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Sermon: Eucharist 7th June 2015

Sunday 7th June 2015
Sung Eucharist
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35
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Saturday mornings don't seem complete without a mug of strong coffee and a paper. It's a comforting ritual.  Alongside weighty editorials offering political opinion there are the (sometimes) witty diary columns and ten recipes for strawberries. Newspapers offer snapshots into human lives: of the stories of migrants alongside those of a cross section of Londoners: we find human intrigue, compassion and inspiration.  In one such regular feature in The Guardian, a public figure describes the  family values that made them who they are.

The broadcaster Peter Snow reflects on the terrors of being sent to boarding school aged seven; the Lib Dem Peer Shirley Williams describes the morals instilled in her by her parents and taking in her brother's children when he died; the Olympic athlete Kelly Holmes talks about the time she spent in a children's home; the actress Imelda Staunton reveals how important her parents' approval was when she was growing up.

In his Gospel, Make is also concerned with identity. In a narrative that is full of challenge and misunderstandings, silences and statements of faith, he is concerned with one primary question. Who is Jesus? Yet by bringing us into relationship with this controversial and charismatic figure, we also discover who we are; who we are called to be; the values that are to shape us. The answer to Mark's question radically shifts our self-understanding and our relationships precisely because it tells us about God: the one who is the ground of our being, who changes the world, who is at work in us.

Today we encounter two groups struggling to make sense of who Jesus is; his relatives and those in authority are confused by what they see and hear of Jesus teaching and healing. An enthusiastic crowd follows him; he's commissioned the twelve. Then Jesus goes home; he retreats from public gaze. We join the story just as space and privacy is interrupted by the crowd. 

In a scene akin to a celebrity being mobbed by fans, he cannot eat.  His family come forward - they're worried for him. They think he's out of his mind. They want to protect or restrain him. Who is Jesus? He's their brother, their son. He's their Jesus; they've known him all his life. They want to get him away; he's attracting the wrong sort of attention.

Amidst the clamour and jostling bodies, the scribes arrive. They have come up from Jerusalem to Galilee.  The guardians of the law and religious practice have come to see for themselves. The rumours are true; his ministry of healing and teaching is having a worrying impact on an hysterical crowd. The situation is out of control. They want to stop this spectacle; they are fearful of the power at work, but unable to see it as revealing the love of God.

The scribes' hostility leads to a corrosive explanation. Who is Jesus? He must be someone in league with the Beelzebul, the master of evil spirits; the implication is that he's drawing on dark arts. Rather than bring release to those ensnared by external forces, he was himself possessed and being controlled.

Jesus' response takes a common sense turn: why would Satan want Jesus to cast out evil spirits, for that would weaken his own power? Jesus is bringing release to those influenced by forces of darkness, not colluding with it.  Jesus moves from a polite exchange based on the logic of divided kingdoms and households.

But the scribes are so locked into their incomprehension that they use the most devastating charge they can find: Jesus has an unclean spirit. He is outside the scope of God's activity; someone cut off from religious and familiar community; someone without honour and dignity; someone controlled by external destructive forces; a non-person.

That, says Jesus, is a radical and wilful distortion of what they see.  They refuse to see the love, compassion and freedom breaking into human lives through Jesus' ministry. It is an act of deliberate hostility towards God. In the face of the break down of their own logic, they attribute Jesus' power to evil, rather than glorifying the spirit of God being made manifest. Jesus names this as unforgivable.

The scribes are fearful, defensive and out of their depth. They represent the failure to grasp what is happening in Jesus' ministry. In contrast, the crowds are eager to see Jesus, to hear him and to reach out to him.  For in him, they find the healing and peace of God. Perhaps the a calm descends and the jostling ceases; Jesus is able to re-enter the house and sit with this group who see in him the fullness of God's love.

The moment of confrontation forces a decision: who is Jesus? The Son of God or one with an unclean spirit? Perhaps now the concerns of his family are heightened; to be at the heart of such an aggressive public spectacle is dangerous and embarrassing; they want to enfold him in the safety of their domestic realm. .

Whilst his family are outside, Jesus has drawn around him a new community. He takes the familial loyalty expected within Jewish culture and extends that honour and love to all people.  Those who respond find their place within the Kingdom of God. They are doing the will of God; they are paying attention to the love of God in the ordinariness of a home.

Jesus' family are unable to understand and are unable to sit with them. The total commitment Jesus demands challenges earthly loyalties. Later, we learn that Mary and James bear the cost of discipleship - in his mother's faithful waiting and prayer amidst death and resurrection; in his brother's leadership of the church in Jerusalem.

Who is Jesus? He is his Father's Son, bringing healing, hope, forgiveness and peace; defeating death and bringing new life in the Spirit.

Who are we? We are those who find new worth as members of his family.  We are called to do his will as his body in the world.

Paul writes to the Corinthians about the fragility of our physical bodies - he's honest about our outward natures wasting away: we ache, gain a few pounds, find gray hair and become more dependant on each other. However, our inner nature is being renewed and transformed. We are part of a beautiful, corporate body.  The light and glory of the good news of who Jesus is, is reflected in our relationships; through our words and actions, the grace of God extends to more and more people. 

Our family values are shaped by knowing God in Scripture; by encountering God in worship, most intimately in communion. Kneeling and extending our hands to touch and taste bread and wine; becoming for us the fullness of God, which shapes all that we are.

We are not wedded, pardon the pun, to societal family structures of marriage and  2.4 children, in that we don't make an idol of our blood ties. Our notion of "family" if far broader than that.
We embrace one another within a diverse network of men and women, young and old; this family is richer and more complex than a nuclear family. 

We invite others to participate in a common life which embraces the the godparent and the single parent; it redefines what it means to be "single" as we cease to be atomized individuals or autonomous family units.  We are bound together by the Spirit; we are in Christ, called to do things with others that reflects the glorious love of God. May our lives bring hope and compassion, forgiveness and love.