channel, as you will definitely be hearing more about it.
Our readings for today gave me lots to work on. In fact, you could say that I was spoilt for choice, as I was getting ready. After much deliberation, I decided to focus on the Gospel reading, and save the others for another day, even though I really liked what Samuel had to say to the Israelites when they demanded a king. It was not unlike the expression – be careful what you wish for. Samuel warned the Israelites that a king might not be the best thing for them, but they insisted. The rest, as they say, is history, and we will discuss that in future sermons or Bible Studies. But for now, let’s concentrate on Mark, and these early days in Jesus’ ministry.
I would venture to guess that many of us in this congregation are like Jesus in a couple of aspects. Many of us have moved from somewhere else in order to live in this wonderful city. And, sometimes, like Jesus, we go home for a visit. For instance, I was primarily raised in Newfoundland, and most people can tell from my accent that I am from the east coast of Canada. Some people detect the Newfoundland accent, while others just know that it is from somewhere east of here. There is something about the living close to the Atlantic, I think, that causes us to speak in a certain way. My mother, on the other hand, was from Australia, and her accent was very different from mine. To me and my friends, accustomed as we were to hearing her, there was nothing unusual about it, but people meeting her for the first time often made the mistake of assuming that she was British, as her Australian accent had softened during her time in Canada. Here, right in this congregation, we hear many different accents, but I would be willing to bet that those people who have lived in Canada the longest have also softened their accents over time. And I wonder what happens when they speak to people newly arrived, or when they telephone people who have never left. I would imagine that even they can hear the difference in accents. I remember, as a child, when my mother would call her family down under, it would take a few minutes for our ears to become accustomed to their accents again. They would accuse my mother of sounding Canadian, and she, in her turn would suggest that they were making their accents broader as part of a show. Of course, they were both wrong, and both right. Neither one actually remembered the way they used to sound, so they couldn’t really make fair comparisons.
All that being said, we all know that people’s accents change, depending on where they live. And the longer one lives in a specific place, the more likely one is to develop a different accent, or at least to change the original one, whether for the better or worse! This is probably most evident when people return to their place of origin. And this is what happened in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus had started his ministry – we are in the third chapter of Mark, and we have seen Jesus do amazing things. He had been baptized by John in the Jordan, and the Spirit had already descended on him. He had gone into the desert for 40 days, where he resisted temptation by Satan. He had healed many, driven out demons, and called his disciples. I have mentioned before that this is the Gospel of speed. It is the shortest of the Gospels, and Mark seems to want to let us know as much as possible in the least amount of time. Jesus goes from one place to another, ministering and preaching, healing and helping others. He goes from Nazareth, where he had been raised, to the river Jordan, to the wilderness around Galilee, to the sea of Galilee, to a house, to a deserted place, back to the towns of Galilee, back to Capernaum, back home to Nazareth, again to the sea, then to Levi’s house, through the grain fields where the Pharisees spotted him and his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath, then to the synagogue for some extra preaching, back to the sea, where he preached from a boat to keep the crowds from crushing him, and up a mountain, where he anointed the twelve, and finally he went home. I don’t know about you, but I get exhausted just reading all this. And Jesus could have been no different. Remember, he was fully man as well as fully God, and his physical body became tired and worn out, just as our physical bodies do. And remember, everywhere Jesus went, the crowds followed him – some desperate for healing, others out to trap him in blasphemy. Whatever their reason, they would not leave him alone, and Jesus The one thing he had not done was something many of us are guilty of as well. He had not taken time to rest. Every time he tried to, people found him, and cried out to be healed or helped in other ways.
And we can’t really blame them. After all, even if Jesus tried to keep people from finding out who he was, the word was spreading. And which person in this church, having a sick child, or spouse, or parent, wouldn’t want to find Jesus and beg for the gift of healing? People then wanted healing so much that, in the previous chapter of Mark’s Gospel, they opened a roof and lowered a paralytic man through it, so that Jesus could take care of things. Here, of course, Jesus did more than they expected, and got himself into trouble with the authorities, when he said to the man: Your sins are forgiven. This upset the teachers of the law, the religious leaders, who had already started to worry about this wandering preacher, who healed and cast out demons and preached love and forgiveness.
So we come at last to today’s reading, one which is not the most popular among preachers OR congregations. It is in today’s reading that Jesus returns briefly to his home town. And remember I mentioned earlier how people in one’s home town will notice differences when one returns? Well, it was no different for Jesus than it would be for us. Jesus had been a carpenter in Nazareth, working in his father’s workshop. But when he came home, he wasn’t the same. He was no longer a carpenter, even though he frequently used carpenter-type allusions in his preaching. He was a healer, a teacher, an exorcist. I can just imagine the reaction of the people who knew him when he was a boy!
