06/17/2018 Sermon

Sermon by Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian
June 17, 2018                                                         We Are Family
Mark 3:  20-35

Have you ever thought of choosing a theme song for CHPC?  One possibility that occurred to me for this church was “we are family,” by Sister Sledge.[1]  It one of the things I have heard you say most often since I have been your transitional pastor.  That so many of you think of the church like your family and that you are grateful to be a part of it.

Interestingly enough, family is a very important theme in this morning’s scripture reading as well.

But like in many of the passages in Mark, the part about family makes a sandwich around other content that makes Jesus’ comments on family disjointed.  But Jesus’ comments on family are what I want to highlight this morning.  Jesus has gone home, to someone’s home anyway, and the crowd who has become aware of his healing power has followed he and his disciples there.  In fact, so many people have tagged along with Jesus and his entourage that their presence in and around the home, a place of table intimacy, and physical and spiritual renewal, cannot even be used to eat together as they had ostensibly planned.  When Jesus’ family, a group we later learn specifically consists of his mother and brothers, blood relations, hear that he is NOT ONLY drawn a crowd with him on his way to a private home BUT that he ALSO has gone out of his mind, they hurry to “restrain him” the text tells us.  Whether they were protecting him from the crowd, or the crowd from him…..whether they were more concerned about Jesus or about their own family wide reputation, we can speculate but can’t know for sure.
From this set up, the scene suddenly switches to scribes who have also come to the house from Jerusalem, along with the throng.  These scribes are concerned about the crowd’s interest in Jesus’ ability to heal – perhaps they are threatened by it?  And so throw out a “conspiracy theory” to discredit his good works.  After setting the scribes straight on this, that Jesus’ power is of God who will not be blasphemed by being mistaken for Satan, the discussion turns back to family, and, more specifically, who makes up the family of God.  That would be a good thing to understand for those of us in the church don’t you think, especially those of us who are quick to bring the family word to our description of the church to which we belong?
Here is what Jesus says to those who let Jesus know that “your brother and your sisters are outside asking for you.  Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus asks, and then replies in answer to his own question, looking around at those who are listening to him – “Those who do the will of God are my mother and my brothers!”  which implies that the will of God is tied up in receiving Jesus.  I would add that I think the will of God also asks us to reflect Jesus back out into the world, once we have soaked up his Spirit and become true disciples.  In my understanding, reflecting Jesus back out into the world means sharing with the world the fruits of that same Spirit as Scripture names them for us.  They are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  So what does that mean for us?  That family for Christians is made up of all who learn to reflect Jesus to one another in church, and then work together to follow his Spirit and the fruits of it out into the world?
Truly embracing our identity as members of God’s family often changes our lives quite profoundly.  How does that view change, in a nutshell?  We go from thinking of family as something exclusive, limited by bloodlines, to thinking of it as something inclusive.  Something to which it is our call to open, as Jesus did, not just to those with whom we are comfortable, but also to all those who we recognize set out to do the will of God.
Here’s an example of the exclusive view of family.  This is NOT the view our passage takes.  My Mom’s maiden name, which is also my middle name is Johnston.   The Johnstons have had many family reunions at which we play games – softball, volleyball, golf, you name it.  It is very easy to divide the teams when we play.  Usually, it is the Johnstons vs. the “non-stons.”  That is, the blood Johnstons vs. the in-laws.  The originals and the “by marriages.”  This is an exclusive view of family.  It can make for fun banter at a family reunion.  It is crippling to a church because an exclusive family is not what we actually have been given by God.   God does not distinguish between Johnstons and  “non-stons.”  Those in and those out of CHPC, or insiders and outsiders here at CHPC.  Jesus says, Who are my mother and my brothers?  Here are my mother and my brothers!  Those who, when you look around, both in here and out there, you see doing the will of God – or even those capable of doing the will of God, if they only had the gift of a church to know what that will is, and how doing it will free them and so many others from the darkness!
