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10th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 2024b

Old Testament - Psalm 138:1-8

New Testament - Mark 3:20-35

 

Thicker Than Blood

 

INTRODUCTION: In his semi-autobiographical novel A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean writes of growing up in Montana along the edges of the Big Blackfoot River.

 

The son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister, who was also an avid fly fisher, Norman and his brother Paul would spend their Sunday afternoons walking the Big Blackfoot River with their father, while also learning how to fly fish. 

 

Or as Maclean writes in the opening pages of his book, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman…”

But typical of preachers’ kids sometimes, Paul, the youngest, was a bit of a black sheep. While a top notch fly fisher, Paul also had a habit of drinking and gambling too much. Needless to say, he frequently left the rest of the family flummoxed and confused. And no matter how hard they tried to help Paul, their offers to do so always went rebuffed. 

 

And so when Norman and his parents learn one morning that Paul had been beaten to death during the night with the butt end of a pistol over some gambling debts, they’re hardly surprised. 

 

While they loved Paul deeply, Norman and his parents, well, they also never really understood him. He was, in a way, a mystery. Or as Norman’s Dad finally says to him one day when discussing Paul for the millionth time, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” 

 

ONE: Well, Jesus' family members also had a hard time figuring him out too, right? Admittedly, he wasn’t quite the troubled and tormented  soul Norman Maclean’s brother was, but Jesus' family members also weren’t quite sure what to do with him either. 

  

In the midst of a series of healings and teachings that have irked the religious authorities, some have started accusing Jesus of not playing with a full deck of cards. Rather than acknowledge his healing powers come from God, some are claiming Jesus has actually made a pact with Satan to be able to do such things. Or as we’re told in our reading this morning, some were claiming Jesus had “gone out of his mind.” 

 

Why, his own family is apparently even concerned he might be in need of some help. For they show up at what appears to be Jesus’ very house to try and “restrain him.”     

 

Unable to even get in the door because of the large crowd, Jesus’ Mother and other siblings stand outside calling to him. “Jesus, would you stop showing out and making a fool of yourself?  Everyone thinks you’ve lost your mind. So knock it off and come with us.” As surprising as it might sound to us, Jesus’ family wasn’t really all that different from Norman Maclean’s, or assorted others for that matter. After all, they weren’t really sure what to do with Jesus either.         

 

TWO: And of course, Jesus’ response to his family doesn’t really help, does it? Looking at those gathered around him, Jesus poses that famous question about  familial ties: 

 

“Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and brothers!” says Jesus with a wave of his hand to the beleaguered and brow-beaten peasants huddled around him. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”   

  

Well, that’s a strange way to talk about family, isn’t it? Families are the bedrock of our society, right? Sure, sometimes we want to kill family members, but we also seem to know that families, for better or worse, are an essential part of society. Yep, one of these days I am gonna poke around on the internet to see if I can’t find what James Dobson has to say about such remarks from Jesus.    

 

After all, there’s Jesus talking about family not having anything to do with genes and bloodlines. “Who are my brother and sister and mother?” asks Jesus. And then staring at a crowd of poor peasants he answers his own question:  “Those who do the will of God are my brothers, sisters, and mother.”

 

THREE: You see, here is the thing. When it comes to Christian community, well, that old adage is actually reversed. 

 

While we’ve often heard that line claiming “Blood is thicker than water,” it’s actually the other way around for us as followers of Jesus Christ. Water, it turns out, is actually thicker than blood. 

 

And by water, we don’t mean the stuff that comes out of the tap, or that we shower with, right? Nope. By water we mean, of course, the water of baptism. Yep, we can forget, can’t we? We can forget that baptism actually turns us all into one giant family. A family united in and created by Jesus Christ.

 

So whether dunked in a river, or simply sprinkled with the H2O, baptism is always more than just a nice little ceremony we can slide over to the done category after it has been performed. It is also our very introduction and welcome into the family of God. 

 

How does the Apostle Paul put it in his letter to Galatians?  

 

27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

 

So family for us always has a much bigger meaning than just those people we happen to share some genes with. Adopted by God, freely claimed and called into community, we are now a new kind of family. And the common denominator is water rather than blood. 

 

FOUR: Of course, as a new kind of family in Christ, we don’t simply exist for our own benefit or well being. 

 

After all, Christ came for and welcomed all people, right? And since he came for and welcomed all people, well, we too should be for all people as well. Yep, as strange as it sounds, we should consider the whole human earth to now be our family.  

 

In a play by Arthur Miller called All My Sons, a father puts it succinctly when learning of his son's death, along with other young men in the South Pacific, during World War II. Says the father, “Sure he was my son, but I think they were all my sons, and I guess they were…I guess they are.” 

 

So at Montreat this past week the youth spent a lot of time hearing about and discussing peace. In particular, what it looks like in the world, as well as in their own lives. 

 

And on Tuesday night, an offering was held during the evening worship service, a portion of which went to support an organization called Seeds of Peace. A peacebuilding and leadership development organization, Seeds of Peace was started by an American journalist John Wallach.   

 

Attending a state dinner in 1993 with politicians from Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, Wallach suggested 15 youngsters from each of the respective groups be brought together for conversation in hopes they might come to recognize their shared humanity. Or as one line from the Seeds of Peace website puts it, “We strive to recognize the humanity in others and afford them individuality, dignity, empathy, and care.” 

 

Since then, thousands of youth have participated in the program from conflict-ridden regions all around the world during summer sessions in Otisfield, Maine. And as you can imagine, bringing people together who are often deeply divided isn’t easy and the conversations can be hard. But it is a start.   

 

FIVE: So a few months ago while driving somewhere with Jonah he asked me what Presbyterians believe about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. Or as he put it more or less, “Who’s side is the Presbyterian Church on?”

 

Based on our conversation, Jonah, if you’ve watched the assorted news reports and polls, is part of that younger generation of folks who tend to think Israel is more to blame than Hamas. 

 

In response to his question, though, I told him Presbyterians, always a cantankerous lot, held a variety of opinions on the matter. Some were likely to agree with him that Israel was more at fault, while others were just as likely to think Hamas was to blame.  

 

For my own part, though? Well, I told Jonah I was personally one of those Presbyterian who thought it was important to be on the side of, well, everyone. And that I deeply believed God wants life to be full and rich for all people. And that over the many decades this issue has been simmering, and at times raging,  this was one of those occasions where there is enough blame to go around for all everyone.  

 

And while some might think my response was a cop out, I tend to think it’s the more challenging and difficult position to actually hold, since it doesn’t take one side or the other, but rather both.   

              

CONCLUSION: So I’ll admit it. Jesus had a funny way of thinking about family.

 

While we tend to think of it as limited to genes and bloodlines and last names, Jesus’ view was much broader to be sure.    

 

Yep, near as I can figure, since he welcomed and came for all people, Jesus believed the whole human world was family in the end, which kinda makes sense. After all, if we’re all made in the image of God, and if we’re all children of God, well, then I suppose that really does make us all one big family.     

 

And now to the Ruler of all worlds, undying, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.  

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