There is a story about a young man from a small town who went away to the big city, to attend university. While he was there, he learned new things, developed new habits, and began to dress differently from the way he did when he was in high school. Even his accent changed subtly over the course of his studies, and he spoke more correctly than he had when he was growing up. He eventually came home, but was not well-received by many of his former friends, or, indeed, by much of his family. The general feeling was that he was putting on airs, that he was getting above himself, that he was DIFFERENT since he had been away. And heaven forbid that he should be DIFFERENT, for we all hate change, don’t we? But that’s what happens, when we go away from home. We change – sometimes in very subtle ways, and sometimes in very profound ways. But change is bound to happen. And it happened to Jesus.
Now, I can just picture it. Jesus shows up, back in Nazareth, where everyone knew him, where everyone knew his family. And as he is speaking to the crowds, someone runs to his family – in the way that people do – warning them that all was not well with their son and brother, that maybe they should bring him home and talk to him about the danger of changing. Remember, the Jews were under control of Rome, and it was not a good thing to talk against Rome as Jesus was thought to be doing. And it definitely wasn’t a good thing to break the Sabbath laws, or to embarrass the religious leaders, as Jesus certainly was doing. So, this person goes into the living quarters behind the carpenter shop, “Mary, I saw your boy. Yeah, Jesus the one that went off to be a preacher. Boy, he sure talks funny, like the city folks he’s been hanging around with. And, well, it’s not just the way he talks, it’s what he says. That boy has sure got some funny ideas. People are talking like he’s crazy or something. You better do something about it.”

So Mary gathers up the family and sets out to find her boy. There are two motivations working in their effort to stop Jesus. One is the fact that Mary and James and the rest still live in Nazareth and what Jesus does reflects on them. Family honor and business are on the line. The second, and I suspect more powerful, motivation is love. They love Jesus. They didn’t understand him, but they loved him. And because they loved him, they didn’t want him to change – at least not so much that he would get into trouble. They thought – along with many other residents of Nazareth – that Jesus had gone out of his mind. The religious leaders – the teachers of the law – accused him of being in league with Beelzebub – the prince of demons. So, Jesus’ family, hearing this talk about him, sent someone to call him, according to our text. We assume that they wanted him to come home for a nice rest, so that he could get his funny ideas taken care of by his loving family. Actually, in the original Greek, the verb used was much stronger than simply “call”. It more closely means “seize” or “grab” or even “arrest”. So they were determined to save Jesus from himself.
You know, I have tried to picture other parents doing this to their children who became preachers. Somehow, I can’t see Mr. Rogers’ mother worrying that her son – who was also a Presbyterian minister – had lost his mind. Or Billy Graham’s mother wanting people to help her son recover from whatever had changed him. But in Jesus’ case, it seems that his family felt that it was necessary to do an intervention, something we are all too familiar with these days, from what they call reality TV. Jesus, of course, reacted as we would expect him to. He had already said that his followers had to leave their homes and families to follow him, so we are not surprised when he said that those seated in a circle around him; those who did God’s will – THESE were his brother and sister and mother. And this is the main stumbling block in this text – the fact that Jesus rejected the family who raised him in the faith; the family who loved him. I don’t think that he was doing this to REJECT them, but rather to CHOOSE to do his father’s will over the will of man. This is what he expects of us. His physical family no doubt found this difficult to accept, which is why they did what they did.
But what Jesus’ family was trying to do was really nice, compared to what other people were trying to do. I have often tried to picture Jesus living today, and to imagine the reaction of many people to him. Picture him as a gifted preacher, a compassionate pastor, tending to the needs of his own flock, and also to others. But he would be picked on and put down by religious leaders, leaders of his own church who make negative comments, and who criticize him – usually in coffee shops or the church parking lot. He would be pushed to his limit by judgmental, mean-spirited, small-minded, and insecure religious experts. But he would still be Jesus Christ. He would still be the son of God. And he would be part of a larger family, just as we are part of a larger family.
I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a friend. But none of those relationships are as important as the one I am in with God. I am a child of God and younger sister of Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior. That relationship takes priority over all others and makes sense of all others. As long as I remember that Christ is first in my life, everything else falls in line.
This morning, we will share in the sacrament of the Lords’ Supper, which marks us as part of the family of the church, as part of the family of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, the meaning of family is opened up, expanded, reframed. If you will, through Jesus, we are given a new-and-improved family, one which encompasses all of humanity, with all of its moral, physical, and spiritual beauty and all of its moral, physical, and spiritual imperfection. And we have the choice of whether or not to be a part of this family. We can choose to accept Jesus or to reject him. Someone once asked me if I believed in hell, and, if so, what would cause a loving God to condemn someone to eternity in such a place. Well, of course I believe in hell, just as I believe in heaven. But God does not condemn anyone to hell. Those who end up there, choose it for themselves, by rejecting God, and by rejecting God’s family. Susan Blain put it very well when she wrote: In Christ, we are forgiven all our failed efforts at community, and invited afresh to rejoin the family of God, seeking blessing for all. Let us do that again this day. Thanks be to God.

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