This week I went on Thursday afternoon to hear the President of the Evangelical Church of Niger speak.  The country of Niger is the 2nd poorest country in the world.  It has more than 22 million people in it, and only 1% of those 22 million are Christians.  That is only 220,000 souls.  But in that country that small minority is clear about what it is for.  President Kadade told us about many things that the church in Niger is doing.  They are building guest houses in towns where schools are so that their sons and daughters will have a place to stay while they are continuing their education.  They are building health clinics in villages that don’t have them and then opening those clinics to all in need of care.  They are working to improve sanitation and water quality in human communities that struggle with poor health.  They are opening schools of their own.  The list was so long that I was not only impressed, but a little overwhelmed.  So I raised my hand and asked, President Kadade how, among so many different kinds of projects you are willing to undertake, do you determine your priorities?  He smiled and said, oh we don’t have any problem with that, he said, our biggest priority is evangelism.  Ah, I said, not really understanding, so on what does that mean you focus?  On sharing the love of Jesus with those that don’t have it he smiled back, what else is there?  We ask the Holy Spirit where Christ’s love is needed.  We listen, agree on what we are hearing and then go there.  Then he gave an example.  Niger struggles with several terrorist organization, including ISIS and Boko Haram.  Recently, over 200 Christian churches were burned.  Scary stuff for a heavily outnumbered religious group.  What did they do in response?  They went on TV and let it be known that they, as the EERN, the evangelical church of Niger, forgave those who had burned their churches.  “We know we have to get along with the Muslims,” President Kadade said, “it will do no good to be angry.  Instead, we are trying to win the hearts of those Muslims who know God is involved when they see this kind of forgiveness.  We know they are there, because they have been on the TV crying over their grief that their fellow Muslims treated us that way.  Those are the ones we want to know who Jesus is.
We often reflect the love of God internally here at Crescent Hill.  I watched Jesus being shared as this church came together to support Lucy Steilberg last spring.  I know Jesus was shared when Carol Roderick had her stroke, when Lee Cybulski had cancer, when Lowell Linder fell ill and this family sat vigil with Janine as she made decisions about what to do.  And those instances I mention are just the tip of the iceberg on love that gets shared here.  And we are good at reflecting that love externally, to our ELL classes to name one example.  One student who returned to China was so impressed with the love shown he and his family at ELL that he has returned home with a Bible that he reads every morning, and is exploring what it looks like for him to begin the journey of Christian discipleship in that country.  Did all of you know that miracle of Christ taking up residence in someone’s heart happened under your tutelage and watch??
As we seek the direction of the Holy Spirit during this transition time, let’s keep in mind that we are for reflecting the love of Christ to one another and out into the world.  Nothing more and nothing less.  That is what being church family is for.  So what does that look like for us in all areas of our life together?  This particular church family nestled into this larger, breathtaking family of all those who have accepted the call to spread the love of Jesus, and to recognize it and rejoice in it where it can be found?  Regardless of who shows it to us?
What should our relationship to the Congolese family nesting in our midst be?  How can we embrace these folks, show them the love of Jesus?
What does it look like to reflect that love in our particular situation of trying to live into our intergenerational identity by welcoming our children into our midst in worship?  Where is the will of God there?  Surely God rejoices that little Addie, after staying in church these last few weeks has begun to “play church” at home and asked his mom if he could where something around his neck like the pastor does.  Surely God is concerned that some of us, loving our children, are still having a hard time not being distracted by the added noise and commotion at the front of the sanctuary with the children staying?  How will we interact with one another in finding a solution that works not just for some of us, but for all of us?  How will older adults without young children who have a harder time hearing support our young families and still hear the sermon?  Will our young parents ever hear anything that is said in worship again as they trip over themselves and others to try and minimize the extra noise children in worship bring?  I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that all of us have been called into this family – a family constituted not by birth, but by new birth into Christ.  A family that seeks answers to the challenges that confront it that do not divide the body, but reconciles it by asking all to seek the will of God in considering a solution, and then to live it out.
Our common calling over the course of our lives, is to be Jesus for not only one another, but for the community around us.  That is what belonging to Christ means.  What those who belong to Christ are to do.   Many of our members and friends do that in many instances, deliberately facing the world with open arms.  And I think the bottom line of our scripture this morning is this — It is when we face the world that way that we witness to true family.  Our purpose is to open up our arms to God’s big wide world and say to those in it, Welcome to the family friend, we’re so glad to have you with us.
Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
June 17, 2018
Louisville, Kentucky
[1] Sister Sledge.  “We Are Family.”  Atlantic Records.  1979.